Monthly Archives: January 2012



Government offers optional model policy for appraising and dismissing teachers


The Government has published an optional model policy for schools to streamline and speed up the process for appraising and dismissing bad teachers. The ‘Guidance and Model Policy for Appraising and Managing Teacher Performance’ includes procedures to use when dealing with underperforming teachers. The Government says that these procedures are shorter and less complex than the current procedures and will make it possible, in some cases at least, for schools to dismiss incompetent teachers in about a term. The ‘optional’ policy  ‘sets out the framework for a clear and consistent assessment of the overall performance of teachers, including the head teacher, and for supporting their development within the context of the school’s improvement plan, and the standards expected of teachers’.  It also sets out the arrangements that will apply when teachers fall below the levels of competence or conduct that are expected of them.  It says for example ‘The amount and type of classroom observation will depend on the individual circumstances of the appraisee and the overall needs of the school.  In addition to formal observation, head teachers or other leaders may “drop in” in order to evaluate the standards of teaching and learning and to check that high standards of professional performance are established and maintained.’



‘An appropriate monitoring period will be agreed which reflects individual circumstances, allows time for improvement and reflects the seriousness of the concerns. The period of monitoring may be extended depending on progress.  If no or little improvement has been made after the monitoring period, or if the improvement still needed is great, the appraisee will be notified in writing and invited to a formal disciplinary meeting.’


‘Once the Governing Body (or insert details of person or people to whom the power has been delegated) has decided that the member of staff should no longer work at the school, it will notify the Local Authority of its decision and the reasons for it.   Where the member of staff works solely at this school, the Local Authority must dismiss them within fourteen days of the date of the notification.’


The school will refer to the General Teaching Council for England (GTCE) any teacher it dismisses for misconduct or incompetence – or who it may have so dismissed if the teacher had not resigned first.  Once the GTCE has been abolished, the school will consider whether or not to refer to the Secretary of State for Education any teacher it dismisses for serious misconduct and any teacher it may have so dismissed if the teacher had not resigned first.


The Government is also consulting on  the  proposal to introduce a new requirement on governing bodies to share information about whether or not a teacher or head teacher has been in capability procedures when this is requested by prospective employers. This is intended to help reduce the recycling of poor performers from school to school by enabling governing bodies to make better informed decisions when making teaching appointments.


There has been widespread concern, for a while now, over the fact that the management of bad teachers is generally poor and they are more often than not recycled around the system which acts as drag on performance throughout the system, quite apart from blighting the life   opportunities of children in their care.  The Teaching profession, in the form of the unions ,has largely failed to address this issue while concurrently complaining about the relatively low status of their profession. Self-evidently if  the status is to be raised then  the profession cannot tolerate poor performance and must uphold the highest standards that compare with the very  best in the world.

Those teachers who are assessed as being bad should, of course, be given a chance to improve and given the necessary bespoke support. The chances are that most will improve, if given the right support.  But if they fail to improve, either because they lack the ability or will, then they should be dismissed from the profession.

This ‘optional’ policy seeks to speed up the appraisal and dismissal process   while affording time for poorly performing teachers to raise their game.

Link to Document




Will be made subject to the  Freedom of Information Act


The Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) is not currently subject to the freedom of information requests under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.  It is one of the bodies that were consulted on possible inclusion in a section 5 order (that is an order made under section 5 of the Act that allows the Lord Chancellor to designate an organisation that exercises a public function as a public authority) However, to date, no decision has been made.  Academies, for example ,used not to be subject to the FOI but were last year  included under section 5 in order to ensure greater transparency.  It is expected, though, that ISI will be subject to an order later  this year and the Ministry of Justice will liaise with all organisations that will be affected by the order to ensure that they will be able to meet the requirements once the order has commenced.  Independent schools not under the remit of Ofsted are inspected by either the Independent Schools Inspectorate, Bridge Schools Inspectorate or Schools Inspection Service.  The inspectorates work to a framework consistent with that operated by Ofsted.  Further information may be obtained from the individual inspectorates. Contact details can be found using the following links:

Bridge Schools Inspectorate

Independent Schools Inspectorate

Schools Inspection Service



Academies are inspected under the same inspection framework as for maintained schools so all inspections are undertaken by Ofsted.  Some of these inspections are led by HMI, others by lead inspectors appointed by Ofsted’s inspections service providers. (ie Tribal, Serco, CfBT Education Trust). All inspectors have to operate to the standards of HMI.  The selection of inspectors ,of course,  for the inspection of Academies is solely a matter for Ofsted and its inspection contractors.




Personalised Learning-Will it make a Comeback?

