Some MPs want the government to invest in mindfulness programmes to alleviate stress and reduce attrition in the teaching profession.

Early Day Motion N0 630 in the Commons with over 40 signatories reminds us of how the concept of Mindfulness is now very much part of the education agenda.

The motion notes that approximately one in 10 children between the ages of five to 16 years old suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder and that 75 per cent of mental disorders emerge before the age of 25 years, about 25 per cent before the age of 12 years. It also highlights the fact that as  much as 40 per cent of teachers leave the profession within five years and that stress is the predominant reason cited for leaving the profession;

Given that staff turnover is so  high, lack of stability, the motion says,  is likely to have an impact on pupils’ learning and the cost is significant .

In addition, the costs of mental ill health are set to double over the next 20 years and billions of pounds could be saved through emphasis on prevention and early intervention.

The motion points to ‘the solid evidence-base for the reliable impact of mindfulness for adults on many aspects of psychological and physical health and a growing body of work with school staff and young people, showing that mindfulness interventions can have significant impacts in terms of reduced stress, depression and anxiety, increased sense of control, better behaviour, increased social and emotional skills, cognitive skills and performance in terms of focus and attention’

The signatories  believe  that ‘ all young people and those who work in education, should have access to mindfulness training; and further believes that a Government-funded mindfulness programme will constitute value for money as access will lead to children and school staff being less likely to access costly interventions later.’

A small scale study in 2013 by CFBT Education trust titled ‘Mindfulness’ looked at how mindfulness can be used to manage teacher work-related stress. The results suggest that work-related stress significantly affects teachers, causing increased levels of negative feeling and reduced levels of positive emotion. Using mindfulness had a positive impact on the teachers.

Mindfulness can mean different things to different people but  this definition broadly seems to cover its essentials:  ‘ a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.’ It will not eliminate life’s pressures, but it can help us respond to them and manage them in a calmer more positive manner. Though it has its roots in Buddhist and other forms of meditation, a secular practice of mindfulness is also in evidence and has entered the mainstream. Some dismiss this  all  as new age hype and bunkum.  But if you look at it from the point of view of seeking to develop techniques and strategies to help reduce the stress we all feel at times, then it has some relevance and resonance.



Peer Instruction actively engages the students in their own learning

The idea is to teach by questioning rather than telling


According to Professor Eric Mazur (who spoke on assessment and Peer Learning at the SSAT Annual conference  this month in Manchester ) one problem with conventional teaching lies in the presentation of the material. Frequently, it comes straight out of textbooks and/or lecture notes, giving students little incentive to attend class. That the traditional presentation is nearly always delivered as a monologue in front of a passive audience compounds the problem. Lectures are about information transfer but Mazur points out that education is about much more than this. Information transfer is easy but information assimilation by the student is much more challenging. One way forward is to move information transfer out of the classroom and ensure that students are then well prepared for subsequent value added in depth classroom work.

Over the years, he discovered that students in his introductory physics course were passing exams without having understood the fundamental concepts he was trying to teach. In response to this problem, Professor Mazur developed a variety of interactive techniques linked to each other in ways that help his students learn basic concepts far better than before.

Requiring students to read, think, and reflect before the lecture or class  is the first step in Professor Mazur’s interactive process. He also uses the course website to monitor their learning and communicate with his students.

So how   do you move information transfer out of classroom? You can use according to Mazur  Just in Time Teaching  JiTT (before class) and Peer Instruction  (in class)!

Just in Time Teaching and learning strategy is based on the interaction between web-based study assignments and an active learner classroom. Students respond electronically to carefully constructed web-based assignments which are due shortly before class, and the instructor reads the student submissions “just-in-time” to adjust the classroom lesson to suit the students’ needs. Thus, the heart of JiTT is the “feedback loop” formed by the students’ outside-of-class preparation that fundamentally affects what happens during the subsequent in-class time together.


