Despite the provocative title, the authors are passionate advocates for teachers as expert practitioners (“by the very definition of expertise, the only experts in teaching are teachers themselves.” p21). This is a consistent and powerful message from Horvath which has been presented on multiple occasions at Barker including 2021 and 2022. If this is the case, why might schools still be getting things wrong?

This is addressed in Chapter 1 with the first thing that goes wrong in schools. The authors suggest that too much advice is given from bodies external to the teaching profession. This advice can often be implemented without the necessary work of translating these ideas into the school and classroom context. They call on the teaching community to take it upon themselves to document the profession and to demonstrate this translation by building a library of material, or a body of knowledge regarding what works and what needs to change (p23). Despite the differences amongst teachers, a way of consistently documenting, presenting and disseminating their work is needed. (p36).

The Barker Institute is deliberately taking positive steps to achieve this through its role as a research centre, learning hub and publication house, seeking to collate staff thinking and disseminate it in meaningful formats suitable for use in and beyond Barker College.

But enough about what we get right, what might be going wrong? Horvath and Bott explore nine further obstacles to highly effective learning in schools. Topics include:

  • the awarding of grades (Chapter 3): A shift in discussion is encouraged, from “how can we organize assessment in a way that will improve student outcomes?” to “What worldview do grades espouse?” (p40). We need to assess the holistic impact of the way we award grades.
  • the problems with the practice and messaging of homework tasks (Chapter 4): that the purpose and intent of having homework is often unclear which means it is given in a way that rarely achieves the benefits a school may desire.
  • distractions with using technology (Chapter 7): Computers facilitate the unhelpful distraction of task-switching e.g. “when using a computer for homework, students typically last less than 6 minutes before accessing social media, messaging friends and engaging with other digital distractions” p94.
  • the purpose of incentives and motivation (Chapter 8): Behavioral nudges are used to bring about positive actions and behaviours but, unintendedly, they also “transmit our social values” (p112) and teachers need to be careful of the reward-based worldviews they are promoting.
  • and ultimately discussions around the purpose of education as a whole (Chapter 10).

A regular theme in the book is the implicit (and sometimes explicit) messaging related to the purpose of education and how this plays out daily in the classroom. Teachers are trained to share learning intentions in the classroom such that students know the purpose of each lesson, but not necessarily the deeper questions such as “why do I need to be here” and “why do I need to learn this?”

The conventional approach to the purpose of schooling, perhaps advocated for by government and industry, is to produce the next generation of economic consumers where “you are what you do for a living” and “your worth is measured according to the goods you possess” (p113) and it seems that grading, motivation strategies, timetabling, homework and even computer use at some schools can reinforce this outdated intention.

At Barker we construct our own narrative of the purpose of education, that of developing humanity and society through providing Christian education that is characterised by a global hope. This is achieved through an extensive curricular and co-curricular program, and activities inspired by the IB Primary Years Program in the Junior School and Roundsquare initiatives designed to expand students’ global appreciation. It was encouraging to read of Horvath and Bott’s suggested alternatives for the narrative of schooling including the next generation of “planetary stewards”, “giant climbers” and “toolmakers”.  The challenge is for us to bring all of our activities in line with our purpose, such that we may be using every practice to be inspiring every learner, every experience, every day.

Reference List:

Horvath, JC & Bott, D, 2020, 10 things schools get wrong: and how we can get them right, John Catt Educational Ltd, Melton, Woodbridge.

Organization, IB, n.d., ‘Primary Years Programme (PYP)’, International Baccalaureate®, viewed 7 June 2022,

‘Round Square’, n.d., Round Square, viewed 7 June 2022,