It was a reaction against one size fits all teaching

But dropped off the agenda

Does it still have  a utility?


The term personalised learning was probably coined in a September 2004 speech in Britain by the David Miliband, then minister of state for schools, who pronounced that “Personalised learning demands that every aspect of teaching and support is designed around a pupil’s needs” (Hargreaves 2004). This speech was driven by the then Labour government’s desire to reorganize the way services were delivered, to make them more efficient, and responsive to ‘customers’ needs,  given a concern that public institutions and government were lacking legitimacy,  in the public’s eyes.

Over time, the government’s reorganization entailed moving from the universal provision of services by government toward a more personalised approach that was hinged on each citizen’s actions- in short,more bottom up than top down.  Thus, in the UK, personalised learning has been bound up in a larger framework for the personalization of  all public services. In both the healthcare and education sectors, the appeal is to the consumer side of a citizenry, looking for a promise of choice, greater flexibility and efficiencies for the individual. People ,or rather citizens,   should be participants in the design, delivery and co-production of those public goods that they feel are of most worth to them. This is  clearly part of  thinking too that informs the  Big Society agenda. Of course, the benefit to  a financially strapped state is to encourage citizens to take on more personal responsibility for the public good. In this framing of personalised services for the citizenry, UK policy makers do not necessarily distinguish between children and adults.

Professor David Hargreaves had been instrumental in defining this idea in the education sector by establishing nine gateways to personalising learning. In David Hargreaves’ view, personalised learning represents a larger movement that needs to be put forward on several fronts to (re)shape teaching and learning. His nine gateways to personalising learning are assessment for learning; learning to learn; student voice; curriculum; new technologies; school design and organization; advice and guidance; mentoring and coaching; and workforce development (Hargreaves 2006).  The close association of personalized learning and new technologies was a central strand since the inception of the idea, and is part of the all-embracing creed of technocrats looking to enter system level educational reform. The arrival of web 2.0 technologies was supposed to allow for greater and more innovative uses for those new technologies in schools. But it is only now  dawning on politicians that the use of ICT in schools falls way below its potential to transform the learning environment and to foster innovation. Of note is that David Hargreaves was a former chair of the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency, which was the UK government’s main partner in the strategic development and delivery of its information and communications technology (ICT) and e-learning strategy. BECTA, a quango, was   of course shut down by the Coalition government because it was seen as wasteful and bureaucratic, rather too close to big producers  and, somewhat ironically, slow on the up-take ,in a fast changing environment.  In Hargreaves  vision of 21st-century schooling, pupils help make the curriculum, tell the school how to use information technology, set standards and learning objectives, assess their own and one another’s work, spend half or whole days on collaborative  team projects,  and sometimes work at home . Teachers in this new landscape  are mentors or coaches who comment on students’ work rather than grading it. Subjects become “essential learnings”, such as communication, thinking or social responsibility; or “competencies”, such as managing information or relating to people. Schools become part of  a network, working with other schools or colleges or even employers . It was a big vision, too big it seems for the government of the day.

But Personalisation’  wont go away. To some it remains the key to tackling the persistent achievement gaps between different social and ethnic groups. It means a tailored education for every child and young person, that gives them strength in the basics, stretches their aspirations, and builds their life chances “It will create opportunity for every child, regardless of their background.”  Hargreaves ideas were certainly radical which goes some way to explaining why his vision of personalising education really hasn’t quite taken off. A Select Committee hearing into Personalised Learning in 2008, so about four years after its launch, found little  substantive  progress  or indeed consensus on its meaning, and much confusion over what the term actually  looks like  in practice. Professor David Hargreaves bemused MPs when said he had struggled for the past four years to define it but had now concluded that it was “a total waste of time trying to find a definition” .He suggested it was more helpful to see it as a constant challenge rather than a particular state a school could ever say it had reached. He favoured the analogy with business, which had geared itself to meet a “customised” market, rather than a mass-production system. He then, reflecting his own frustration at how the term had been misused, hijacked  and misunderstood delivered a devastating blow to “personalised learning”, saying “I think it has outlived its usefulness”.  The Labour Government had, when it realised what the full vision was and what it might mean in practice, backed off and sought to water down that vision to something quite different –in short seeking the reshaping of teaching and learning through assessing the strengths of individuals and then addressing the specific needs and learning styles of each student applying differentiated teaching.  The mantra was increased  ‘flexibility’. The use of ICT though which was very much part of Hargreaves vision seemed if not to drop off the agenda, to take a back seat.

Other countries though have too focused on ICT and personalisation. So what is happening abroad?

