Monthly Archives: June 2012



Dont bet on it-GCSEs still not fit for purpose

And still referencing Singapore’s O level


Michael Gove, the Education Secretary ,introducing Michelle Rhee, the former Chancellor of Washington DC schools,  to an audience at Policy Exchange, this week, very pointedly praised Rhee’s moral courage and sustained  leadership in pushing through education reforms  in DC against very  stiff  opposition,  from  vested interests.  In short, these ‘interests’ were  adults who were putting their  perceived interests before those of the children in their care. She prevailed, as it happens, although it wasn’t  easy. She then  set an example   for others to follow and remains a pivotal figure in the education reform movement in the States.

He clearly sees himself in a similar battle here. The Education system is run by adults for adults (producer interests).  And for those who claim there is too much change and its time for consolidation and reflection, he has this  simple message “For those who say it would take years for any such culture change to occur here – I say – we can’t wait. Our children only have one chance at education and we need to ensure they can succeed now”.

In a Commons debate last week  in which he was attacked over leaked plans to  replace GCSEs  with  a more robust qualification, Gove had argued that we already have, in effect, a two tiered qualifications system, given that 40% of pupils currently fail to get five good GCSEs and some of the best schools are now opting for the IGCSE , which is very similar to the O level.

At a Spectator conference ,on the same, day he repeated this clear uncompromising message.   He reminded the audience at the conference that  previous reforms,  which are now well embedded , were  strongly resisted  at the time “ When the last Government opted for a welcome reform of these league tables – and insisted that English and Maths be included in the five GCSE passes by which schools would be measured – there was a predictable outcry from the usual suspects: this was going back to the 1950s, this was squeezing creativity out of the curriculum, this was denigrating alternative ways of learning, this was creating a new hierarchy of subjects, this was recreating an old hierarchy of subjects, this was unfair on students whose backgrounds did not conform to bourgeois expectations and so on… But while adults complained, at least more children were taught to acquire qualifications which mattered. It was a step forward – but it was still progress made on fundamentally unsound foundations.”

He continued “Because GCSEs themselves – including those in English, Maths and Science – had been losing their value over time. Authoritative voices had given warning. Sir Michael Barber feared GCSEs were becoming less rigorous. Durham University showed that GCSEs had become less demanding by a whole grade between 1996 and 2006.. The independent exams regulator Ofqual confirmed that questions in maths and science papers had become less demanding over the years” and so on. a culture of low expectations was further reinforced by the creation of two different kinds of GCSE – one which explicitly placed a cap on aspiration. Important GCSEs like English, Maths and the Sciences were split into two tiers, Foundation and Higher.”

He added “The Foundation paper was designed to limit students’ success. It is impossible for students entered for Foundation tier papers to achieve higher than a grade C. The exam system encouraged rote learning of isolated gobbets of information and schooling in narrow exam techniques rather than deep understanding. Ministers allowed modules and resits to proliferate, conniving at this reduction in demand. The exam boards made even more money. And our children were even less stretched, challenged or excited.”

In a key passage he said “ That is why we have to reform our whole discredited curriculum and examination system. It has worked against excellence and ambition, just when we need more excellence and greater ambition.


“We need to have a system where exam boards compete to show their tests are the most ambitious, not the easiest. We need to replace rote learning and lessons in exam technique with deep knowledge and questions which test understanding. We need to have English tests which require fluent composition, a proper knowledge of syntax and grammar and familiarity with literature beyond the twentieth century. We need to have maths tests which provide students and employers with a guarantee of basic numeracy and the knowledge to progress down both technical and academic routes. We need science tests which require students to understand the forces, laws and reactions which govern our world and to use the scientific reasoning which tests hypotheses and establishes the strength of theories”