  • prepares the teacher for class
  • prepares students for class
  • helps the teacher to address student difficulties (and to adjust teaching in the class following feedback)



  • helps students overcome difficulties
  • encourages deep learning
  • provides depth, not “coverage”
  • helps you become aware of misconceptions


Only exceptional lecturers are capable of holding students’ attention for an entire lecture period. It is even more difficult to provide adequate opportunity for students to critically think through or drill down into the arguments being developed. Teachers and lecturers will often assume that students are listening, learning and retaining information that they can apply later on to problem solve .But this is often not the case. How do you know that students understand what you are teaching and how do you help them understand?. Lectures can simply reinforce students’ feelings that the most important step in mastering the material is memorizing a zoo of apparently unrelated examples.

In order to address these misconceptions about learning,Mazur has been part of a programme to  develop a method, Peer Instruction, which involves students in their own learning during lectures and focuses their attention on underlying concepts. Lectures are interspersed with conceptual questions, called ConcepTests, designed to expose common difficulties in understanding the material. The students are given one to two minutes to think about the question and formulate their own answers; they then spend two to three minutes discussing their answers in groups of three to four, attempting to reach consensus on the correct answer. This process forces the students to think through the arguments being developed, and enables them (as well as the instructor) to assess their understanding of the concepts even before they leave the classroom.

Mazur says “ I have taught two different levels of introductory physics at Harvard using this strategy and have found that students make significant gains in conceptual understanding (as measured by standardized tests) as well as gaining problem solving skills comparable to those acquired in traditionally taught classes. Dozens of instructors at other institutions have implemented Peer Instruction with their own students and found similar results.”

Mazur claims that Peer Instruction is easy to implement in almost any subject and class. It doesn’t require retooling of entire courses or curricula, or significant expenditures of time or money. All that is required is a collection of ConcepTests (available on Project Galileo) and a willingness to spend some of class time on well regulated  student discussion.

Mazur says “You can forget facts, but you cannot forget understanding. And that’s actually exactly what I would like to achieve here. I want them to understand the subject so, that they know it for the rest of their life.”




Autonomous state schools better managed than other state schools and private schools, according to new research


The quality of school management is related to school ownership, governance and the leadership traits of head teachers, according to new research. In short, better school management is associated with better pupil achievement.

Nicholas Bloom, Raffaella Sadun and John Van Reenen,of CEP -the London School of Economics- have been investigating differences in managerial and organisational practices across schools and the extent to which these differences may be associated with educational outcomes. The researchers found:

‘  Overall, we find robust evidence that practices vary significantly across countries and are strongly linked to pupil outcomes.’ The report says ‘First, we show that the adoption of basic managerial practices in schools offering education to 15- year olds is fairly limited: the average management score across all countries is 2.27. This represents a considerably lower level of adoption of many of the managerial processes included in the index than in manufacturing (where the average management score is 3.01 in firms of between 50 and 5,000 employees in these eight countries). It is slightly lower than in healthcare (where the average management score is 2.43 in general hospitals offering acute care plus cardiology or orthopaedics procedures in these eight countries).

Second, in the school management index, the UK, Sweden, Canada and the United States are at the top of the ranking, closely followed by Germany, while Italy, Brazil and India lie at the bottom

Third, looking at schools within countries, we show that an increase in the average management index is associated with an increase in pupil achievement. Moving from a school in the bottom quarter of the management index distribution to a school in the top quarter, which is approximately one point in the management index, is associated with an increase in school performance of approximately 15%.

In view of the larger body of research on the effects of educational inputs on pupil achievement, we find that performance associations for management quality are between two to three times larger than for competition and teacher quality and over ten times larger than for a measured input such as class size.

Fourth, there are large differences in the quality of management adopted by schools both within countries and within regions in countries. We find that school ownership and governance is a key factor associated with differences in management practices.

In particular, we find that autonomous state schools (that is, organisations that are publicly funded but governed by school-specific regulations) have higher scores on the management index relative to regular state schools, which are publicly funded and managed according to region-wide guidelines, and private schools.

Fifth, the difference between autonomous state schools compared with regular state schools and private schools does not seem to reflect observable differences in the composition of the pupil body, school and regional characteristics or basic demographics of the head teachers or principals, such as their tenure and gender. In contrast, the quality of school management appears to be related to specific traits of the principals.

