Monthly Archives: November 2011



Decentralisation doesn’t help  address inequities, claims Canadian academic


New Zealand has been, and remains, a high-achieving country in international education assessments, particularly the OECDs Pisa. Much of this is thought to be due to its education reform programme. The de-centralised New Zealand model requires schools to compete with each other for students and funding, with the idea that competition will drive improvement across the system. A Canadian academic, Ben Levin, from the University of Toronto, while admiring New Zealand’s system, says that much more could be done to improve the lot of the most disadvantaged pupils and to address inequities.

While overall New Zealand fares well   compared to others, there are still wide disparities in student achievement existing between ethnic groups.  Māori and Pacific peoples’ average PISA scores are much lower for example than the average for Pakeha/European students.  The country has skilled teachers and school leaders, and New Zealanders have a strong positive ethos toward education as well as a generally positive and practical view of the world. But, as everywhere in the world, students who come from poorer families tend to have significantly poorer education outcomes. And much more could be done to address this.  New Zealand has an outstanding education research effort, with a great deal of high-quality work focused on the challenges of better and more equitable outcomes, and strong connections between key researchers and the school system. However, Levin believes that the successful though the system appears to be   it could do much better.  There is much more potential to improve outcomes to use best practice and research and to  reduce inequities.  He claims that  ‘From an international policy perspective, the New Zealand story suggests that a decentralized and competitive system is not enough to improve student outcomes or reduce achievement gaps, even in a small country with a skilled teaching force.’  As far as competition is concerned, in practice, Nevin says that much of New Zealand is still quite rural with a large number of small schools separated from each other by considerable distances, so actual competition is limited in much of the country.  He also noted that the reforms had some unanticipated consequences. For example, collaboration on shared services such as special education became more difficult with decentralisation. Although the first rounds of elections of governors for schools were contested, many schools have difficulty finding enough people willing to serve as governors, and actual elections for governing body members are uncommon.  Nevin concludes that in New Zealand the difficulties are compounded by the high degree of decentralization and the unwillingness to build a national approach to improvement. While the Education Ministry supports various pilot projects — some of which show very substantial benefits to students — it’s unwilling or unable to push the adoption of these programs in all schools. Similarly, the findings of the Best Evidence Syntheses, though powerful, have often not been turned into national policy. Schools regard themselves as autonomous and resist with some robustness anything that looks like imposition from the (Central) Ministry.  Nevin seems to be saying that more space needs to be made in the system to allow for top down initiatives, basically to protect the interests of the most disadvantaged pupils as they are losing out under the decentralized system. We shall see how reformers respond to this analysis.

Ben Levin-Decentralisation in New Zealand



At the Primary level yes probably and small classes help disadvantaged pupils

But evidence less clear post Primary


Well, yes, small class sizes, according to a recent study by a Harvard Professor, do help, certainly in primary  education.

Wishing to obtain data on the effectiveness of reduced class size before committing additional funds,  as the Guardian recently highlighted,the Tennessee legislature in the USA authorized a four-year study in which results obtained in kindergarten, first, second, and third grade classrooms of 13 to 17 pupils were compared with those obtained in classrooms of 22 to 25 pupils and in classrooms of this larger size where the teacher was assisted by a paid aide. Both standardized and curriculum-based tests were used to assess and compare the performance of some 6,500 pupils in about 330 classrooms at approximately 80 schools in the areas of reading, mathematics, and basic study skills. After four years, it was clear that smaller classes did produce substantial improvement in early learning and cognitive studies and that the effect of small class size on the achievement of minority children was initially about double that observed for majority children, but in later years, it was about the same.  The second phase of the project, called the Lasting Benefits Study, was begun in 1989 to determine whether these perceived benefits persisted. Observations made as a part of this phase confirmed that the children who were originally enrolled in smaller classes continued to perform better than their grade-mates (whose school experience had begun in larger classes) when they were returned to regular-sized classes in later grades. Under the third phase, Project Challenge, the 17 economically poorest school districts were given small classes in kindergarten, first, second, and third grades. These districts improved their end-of-year standing in rank among the 139 districts from well below average to above average in reading and mathematics.  Other evidence comes from a longitudinal British study that tracked more than 10,000 pupils in 300 schools from entry to the end of primary. Care was taken to measure factors other than class size that could influence outcomes. Small classes (under 25) had a significant effect on literacy and maths in the first year. This effect endured for literacy (but not maths) in the second year. However, the literacy effect disappeared by the third year, as many of the pupils moved into larger classes. Why though does the size of class make a difference? Teachers spend more time with pupils, individually; the classes were easier to control; and more time could be spent in planning and marking work. Consequently, pupils are better behaved and are more engaged in the process of learning. They asked more questions, discussed subjects with teachers, and were more inquisitive. While bad teachers are not made good by small classes, and while there is a danger that teachers with small classes sometimes fail to adapt their techniques to individualise the pedagogy (having been trained to deal with large ones), particularly for the early years, small is definitely best.  Significantly there is little evidence that teaching assistants improve educational outcomes. While they clearly free up the teacher to provide more individualised attention, they do not have the same effect as simply having smaller classes: results in maths and literacy are not improved by having teaching assistants. So if you want to improve performance don’t expect Teaching Assistants to make much difference.