“I want us to ensure that in the next ten years at least 80% of our young people are on course to securing good passes in properly testing exams in Maths, English and Science – more rigorous than those our children sit now. This goal, while explicitly ambitious, is also entirely achievable. In Singapore the exams designed for 16-year-olds embody all those virtues and are taken successfully by 80% – and rising – of the population. Those exams – O-levels, as it happens, drawn up by examiners in this country – set a level of aspiration for every child which helps ensure Singapore remains a world leader in education. But there is nothing intrinsic to Singapore schools – or Singapore children – which means that we cannot do the same here.” The schools there are not better funded. The class sizes are not smaller. The children are not innately more intelligent. The culture, however, is orientated towards excellence, demanding of every child, and democratic in its determination that every child should be expected to succeed. For those who say it can’t happen here – I would ask why our children are worth less of our care and less worthy of our ambitions than children in Singapore? And for those who say it would take years for any such culture change to occur here – I say – we can’t wait. Our children only have one chance at education and we need to ensure they can succeed now.”

Does that really  sound like a U turn on his stance of  getting rid of GCSEs in favour of a more robust qualification?  In very deliberately referencing Singapore, yet again, he is surely signalling anything but a U turn.


Note 1

In a debate on Secondary Education in the Commons on 21 June, responding to Kevin Brennan, who was accusing him of creating a two tier system,  the Education Secretary  said “ The sad truth is that we already have a two-tier system in education in this country. Some of our most impressive schools have already left the GCSE behind and opted for the IGCSE or other more rigorous examinations. It is also the case, sadly, that 40% of children do not achieve five good GCSEs, including English and maths, in our system. He said that, under the proposals that are being reported, 25% of children would be left behind. The sad truth is that at least 40% of children have been left behind under the current system.”

Note 2

In Prime Minister Questions on 27 June,  David Cameron was  asked if  he  wanted to bring “back O-levels and CSE-style exams”, he said the UK had to have “in our country an absolute gold standard of exams that are about rigour and high standards”.Mr Cameron continued: “The tragedy is that we inherited from the previous Government a system that was being progressively dumbed down, where Britain was falling down the league tables and GCSE questions included things such as, ‘How do you see the moon—is it through a telescope or a microscope?’“Government Members think we need a rigorous system, and that is what we are going to put in place”.



Michelle Rhee in London

Policy Exchange talk

Gove praises her moral leadership


Michelle Rhee was Chancellor of Washington DC schools for three tumultuous years 2007-2010. She visited London this week to talk about education reforms in the USA.

Her main message-put the interests of children first by ensuring there is  a high-quality teacher in front of every classroom every day.

When she became the chancellor of schools in 2007, a mere 8 per cent of eighth-grade students were doing maths at their proper grade level, yet 98 per cent of teachers got satisfactory evaluations. Rhee says ‘our kids were failing, we were saying, “Well done, good job” to the adults educating them.’

Shortly after taking office she was told that DC spent more per student than virtually every other district, yet consistently delivered some of the worst results.  Around $1 billion was spent in D.C, where $90 million was spent in this geographically small district just on busing – this amounted to a staggering $18,000 per student.  As if this wasn’t bad enough the D.C. school district was often sued for failure to make the mandatory accommodations required by law for special needs students, which ultimately required the district to pay for the placement by the district of these students in private schools.  Many of these private school were not even in DC, but in neighbouring states –Maryland, Virginia etc. Schools don’t need more money, Rhee says, they need to be held accountable for how they spend  the money  they have.  The per capita student  spend in DC is  in fact comparatively good.  She says that it is the interests of children that must drive the system. Too often it is the interests of adults and the vested interests they represent that are the driver. These interests benefit from a dysfunctional system because they are not held to account. How teachers performed in DC classrooms   just  didn’t matter.

Introducing Rhee at the think tank Policy Exchange, one of the most influential think tanks, on 26 June, the Secretary of State for Education , Michael Gove,  said that she had the clear  moral leadership to overcome the sheer power of vested interests and had influenced reform throughout the country.