In particular, principals in autonomous state schools are more likely to have developed and communicated a long-term strategy for the school and to be subject to stronger governance, making them more accountable for the delivery of pupils’ outcomes relative to the principals of regular state schools and private schools.




Short answer- there isn’t one


Ofsteds Annual report found that ‘too many of our most able children and young people are not reaching their potential in our non-selective state secondary schools’.

Not good, considering that  it is (see below) a  ‘fundamental responsibility of every school in England to ensure that their most gifted pupils receive an education that engages and stretches them at school, as well as inspiring them to reach their full potential.’

So, what is government policy on Gifted and Able Children? There used to be, of course, a specific programme to identify and support Gifted Children in state schools.  No longer. Apart from pious words of support there really isn’t a policy, or at least there isnt  one that works.

The Fair Education Alliance has just produced a report that recommends that the weighting of the Pupil Premium should be shifted so low attaining, disadvantaged pupils rather than high attainers, should get the lions share of the pupil premium.  Odd that. Given that it’s the brightest, disadvantaged pupils who are, rather obviously, the  most likely to be socially mobile and to  have the most  chance  to access the best universities ,if given a nudge.Its difficult , (actually impossible) to see how this  policy  could possibly  serve to advance these two particular,  priority  agendas. There is nothing ‘ Fair’   ,surely,about seeking to shift  limited resources away from our ablest pupils .As  things stand,  we know that they are   pretty poorly served in our schools  system, which is a shame, for both  them, and our economy.

This ,for the record , is current  ‘policy’ :

‘ The Department for Education has no plans to replace the national Gifted and Talented programme. Our plan for education is to raise standards at all schools so every child, including the most gifted, can achieve their full potential.

It is a fundamental responsibility of every school in England to ensure that their most gifted pupils receive an education that engages and stretches them at school, as well as inspiring them to reach their full potential. Schools are best placed to know and respond to the individual needs of their pupils, including the most able.

The Government has freed schools from the constraints of excessive ring-fencing and bureaucracy. Schools leaders are free to decide how best to use their funding to provide extra support to talented children, including using the pupil premium to support gifted disadvantaged pupils. In addition, we have given teachers the freedom to tailor lessons so that every child is prepared for life in modern Britain, and Ofsted holds schools to account for how well they meet the needs of the range of their pupils, including the most able.’

Motherhood and Apple Pie ,spring to mind.

One thing officials are good at are words.  But wordsmiths rarely deliver. Delivery is the hard bit, and that’s where it all goes pear shaped.

As  Ofsted says, too many  of our ablest pupils are not reaching their potential. Either because these pupils are not being identified and supported. Or the interventions put in place by too many  schools   are not working.

One must never forget ,of course, that in some schools teachers and Heads are very reluctant to identify their most gifted pupils ,seeing it as elitist. But  this is hard to square with the idea, shared by most, that teachers should do everything they can to maximize every childs’ potential .



Responding to evidence in the Ofsted annual report that state schools are failing their brightest pupils Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of the Sutton Trust said;

“The chief inspector paints a bleak picture of the opportunities for able pupils in our schools. Gifted and talented programmes have been in decline since funding was scrapped three years ago, and it is vital that the Government does more to support programmes for highly able students if they are to reach their potential.

Our polling, published earlier this month, has shown that 80% of parents want to see extra help for bright students.”


(Source Hansard 9 December)



Harvard Physics Professor Eric  Mazur challenges the way we assess students

System encourages short term memorisation but not 21st Century Skills

We must move away from measuring pupils’ powers of recall towards the application of knowledge


Professor Eric Mazur a physicist from Harvard University  spoke at SSATs annual conference last week.

In his keynote presentation  he  asked- ‘Why is it that stellar students sometimes fail in the workplace while dropouts succeed?’

One reason he offered  is that most, if not all, of our current assessment practices are inauthentic. Just as the lecture focuses on the delivery of information to students, so does assessment often focus on having students regurgitate that same information back to the instructor. Consequently, assessment fails to focus on the skills that are relevant in life in the 21st century. Assessment ,claims Mazur, has been called the “hidden curriculum” as it is an important driver of students’ study habits. Unless we rethink our approach to assessment, it will be very difficult to produce a meaningful change in education.

