I want to take this opportunity to thank all staff at Acorn House College for their hard work during my tenure as principal; the college is fortunate to have some dedicated teachers and administrators. In particular, my thanks go to the small but outstanding team of people who have supported me and been alongside me whilst I have sought to modernise and raise standards at the college. Together we have ensured that Acorn House is in a strong and secure position for the future.

The inspiring new space in Lab8 has helped to create a culture and atmosphere of independent learning that is so important as our students progress to university and beyond. Our students have been afforded a system of university support and preparation that would be the envy of many schools and colleges, and they have benefitted from some truly inspiring and world-class speakers and advisers who visited the college. Acorn House has modernised greatly and now benefits from up-to-date policies, procedures and systems that will allow it to continue to grow from strength-to-strength and ensure that the college will offer an outstanding experience to its learners and young people in the years to come.

I would also like to thank Acorn House College’s community of parents and students. Your support and good wishes in recent weeks have been both humbling and inspiring. I have alway tried to act with our students’ interests as my first priority. For those of you in the upper sixth and leaving Acorn this year, I’m delighted to have accompanied you on your A level journeys. It has been a privilege to have witnessed you become the self-reliant, mature, confident young people you now are and I am immensely proud of the determination and tenacity you have shown in the run up to your final exams. That is as hard as studying gets! Good luck to you all, I will remember you always and I am proud to have known you. The world needs more people with your values and skills and I look forward to hearing about your achievements in the future.

Finally, I would be delighted to hear from any member of the college community who would like to remain in contact. You may wish to follow me on twitter @johnwilsonedu where I share resources, ideas, and comments on education and teaching and where you can contact me in the future.

I wish the very best of luck to my successor as principal, who will inherit a wonderful college with great potential and look forward to my own new ventures with great excitement.



If you are a year 12 student about to move into year 13 you will probably be making a UCAS application to universities in the Autumn once you get back to your school or college. You will therefore soon be nailing down your final choice of five universities and familiarizing yourself with the UCAS online ‘apply system’ (


Now we are at the end of July, of next year’s university applicants will have had at least a week and possibly as much as a month or more since the end of the last school term. With a month or so to go before the start of their final academic year before university, it is time to start thinking about how to productively spend the rest of the summer in order to have the best possible chance of making a strong university application.


Time to think: what can I do to help support my application and to add to my personal statement. Think about:


  1. Work Experience – are you intending to apply for a degree that will lead you to a specific career? If so, have you ever had any experience of that career? If you want to be a lawyer, doctor, pharmacist, physiotherapist, architect or accountant – can you get some experience in this field during August and throughout the academic year? I bet you can!
  2. Go and visit – the university or department you want to go to may have an open day in the next month or so (find out at but even if they don’t this is a great time to go and visit the university or even just the town or city where you will be living.
  3. Read and research – whatever you want to study at university, you need to be able to convince an admissions tutor that you are able to study that subject at undergraduate level. You will need more than just your A level/IB/Higher (or whatever) knowledge to do this convincingly. Start reading a broadsheet newspaper everyday, subscribe to a popular journal such as The Economist, The New Scientist or The Student BMJ and pick up some back issues from your local library or online. What about a book or two in the field you want to study? Use google to recommend some popular literature and read for an hour or so a day. You’ll learn a huge amount about your subject to write about or discuss at interview and it will give you a real confidence boost before you make your application.


The final deadlines may feel a long way off, but they will be upon us very soon:

15 October 2015 – Oxford, Cambridge, Medicine, Dentistry

15 January 2016 – All other applications

Addressing Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs with Technology

A thought provoking article from the Learning Renaissance.

User Generated Education

A major criticism I have of most educational institutions is that their primary focus is on students’ intellectual and cognitive development.  Too often individual learner’s needs do not enter into the equation of their educations.  Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a useful model for educators to use to help insure that they are addressing more of the whole child.

Applying Abraham Maslow’s theory of a pyramid-shaped hierarchy — physiological needs, personal safety, social affiliation, self-esteem and self-actualization — to education is an ideal way to assess lesson plans, courses and educational programs. By asking themselves whether these needs are being met in their school or classroom, educators can assess how well they are applying Maslow’s hierarchy to their teaching practice (How to Apply Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to Education).

Some general strategies for addressing these needs in the classroom can be found at Addressing Our Needs: Maslow Comes…

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The Purposeful Use of Technology in the Classroom

The Learning Renaissance

I think this might be over-egging the pudding in its assertions as there are limits to how well the technology can be used which reside outside the control of the individual teacher, but for what it is worth, this has some useful pointers to effective learning with technology applied…

artist: Sylvia Duckworth artist: Sylvia Duckworth

Infographic art by Sylvia Duckworth
Source: 7 Characteristics Of Teachers Who Effectively Use Technology | TeachThought

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What makes a good education?