A recent guidance report to help Free schools, from CFBT Education Trust, Myths, evidence and innovation: a guide to   making the most of Free School freedoms –B. Lipson’ found,  having sifted the evidence ,‘  that reducing class size seems to have greater impact in the earliest grades and for students from  less advantaged family backgrounds.’  So pretty much in line with the Tennessee study. But the report  also cited evidence from Professor Hanushek  who stated: ‘the broad array of approaches, with different  methodologies and sources of evidence, has provided quite a consistent message that broad  reductions in class size are unlikely to produce significant improvements in student achievement.’ In short, Hanuskek says that small class size policies are expensive and largely ineffective.  But while most agree that reducing class sizes   is expensive, the balance of evidence does seem to suggest that small class sizes have an impact at the Primary level, but  that this is less evident at the Secondary level. Educators and politicians have to make a judgement as to whether the expense is justified or whether there are more cost effective ways of raising performance.   But, as ever, it’s the quality of classroom teaching that has the most significant impact on pupil  performance.

The Tennessee Study of Class Size in the Early School Grades; Frederick Mostelle. Professor emeritus of mathematical statistics departments of Statistics and of Health Policy and Management at Harvard University.

Professor Peter Blatchford, visit 



Not necessarily affecting the Curriculum Review


The Government believes that the expansion of qualifications options coupled with the equivalence attached to different qualifications for performance measurement has distracted some schools from offering options based on the value of qualifications for progression to further study and work.   The Education Secretary had been profoundly concerned at the fall in numbers of pupils taking core academic subjects and evidence that some schools were gaming, in other words entering pupils for what he sees as soft non-academic subjects in order to secure a good position in the league tables. Enter the Ebacc.  The English Baccalaureate is a performance measure for schools in England. Let’s be clear though. It is definitely not a new examination or qualification. Nor is it compulsory. It aims to measure the achievement of pupils who have gained GCSE or iGCSE passes, graded A*-C, in English, mathematics, two sciences, a modern or ancient foreign language and a humanity (history or geography). It is seen as just one new piece of information in the achievement and attainment tables although schools worry that in practice it will become a key measure. Many Academies measure poorly against the Ebacc.  The Government acknowledges that other subjects remain valuable in their own right. Nevertheless, it wants pupils to have the opportunity to study a core of subjects, which the English Baccalaureate represents. The English Baccalaureate was included in the 2010 school performance tables (published in January 2011), which showed about 15% of pupils that year achieving the measure. The Government said that it would review the definition of the English Baccalaureate for 2011; however, the Secretary of State announced in July 2011 that he was minded to leave the subject composition of the measure the same in 2011 as it was in 2010. This is expected to remain the case at least until the first changes to the National Curriculum are introduced in 2013.  The introduction of the English Baccalaureate has been controversial. Concern has focussed particularly on the subjects covered, the timing of its introduction (given that the National Curriculum is currently being reviewed), lack of consultation preceding its introduction and the decision to apply it retrospectively to the 2010 performance tables. So what subjects are included in the EBacc package?