Mazur argues for a radical overhaul of the traditional exams system to ensure children are properly prepared for the world of work.

He said at SSATs conference   that forcing teenagers to memorise, by rote,  facts to pass tests no longer had any bearing on life outside school, where children can of course  use Google to search for information in seconds.

Instead, teachers should spend more time promoting a “deep understanding” of key subjects rather than prioritising “short-term memory”, he said. Teachers of course do what the assessment and curriculum (and Ofsted here ) demand that they do.

What current systems for assessment test is predominantly lower order thinking skills. The main demand, and for which students are rewarded, is good  short term memory -that is  remembering and retention of information, over the short term. But this information is quickly forgotten, indeed within days rather than  weeks or months. This is why learning by rote   flash cards  (ie  cards used for revision, with a brief question on one side of the card  and  the  answer on the other,)  which is something of a fad in the States is bad and symbolizes just how wrong  our assessments are  . Higher order thinking skills include the ability to understand,  to apply ,to   analyse, evaluate and create.

Thinking Skills can be envisaged as a pyramid ( ie Blooms Taxonomy) with Creating at the apex ie the highest order thinking skill,    with  Remembering   at the bottom or base , with Understading next ascending the pyramid , then Applying etc

Assessment ,says Mazur,  is currently about ranking and classifying, rather than identifying 21st Century skills.

What are the purposes of assessment?

rate students

rate professor and course

motivate students to keep up with work

provide feedback on learning to students

provide feedback to instructor

provide instructional accountability

improve teaching and learning

Grading   students  though is incompatible with problem solving. Students are largely tested and assessed in isolation, denied contact or interaction with their peers,  and denied  access to information. But why?  In effect its their short term memory and ability to cram that is being rated or assessed , not their ability to problem solve.  Not their ability to apply information. ‘High stakes’ tests promote isolation and cramming. Yet in the real world of work people operate collaboratively and although there is a basic requirement for some facts  to stick with individual students , students  can easily  look up key information  they  need to solve problems and ,crucially, we all   routinely collaborate with colleagues  in the workplace to find solutions. Collaboration is also at the core of all invention,   innovation and creativity( a point made by Charles Leadbeater at the same SSAT conference) .

Grading pupils   is a measure of their standing relative to others. While feedback, on the other hand, reflects  on what has been learnt. So lets focus more on feedback.

Assessment can also deliver a conflict. Your teacher or coach is often your judge or marker. Does that happen elsewhere? This conflict is supposedly resolved by professional objectivity and fairness. However, only lower order thinking skills can really be judged in this way, says Mazur ie Remembering facts. And there are other problems around this,  with grade inflation and cheating.

So what about solutions? We should mimic real life, says Mazur. Assessment should not be about isolating anxious students.  We should have open-book exams you can go into any test with access to sources and notes. And yes you should be able to access Google.

And, as far as testing goes ,while you could have an individual elements students could also be assessed as working in  a team and engaging with others to find solutions ie like the  real world. In terms of marking group activity, one example was given by Mazur – called Immediate Feedback Assessment Technique (e-testing). Scratch cards have answers to multiple choice questions. If your team gets the correct answer, with their first choice, you get full marks ie four points . If you get it wrong but consult and get it  right,  at the second attempt, you get 3 points and so on.Mazur has reservations though about the multiple choice format but there are other ways of testing group work he says.

Earlier this year, Tony Little, the headmaster of Eton, insisted the UK education system was “peculiarly uninventive” and the country must row back from its tradition of “ritualised, mechanical” exams.

But Tim Oates, head of research at Cambridge Assessment, who led the government’s review of the national curriculum, defended the exams system to the TES, saying it was not purely intended to prepare pupils for life.

“I believe that examinations are critical; that a form of external assessment is vital and should be administered in the most valid and robust way possible,” he said.



Seeking better quality data on NEET

And more accountability from schools on tracking, destinations and careers advice


On 10 September, Lorna Fitzjohn, Ofsteds National Director for Further Education and Skills delivered a speech at the Further Education and Skills annual lecture . The speech attracted little media coverage at the time but was nonetheless important in   outlining  Ofsteds approach to the 16-19 sector.