I was asked last year to write something brief about what I thought was a good education.  I was under time pressure and had a word limit.  This was what I came up with.


A good education begins at home in the very early years of life. In fact, the role of the home (usually, but not always, our parents) is vital to the provision and access to a good education. Our parents/guardians are our first teachers and the only teachers who are with us throughout our entire childhood and development.


At school a ‘good’ education can be defined in many different ways, but fundamentally, children need to be provided with the skills that will allow them to access a life in modern society (numeracy, literacy, social responsibility, understanding and tolerance of others in the world). However, they must also be given the opportunity to explore, learn for themselves, perhaps through their own mistakes, develop their own specific interests and ideas and to form relationships with others.


I value highly and place a huge importance on achieving the highest grades possible in whatever examination series a student is participating in and in particular the ‘terminal’ GCSE and A level exams we have in the UK. This is not because I think the exam system is necessarily a good one, but because I believe in the power of exam result to open doors and create opportunities.  It is on the outcome of public examinations that our young people individuals are judged when it comes to university education and the job market.  The outcomes of the results in these examinations stay with them throughout their lives and careers. Clearly the better a candidate appears to be on paper, the more opportunities will present themselves.


I believe that there are two broad aspects essential to a student achieving their full potential. The first is a quality teaching and learning experience delivered by empowered and credible teachers who can inspire the best possible academic success from their students.


The second is in providing a holistic approach to the education of a young person. This is a very broad statement. Maslow’s hierarchy offers a good starting point, but I would add that education is about positive life experiences and encouraging students to have a desire and passion for learning beyond the subjects they have specified an interest in. Our ‘science’ students should be inspired to consider and understand the arts; humanities students ought to understand or have access to principals of theories such as evolution and relativity. Furthermore, I believe that if a student has a quality ‘holistic’ and ‘extra-curricular’ experience, they will be more successful academically and in life. They will have broader horizons and more able to understand and appreciate others. Schools and colleges clearly have a role to play in giving young people access to opportunities that provide an education (with a small ‘e’).


How do you decide which medical school to apply to?

Students in their AS year with good GCSE results, a love of science and a passion for caring for and working with others will be considering making an application to medical school.  I tend to think that the passing of the October 15th UCAS deadline for the A2 students fires the starting gun for those in AS who want to apply the following year.  365 days to make a difference to their applications.  UCAS reported recently that in 2013, for the 7,515 places offered to medical candidates last year, 84,395 applicants applied.  That is roughly a 1:11 ratio.  Competition is fierce.


Is a degree from one place the same as a degree from another?

One important consideration is deciding which medical school to apply to.  But, how important a decision is this actually?  Unlike most other degrees there is a national standard, set by the GMC (General Medical Council) and applied to medical school degrees.  This ensures that as far as possible, all doctors educated in the UK are trained to the same standards (  There are obvious reasons why this makes sense, a scenario whereby doctors in the UK are trained differently at different institutions would quickly lead to problems.  However, were you to take almost any other degree you may find that your degree from one university is quite different to that you may have received at another – depending on the specialisms of the professors, location, resources and many other factors.  A good example would be in biology, where many universities close to the coast will emphasise marine biology and ecology for obvious reasons whereas this is less practical in other places.


What type of candidate are the different schools looking for?

So a degree in medicine is the same wherever you go, right?  Well to an extent, yes, but there are still some important factors to consider.  First of all, your priority when applying is to get in somewhere and different universities emphasise different attributes when it comes to the application process.  Some place the highest regard on academic performance; some will only interview candidates with a particular UKCAT (United Kingdom Clinical Aptitude Test) score; others prefer the BMAT (BioMedical Admissions Test) and make it their most important diagnostic; some need you to have secured a minimum number of hours of relevant work experience before you can be considered; for many the interview is key, others don’t even interview every candidate.  It is therefore important to consider your own strengths and attributes, match those to the entrance criteria of the medical schools and apply to those that suit your strengths.  There is no harm in contacting the admissions tutors at the medical schools to have a conversation about what they prefer to see in their applicants.  In fact I recommend that you do this.


Know your competition

Another thing to consider is the competition.  Most would-be doctors have a pragmatic approach to their applications – they don’t mind where they go, they just want to get in and begin training.  However, some universities, rightly or wrongly, attract more applications than others.  Oxford and Cambridge have a certain prestige attached and offer a particular lifestyle that appeals to many.  UCL and Imperial College in London have world-renowned reputations and of course, along with King’s College, Queen Mary’s and St George’s have the attraction of being in London and the lifestyle associated with living in the capital.  This increases the number of applicants and therefore the competition at these places.  It doesn’t make them better medical schools necessarily, but it does mean they can set their bar very high.


