Educational Thinkers’ Hall of Fame – John Hattie

I’m including John Hattie in the Educational Thinkers’ Hall of Fame because of his reputation for research into positive influences on students’ learning. He was already a well-known academic when he made an international impact with his 2009 book, ‘Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement’.

Hattie Visible Learning

Visible Learning – 15 years of research
He based this book on the biggest ever collection of evidence-based research into the most important influences on school-aged students’ achievements. He considered many factors. These included the influence of home, school, curricula, teachers and teaching strategies. His findings are relevant to adult education too.

He analysed all the evidence that he had collected and ranked the various factors in order of their ‘effect-sizes’. Some of his variables, such as ‘feedback’ or ‘acceleration’ can mean different things to different people and Hattie explained them more fully in his narrative.

Hattie’s average effect-sizes
He used the following descriptions to explain ‘effect-size’ as used in the table below:
• An effect-size of 0.5 is equivalent to a one grade leap at GCSE
• An effect-size of 1.0 is equivalent to a two grade leap at GCSE
• ‘No. of effects’ is the number of well-designed studies producing effect-sizes that were averaged in the table’s right hand column.
• An effect-size above 0.4 is significant and above average for educational research.

This extract from a table of his findings shows some of the highest scoring factors that Hattie identified, ranked by their average effect-sizes. Some of his results seem to be highly significant given his explanation that a score greater than 0.5 can raise students’ GCSE grades. His analysis identifies feedback as being massively influential.


Hattie’s conclusions
Hattie is careful not to use his research to produce superficial ‘how to’ guides for teachers but he outlined some signposts to excellence in education in the last chapter of ‘Visible Learning’.

He came to important conclusions about the power of teachers and feedback, developing a model of teaching, learning and understanding based on his ideas of ‘visible teaching and visible learning’. He concluded that we need teachers who are empowered by being educated about how learning is best achieved and who are enthused about their position and responsibility in helping students to achieve as much as possible. He proposed that the best teachers have a powerful sense of personal agency and a belief in their ability to intervene and to make learning happen.

More recent work
Hattie continues to update his research and findings. He has written a follow-up book, ‘Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning’ and, in December 2011, he published an updated version of rankings in his table of classroom interventions based on 141 more meta-analyses, adding 14 more variables to his new list.

The highest new entry of high-scoring influences, in fourth place, was ‘teacher credibility’. This factor wasn’t listed in his original study.

“The key is the students’ perception that teachers have credibility in enhancing their learning,” he said. “Students are very perceptive about knowing which teachers can make a difference to their learning. And teachers who command this credibility are most likely to make the difference.”

“The effects on achievement are high and the reason is that teachers who constantly show students they care, and know about the difference and impact they are having on them, are ‘visible’ and welcomed.”

About John Hattie
johnhattieJohn Hattie is a Professor of Education and Director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute at the University of Melbourne, Australia and was until recently a Professor of Education at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. This is a very brief and basic introduction to his work, which is current and developing.

A feature in the Times Educational Supplement on 23 September, 2012 (} described Hattie as, “one of the most divisive figures in world education.” It went on to say that, “Opinion is split between those who know of the New Zealander and praise him as the author of teaching’s “holy grail”, and those who know of him and accuse him of being an “egotistical, self-serving” academic, too keen to bask in the limelight.” Strong stuff!

Some readers might have met John Hattie, heard him speak or been influenced by his work. Please feel free to add any further information or links to more resources – or to add your thoughts on the impact and usefulness of Hattie’s research in improving teaching, learning and assessment.

The Secret Teacher, senior leadership, management and focus

A Secret Teacher writes....

A Secret Teacher writes….

‘Senior leaders are drowning in paperwork rather than inspiring others’, says Secret Teacher, in the Guardian‘s ‘School Leadership and Management Hub’ on Saturday at

Senior staff need to be brave enough not to be distracted from the focus; that of creating a culture of good learning. We need to keep in mind what’s important and shift the focus back to enabling students to do the very best they can and getting teachers to feel as empowered and motivated as possible..”

The WEA isn’t a school but we face similar issues. We’re a voluntary sector adult education organisation with more than 1700 tutors across England and Scotland. The quotation above is a good guide for our senior educational leadership and management. This blog is about what we’re doing to ‘shift the focus back’ following a recent restructure and review of priorities.

We’re usually swimming against a tide of emails, deadlines and competing priorities as Secret Teacher says. We do risk drowning in paperwork but we’re trying to make careful choices along the way as we develop new ways of working.

10 things we’ve done recently to focus on a “culture of good learning”

1. We refreshed our vision and reaffirmed our commitment to adult education for social purpose. This gives clearer direction for our teaching and learning.

2. We cut the number of posts in our Senior Management Team. This aimed to cut overheads.

3. Trustees took part in a development event in October, using ‘active learning’ methods to focus on their roles in promoting excellence in teaching, learning and assessment. They wanted this to be at the forefront of strategic planning as the restructured Senior Management Team began to work with them in new ways.

4. Trustees now have a standing item on ‘teaching, learning and assessment’ on the agendas for all their meetings. Using this precise wording is creating space to ‘shift the focus back’.

5. ‘Teaching, learning and assessment’ is also a standing item on the agenda for all Senior Management Team meetings and teleconferences, reinforcing colleagues’ deep and shared interest and ambition for the WEA.

Our senior managers care about teaching and learning

Our senior managers care about teaching and learning

6. Trustees have changed the way that they run their Education Strategy Committee. They concentrate on an individual aspect of teaching, learning, assessment and impact for part of every meeting. Committee members have agreed that they will always ‘challenge the status quo’. Chris Morton, the Chair, invites people with a range of roles within and beyond the WEA to take part in these sessions so that the Committee members learn from different perspectives.

7. We have rooted our self-assessment, improvement and development processes in our work. Many people take part in determining what’s good about our teaching, learning and assessment and what we should improve. Using the AfL approach (Assessment for Learning), our self-assessment is FOR progress and not just OF progress.

8. We now manage student services and support from within the Senior Management Team so that we know about students’ needs, opinions and learning experiences as we make plans and check progress on teaching and learning.

Fiona Parr, Director of Student Services

Fiona Parr, Director of Student Services

9. We are encouraging people to exchange views about theories and practice of teaching, learning and assessment so that we’re actively thoughtful and thoughtfully active about how our students learn.

10. We are continuing to develop Community Learning Volunteers who work beside some tutors and provide classroom support. (This direct learning support is in addition to many Branch volunteers who organise courses and to other active volunteers.)

We’ve got a lot of work to do and I don’t underestimate the challenges but Trustees and senior education managers are regularly asking the question that Secret Teacher poses: “Is it going to directly improve learning?” We need to keep asking the question throughout the WEA, no matter what distractions there are. It’s also a message that all education policy makers, from Government Ministers to teachers, should apply whenever they make professional decisions.

We have to rely on colleagues with expertise in other specialisms to run excellent services alongside education. Teaching and learning would be impossible without them. Their vital roles and professional skills deserve equivalent status and the more that they do to free up educators to educate the better.

It would be interesting to know how senior managers ‘keep the focus’ in other educational organisations. We’re unusual in having such a dispersed and democratic model but we try to be open about what we do and we’re always willing to learn from others’ good practice as we develop.