Its often forgotten that Rhee is a Democrat. Democrats tend to be sensitive to lobbying by organised labour. But she realised that she had to get rid of underperforming officials and teachers quickly , which was  never going to be backed by unions.  She closed  two dozen schools, sacked over 1,000 educators, and fired two thirds (36) of the Principals.  She also got rid of security of tenure. Whether teachers were good or bad didn’t seem to matter before she took over.  If teaching cuts were made it was always last in, first out, so the longest servers had security of tenure, regardless of their   performance. But with a new evaluation system in place you could now identify the best and worst teachers. (rated in four categories)

Rhees approach  was  that that you must do for other children want you would want done for your own  children  (its  notable how few local leaders sent their children to DC schools-unlike Rhee).And you must seek to remove partisan politics from the equation and do whatever is necessary  and right for children. Their interests must always guide reform. ( which is why she supports a voucher scheme for the most disadvantaged students against the wishes of many local democrat politicians)

Rhee wanted all teachers to be evaluated in large measure by how much they can boost their students’ scores on standardized tests. Scores are fed into a complex formula that rates how much “value” a teacher has added to each student over the year.  Socio-economic factors are also taken into account and teachers are also observed at least five times in a year in the classroom. Some account is also taken of what teachers contribute to the school outside the classroom.  Rhee says teachers who consistently don’t add value should be fired; those who do well should be rewarded with six-figure salaries. Under her system an excellent teacher could be awarded twice the salary they had in the old system in which 98% of teachers were rated good. Rhee has acknowledged the value-added formulas aren’t perfect, but says they’re the only objective way to assess and compare teacher performance. “That’s the best measure we have,” Rhee  has said.

Rhee reminded the audience at Policy Exchange of Warren Buffets solution for improving  education. Abolish private education and introduce a lottery system for entry to state schools.

Rhee resigned in the autumn  of 2010 after Mayor  Adrian  Fenty ,who had  recruited her, lost an election . It is arguable that Unions were sufficiently angry with Rhee that they campaigned to defeat him. Fenty  had no regrets though  because the reforms worked and didn’t blame Rhee for his defeat.

Rhee has set up StudentsFirst a network of interlocking lobbying groups, advocacy organizations and political action committees which  now has over a million supporters. Launched on the Oprah Winfrey show, its main purpose is to spread and sustain  education reform throughout the States ,putting the needs of students first.


Rhee says that test results show D.C. students greatly improved in maths and reading from 2007 to 2009. DC  became the only major city system to see double-digit growth in both their state reading and state maths scores in the seventh, eighth and tenth grades over three years.In 2009, D.C. outpaced the nation in gains. The District of Columbia was the only jurisdiction in the country to see gains in every subgroup. The graduation rate rose, and after steep declines, enrollment rose for the first time in forty years.


Do we need a  middle tier in  the  system ?

Twigg launches  Consultation


With most Secondary schools now academies -there are 1,877 academies open in total across England, autonomous from local authority control- there are two  distinct  trends  evident. The first , Heads are being given more freedom over the running of their schools. The second, Heads are incurring greater responsibility for meeting the statutory duties required of schools.  But some are concerned that there is an absence of early warning systems and accountability mechanisms  for some schools that have taken this course.Research  from the World Bank and OECD suggests a clear  link between positive outcomes and school autonomy but only if combined with sufficient accountability.

The functions that have traditionally been fulfilled by local authorities- it has to be said ,with varying degrees of success- are now left with individual schools or groups of schools (chains ,federations etc). The Chains can probably cope and in most  instances are very good. But  some  individual schools may find it hard to cope, and, if things are not going too  well, how long will it take to spot?    Hence, the calls for the establishment of some form of middle tier in the system.

The government is very wary of these arguments.  Ministers see this as a means (self-serving) of re-establishing local authority control and bureaucracy over schools,  indeed precisely what their  structural reforms were designed to remove. In the past some schools have been trapped, without any choice in the matter. Local authority support-or nothing- and, in too many cases, local authorities have failed them, year in, year out. They want the balance of power to remain with schools, not to shift back to authorities. There is nothing now to stop schools accessing support from local authorities, if they so wish.  Some local authority school improvement services are good, some not . But  schools  now have a choice.  And choice is generally a good thing.  Now, as things stand,  local authority support is based on consent.     It is significant, and  no surprise, that lobbyists for local authorities are particularly active in marketing the middle tier idea. But, setting this aside, the middle tier argument is not without its merit, and   it has its advocates outside local authorities and their active support network.