How is the course delivered?

Although medical schools are required to meet the GMC standards, they vary in the way they deliver their courses.  You will hear phrases like “problem-based learning,” “clinical training,” “pre-clinical training” and you should make sure you fully understand what they all mean.  At some medical schools you will meet patients “on day one”; at others you may spend a long time studying physiology and anatomy before encountering your first patient or making your first diagnosis.  There are pros and cons to each approach.  Students with strong clinical skills may feel they lack some of the scientific rigour and understanding of their colleagues with stronger scientific backgrounds, who in turn lack some of the communication skills, ability to empathise and other crucial skills essential to become a good doctor.


Where do you want to live?

If you don’t want to live in London don’t apply to UCL!  If you live in Newcastle and don’t want to be far from home, don’t apply to Plymouth University Peninsula! This sounds so obvious, but it is probably the most commonly ignored piece of advice I give to university applicants each year.  People presume that they can sacrifice quality of life for (perceived) quality of degree.  “I hate the idea of living in a big city like London, but UCL/King’s/Imperial has such a good reputation.”  This makes no sense to me.  It takes a long time to qualify as a doctor, that means you will be living in the town or city you choose now for five, six, maybe more, years.  I’m all for taking risks – life is about experiences, any chose you make has an element of risk, but take a calculated risk. Go and visit, explore and picture yourself there.  Decide on the criteria that are important to you and carefully select four universities that match those criteria.  Of course criterion number one is likely to be “can I get in?” but what are numbers two, three and four?



At the beginning of this academic year I led a training event for the whole teaching staff.  It was a positive and upbeat meeting with the team in positive spirits following some great A level and GCSE results.


I decided to focus the session on the teachers themselves to ensure they each felt a part if the success of the College as a whole.  I wanted teachers to know that they make a difference and that their contribution was valued.  I also wanted to challenge some old attitudes and so focused the day on three themes:
  • The impact of the teacher in the classroom
  • No labels
  • Remove expectations
The impact of the teacher
Looking at the impact of the teacher allowed me to discuss the research of John Hattie.  As a starting point to presenting his research, I looked at his own feedback on the importance of the teacher in the classroom.


The teacher can have a huge positive impact on learning (although also a negative one if teaching is not good).  Hattie presents this idea as “know thy impact.”  I wanted the teachers to make sure they understood their importance, but also that they take responsibility for the learning in the classroom.  This animation which illustrates (literally!) Hattie’s eight ‘mindframes’ was a great aid to the introduction of this idea.


No labels
The idea of not labelling students is not a new one.  There is some debate as to what constitutes a label.  Does setting or streaming in schools apply labels to the students inadvertently for example?  But this was not the focus of my session.  Essentially this session was about Assessment For Learning.


AFL is also nothing new, but how much do teachers actually do it on a day-to-day basis?   I know that especially in sixth form teaching there can be a tendency to give a student a grade for a piece of work and then offer no further feedback to the student.  The grade then becomes a label.  For some students who only “need a B to go to university” if they get their B grade awarded repeatedly by the teacher, they have little incentive to improve and have reached a self-imposed ceiling that the teacher is doing nothing to remove.  Equally, there is nothing more demoralising for an A level student who feels they are working hard than to repeatedly receive no feedback other than a single letter “D” “E” or maybe “U” on every piece of work.


Here is Paul Black discussing AFL and the difference between routine feedback and “high-stakes” end-of-school, summative assessment.



Remove expectations
Related to labelling and and appropriate assessment, this is different to raising expectations.  Every teacher should have high expectations for every student.  By remove expectations, I don’t mean “expect nothing”, I mean “expect anything!”  Let’s imagine every learner has the capacity to learn more and to always improve.  I once had the privilege to meet one of my heros – Carl Lewis.  During the talk he was giving he made the remark “not everyone can be the fastest, but everyone can get faster.”  This makes perfect sense in education too.  Expect that every student, no matter what their current level, can always get better.


Zimbardo (he of the famous and controversial prison experiment), here discusses research carried out when teachers are given false “high expectations” of a group of students.  They inadvertently give preferential treatment to that group and the group in turn improve at a faster rate than those the teachers are told to have ‘low expectations” of.  There is no criticism of the teachers, just an interesting observation on how students’ expectations of themselves and teachers’ expectations of learners can influence the quality of learning.


Comment and advice on UK education