In  Canada –Alberta- the ministry of education’s 2010–2013 business plan addresses personalized learning  and articulates the intent to “support a flexible approach to enable learning any time, any place and at any pace, facilitated by increased access to learning technologies (Alberta Education 2010a, p. 70). In the plan, personalization is addressed in the same breath as technology, where one is the facilitator of the other. In many ways this is a natural reaction of a government looking to create/support public services in a more digitized society, where people are experiencing (or perceiving) greater choice, more voice and increased scope for self-organization throughout their (digital) lives. In the more recent recommendations from Inspiring Action on Education (2010b), Alberta Education’s vision for policy directions, legislative change and transformational shifts for education in the province, personalized learning is not equated solely with emerging technologies, but positioned as extending students’ learning experiences into community. “Personalized learning means that … students have access to a greater variety of learning experiences that include and extend beyond traditional education settings and benefit from increased community involvement in their learning” (Alberta Education 2010b, p. 14).  In the United States the idea of personalisation is focused  mainly, it seems, on utilising  technology. The Charter schools movement is taking a lead on using ICT to personalise learning . A recent CFBT Education Trust report-Making the most of Free school Freedoms’ looked interalia at innovation taking shape in New York Charter schools. The report says that ‘The ‘School of One’ uses  sophisticated technology and algorithms to find the best matches between students,  teachers and resources, and thereby generates a unique timetable for each student every  day. This provides a new level of personalisation for students and ensures they never move on from a concept until they have demonstrated mastery.’ The report continues ‘Technological innovation in a number of US charter schools in particular, is taking the form of what are known as blended or hybrid models of learning wherein computer and face-to face learning take place more and more in parallel’.  It mentions the Rocketship Education which is one such small but growing network of charter schools which is having resounding success serving an overwhelmingly low-income immigrant community in San Jose. Rocketship is at the cutting edge of school reform thanks to its vision for how technology will integrate with, and change, the structure of the school.’  The exciting thing about Academies and Free schools, the independent schools being created as part of the UK education reforms, is that with their new freedoms they have the potential to seek to reshape the learning environment and to innovate around personalising education revisiting and redefining the whole concept. They could act as incubators for innovative ideas and practice, which could help drive system wide reforms.  Personalized learning is not a pedagogic theory nor a coherent set of teaching approaches, but an idea that is struggling for an identity.  But it is a reaction against the ‘ one size fits all model’ and accepts the importance, identity and needs of individual learners, and that they learn in different ways and at different paces and respond differently to their learning environment. One experienced teacher told me the best Head that he  had ever served under interviewed every pupil personally to  establish their learning needs.   The fact is all good schools  will seek to personalise learning  for their pupils.

Alberta Education. 2010a. Education Business Plan 2010–13. Edmonton, AB:

Government of Alberta. Retrieved August 12, 2010, at

Inspiring Action on Education. Edmonton, AB: Government of Alberta. Retrieved August 12, 2010, at

School of One

Rocketship Education



History has been in decline in our schools

Will this change?


In 1995, more than 223,000 pupils, representing nearly 40% of pupils, were taking history GCSE. By 2010, this figure had dropped by more than 25,000, so it is now only 31% of pupils, or just less than a third, taking the subject.  In comprehensive schools in 1997, 169,298 pupils took history GCSE. That figure has now dropped to 155,982.  In 77 local authorities, fewer than one in five pupils is passing history GCSE. Nearly 20% more pupils in the independent sector study history than pupils in maintained schools.  However, the situation is even worse than that. In local authorities such as Knowsley, fewer than 8% of pupils are passing history GCSE.


Ofsted’s “History for all” report found that the quality of subject training for teachers was inadequate in one in three schools and that teachers in those schools did not fully appreciate progression in historical thinking. It found that in primary schools, although pupils generally had good knowledge of particular topics and episodes in history, chronological understanding and the ability to make links across the knowledge gained were significantly weaker. It is also clear that many schools are spending less time teaching history.  All these facts suggest a significant decline in History in our schools which prompted a recent debate in Westminster Hall.


Tristram Hunt the Labour MP and Historian said in the debate (10 Jan) ” A study of the past is the best mechanism for understanding one’s role in the present. Obviously, one can divert into the constitution, the judiciary and all the rest in terms of the modern world, but in terms of understanding both our place as citizens and the role of Britain, it seems to me that history is the best place to do that.” Sir David Cannadine wants history to have the same status as English, maths and science, in the curriculum (currently under review) and says most other European countries  required the subject to be taught beyond 14. (its never been compulsory beyond 14 ,here ). Professor Cannadine has often stressed the importance of History in schools but also in government. He said recently “I believe Whitehall departments should have historical advisers and the government should have a Chief Historical Adviser.  Historians and politicians bring very different perspectives to bear on the contemporary world and greater dialogue between them  would be beneficial to the policy process.  Historians can suggest, on the basis of past precedents, what might or might not work and counsel against raising public expectations that policies will be instantly effective.  This would be particularly valuable in policy areas such as constitutional reform, which have a long and  complex history that must be understood to make the right decisions for today.”