Stephen Twigg, the Shadow Education Secretary, believes that autonomy for schools makes sense (some too readily forget that Academies were launched by Labour) but nonetheless  has concerns that schools will become isolated.  So, whilst it is right to encourage schools to form partnerships that will help raise standards, the current accountability gap leaves too much to chance, he believes.  So, Twigg has launched a consultation on the middle tier, to consider options from all those involved in education. Twigg says,  “The direction of travel under current government policy is heavily centralised. So whilst the government talks about localism, we are not seeing a decentralisation in accountability. It is neither desirable, nor feasible, for thousands of schools to be directly accountable to the Education Secretary. If we are to have greater responsiveness, we need a localised system that mitigates risk and involves local communities in their schools.”

Jonathan Crossley Holland, until recently with private sector provider Tribal, now an independent consultant, was recently commissioned by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services to produce a report on the future role of local authorities in school improvement. He says the evidence is clear .All successful school improvement models require a middle layer. He told the Guardian, this week “Local authorities are uniquely placed to play this role. Many do so effectively, but too many do not. The challenge to those LAs is to restore confidence by raising their game, sharing good practice and being prepared to move to radically different models, such as regionally based commissioning of licensed school-improvement services, which may include academy chains and school-led partnerships. “The challenge to government is to apply the same energy it does to the academy programme to enable all local authorities to be good.” He thinks ministers should look at what is being done in high-performing countries such as Singapore and the Canadian provinces, where investment in school-improvement leadership is considered as important as high-quality school leadership and heads are trained alongside school-improvement staff.

Alan Wood, director of children’s services for the London borough of Hackney told the Guardian  “There must be one body that acts for all the education institutions in a community,” he explains. “Eventually everyone will come round to this view because otherwise everything will end up at the door of the minister. And, in reality, only the local authority can perform this role. “Local authorities have a democratic mandate, they can set a vision, plan places, intervene for school improvement, manage admissions, be bold about leadership and maintain a relationship between local and central government that doesn’t rely on Soviet-style intervention,” he says. “This can’t be done by a handful of chains. Local authorities that are actively trying to push their schools out and relinquish their role are in my view not confident about their moral purpose and responsibility.”

The Tory Chairman of the Education Select Committee Graham Stuart has  said “  I think there needs to be something between the Secretary of State (Make the Grade-Interview- CIEA June 2012) and the school gate that is able to broker support and lend a helping hand  to schools that have got into trouble”.  However, Christine Gilbert who heads the newly established Academies Commission recently gave the  TES her view on the middle tier question and  it  is not the answer you would necessarily  expect from someone who made their name leading local education authorities. Gilbert believes town halls should no longer be at the heart of school improvement and monitoring.  Nor, indeed, should local commissioners or any other kind of new “middle tier” idea currently being floated. Ms Gilbert thinks the job should be left to schools themselves. “It would be the profession supporting the profession,” she explains.

Ofsted’s Sir Michael Wilshaw understands the concerns over accountability but, rather than wanting local authorities back in the frame, is advocating Local School Commissioners. These would be heads or maybe ex-heads, locally based with a sound knowledge of local schools, with Sir Michael recommending that they are directly employed by the Department for Education.

There are different solutions to resolving the accountability issue. But government advisers will acknowledge, in private at least, that ensuring a high level  of accountability   under the new architecture is an on-going challenge.


Have we lost the idea of what a teacher is for?

Should they be more Sage on the Stage, than guide on the side?