Maths and English at GCSE C Grade or above

Enter all three Science GCSE subjects and get a C or better in two of them

Or achieve a C or better in both science and additional science GCSE

History or Geography a C or better at GCSE

Languages a C or better in one modern or ancient language

In addition to GCSE the following exams in the  above subjects also count

A pass in the relevant AS Level taken before the end of KS 4

A C grade in an accredited version  of an existing CIE or Edexcel IGCSE . Ofqual has formally accredited these as Level 1’/Level 2 certificates. Similar newly developed qualifications  will be considered for tables’ eligibility under the proposed 14-16 characteristics. No candidates are sitting newly developed qualifications this year so this will not affect the 2011 tables

In terms of subject inclusion various subject groups have been keen to stake their claim.   Music and the Arts feel particularly aggrieved. The Church has lobbied robustly for the inclusion of Religious Studies and ICT specialists believe that their exclusion is a big setback for schools ICT.   The English Baccalaureate is very different in purpose from the National Curriculum Review and is not necessarily affected by its decisions. That Review will determine what subjects will be made compulsory and at what ages, along with any content that should be taught to all young people. It is worth re-stating that the Ebacc is not compulsory and is aimed at ensuring that  parents know  the achievement of their children in key academic subjects, while also obviously seeking to nudge schools towards focussing more on academic subjects.

Stephen Twigg , the shadow education secretary ,  has given  qualified praise to the measure, which he said might reverse the decline in children studying languages. But he also expressed concerns that it might crowd out other subjects.

Note 1 A statutory consultation will take place on the proposals offered as result of Phase 1 of the National Curriculum Review. This covers the design and content of the programmes of study for maths, English Science and PE and this will take place early 2012.   Following this Ministers will make decisions on the programmes of study and will set out which other subjects will form part of the new curriculum. Phase 2 will involve a call for evidence on these other curriculum subjects and the development of proposals and the design and content of Programmes of Study for these subjects. The consultation on Phase 2 will happen in 2013.

Note2  Tim Oates, in charge of the review, told a conference of academics and school leaders that schools suffer not only “an acute overload which has led teachers to move with undue pace through material”, but also a failure to learn from international developments, and repetition of material within the curriculum. The Department for Education apparently agrees: it is their intention to reduce the curriculum so that it “reflects the essential body of knowledge which all children should learn and does not absorb the overwhelming majority of teaching time in schools”.



Did you know that Heads have a legal duty to stop bullying? Last  week was  anti-bullying week, by the way.   Here is chapter and verse from the  Education and Inspections Act 2006:

Clause 89

Determination by head teacher of behaviour policy

(1)The head teacher of a relevant school must determine measures to be taken with a view to—

(a)promoting, among pupils, self-discipline and proper regard for authority,

(b)encouraging good behaviour and respect for others on the part of pupils and, in particular, preventing all forms of bullying among pupils,

(c)securing that the standard of behaviour of pupils is acceptable,

(d)securing that pupils complete any tasks reasonably assigned to them in connection with their education, and

(e)otherwise regulating the conduct of pupils.

(2)The head teacher must in determining such measures—

(a)act in accordance with the current statement made by the governing body under section 88(2)(a), and

(b)have regard to any notification or guidance given to him under section 88(2)(b).

(3)The standard of behaviour which is to be regarded as acceptable must be determined by the head teacher, so far as it is not determined by the governing body.

(4)The measures which the head teacher determines under subsection (1) must include the making of rules and provision for disciplinary penalties (as defined by section 90).

(5)The measures which the head teacher determines under subsection (1) may, to such extent as is reasonable, include measures to be taken with a view to regulating the conduct of pupils at a time when they are not on the premises of the school and are not under the lawful control or charge of a member of the staff of the school.

(6)The measures determined by the head teacher under subsection (1) must be publicised by him in the form of a written document as follows—

(a)he must make the measures generally known within the school and to parents of registered pupils at the school, and

(b)he must in particular, at least once in every school year, take steps to bring them to the attention of all such pupils and parents and all persons who work at the school (whether or not for payment).