Ken Baker, when he launched the new curriculum ,actually wanted History to be compulsory until 16, but somehow it dropped off the agenda.  Ministers have complained that the current history curriculum is “decidedly thin on actual knowledge”. A Department for Education spokesman said: “We’ve been very clear on the importance of history. That’s why it is a compulsory part of the curriculum up to Key Stage 3 and is one of the core subjects of the English Baccalaureate.” Tristram Hunt is worried that children from disadvantaged backgrounds are being discouraged from taking History and other academic subjects and one of problems is a lack of transparency.   He said “ We should not shunt children from disadvantaged communities off academic subjects; nor should we allow schools to merge history and geography into a humanities subject in which pupils appreciate no element of the discipline. That is particularly a problem in certain academies, and Ministers are slightly shifty on the subject, not least because it is very difficult to get data out of the academies about what is being taught.”


Nick Gibb, the schools minister confirmed the government’s view on the importance of History. He said (10 Jan) “As young people develop, taking on the rights and responsibilities of adulthood, they need a good understanding and appreciation of how and why our systems of democracy and justice were developed and established. They also need to understand the aspirations and values that motivated our predecessors to create the society in which we live today.” Buy why the decline? Nick Gibb thought it was because History is regarded as a hard subject  in which to secure a good grade. He said “History might be regarded as a tougher subject in which to achieve the grades that a school feels that it needs to achieve to maintain or increase its position in the school league tables. We have had a concern for a number of years about the move to what are called softer subjects in order to boost league table positions, and history could well have been a victim of that process. The Government has launched a curriculum review and part of that reviews remit is to decide whether History should be made compulsory. Gibb said “The Government therefore want to encourage more children to take up history beyond the age of 14, particularly among disadvantaged pupils and certain ethnic groups. That is why we introduced the English baccalaureate, which will recognise the work of pupils who achieve an A* to C in maths, English, two sciences, a language and either history or geography, to encourage more widespread take-up of those core of subjects, which provide a sound basis for academic progress.”

According to a NatCen survey of nearly 700 schools, carried out last summer, the introduction of the English Baccalaureate is having an immediate impact on the proportion of children electing to take up study of GCSE history. Schools responding indicated that 39% of their pupils (taking GCSEs in 2013) are taking up history, against 31% of pupils entered for history GCSEs in 2010. This represents an approximate increase of 26% in the number of pupils taking up history.  What the government does have to keep an eye on, though, is what Academies are teaching. Tristram Hunts claims that it is very difficult to find out what academies are teaching suggests there is still an  inexcusable lack of transparency. We know that some academies (and other schools) have been opting for soft subjects to inflate their league table positions (as Civitas has highlighted) and the application of the national curriculum is, of course, not compulsory for academies. If History is perceived as hard and good grades don’t come easily , wont many schools simply continue to avoid History? Now that Academies are subject to the Freedom of Information Act (they were not until very  recently) it should be easier to get information from them.




Evidence that good diet  does  have some effect on school performance


In many developed countries, children’s diet has deteriorated significantly over the last decades;  resulting in significant increases in child obesity, but also in important deficiencies in those  nutrients playing an essential role in cognitive development.  There is increasing evidence that a healthy school lunch whether free or paid for, can have a positive impact on pupils’ behaviour, alertness, concentration and their performance at school directly and indirectly.  Try teaching a class of children who have had no breakfast. One study ‘ Effects of diet on behaviour and cognition in children’ concluded that Diet can affect cognitive ability and behaviour in children and adolescents with recent findings showing a more consistent link between improved nutrition and school performance and behaviour  It found for example  that nutrient composition and meal pattern can exert immediate or long-term, beneficial or adverse effects.  It said ‘In spite of potent biological mechanisms that protect brain activity from disruption, some cognitive functions appear sensitive to short-term variations of fuel (glucose) availability in certain brain areas. A glucose load, for example, acutely facilitates mental performance, particularly on demanding, long-duration tasks.’ One aspect of diet that has elicited much research in young people is the intake/omission of breakfast. This has obvious relevance to school performance. While effects are inconsistent in well-nourished children, breakfast omission deteriorates mental performance in malnourished children. Even intelligence scores can be improved by micronutrient supplementation in children and adolescents with very poor dietary status.

