From the Director of Curriculum Innovation and Development

As we start a new year….don’t be a Red Queen….

One of my favourite metaphors was concocted by the American biologist Leigh Van Valen in 1973 who was inspired by the Red Queen character from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass. In the novel, Alice finds herself running faster and faster but staying in the same place.

Alice never could quite make out, in thinking it over afterwards, how it was that they began: all she remembers is, that they were running hand in hand, and the Queen went so fast that it was all she could do to keep up with her: and still the Queen kept crying ‘Faster! Faster!’ but Alice felt she could not go faster, though she had not breath left to say so.

The most curious part of the thing was, that the trees and the other things round them never changed their places at all: however fast they went, they never seemed to pass anything. ‘I wonder if all the things move along with us?’ thought poor puzzled Alice. And the Queen seemed to guess her thoughts, for she cried, ‘Faster! Don’t try to talk!’ Eventually the Queen stops running and props Alice up against a tree, telling her to rest.

Alice looked round her in great surprise. ‘Why, I do believe we’ve been under this tree the whole time! Everything’s just as it was!’ ‘Of course it is,’ said the Queen, ‘what would you have it?’

‘Well, in our country,’ said Alice, still panting a little, ‘you’d generally get to somewhere else — if you ran very fast for a long time, as we’ve been doing.’

‘A slow sort of country!’ said the Queen. ‘Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!’

The Red Queen Effect is well known in evolution. A frog species, for example, over many generations perhaps develops a sticky tongue to better catch flies and, in response, a fly species develops slippery bodies; both species have evolved but both evolutions have eventually cancelled each other out – in effect, both have run very hard to stay in the same spot.

As educators, and parents, perhaps the most important goal is to ensure that learners don’t fall into the Red Queen scenario, where each year they seemingly work harder and harder simply to remain at the same level; real learning progress, through defined incremental steps, across time, is the key to learning.

Teachers write comments on paper, on the portal and on reports; quite often these are both feedback (comments on what has been achieved) and feed-forward (comments about how to improve). If students are to escape the Red Queen effect then reflecting upon these comments are so much more important than simply looking at the grade or the score. As we start this new academic year, I would encourage all parents to look at the portal comments on a regular basis.

Mr Alex Borlenghi, Head of Digital Learning and Practice, has produced this visual guide for accessing your daughter’s grades and comments: quick-guide-to-accessing-real-time-reporting

Mr Adrian Puckering, Director of Curriculum Innovation and Development