One trend in education, gaining traction in the United States, if not here, is to encourage researcher teacher collaboration, viewing the teacher as a scholar in the classroom.  Currently most research on education and teaching is based in universities. But in the past quite a lot of research was undertaken by schools, within schools, with teachers collaborating on projects and then using research to help inform classroom practice . In the 1920s and 1930s many of the researchers in education were in fact practising teachers at the chalk face.   Educationalists are revisiting this model. What it means is getting back to the idea that a teacher is a scholar. Or at least  should be .And that teacher training and professional development   is informed  by the understanding that  a high level knowledge, in depth understanding and   subject expertise are an absolutely crucial part and precondition of great teaching. This idea has been lost along the way.

The term “teacher scholar” seems to have come from Ernest Boyer’s Scholarship   Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate (1990). Boyer focused on US Colleges/Universities  but his conclusion ‘We need scholars who not only skilfully   explore  the  frontiers  of  knowledge,  but   also  integrate  ideas,  connect   thought  to  action, and inspire students’ has a  clear resonance and relevance for schools. Scholarly teachers employ appropriate theories on student learning and pedagogy to their teaching and regularly assess their teaching effectiveness against research and revise accordingly. The teacher-scholar model seeks to bring researchers scholarship into their teaching and their teaching into their scholarship. The idea is that teacher-scholars actively engage students in connecting the life of the mind to the world in which they live through the exploration of scholarship harnessing research. It is about re-professionalising teachers and giving them more space. In this model, scholarship entails the development and application of knowledge that takes place both within and outside the classroom to promote student development and achievement. Teachers are not there simply to coach pupils  on how to past tests, which ,arguably, is the fate of most  modern day teachers. Teacher-scholars are educators who regularly link their subject matter and instructional strategies. What does the Teacher Scholar Philosophy mean in practical terms and what might it demand from teachers ? Here are some possible  themes:

• Understanding current developments in their disciplines,

• Advancing the students real understanding of the discipline,

• Evaluating and analyzing their teaching practices,

• Having knowledge of discipline-specific pedagogical strategies,

• Applying effective strategies to facilitate learning of a diverse student population,

• Applying knowledge to the development of courses and the curriculum and,

• Using evidence-based assessment of teaching to improve their teaching strategies.

Joe Nutt, a teacher, scholar, and education consultant, writes on his blog ‘One of most covert and invidious shifts in educational practice I’ve observed over the years, has been the demise of the teacher as scholar. In his/her place we have the skilled pedagogue: a bland, culturally timid “practitioner” who relies on generic “skills” instead of knowledge, intellect and the thrill of actually engaging with other people’s minds.’  The Scholar Teacher model is antagonistic to the ‘Constructivist’ model.  Constructivists hold that learning always builds upon knowledge that a student already knows. Most of their methods rely on some form of guided discovery where the teacher avoids most direct instruction and attempts to lead or guide the student through questions and activities to discover, discuss, appreciate, and verbalize the new knowledge. This presents the teacher as a guide rather than a Sage or scholar.  It all goes back to that most basic of questions. What are schools actually for? You would have thought that we would have   found a clear answer to that by now.  However, the  on-going  and very  politicised debates  about school structures, social mobility, improved access, the curriculum, assessment, qualifications, creativity, resilience, innovation, teacher quality, professional development, performance measurement are all symptomatic of the   overarching concerns we have that we still haven’t found a complete answer to this most basic of questions. Stakeholders are certainly not happy with what the education system is delivering and the Education Department remains one of the busiest in government, introducing reform after reform to address perceived weaknesses and challenges.  And many teachers are not happy (look at the attrition rate after qualifying). They feel that they are simply agents delivering centrally prescribed strategies with little scope to bring scholarship  and true learning  into the classroom.

One of the newest think tanks to emerge in this country is the Education Foundation which, at its launch last year, asked a basic question-What is education for?  It then launched a debate about what we want from  our education system. Responses were predictably mixed but one common theme  on which everyone seemed to agree was that we are not getting it right.  If we want our schools to educate our children rather than to act as exam factories,  with teachers simply rehearsing  with pupils formulaic responses  to questions, to satisfy the guidelines set by examiners  maybe we should take a closer look at the teacher as scholar model. Many teachers feel that  they are not respected as professionals and not given sufficient time and space to develop their skills.  After all, sound scholarship and research should inform both policy and practice-ie what happens at the chalk face- in education.