Overall, the literature suggests that good regular dietary habits are the best way to ensure optimal mental and behavioural performance at all times. The behaviour of children and adolescents with poor nutritional status   can, to a certain extent at least, be altered by dietary measures.  What is clear is that for some pupils from low income families school lunch may be their only nutritionally balanced meal of the day. But it is also true that we do not yet have enough  clear evidence of a direct  causal link between diet and educational attainment. There is very strong evidence though that improving the educational attainment of poorer pupils is the most effective way of reducing inequalities.

What about specific research? The Belot and James (2009) Healthy school meals and educational outcomes paper uses the unique features of the “Jamie Oliver Feed Me Better” campaign to study the effects of healthy school meals on educational achievements of children in primary school. The Jamie Oliver campaign introduced drastic changes in the meals offered in the schools of one borough (Greenwich), shifting from low-budget processed meals, high in saturated fat, salt, and sugar towards healthier options. This showed that the intervention in Greenwich did indeed result in higher SATS scores compared with similar LAs with no intervention. The study evaluates the effect of the campaign on educational outcomes using a difference in differences approach; comparing key stage 2 outcomes in primary schools before and after the reform, using the neighbouring Local Education Authorities as a control group. The study found evidence that healthy school meals did improve educational outcomes, in particular in English and Science.  School Food Trust research on School lunch and behaviour in primary schools found Pupils’ alertness increased, resulting in a three-fold greater engagement with teachers in four intervention schools compared with two control schools in Sheffield. The study supports the anecdotal reporting by teachers that children are more alert following a healthy lunch.


Healthy School Meals and Educational  Outcomes (2009) Michèle Belot  Nuffield College, University of Oxford; ISER Research Associate   Jonathan James ; Department of Economics, University of Essex

Effects of diet on behaviour and cognition in children (2004)

France Bellisle; Hoˆtel-Dieu, 1 Place du Parvis Notre-Dame, 75181 Paris, France



RSA report

Is the BS  too idealistic? Is it resonating with public? Not really.


The Big Society, David Cameron’s big idea at the last election, has  pretty much failed to embed itself in the public consciousness. There are a number of reasons for this. One is that the very bright think tankers and policy wonks who came up with the idea in the first place  have spent twice as much time talking  among themselves about it than they have   selling and explaining the concept, and what it looks like in practice,   to potential stakeholders.  Its all been rather incestuous.  None of this has been helped by the  shortage of public funds . The potential  delivery agents   have suffered big cuts  in   these straitened  times  . This hasn’t stopped Philip Blond and his think tank ResPublica from continuing to promote the idea , with considerable vigour, along with thinkers such as Mathew Taylor of the RSA .

A new report from the RSA ‘Beyond the Big Society Psychological Foundations of active citizenship’ looks at the Curriculum of the Big Society.  Curriculum literally means to ‘run the course’, as in curriculum vitae, the course of my life. The ‘curriculum’ of the Big Society is viewed here as a long term process of cultural change, consisting of the myriad activities and behaviours that people are  explicitly being asked to participate in and subscribe to. The hidden curriculum of this process of cultural change comprises the attitudes, values and competencies that are required for this process. The main purpose of this report is ‘to highlight the nature of this hidden curriculum, and indicate how it might inform policy and practice, particularly in relation to releasing hidden social wealth and increasing social productivity’. As this report acknowledges the public’s ambivalent attitude to the Big Society is at least partly due to the Government’s failure to articulate their vision clearly. The big idea in the Big Society that has cross-party agreement and public support, this report claims, is the need to make more of our ‘hidden wealth’- the human relationships that drive and sustain the forms of participation needed to make society more productive and at ease with itself. But this needs in turn a pretty fundamental change in peoples attitudes. Available evidence suggests the level of mental complexity required to develop the competencies required to make the Big Society work is not currently widespread in the adult population. So the report suggests that  for the Big Society to take root, we need to invest more time and energy making  sure that the forms of participation and engagement called for as part of the Big  Society are supported by formal and informal adult education. Social productivity requires that people are both supported and challenged.  Part of a think tanks job is to make us think about issues and this report certainly does that. Unfortunately it also, for me at least, reinforces the perception that there is a great divide between the aspirational thinking and expectations of Big Society thinkers and what is deliverable in practice on the ground for the foreseeable future. Big Society thinking   suggests that people need to be re-engaged as “active citizens”, and enabled to take informed decisions about their lives, communities and workplaces but also to be more participative in designing and in providing services that are demand driven.  However, many people are both disengaged and lack the confidence, skills, knowledge or understanding to do so. This is particularly true for people with little formal education and those most at risk of social exclusion. But even among educated and informed citizens, who perceive advantages in participating more in grass roots initiatives to protect their, and their communities interests, you will find few who are prepared to devote the time and energy on a sustained basis to participate in community driven initiatives, and this is even more so, if there is a lack of available  funding. And,  of course,  many will be expected to act on a pro bono basis.