Some schools have fairly straightforward documents concentrating largely on behaviour, but schools are increasingly turning to particular methods, including the no-blame approach, peer counselling, restorative justice and circle time. There is a handbook on these methods  The Anti-Bullying Handbook by Keith Sullivan, Oxford University Press,  is,  apparently, a  good source of information for teachers and parents.  What about the Restorative justice method which has many supporters? The web site has the following view on this – that it is ‘Supposed to ‘empower’ young people as its practitioners believe punishments don’t fit the bill. Peer mediation and circle time are often part of the process. Restorative Justice has been used for some time for offenders to try to make them understand the effect they’ve had on people they have burgled or mugged. It continues – Our experience of the method  ‘No-blame bullying policy by another name. Sadly, bullies don’t always have a better nature and don’t want to make amends but they do find it useful to learn more about their victim through mediation so that they can use that in further bullying.’ 

There is advice on bullying for schools and parents at the site below.  There is a new Live Online Support service for every member of the family to get advice direct from its Expert team, ‘our advisors are standing by to support you with a wide range of bullying problems.’






Struggling with the detail?

How do you  fairly differentiate teachers into outcome categories

And how accurate are current models in rating teachers performance?


Evaluating Teacher performance is central to education reforms in the United States. How teachers are evaluated and measuring added value is the focus of on-going debate to ensure fairness, consistency and transparency. “Value-added” measures of performance, the average gains of pupils taught by a given teacher, instructional team, or school are often the most important  outcomes for performance measurement systems that aim to identify instructional staff for special  treatment, such as rewards and sanctions.   There is also the thorny issue of how you categorise teachers, once you have measured their performance. Do you place them into outcome categories and if so how many?  For example, are they rated highly effective, effective, developing, ineffective, etc. Many states have already designated four or five categories. Those pushing for a minimum number of outcome categories believe that teacher performance must be adequately differentiated, a goal on which prior systems, most of which relied on dichotomous satisfactory/unsatisfactory schemes, fell short. In other words, the categories in new evaluation systems must reflect the variation in teacher performance, and that cannot be accomplished when there are only a couple of categories. The number of categories a teacher evaluation system employs should, of course,  depend on how well it can differentiate teachers performance  with a reasonable degree of accuracy. Given that individual teachers and schools can be subject to significant consequences on the basis of their value-added estimates, researchers have increasingly paid attention to the precision of these estimates. And this is where it can become problematic. If it was accepted that one model of measuring value added did so with a considerable degree of accuracy over time and was absolutely fair and not subject to random results then the task would be pretty straightforward. But that is not how things stand. There can be random differences across classrooms in unmeasured factors related to test scores, such as pupils  abilities, background factors, and other pupil -level influences and, secondly, what has been described as ‘ idiosyncratic’  unmeasured factors that affect all students in specific classrooms, such as a barking dog on the test day,  or  a particularly disruptive student in the class on the day. Existing research has consistently found that teacher- and school-level averages of student test score gains  can be unstable over time. Studies in the States  have found only moderate year-to-year correlations—ranging from 0.2  to 0.6—in the value-added estimates of individual teachers (McCaffrey et al. 2009; Goldhaber and  Hansen 2008) or small to medium-sized school grade-level teams (Kane and Staiger 2002b). As a result, there are significant annual changes in teacher rankings based on value-added estimates.

A report for the US Department of Education ‘ Error Rates in Measuring  Teacher and School Performance  Based on Student Test Score  Gains’ (July 2011) found  that  there is  ‘evidence that value-added estimates for teacher-level analyses are subject to a considerable degree of random error when based on the amount  of data that are typically used in practice for estimation.’   It also said that evidence suggests  ‘that more than 90 percent  of the variation in student gain scores is due to the variation in student-level factors that are not under control of the teacher’

So if this is the case is it realistic or fair to place teachers into five different outcome  categories? It may be possible under existing models for measurement to differentiate the performance at the top and bottom of the distribution but is it precise or accurate enough to differentiate clearly   between the bulk of  teachers in the middle of the distribution? There must be some doubt about this even if you factor in ‘observation’ of teachers work. (teachers performance  evaluation doesn’t rely entirely on value added measurement) It is worth repeating what the NFER in the UK said  in a paper in 1999 when debate on added value  was really beginning in earnest here- ‘What value added data cannot do is prove anything. Value added evidence is only part of the story of school effectiveness. The notion of a value added measure which tells you – and everyone else – how well your school or department or class is doing, and is also simple to calculate, understand and use, is a non-starter’.



