The top 10 takeaways from the 2019 Visible Learning World Conference, Edinburgh

25 March, 2019

What did we learn?

There is a Model that works

The conference made it clear that there is now a distinct model for education with learning at the centre. It is extremely powerful. It builds on what schools are already doing and allows them to scale up. By building an evidence base at the centre, all schools and school systems can become the improvement that they want to see.

The model is sophisticated enough to develop pedagogy, connect leadership, learners, teachers and the entire system through feedback loops and evidence gathering in a way few people thought possible. This can help to ensure excellent decision making and accelerated growth and achievement for all learners.

It is Visible Learning Plus.

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Candour and Autonomy

If we are going to move forward at a faster pace, and I think we need to, candour and autonomy may be the new buzz words.

Candour is being straightforward. Getting to the point. Offering direct feedback. It needs to be evidence-based, objective and delivered with social sensitivity.

Autonomy perhaps needs more unpicking. It doesn’t mean do what you are already doing, but it does imply that individuals need to find their ‘inner drivers’ to move forward if they are to find the momentum from inside.

Autonomy is not acting alone, as you will see below however, it does mean empowerment and requires evidence of impact in the direction of travel.

Thank you Michael Fullan.

Improvement not change

Too many leaders and teachers try to change what is already happening without due regard for the impact of that change.

The result changes that carry either no impact at all, or manage to put people in a worse situation than they were before.

Professor Viviane Robinson precisely explained that we need to understand the present before we approach the future. Leaders would do well to understand their team’s theories of action before they attempt to implement their own. Failing to do this often results in change and no improvement.

By following a sequence of relatively simple steps, the focus can be directed towards improvement. The first step is to understand the present and dynamics of the underpinning beliefs.

Go slow to go fast

In an age where speed and urgency surround our waking breath, it is increasingly crucial that we find space. The wisdom in the crowd becomes lost in the pull of the crowd, but we transact and follow at our peril.

Key questions must be asked if we are to move forward with wisdom and success. What is it we are trying to achieve? How will we know we are starting to make that achievement? What are we already doing that is working towards that direction? Is everyone on board? What are the key stages if we are going to make this leap?

Process design and onboarding have never been so important. Moral imperative gives you the excuse and buffering is what could distract an essential leadership skill.

The collective is far more powerful than the individual, no matter of their talents.

Old focus is now the wrong focus

In the old days, dentists found the slow wind drill – an amazing technological leap. It was able to attack plaque, save teeth and create holes for filling and are now exhibited in museums.

In education, we seem to revere such tools. Professor John Hattie pointed out that world literacy has gone from 14% in 1900 to 86% by 2000, yet we still obsess about teaching literacy.

For those still needing literacy, this is a rightful aim, but for the vast majority, it is now the wrong problem. The problem now is children not wanting to be engaged in learning. They are the ones who leave early, form our prison populations, encounter isolation and struggles in their lives.

The research now shows us that by forcing STEM onto learners, it can actually turn them off. Worse still, it turns them off schooling.

There are many more we can add to the list; overt discipline systems, extrinsic reward systems (stickers, merits and praise), setting, education labels, most marking, curriculum change. If you are going to use these, ask first, where is the evidence? And ask second, how am I going to know this will make an impact in my school?

Focus on Learning

Elmore said many moons ago that the trilogy of education is teaching, content and learning. The former two are by far the most visible. It means they have had undue attention.

Just because learning is harder to see and can become explicit, it does not mean it should be ignored.

On the contrary, the greatest gains and advancements are now to be found. It is time for schools and systems to turn their focus on how to enhance learning.

This is not so easy. We know from Graham Nutall’s research that 80% of what happens in the classroom is hidden, however, tools and an increased understanding are making learning more visible. If we want to improve schools and outcomes for learners there lies our greatest probability of success.


Our failure to evidence and esteem success in teacher expertise is perhaps our most stupid failing.

When learners do better than expected and make profound leaps, we are brilliant at celebrating and delivering praise for their efforts. Too rarely do we look at the cause of those leaps and the great teaching they received.

As Professor John Hattie made absolutely clear, we enter the profession to cause change, to disrupt learners expectations of themselves, to inspire and to share our passions for learning. And most of the time this is what we do.

Yet when we put together a new school prospectus, write letters to parents, talk with advisors and inspectors we miss this vital cog. It becomes about facilities, programmes, the efforts of the learners and not our expertise.

As we move into the evidence and evaluative era, it becomes vital that we recognise expertise and place it at the fulcrum of the improvements we wish to achieve. Maybe the language of professional learning needs to change and we instead focus on developing expertise.


The power of the collective

Collective efficacy is the new number 1. And thanks to Dr Jenni Donohoo and Dr Peter de Witt, we now know far more about what that journey looks and feels like.

Engagement means far more than getting the buggers to behave.

Engagement demands further analysis. It is currently applied to mean anything from hooks, through eye tracking to visibility and appearing to do something. When the term first came into the education vernacular, it was likened to gear changes. Having a 9-speed gearbox was seen as superior to one paced delivery. First gear recognised the need to achieve motion, whilst higher gears implied more sophisticated responsive approaches.

Osiris Educational is the UK’s leading independent training provider for teachers.

We work at the forefront of innovation in education providing pioneering, challenging and effective training solutions in teaching. We use the best and most renowned trainers to help teachers improve their ways of thinking and approaches to teaching.

To find out more about our Visible Learning Plus Programme, please contact: or call 01790 755 787

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