Fitzjohn explored the issues that prevent young people from engaging in education, employment or training. She highlighted  the arresting fact that approximately 1,184,000  young people aged between 16 and 24, do not have a full-time job and are not attending full-time education or training courses. That is more than the total population of Birmingham.  She said that while the  raising of the participation age in education, training and employment to 17 last year – and to 18 next year – seems to be having a positive impact on reducing the number of 16- to 17-year-olds who are NEET, part of the problem seems to have shifted and the focus is now on the high number of young people aged 18 to 24 who are NEET. Unemployment currently affects around 605,000 18– 24-year-olds .

The lecture used evidence from the survey Transforming 16 to 19 education and training: the early implementation of 16 to 19 study programmes and is supported by background information, data and case studies.

We now, ostensibly,  live in a policy environment in which both policy and practice should be informed by evidence . However, Fitzjohn points out that even now   we lack  definitive reliable  data on the number of young people who are in the  NEET category. ‘Quite simply, there are far too many people that are unaccounted for. The category used for these people is ‘current activity not known’. They are often called the ‘unknowns’. If you don’t know who these young people are, how can you support them’, she asks

She said “Local authorities have the overall responsibility for recording participation in employment, education and training. However, there are no lines of accountability in making the tracking processes more efficient and effective. The accuracy of the data is also dependent on the quality of the data collection by each local authority and the reliability of data provided by schools and providers. Inspectors encountered hugely contradictory data at a local level. The anomalies were quite shocking. For example, in one area, schools collectively reported a NEET figure of 0%, while the local authority for that area reported a figure of 10%. How can we plan for improvements when we simply can’t rely on the figures we have?”..” Local authorities have the duty to collect this information, but they do not have the power to enforce the providers to submit it to them.”

Her first set of recommendations to address the problems are:

Firstly, the government must ensure that there is a reliable system for tracking a young person’s educational progress and participation throughout their learning career. Plans to use the unique learner number linked to an individual’s national insurance number may be one way forward. However, any system would need to be accurate, secure and fool-proof. Whatever the systems, local authorities must be held to account if their data collection is ineffective.

Secondly, local authorities must have legal powers of intervention to ensure that all schools, academies and FE and skills providers comply with local protocols to provide full and prompt information on learners who drop out of their courses into unknown destinations.

Thirdly, the government must ensure that schools, providers, local authorities and government agencies, such as Jobcentre Plus, are mandated to share (albeit sensitively) information about learners’ backgrounds. This information is key to providing individualised support to young people when they transfer to different education and training providers

One of the main issues is that nationally managed strategies have too often been poorly aligned with local delivery. So there must be national strategies to support local initiatives to develop long-term solutions.

So, in relation to this, here are her second set of recommendations:

Firstly, young people must be at the heart of all planning and delivery of 14 to 19 provision. The government must ensure that there are clear lines of local accountability for the range and content of education and training, be it through the local enterprise partnerships, the local authority or other bodies.

Secondly, employers must take responsibility for leading vocational education and training for young people and make sure it supports the economy of the area. In turn, providers must work with employers to ensure that what they provide leads to their learners securing employment.

Finally, all schools must collaborate with other providers and careers guidance professionals to ensure that every young person has access to impartial careers guidance to help make informed choices about their futures


She concludes ‘As for Ofsted, I can assure you that inspections will take greater account of the actions taken by schools, FE and skills providers and local authorities to decrease the likelihood of a young person becoming NEET. Inspections will focus on how well providers ensure that all young people have a fair chance to progress.’

 This is perhaps the strongest indication  yet that Ofsted  will, in  future, pay much more attention to,  and hold schools accountable for, the quality of  information that  they hold on their pupils, their progress and tracking ,  their training and employment  destinations and the quality of  the impartial  professional careers  advice and  guidance  that  they  actually receive.


More  recently, the Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said in the Commons  on 1 December, implicitly recognizing stakeholders concerns about Careers guidance in schools:”We are consulting representatives to examine what further steps we can take to prepare young people for the world of work more effectively, and to ensure that businesses are engaging with schools in meaningful ways.”