Coasting schools in leafy suburbs new target

But SSAT was supposed to be targeting  Coasting school for the  last three years


The Government self-evidently wants to see standards rise throughout the education system so that our schools and system compare with the best in the world. The Accountability regime  has ensured that there has been a concentration on  targeting failing schools, but  the Government also now wants  to ‘ concentrate on the schools in the leafy suburbs that are not challenging their pupils as well as they should. All schools will now be subject to our scrutiny to make sure that they raise standards. The new performance tables will identify how schools perform in relation to children of high academic ability, as well as how they perform in relation to children of a lower academic ability.’ (Nick Gibb, Commons 14 Nov). Currently outstanding schools are exempt from inspection but the opposition worry that this might encourage such schools to start coasting . For example , when an  outstanding leader leaves an  outstanding school, that can often lead to a big change in the performance of that school. The Governments view  revolves around the principle of having proportionate inspection and targeting the limited resources on schools that have the most pressing need. However it is perhaps significant that the new head of Ofsted has said one of his priorities is ‘Coasting ‘schools.It is also true ,of course, that even when schools are exempted from inspection, inspectors will still see some outstanding schools  during the process of  themed inspections, which might look for example  at how religious education or maths is taught.  David Cameron in a Daily Telegraph article last  week says that while it is “relatively easy” to identify problem schools, it is just as important to tackle those that are resigned to mediocrity. “It is just as important to tackle those all over the country content to muddle through — places where respectable results and a decent local reputation mask a failure to meet potential,” he writes.  “Children who did well in primary school but who lose momentum. Early promise fades. This is the hidden crisis in our schools — in prosperous shires and market towns just as much as in the inner cities.”   In January, new league tables will be published that will show how low-, middle- and high-achieving children are performing in their schools.  Coasting schools though is hardly a new problem. Back in 2009 Official data, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, showed  that a total of 470 secondary schools, many located in middle-class suburbs and shire counties, were  “resting on their laurels” instead of pushing pupils to get the best grades. In 2008/9 the SSAT won a contract to  target and support coasting  schools as part  of the   Gaining Ground programme, using its Schools Network. The aim of the programme was ‘to raise students’ rates of progression through collaborative intervention.’ The SSATs Schools Network involvement in the programme ended on 31st March 2011.  Can we now assume that   this initiative failed given that the issue is now being revisited by this Government? What exactly did the SSAT achieve with taxpayers money? I think we should be told. No doubt the SSAT will bid for the next contract to support coasting schools. Other bidders for the Gaining Ground programme pointed out at the time that many of the so-called ‘coasting ‘schools were  then  operating under the umbrella of the SSAT. So it looked at the time that  awarding this quango the contract   was effectively   incentivising failure. And thats what  it still looks like!



Nick Gibb, the schools Minister,  reacting to this weeks Ofsted Annual  report said

” There are still far too many underperforming schools making painfully slow improvements. It is worrying that Ofsted finds that 800 schools are stuck steadfastly at a satisfactory rating in inspection after inspection. It’s a real concern that some schools with very able intakes are merely coasting instead of making sure students achieve their full potential. And outstanding or good schools cannot afford to take their foot off the pedal simply because they have had a strong inspection result.”



Leadership, High Quality Teachers and Principals and performance management key to success


Andreas Schleicher of the OECD, responsible for the OECD Pisa survey and much admired by Michael Gove, the education secretary, looks with admiration at Singapore’s Education system and claims that there are important lessons the world can learn from Singapore. He writes in a blog ‘To those who believe that systemic change in education is not possible, Singapore has shown several times over how this can be achieved. To become and remain high-performing, countries need a policy infrastructure that drives performance and builds the capacity for educators to deliver it in schools. Singapore has developed both. Where Singapore is today is the result of several decades of judicious policy and effective implementation. On the spectrum of national reform models, Singapore’s is both comprehensive – the goal has been to move the whole system – and public policy-driven.

I was struck most by the following features.

Meritocracy. I heard not just from policy makers or educators but also from students of all ethnic backgrounds and all ranges of ability that education is the route to advancement and that hard work and effort eventually pays off. The government has put in place a wide range of educational and social policies to advance this goal, with early intervention and multiple pathways to education and career. The success of the government’s economic and educational policies has brought about immense social mobility that has created a shared sense of national mission and made cultural support for education a near-universal value.