The Enquiring Schools Programme in the  UK  aims to help school  staff to  facilitate their own research projects. This programme  is informed by evidence that research  based learning is the single most effective method of professional development.


Charities-How the government lobbies itself and why

Charities are not always what they at first seem


Christopher Snowdon, of the IEA, said  last week, in a new report, Sock Puppets: How the government lobbies itself and why that ‘ It’s time for a radical overhaul of state-funded charities.’

The report claims that in the last 15 years, state funding of charities in Britain has increased significantly. 27,000 charities are now dependent on the government for more than 75 per cent of their income and the ‘voluntary sector’ receives more money from the state than it receives in voluntary donations.

State funding weakens the independence of charities, making them less inclined to criticise government policy. This can create a ‘sock puppet’ version of civil society giving the illusion of grassroots support for new legislation. These state-funded activists engage in direct lobbying (of politicians) and indirect lobbying (of the public) using taxpayers’ money, thereby blurring the distinction between public and private action.

This surge in government spending coincided with a politicisation of the third sector which was actively encouraged by the state apparatus from the Prime Minister down.  The report reveals the true extent of government funded lobbying by charities and pressure groups.  Snowdon argues that, when government funds the lobbying of itself, it is subverting democracy and debasing the concept of charity. It is also an unnecessary and wasteful use of taxpayers’ money.  And by skewing the public debate and political process in this way, genuine civil society is being cold-shouldered.

In 2007 the think tank Civitas raised similar concerns  in its report Who Cares? It said  that Charities that derive over 70 per cent of their income from the state have reached a level of dependency which makes them more part of the state than civil society and they should lose their charitable status in order to preserve the integrity of the sector. In a section of the report entitled ‘Paying You To Tell Us What We Think’, the author, Nick Seddon describes the use by government departments of government-funded charities to carry out research that supports government policy. Seddon believed that ‘As the government funds charities, and even turns statutory bodies into charities, the lines are becoming blurred. These charities come to resemble more and more the statutory departments on which they depend for money, whilst also competing with genuinely independent charities for donations, and creating confusion about what a charity is.’

The IEA report adds that State-funded charities and NGOs usually campaign for causes which do not enjoy widespread support amongst the general public (e.g. foreign aid, temperance, identity politics). They  typically lobby for bigger government, higher taxes, greater regulation and the creation of new agencies to oversee and enforce new laws. In many cases, they call for increased funding for themselves and their associated departments.The report concludes that ‘urgent action should be taken, including banning government departments from using taxpayer’s money to engage in advertising campaigns, the abolition of unrestricted grants to charities and the creation of a new category of non-profit organisation, for organisations which receive substantial funds from statutory sources.

Action should be taken so that:

• Government funding of a charity or other non-profit organisation is not used to promote the organisations’ interests in the policy sphere. Campaigning and education around such interests should be entirely privately financed.

• The government is not financing charities in such a way that there are people working  within that charity whose interests might be strongly aligned with the continuation of    government funding and who have an ability or incentive to campaign in favour of more    government funding.

• Politicians and bureaucrats who wish to pursue unpopular – or even popular – political causes should not be able to do so by setting up a charitable or NGO-front that gives the veneer of independence.

One possible solution to the problems outlined in this paper, says Snowdon ‘ would be for the UK to adopt the US approach which bars organisations from charitable status if they spend more than an ‘insubstantial’ proportion of their resources on lobbying’.

It is true that a number of ‘Charities’ look as though they are nothing of the sort and exploit their status. The clear danger is that bona fide charities, and the sector as a whole, are damaged by the activities by these organisations, some of whom have not only been tolerated by the government but have been actively  encouraged .It is also the case that as more transparency is forced on the government and its executive agencies, charities working for the government are not subject to the same levels of transparency and accountability. Charities   do not come under the  Freedom of Information Act and some statutory bodies have Charitable status. The British Council,  though not a statutory body is a quango that    promotes  British culture  abroad and purports to represent UK education interests abroad (a pigs ear for some reason   springs immediately to mind! ) ,is heavily funded by both the FCO, and DfID , and is a registered charity, yet competes aggressively  in the markets against  British education companies. .  The waters  are, indeed, muddied.

