It’s time to say RIP to acronyms in education

  • It’s time to say RIP to acronyms in education

If Julie Price Grimshaw had her way, WALT and WILF would be taken outside and shot...

This article is a GARUDA. You may know that the Garuda is a bird-like creature that appears in Buddhism and Hinduism. However, in this context it stands for ‘Grumble About the Relentless Use of Daft Acronyms’.

My dislike of acronyms began years ago when I attended a course, supposedly on successful middle leadership. At the start of the course we were given a piece of paper with a list of 30 strange, seemingly unrelated words on it. The course opened with the trainer saying “Everything you need to know about middle leadership is on this single piece of paper!”

What a claim. I was intrigued. “First word on the list – NAP! This is the most important.

Whenever the headteacher asks you to do something, you must respond cheerfully with ‘NAP’ – Not A Problem! Now write it on your sheet.” I looked at my watch. It was going to be a very long day. Next on the list was BIBS, which apparently stood for Boss, I Bring Solutions!

We got to the tenth on the list – GLINT (Glad to Lead on Initiatives and Trends) when I decided I’d left the iron plugged in at home.

It was probably the worst course I’ve ever been on – and believe me, there’s some pretty stiff competition there. Do we really need any of this? I’ve noticed it’s a growing trend in schools and I now need to express my loathing.

For years the most common acronyms in schools were WALT and WILF – basically, the learning objective and success criteria. I can find out very little about the reason that WALT and WILF came into our classrooms. To support learning? To save time? I found scant evidence that they really made a difference. I often asked pupils what these words meant: answers ranged from “It’s what the lesson is about” to ‘”It’s the thing we have to copy in our books” to “It’s those two men” (pointing to an image of two rather dodgy looking characters on a poster next to the board).

Admittedly, some did respond with “We Are Learning To” and “What I’m Looking For”, but I’m not convinced that it really supported learning and some just didn’t get the idea of what an acronym actually was. Something that irritated me tremendously was seeing things like ‘WALT: to write complex sentences’ (or a similar objective beginning with ‘to’).

The last letter of the acronym stands for ‘to’, so effectively the above reads ‘We Are Learning To to write complex sentences.’ Eeurrgh.

I did wonder if WALT and WILF were actually there for the benefit of the teacher, possibly helping to clarify objectives and success criteria at the point of planning. I do know that a lot of schools ‘outgrew’ this approach; the head of one such school recently told me that “WALT and WILF were taken outside and shot. We don’t need them now.” Good news, but new acronyms are surfacing.

One I’ve seen recently is FAIL – First Attempt In Learning. I dislike this because a) surely it should be ‘First Attempt At Learning’ (although that doesn’t work as a word); b) it assumes that the first attempt is always substandard; and c) personally I don’t want the word ‘FAIL’ banded around frequently in my school. Apparently there’s also SAIL and TAIL, depending on how many attempts are allowed.

But the acronym I despise the most is DIRT. This is more common in secondary schools but it’s creeping in to some primaries. It stands for Dedicated Improvement and Reflection Time – in other words, responding to feedback.

Why on earth use a word that means ‘filth’ or ‘muck’? Why not just say ‘corrections’ or ‘redraft’?

Whenever I see the heading ‘DIRT time’ written in pupils’ books I want to weep, not least because the last letter stands for ‘time’ so the additional word ‘time’ is unnecessary.

The most common acronym in secondaries is probably PEE (Point, Evidence, Explanation).

Has no-one realised that DIRT and PEE together are more than a little unsavoury?

Some say that acronyms jog the memory, but I see them as just another thing to learn: I have to remember what all those letters stand for. It’s time for IDEAS – Immediately Discontinue the Employment of Acronyms in Schools’!

About the author

Julie Price Grimshaw is a teacher, teacher trainer, and education consultant ( She has been involved in school inspections since 2001. Julie’s book Self-propelled learning and effective teaching is available on Amazon.

Pie Corbett