ET not ER.

I will start by making no apologies for the following. When I was about 14 years old I went through a period where I loved the entire idea of an American way of life. By that I mean I was rebelling against my British way of life (coal mining, heavy industry, poor aspirations, etc) and getting ready to embrace the American way of life (anything is possible, land of the free, etc.) After about 6 months I realised that I was just being silly so I stopped.

But not only did I stop embracing the good ol' US of A, I decided to close the door to the US. And with good reason. All that I wanted in life (possibilities, opportunities and aspirations) was available here where I was. I had been influenced by the Americanization (sic) of our society and I hadn't liked it.

Please follow me on my journey...

I am working my way through the boxed set of ER (An American TV Series from the 1990's). All 331 episodes. Yes it's American but there is no doubting the quality of the writing and the performances. The storylines have a fantastic level of plausability and it is easy to immerse oneself in the drama that repeatedly unfolds. As a good learner I have been able to draw links and parallels within my own career as a teacher.

There have been several scenes where triage has been exercised in traumatic settings. The idea of categorising casualties as Red, Yellow and Green based, respectively, on: hopeless cases, salvageable and no intervention required. I refelcted on how this is probably applied across our schools.

Do we set our pupils based on the level of intervention required or based on their ability to be "saved"?

Do we use resources equally with all pupils or do we discriminate based on need and want?

Or do we just happen to do the best we can based on the resources that we have available?

If we were to use an Educational Triage (ET) system, how would that impact on all the learners in schools?

Some research has taken place regarding this:

Jennifer Booher-Jennings, “Rationing Education in an Era of Accountability” Phi Delta Kappan International (June 2006)  and Prof Matthew G Springer (

Jennifer Booher-Jennings claims that the American "No Child Left behind" (NCLB) approach has done just the opposite by making schools focus on those pupils that best make a difference to the overall school figures. In essence these are the Yellow triage cases.

Conversley Prof. Springer claims that he can find no evidence of ET taking place in the US. "...policymakers should take note that educational triage was not evident in the first statewide analysis of the issue."

And herein lies the problem.

The UK education system has at the heart of it ECM. That is "Every Child Matters". The Americans have the NCLB. It is easy to see that there has been educational plagiarism between the UK and the US. But if we were to look a little closer to home we would see that triage is not an American idea. It appears to have been first used by Dr Larrey, one of Napolean's military surgeons. For it to be used in the field (theatres of war or operating theatres) makes sense. There you have life or death.

When should it be used in education? I don't think we can speak of education in the same way as life or death. I believe it is more important than that (thank you Mr Shankly!)

With education comes the opportunity to give people good lives. Our education system is nowhere near good enough yet.

When I worked for the civil service we had to demonstrate a 95% success rate during our training to be allowed to "fly solo". This pragmatic approach meant that each person who works in certain departments of the Civil Service is going to fail, perhaps, 5% of the time.

It is interesting to see that the Scandanavian approach is different. There they have 3 people dealing with each piece of paperwork to ensure that decisions made are not only double checked but triple checked. They want 100% success even if it is at the cost of a lack of immediacy.

What does this all mean? In general terms I think that our path toward success in education has to balance the demands of policy makers with the requirements of our pupils. An element of "measure twice, cut once" should be applied to any strategic decision being made by teachers, Heads or members of Government. The desire to create a quick-fix is not just limited to vote-chasing politicians. Many teachers and pupils want to get the best results with the minimum amount of effort. If you've read this far you know what effort is!

Some things are worth persevering with. We do our pupils a disservice if we expect a magic wand to be waved to cure all the ills in education. It will take time, and will require more effort than people have ever had to show before. Thankfully the people that will benefit most of all are the pupils.

We could use ET to educate only those that can be educated. Or instead we could treat all pupils as worthy of receiving an education. Teachers don't take an Hippocratic oath but we aren't happy to see any pupils failing. We take heroic measures every day to keep our pupils educational heartbeat going even when they have signed a DNR. We persevere and use any method that we can to allow our pupils to experience the joy of learning.

Some methods are better than others. Thankfully research by John Hattie "Visible Learning" will help teachers to find the best methods possible for their pupils to achieve success. It is vital for our society that we have the best possible education in place. I don't mean just so people can then have jobs or go on to University...and then have jobs. I mean so that our society doesn't break down when there is a lack of opportunity.

Craig Parkinson said "It is about knowing what to do when you don't know what to do."

This seems to have been attributed to Piaget but I don't know if that is true. I'll claim it as mine and I'm sure that people will correct me if I'm wrong. If no-one corrects me, you should attibute it to me!

I saw an opportunity and I took it. If only we all did the same.

Right, back to ER. I'm on series 9 so I'd better crack-on.

You'd better give me a triage tag.

Red (do not disturb).


  1. I think, while you were singing ER's praises, you forgot to mention the gorgeousness that is Goran Visnjic!!


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