The Nigel Hawthorne Effect

For the #blogsync project  “Wasted investment? Why do so many teachers leave the profession in the first 5 years?”

The Hawthorne effect is a form of reactivity whereby subjects improve or modify an aspect of their behaviour being experimentally measured simply in response to the fact that they know they are being studied, not in response to any particular experimental manipulation.

The Nigel Hawthorne effect is…

The Scottish Curriculum has eight words. That’s all it needs. Those words form the basis of what we would like in the citizens of our country. It struck me, ten years ago now, as a remarkably refreshing view of the world we want to create for the next generation. In only eight words. Who could argue with them? Who could argue that we would want the children in our classrooms to be successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors? So isn’t it all the more incredible that those eight words have morphed into this:


Every teacher is Scotland has one of these somewhere in their classrooms. I haven’t got much stationery and often have to buy my own red pens – don’t get me started again – but I have one of these. These eight words seem to have got out of hand, a bit like the movie Gremlins. We just couldn’t leave them alone, could we? Flicking through this beautifully produced folder you get the feeling that we’ve, somewhere along the line, missed the point. From  a brief, inspirational message of hope in only eight words you can’t open this up without a feeling of despair and it shouldn’t be that way.

We now have to ensure that we are covering outcomes and expectations and referring to them at all times. We must know the lingo and be able to spurt out buzzwords over the morning coffee, the original intention seemingly lost in a miasma of bullshit. The necessity to over regulate is one of the most disenfranchising aspects of our job. Any creativity often crushed beneath a gathering storm of paperwork and box ticking. We turn ourselves inside out sometimes with waffle and jargon. It seems that those who succeed upwards are the ones who have become expert in that waffle and jargon.


The Hawthorne Effect might suggest that teachers turn into something different when you give them a big folder full of lots of words. Do we modify our behavior accordingly? Is it true that we have to turn into that in order to get on in the profession? Is knowing the jargon more important than being the best teacher you can be? Or should we be striving for both?

The Nigel Hawthorne effect suggests that we turn simple but important concepts and ideas into an overcomplicated gobbledygook. Just because we can.

At the risk of repeating myself, I have always believed that those original eight words should be the bedrock for any curriculum and a basis for everything I do. After a bad week at the office I fully intend to return to them at every opportunity. It doesn’t have to be this way. It doesn’t have to be like this.

5 thoughts on “The Nigel Hawthorne Effect

  1. Am I a bad person because I put the SGF (Shiny Green Folders) into the darkest recesses of my cupboard, never to see the light of day again? I have taken what I need and what my kids need and that’s it. I now see On Track with Learning, SEEMIS Tracking, spreadsheet after spreadsheet with red amber and green things, observations involving checklists approximately two miles longer than an Andrex Puppy’s favourite bedding etc…..what ever happened to the curriculum? IT was buried under a mountain of paper and the original aim was smothered to be replaced by a customer service regime with buzzwords and parental powers that ensure the professionals became simply servants…..

    I want to keep things simple yet powerful so the Eight Word Manifesto will do for me!

  2. I completely agree that the four capacities should have been enough for the enthusiastic teacher or the well organised school – however we have buried them under a mountain of detail at last in part because teachers kept asking for more information and more detail and because CforEx got caught up in a reform of the 16+ exam system which didn’t relate to the four capacities but only one .. and then only to one aspect of that ie successful learners who can apply their learning in the unique setting of a national examination. Keep up the good blogs!

    • Not sure I agree that it was the teachers’ fault, at least not wholly so. Is it not the case that our political masters didn’t trust us to make a good fist of the new Curriculum and spent millions over complicating things? Then we had to ask for help out of the quicksand?
      Thanks for your comment anyway. Always amazed when people even read my ramblings,

      • I agree .. several factors were involved – I would have been happy if they had left it at the four capacities and then spent some money working out how to assess progress towards them, not in a standardised system but in a way that recognised the unique potential in each child, going along with a wholesale abandonment of mass standardised examinations at age 16 and more nuanced and specific testing related to specific career/educational tracks.

  3. Pingback: March 2013 #blogsync: Teacher Attrition EDUTRONIC | Share

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