It is also the case  that there have been too few examples  presented of what the Big Society looks like in practice. And the very bodies – local authorities – that might kick start the initiative  apart from feeling the financial squeeze , remain , for the most part, unsure of what the Big Society means for them and its  practical implications for their commissioning and procurement of services. Time for a rethink?



Any lessons from America?


As reported last week Raj Chetty and John N. Friedman of Harvard University and Jonah Rockoff of Columbia University studied the school records and income tax records of 2.5 million students in a major urban district (probably New York City) over a 20-year period. They concluded that good teachers cause students to get higher test scores, which lead in turn to higher lifetime earnings, fewer teenage pregnancies, and higher University enrolment. The report has caused a stir in the States where education reforms  are focused on improving the quality of teaching through rating teachers on value added measures. In value added measurement student  test scores become a vital  means of measuring teacher performance. The report concluded that “ The most important lesson of this study is that finding policies to raise the quality of teaching–whether via the use of value-added measures, changes in salary structure, or teacher training—is likely to have substantial economic and social benefits in the long run.”

So, in short, teachers jobs will largely depend on the rise or fall of their students’ test scores.

No bad thing, say reformers. This would flush out poor teachers and incentivise good teachers. Given that teachers effectiveness is a vital driver in raising pupil performance  and improving educational outcomes this is precisely what is required to deliver transformational change throughout the schools system . It’s a compelling argument.  But there is a fly in the ointment. Quite a big one, as it happens. Setting aside the problems associated with measuring added value (and there are quite a few) there is one issue that stands out here. If tests are made so important to teachers’  careers  they will do everything they can  to ensure that their pupils  do well in tests. So they will teach for the test. And prioritise their work and resources around these tests. They would then spend extra time preparing students to take them, even more so probably  than  they do now.  And, of course ,the temptation for teachers  to cheat, because so much hangs on the results of these tests,  will be increased (several cheating scandals  have already been exposed ).

Education is not all about passing tests, or at least it shouldn’t be. You cant, and  so don’t, test  quite a lot of what happens in a good school.  Driven by the imperatives of a testing culture and the incentives that go with it  there would be less  school time  allocated to giving pupils a rounded education to encourage the development of good, responsible citizens with well –developed cognitive and (of increasing importance) non-cognitive skills. The Arts would probably suffer too and as for  extra -curricular activities, well  they  would drop off the agenda.

What matters most will be getting the right answer to the test .Sir Ken Robinsons divergent, creative thinking would be discouraged because divergent thinking might produce the wrong answers for the test. Independent, lateral and unorthodox thinking, and indeed teaching, will  not be  admired  or recognised  in a system that encourages  the pursuit of the right formulaic answer. Outcomes in the form of improved test scores might well improve and teachers who raise test scores will doubtless be rewarded, but at what cost?

In pursuit of the noblest of ends- raising the quality of teaching in the classroom which in turn will drive up pupil performance- there is surely a danger of failing to properly educate students and to prepare them for life.

The focus on the importance of high quality teaching is crucial but how you achieve this with fairness, transparency, clear lines of accountability   and without creating perverse incentives ,which skew the system in the wrong direction, seems to me the biggest  and most pressing challenge that  reformers now  face.



Latest  US report claims clear evidence that good teachers really do make a big  long term difference


More research from the States on the controversial “value-added ratings,” which purport to measure the impact individual teachers have on student test scores. A teacher’s “value-added” is defined as the average test-score gain for his or her students, adjusted for differences across classrooms in student characteristics. Consensus though on this issue and how you measure added value and ensure accuracy and fairness is hard to find. Few doubt though the importance of effective teachers and the  positive effect they have on pupil performance and attainment. It is equally true that evidence shows that  poor teachers have a negative impact on outcomes.