The temptation for Charities to pitch for government contracts is strong .But  there is a danger that in doing so they lose sight of their core purpose and mission, all in pursuit of  much needed new income streams.

It is obviously the duty of Trustees to ensure the respective charity remains focused on its raison d’ etre and can demonstrate public benefit   And for the regulator to keep a  close eye on this.   There is little doubt, though, that some are guilty of mission creep. And charities that do not merit their status serve to crowd out genuine charities.

Sock Puppets: How the government lobbies itself and why, by Christopher Snowdon IEA



Howard Jacobsen in Friday’s Independent was on fine form, giving  Simon Armitage and his constructivist mind -set a well deserved   mauling.

Armitage believes it is OK   for children to learn poetry off by heart providing   “children are allowed to find the poems that fit their voices or appeal to their imaginations and their cultural inclinations”.Jacobsen  is having none of it.   He  replies “No, no, no, and no again. In that weasel sentence is to be found all that’s gone wrong with education in our time, the very reason we have fathered a generation of the disinherited who can’t call on the language of “The Lady of Shalott” or much else in the way of poetry when they need it. They don’t, of course, know they need it. How could they? A good education creates the needs it satisfies, and so long as children are given only what they are “allowed to find” – which dodges the question of what happens if they find nothing – so long as they are taught only what “fits their voices” or appeals to their “cultural inclinations”, whatever the hell those are (a Jewish inclination to Sholem Aleichem, maybe), they remain in blank ignorance of, not to say in blank indifference to, languages of feeling, of inestimable value to us, but assumed to be of no use or relevance to them.” Ouch!

A blast against Armitage, for sure, but also  against the constructivist approach to education which many, including Government ministers, believe has done so much damage in the past to our children’s education .It holds that learners  must discover or find  knowledge  for themselves and the teacher is seen as a  facilitator . This approach was championed by the late John Dewey, whose ideas ,its safe to say, are not informing this  governments approach to  curriculum reforms.


Too little, too late


The recent CBI report Learning to Grow suggests that our education system is still far from being fit for purpose.   The number of employers who are dissatisfied with school and college leavers’ basic skills remains stuck at around a third – the same as a decade ago – with 42% reporting that they have had to provide remedial training for school and college leavers.

Given the governments focus on improving social mobility, there are worrying concerns over the quality and scope of careers advice being given to our young people to ensure they make informed decisions about what they study, and the pathways into training and  work.  Just 4% of employers believe that careers advice in schools and colleges is good enough, while more than two thirds (72%) believe it has to improve. The report says that the new National Careers Service will need to deliver a step change in this poor level of performance. This new service though is focused on and funded for  adults, rather than pupils at school. Schools have  devolved statutory responsibility for   careers advice, but without any ring- fenced funding.  The Report stresses the importance of ‘high quality impartial advice grounded in information about the jobs market to allow them to make informed choices about their career.’ Recognising the scale of the challenge the report says that businesses are willing to help  with many employers actively involved in providing careers advice, with over half  (60%) willing to play a greater role. Young people, of course, need good professional advice well before they get anywhere near employers. The worry is that far too many, including those who would benefit most from  independent professional advice, will not  have access to it, certainly not as things currently stand.




Schools Minister Nick Gibb is a fan of  Professor ED Hirsch

Curriculum Proposals reflect his approach and ideas

The Governments approach to the new curriculum has been informed by the thinking of Professor ED Hirsch, a traditionalist and opponent of the approach articulated by  the late  John Dewey. Hirsch accused Dewey of creating a form of educational anarchy, of leaving children’s education to themselves. Hirsch asserts that Dewey separated knowledge from education. Dewey criticised traditional education for lacking in holistic understanding of students and their experience  and designing curricula overly focused on content rather than content and process which is judged specifically  by its contribution to the well-being of individuals and society.