Vision, leadership and competency. Leaders with a bold long-term vision of the role of education in a society and economy are essential for creating educational excellence. I was consistently impressed with the people I met at both the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Labour. These Ministries are staffed by knowledgeable, pragmatic individuals, trained at some of the best universities in the world. They function in a culture of continuous improvement, constantly assessing what is and isn’t working using both data and practitioner experience from around the world. I was speaking with Minister Heng about our Skills Strategy only to realise that he had already studied most of my slides. They also respect and are respected by professionals in the NIE as in the schools. The close collaboration between policy, research and practice provides a guiding coalition that keeps the vision moving forward and dynamic, expecting education to change as conditions change rather than being mired in the past.

Coherence. In Singapore, whenever a policy is developed or changed, there seems enormous attention to the details of implementation – from the Ministry of Education, to the National Institute of Education, cluster superintendents, principals and teachers. The result is a remarkable fidelity of implementation which you see in the consistency of the reports from different stakeholders.

Clear goals, rigorous standards and high-stakes gateways. The academic standards set by Singapore’s Primary School Leaving Examination and O and A-levels are as high as anywhere in the world, and that is also what you see from their results in PISA. Students, teachers and principals all work very hard towards important gateways. Rigour, coherence and focus are the watchwords. Serious attention to curriculum development has produced strong programmes in maths, science, technical education and languages and ensured that teachers are well-trained to teach them. Having been very successful as a knowledge transmission education system, Singapore is now working on curriculum, pedagogy and assessments that will lead to a greater focus on high-level, complex skills.

High-quality teachers and principals. The system rests on active recruitment of talent, accompanied by coherent training and serious and continuing support that promote teacher growth, recognition, opportunity and well-being. And Singapore looks ahead, realising that as the economy continues to grow and change it will become harder to recruit the kind of top-level people into teaching that are needed to support 21st century learning.

Intelligent accountability. Singapore runs on performance management. To maintain the performance of teachers and principals, serious attention is paid to setting annual goals, to garnering the needed support to meet them and to assessing whether they have been met. Data on student performance are included, but so too are a range of other measures, such as contribution to school and community, and judgements by a number of senior practitioners. Reward and recognition systems include honours and salary bonuses. Individual appraisals take place within the context of school excellence plans. While no country believes it has got accountability exactly right, Singapore’s system uses a wide range of indicators and involves a wide range of professionals in making judgements about the performance of adults in the system.


So is there nothing that Singapore can learn from the world? Actually there are a number a points.  You can mandate good performance, but you need to unleash greatness. Finland provides an example for how you can shift the focus from a regulating towards an enabling policy environment. Perhaps it was no surprise then that when I was meeting State Secretary Wong for lunch, he was just returning from a visit to Finland. Singapore’s educators realize that the skills that are easiest to teach and easiest to test, are also the skills that are easiest to digitize, automate and outsource; and that value is less and less created vertically through command and control and increasingly so horizontally by whom you connect and work with. There is much talk about educational success being no longer about reproducing content knowledge, but about the imaginative skills to connect the dots and to anticipate where the next invention will come from; about ways of working, including communication and collaboration; and about the tools for working, including the capacity to recognize and exploit the potential of new technologies. And more than that, the centre of the current discussion is on ethics, values and the capacity of students to live in a multi-faceted world as active and engaged citizens. But much of this is still rhetoric and Singapore’s educators, like educators elsewhere, struggle with finding appropriate answers to what students should learn, the ways in which they can learn these broader competences and how teaching and schooling needs to change to achieve this.  Despite building many bridges and ladders across the system, PISA shows how social background still creates important barriers for student success. Like others, Singapore finds that the emphasis on meritocracy alone provides no guarantee for equity, and that it takes effective systems of support to moderate the impact of social background on student and school outcomes and to identify and foster the extraordinary talents of ordinary students. There is considerable interest in Shanghai’s success with attracting the most effective school principals to the toughest schools and the most talented teachers to the most challenging classrooms as well as in Ontario’s approach to creating awareness of and addressing social disadvantage.  While Singapore does so well in allocating public resources to maximize value for money, the system looks much less efficient when you take a broader perspective and consider the large amounts that parents spend on private tutoring. When measured in PISA metrics, private tutoring actually adds very little in value to the high quality education in Singaporean schools but it does, apart from the money, take up a disproportionate amount of student learning time. They would make much better use of the country’s economic and human resources by accepting rather than ignoring the demand for such more personalized learning and building it into the regular school days of public schools, as countries like Denmark or Finland have successfully done.  So, all in all, while there is a lot the world can learn from Singapore, there remain lessons too which Singapore can continue to learn from the world. In short, there seems always much to gain from education systems collaborating to address tomorrow’s challenges to their strengths today.