This latest paper ‘The Long Term Impacts of Teachers :Teacher Value Added  and Student Outcomes in Adulthood’ is likely to influence the on-going national debates about the importance of quality teachers and how best to measure that quality. The quality of teachers and teachers effectiveness and their impact on pupil performance   are the big issues driving  the reform agenda in the USA. The   paper, by Raj Chetty and John N. Friedman of Harvard and Jonah E. Rockoff of Columbia, all economists, examines a larger number of students over a longer period of time with more in-depth data than many earlier studies, allowing it is claimed for a deeper look at how much the quality of individual teachers matters over the long term.  Many school districts, including those in Washington and Houston, have begun to use value-added metrics to influence decisions on hiring, pay and even firing.  Supporters argue that such metrics hold teachers directly accountable and can help improve the educational outcomes of millions of children. Detractors, most notably a number of teachers unions, say that isolating the effect of a given teacher is harder than it seems, and might unfairly penalize many teachers as there are clearly other variables that impact on pupils performance.  Critics particularly point to the high margin of error with many value-added ratings, noting that they tend to bounce around for a given teacher from year to year and class to class. But looking at an individual’s value-added score for three or four classes, the researchers in this new study claim to have found that some consistently outperformed their peers.  “Everybody believes that teacher quality is very, very important,” says Eric A. Hanushek, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford and longtime researcher of education policy. “What this paper and other work has shown is that it’s probably more important than people think. That the variations or differences between really good and really bad teachers have lifelong impacts on children.”  The study found, inter alia, that ‘When a high value-added (top 5%) teacher enters a school, end-of-school-year test scores in the grade he or she teaches rise immediately… and students assigned to such high value-added teachers are more likely to go to college, earn higher incomes, and are  less likely to be teenage mothers. On average, having such a teacher for one year raises a child’s total lifetime income by $9,000. And the gains from replacing a low value-added (bottom 5%) teacher with one of average quality grow as more data are used to estimate value-added. The gains are $190,000 with 3 years of data and eventually surpass $250,000.


Raj Chetty, Harvard University and NBER; John N. Friedman, Harvard University and NBER Jonah E. Rockoff, Columbia University and NBER

December 2011

Note-Given the clear international evidence on the impact that  good and bad teachers have on student outcomes, the Governments  drive to   focus on the quality of teachers and   their  moves to  make it easier to  remove incompetent teachers from the profession  look to be necessary,  minimum steps to improve pupil outcomes.




The debate rumbles on

Early interventions do matter

Non-Cognitive traits important for high level intellectual functioning


The measurement of intelligence is seen by some as one of psychology’s greatest achievements and one of its most controversial.

Critics complain, with some justification, that no single test can capture the complexity of human intelligence, all measurement is imperfect, no single measure is completely free from cultural bias, and there is the potential for misuse of scores on tests of intelligence. There is also a growing debate about multiple intelligences and the different types of intelligence that can be identified and nurtured- in schools, for instance. Robert Sternberg and his colleagues (Sternberg, 1999, 2006) have studied practical intelligence, which they define as the ability to solve concrete problems in real life that require searching for information not necessarily contained in a problem statement, and for which many solutions are possible, as well as creativity, or the ability to come up with novel solutions to problems and to originate interesting questions. Professor Howard Gardner has questioned the idea that intelligence is a single entity, that it results from a single factor, and that it can be measured simply via IQ tests.  Some children are, for instance intuitively brilliant at acting but cant add up. A pupil might be a master of a musical instrument and sight read music at astonishing speed but be weak at expressing themselves on paper. Another child might have highly developed interpersonal skills, make friends easily but be a hopeless sportsman.  The multiple intelligences set out by Gardner represent a broad range of culturally valued achievement recognised in the outcomes of schooling. Gardner’s multiple intelligences have therefore been utilised to justify the development of broader curriculum opportunities and increased differentiation in teaching. Gardner defines intelligence as “the capacity to solve problems or to fashion products that are valued in one or more cultural setting” (Gardner & Hatch, 1989). Using biological as well as cultural research, he formulated a list of seven key intelligences. This new outlook on intelligence differs greatly from the traditional view which usually recognizes only two intelligences, verbal and computational. Some academics, including the authors of a new report-  claim that the measurement of intelligence—which has been done primarily by IQ tests—has utilitarian value because it is a reasonably good predictor of grades at school, performance at work, and many other aspects of success in life ( see below but also   Gottfredson, 2004; Herrnstein & Murray, 1994).  The world of IQ tests and the way IQ is measured has never quite recovered from the publication of a very controversial book about intelligence by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray called The Bell Curve. The book argued that IQ tests are an accurate measure of intelligence; that IQ is a strong predictor of school and career achievement; that IQ is highly heritable; that IQ is little influenced by environmental factors; that racial differences in IQ are likely due at least in part, and perhaps in large part, to genetics; that environmental effects of all kinds have only a modest effect and that educational and other interventions have little impact on IQ and little effect on racial differences in IQ. For good measure the  authors were sceptical about the ability of public policy initiatives to have much impact on IQ or IQ-related outcomes. A new report Intelligence: New Findings and Theoretical Developments has produced some new and fascinating findings that include the following:  ‘(a) Heritability of IQ varies significantly by social class. (b) Almost no genetic polymorphisms have been discovered that are consistently associated with variation in IQ in the normal range. (c) Much has been learned about the biological underpinnings of intelligence. (d) “Crystallized” and “fluid” IQ are quite different aspects of intelligence at both the behavioural and biological levels. (e) The importance of the environment for IQ is established by the 12-point to 18-point increase in IQ when children are adopted from working-class to middle-class homes. (f) Even when improvements in IQ produced by the most effective early childhood interventions fail to persist, there can be very marked effects on academic achievement and life outcomes. (g) In most developed countries studied, gains on IQ tests have continued, and they are beginning in the developing world. (h) Sex differences in aspects of intelligence are due partly to identifiable biological factors and partly to socialization factors. (i) The IQ gap between Blacks and Whites has been reduced by 0.33 SD in recent years. We report theorizing concerning (a) the relationship between working memory and intelligence, (b) the apparent contradiction between strong heritability effects on IQ  and strong secular effects on IQ, (c) whether a general intelligence factor could arise from initially largely independent cognitive skills, (d) the relation between self-regulation and cognitive skills, and (e) the effects of stress on  intelligence.’