Securing a better future for all at 16 and beyond – annual lecture for further education and skills 2014 Lorna Fitzjohn, National Director for Further Education and Skills

10 September 2014



Given the perceived  importance of governors to the self-improving school system, how come there are still big shortages of good governors and Chairs in areas of most need?

More than 300,000 school governors in England form one of the largest volunteer groups in the country. Since 1988, school governing bodies have taken on more responsibilities and their role has become more important as schools have gained increasing autonomy.  According to Ofsted ‘The governing body complements and enhances school leadership by providing support and challenge, ensuring that all statutory duties are met, appointing the headteacher and holding them to account for the impact of the school’s work on improving outcomes for all pupils’

The  latest Governors handbook says ‘In all types of schools, governing bodies should have a strong focus on three core strategic functions:

  1. Ensuring clarity of vision, ethos and strategic direction;
  2. Holding the headteacher to account for the educational performance of the school and its pupils, and the performance management of staff; and
  3. Overseeing the financial performance of the school and making sure its money is well spent.’

In order to be effective governors need to have the right skills set , a clear understanding of their roles and access to high quality information on their schools and pupil performance. The problem,of course, is that those with the right skills are often busy with their day jobs, and  not always attracted to the idea of working for free. Nor are some all that keen  to be held accountable, and, indeed,  sometimes personally  liable, in a legal sense,  for things that  go wrong in  their  school and over which they feel that  they might not have much control. .

The CMRE think tank,  which has recently discussed with experts the issue of governance and its future .within a self-improving school system ,says that much attention is currently focused,on professionalization, with discussion of routine payment of expenses and even remuneration of governors. These are important considerations if the aim is only to improve effectiveness on the present arrangements. But CMRE suggests that  more thought should also go  towards the legal framework and definition of governors’ duties. This framework entails a spreading of responsibility, which, in turn, mandates specific structures and procedures of governance. Is this apparatus necessary, they ask,  or helpful even, to achieving the outcomes we want to see for our education system? Might there not be  some benefits to liberalisation? In that event, what can we learn from more focused corporate governance and the diversity of models in evidence in the independent sector? And for governance to add value in terms of raising education quality and ensuring equitable access – of particular import in areas where governance capital is persistently low – what supporting reforms might be required?

While more responsibilities and accountability are being given to governors it is also the case that there is a big challenge in recruiting governors and good Chairs, a majority of whom, remember,  are unpaid volunteers. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the most disadvantaged areas, including rural areas and coastal towns, indeed precisely the areas that  most need to drive up student attainment and to narrow  the attainment gaps. These areas also of course  have problems attracting the best Heads and teachers (and their partners too). So, has the time arrived to offer remuneration and/or other incentives to make up for the shortfall, If not across the board then in specific targeted areas? Should Chairs of governors ,for example, be incentivised? And shouldn’t all governors  be required to have some basic training?

In its Report on The Role of School Governing Bodies, The Education Select Committee stated:

“In order to improve the quality of governance in all schools, the Government must stress the importance of continuing professional development for all governors and headteachers. Our recommendation that the Government should introduce a requirement for schools to offer mandatory training to all new governors reflects the high priority attributed to training and development in the evidence we received.”

Given the significant new responsibilities placed on these volunteers and the shortage of supply there may be a need for a rethink.  And, if the current system of governance is so  good, relying ,as it does, on the motivated , altruistic amateur, how come so many schools are still under-performing? And the performance gap is narrowing so slowly?

Perhaps, most worrying. is that the vast bulk of information  requests from  serving governors  to  the  Key ,which provides an information service for governors countrywide , concerns compliance issues and regulations, rather than issues concerning strategy, school improvement, pupil performance , research  CPD and so on, issues seen as vital to improving student outcomes.

James Croft of the CMRE says ‘Given the weakness of the statistical link between measures of governing body effectiveness and pupil attainment, the lack of clear thinking in general around performance indicators for governing bodies, and the viability of alternative models for getting the job done, it is not unreasonable to ask whether the current arrangements are necessary for success.’ He has a point.