All true, I am sure. But  there are worries and concerns. Singapore relies heavily on out of school tuition and has been accused of hot-housing pupils  and there are worries about how its system doesn’t seem to support creativity and innovation. Can you name a single famous Singaporean who has had an impact on the world  in any sphere (apart from that  one politician!)



Statutory Guidance will place a clear expectation on schools to offer face to face careers guidance to disadvantaged pupils


Lord Hill conceded in the Lords recently, during the passage of the Education Bill, (which has just received Royal Assent), the need for face to face professional careers guidance for disadvantaged pupils. This was confirmed in an answer from Nick Gibb, the schools minister, to a PQ on 8 November ‘ ‘The Government recognises that many young people can benefit from a face-to-face discussion of their skills, abilities and interests to help them think through future education and career options. We will highlight this important issue to schools through statutory guidance in advance of the new duty to secure access to independent careers guidance commencing in September 2012, subject to the passage of the Education Bill. The guidance will place a clear expectation on schools that they should secure face-to-face careers guidance where it is the most suitable support, particularly for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.’…

Ministers appear to have got the message, albeit pretty late in the day ,that the more disadvantaged the pupil  is ,the more mentoring support  and good  face to face , independent professional advice and guidance they  will need  to help them make the appropriate choices   for qualifications, and  to identify the best pathways into training , higher education and work, and the earlier they have this the better .Whether Statutory Guidance makes this happen, in schools , remains to be seen.  With record rates of youth unemployment just announced   this issue  now has a much larger signature on Ministers  radar.

Hansard 8 November  PQ


John Hayes, Minister for Skills, announced on 3 November, at the ICG conference,   that in the New Year he intends to establish a National Council for the Careers Service. Addressing delegates concerns that online and telephone services will replace face to face guidance, he said: “I share the view that face to face guidance is crucial, but I don’t make light of [the importance of] online and telephone advice. However, I do understand that face to face advice marks the difference between information and advice, particularly for those with no access to social networks.”  The new National Careers Service launches in April 2012 .The careers sector is currently leading the development of new professional standards to which careers advisers can aspire. The Careers Profession Alliance is working to agree those standards by next year, A revised matrix Standard  was also launched last month.  The new model will transfer the responsibility (in 2012) for career information advice and guidance from local authorities to schools. Schools will have a duty to secure access to these services – which must be independent and impartial – for pupils in years 9, 10 and 11.


Deloitte: Study Suggests Local Authorities Can Help Free Schools Succeed

There are opportunities for local authorities under school reforms

But many authorities see just threats


With the first of the Government’s flagship Free Schools now opened, and with  quite a few in the pipeline, local authorities could have an important role to play in their success according to a new study by Deloitte ‘Local authority national impact – The role for local authorities in the Free Schools and Academies policy.’ The survey is  based on interviews with Directors of Children’s Services (DCSs) within local authorities. Deloitte’s education strategy team found that while concerns remain among DCSs about monitoring performance and making early interventions in failing schools, 83% of DCSs have no proactive plans to assist the delivery of Academies and Free Schools in their areas by taking responsibility for commissioning, and 33% want to be more confident that schools have the capability to take on their new roles.  Free Schools are semi-independent state schools set up by parents, teachers, faith groups and other organizations. Julie Mercer, partner and head of education at Deloitte, said: “Local authorities should look at how they can bring sponsors and providers together, share best practice and co-ordinate across the region.”

Deloitte’s recommendations for local authorities include:

Being the voice of the community to ensure an education opportunity for all children including the most disadvantaged.