The report asks -What is it about school and preschool that enhances intelligence and academic abilities? Content knowledge (e.g,, learning about climate in different places in the world) and procedural knowledge (e.g., sorting shapes) are of course important, but increasingly scientists are recognizing the importance of developing self-regulatory skills and other noncognitive traits as requisite for high-level intellectual functioning . Self-regulatory skills include behaviours such as being able to wait in line, inhibiting the desire to call out in class, and persevering at a task that may be boring or difficult. There are many terms in the literature for the general idea that people can recognize, alter, and maintain changes in their behaviours and moods in ways that advance cognitive performance. These terms include self-discipline (Duckworth & Seligman, 2005), the ability to delay gratification (Mischel, Shoda, & Peake, 1988), and self-regulated learning (P. A. Alexander, 2008). Self-discipline and ability to delay gratification predicted success across a variety of academic measures (Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews, & Kelly, 2007).  What is particularly interesting about this latest study is that it addresses head -on sensitive  issues such as race, gender and intelligence. And, of course, highlights the importance of non-cognitive skills in order to succeed at school and in the workplace.

Intelligence: New Findings and Theoretical Developments; Richard E. Nisbett, Joshua Aronson, Clancy Blair, William Dickens, James Flynn, Diane F. Halpern, and Eric Turkheimer; Online First Publication, January 2, 2012. doi: 10.1037/a0026699



Class Size less important than teacher feedback and use of data for improving effectiveness


According to a Harvard University paper on New York Charter schools- Getting Beneath the Veil of Effective Schools: Evidence from New York City (November 2011)- evidence on the efficacy of market-based reforms, such as school choice or school vouchers on the one hand and   reforms seeking to manipulate key educational inputs  on the other, have, at best,  had a modest impact on student achievement . Indeed, the data suggest that increasing resource-based inputs may actually lower school effectiveness.

The authors look in detail at 35 New York Charter schools. Charters  were created in the USA  to,  firstly,  serve as an escape hatch for students in failing schools, so most are in disadvantaged areas, and, secondly to use their relative freedom to incubate best practices to be infused into traditional public schools.

Consistent with the second mission, charter schools employ a wide variety of educational strategies and operations, providing dramatic variability in school inputs.

This paper collects data on the inner-workings charter schools and correlate these data with credible estimates of each school’s effectiveness.

The authors find that traditionally collected input measures – class size, per pupil expenditure, the fraction of teachers with no certification, and the fraction of teachers with an advanced degree – are not correlated with school effectiveness. In stark contrast, they  show that an index of five policies suggested by over forty years of qualitative research – frequent teacher feedback, the use of data to guide instruction, high-dosage tutoring, increased instructional time, and high expectations – explains approximately 50 percent of the variation in school effectiveness. The results, they claim,  are robust to controls for three alternative theories of schooling: a model emphasizing the provision of wrap-around services, a model focused on teacher selection and retention, and the “No Excuses” model of education. They conclude by showing that ‘ our index provides similar results in a separate sample of charter schools. Moreover, we show that these variables continue to be statistically important after accounting for alternative models of schooling, and a host of other explanatory variables, and are predictive in a different sample of schools.’

The authors state ‘While there are important caveats to the conclusion that these five policies can explain significant variation in school effectiveness, our results suggest a model of schooling that may have general application. The key next step is to inject these strategies into traditional public schools and assess whether they have a causal effect on student achievement.

Getting Beneath the Veil of Effective Schools: Evidence from New York City

Will Dobbie; Harvard University; Roland G. Fryer, Jr.; Harvard University and NBER