Playing a central role to the creation of autonomous schools in the area such as encouraging new schools to open and assisting existing schools to convert.

Spreading best practice among local schools in the area.

Taking a leading role in tackling underperformance issues.

“The assumption is that there is no role for local authorities in the Free Schools and Academies policy, but there clearly can be. To continue to play a part in the English education system, local authorities must look at how they can provide proactive support to academies and free schools,” said Mercer.

The problem, of course, is that some local authorities only see negatives on the balance sheet when it comes to  Free schools and Academies, as their status removes them from Local authority control. Independence from local authority control is seen as a defining principle of the reforms.  Local authorities don’t, of course, run schools but they have provided an administrative and strategic support infrastructure as well as some accountability.  The autonomy though, of these independent state schools, is  often sold as  a means of ensuring their  freedom from the dead hand of  bureaucrats both at central and local government level .

However, some authorities have taken the initiative and are actively, for example, commissioning Academies and  indeed have expressed some enthusiasm for commissioning more Academies(and free schools) in the future. Some are also establishing school improvement consortia to sell services to Academies or forming networks to support underperforming schools.  But the clear message from this is that rather too many local authorities have their heads buried in the sand. By the end of this Parliament it is likely that most secondary schools will be Academies, which could provide local authorities with new opportunities, but still a significant number can only see threats.  This reports message  for local authorities is look again-although some may need persuading.



Personalised Learning


Academies are supposed to be using their autonomy to deliver innovative approaches to improving the teaching and learning environment. So what about Personalised Learning?

The Department for Education does not in fact collect institution level data on curricula or learning plans.  However, the fact that Academies do not have to follow the National Curriculum means that they have maximum possible freedom to personalise learning for their pupils.  An independent evaluation of the Academies programme by Price Waterhouse Coopers assessed curriculum innovation in Academies.  The evaluators explained that “the purpose of giving Academies greater freedom on curriculum matters was to allow them to offer more personalised support to pupils and localities, in both cases often with long histories of underachievement.”  The evaluators found that “the curriculum in Academies is seen by teachers as more flexible and innovative than in the maintained sector.” A recent National Audit Office report on Academies also observed “innovative curricular activities” in Academies including extended teaching hours, provision of a more flexible curriculum and in the use of ICT.  The National Audit Office also found that Academies were proactively using vocationally based curricula, particularly for lower-attaining pupils, to help engage pupils and provide a route to successful learning. Here are some specific examples of personalised learning in Academies:-

•      At Barnfield West Academy in Luton, the focus has been on a personalised curriculum experience for each student through a large number of pathways.  In 2010, Ofsted recognised all aspects of the curriculum as outstanding.

•      Burlington Danes Academy in Hammersmith meets the needs of students who arrive with low literacy by suspending parts of the curriculum to allow them to concentrate on the basics in English and maths, getting up to the correct standard before moving onto a broader curriculum.

•      Wakefield City Academy has been able to focus on the core subjects and also personalise the curriculum to meet the individual needs of pupils. For example, enabling pupils to do three sciences at GCSE.

•      At the Haberdashers’ Aske’s Federation of Academies in London, separate sciences are embraced, Latin is available to A-level and Mandarin is embedded in the curriculum.

•      Barnby Road Academy Primary and Nursery school have been able to increase their “One to One” intervention provision for Maths at year six.  In the Key Stage 2 tests that followed this intervention, 100% of the pupils that entered the tests made two levels progress or more, the first time the school had achieved this rate of pupil progress.

There is, of course, some dispute over what personalised learning actually means and if you ask teachers they will come up with different explanations. But there seems to be a degree of consensus that  pupils don’t all learn  in the same way and can benefit from different innovative  approaches to teaching and learning , whether its through the use of technology, working as part of a team,  more targeted individualised  support on weak subjects and so on. The theory is that if you give schools more freedom they will use it to develop more personalised education and Academies and Free schools could become incubators for new ideas and approaches  to teaching and learning, an idea endorsed by David Cameron recently who wrote ‘I want them (Free schools) to be the shock troops of innovation in our education system’.

“Academies Evaluation – Fifth Annual Report”. Price Waterhouse Coopers (2008).

“Department for Education: The Academies Programme” (September 2010)