Hirsch is often quoted by schools minister Nick Gibb, who is an unabashed admirer of Hirsch, rather than Dewey . Dewey has been labelled a ‘progressive’ meaning that he eschews the traditional approach, which is,  as one might expect, an over- simplification of his position.

Hirsch believes that the basic goal of education in a human community is ‘acculturation’ – in other words the transmission to children of the specific information shared by the adults of the group or community. So knowing key objective facts and possessing a strong foundation of  general knowledge  are at the  very heart  of a good  rounded education. His 1987 book, Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know, appended long lists of facts and tapped a strong current of concern about US education, which continues until today. It was then extended to provide a Core Knowledge Sequence of year-on-year prescriptions for each subject pre-school to Grade 8 (age 13-14). Cultural literacy is the necessary core information that students must have to understand what they read. Young people are not good readers because they lack this  cultural literacy, Hirsch argued  .He set out to remedy the problem by “spelling out, grade by grade, in detail, what students must know in a variety of fields if they are to be competent and understanding readers.” He also said that the more knowledge and skill a person has, the more they can acquire. “Learning builds on learning” and has a multiplier effect.

In addition to this Core Knowledge curriculum, Hirsch launched a system of Core Knowledge schools to teach it along with a Core Knowledge Foundation to support them. Hirsch emphasizes that all learning requires effort. The effort of attention is needed as well as, crucially, repetition.  There is nothing wrong with repetition-indeed its an important tool. He argues that “no matter how much innate maths ability a child has, he or she will not learn the multiplication table effectively by osmosis” Thus, drill and practice are necessary for learning. This is clearly reflected in the proposals for the new Primary curriculum.


Professional capital has three components according to   Professor Michael Fullan-human, social, and decisional.

Fullan claims that the United States is failing to invest in the professional capital of  its teachers.

Human capital is about the qualities of individuals.  But ,  Fullan says, you can’t accumulate much human capital by focusing only on the capital of individuals. Human capital must be complemented by social capital—groups working hard in focused and committed ways to bring about substantial improvements. Social capital can raise individual human capital—a good team, school, or system lifts everyone. But, as we often see in sports, higher individual human capital—a few brilliant stars—does not necessarily improve the overall team.The third component—decisional capital—involves making decisions in complex situations on innumerable occasions with different problems and cases. It is what professionalism is all about, especially when well-qualified professionals do this together. Like judges, after many years of practice and analyzing that practice and lots of case examples with others, teachers and other professionals know how to assess situations effectively. The evidence helps, but it’s never incontrovertible. In teaching as in law, it’s the capacity to judge that makes the difference in the end.

When the vast majority of teachers possess the power of professional capital, they become smart and talented, committed and collegial, thoughtful and wise. Their moral purpose is expressed in their relentless, expert-driven pursuit of serving their students and their communities and always learning how to do better. Those few colleagues who persistently fall short of the mark eventually will not be tolerated by peers who see them as letting down their profession and students.

“We need to concentrate on moving the entire profession forward instead of obsessing about the extremes in the field by celebrating the stars and dismissing the duds.”says Fullan

High-performing countries use professional capital in their approach to the teaching profession. They don’t pick on, praise, or punish a few individuals. Instead, they get better and better by using a strategy that develops and retains all of their high-quality teachers and moves them all forward together.

Fullan writes ‘ Based on our experience and research in school change and system change in relation to teachers, we have written action guidelines for teachers, school and district leaders, and state and national leaders, both in governments and unions. Here is a sample of what we propose:

• Social capital is more important than individual human capital because it generates human capital faster, among all teachers and for every child. Leaders have immense power with social capital to strengthen their school communities, develop greater trust, and build more effective professional collaboration—to raise the social capital in the school that develops their students’ human capital in the future.

• We need to concentrate on moving the entire profession forward instead of obsessing about the extremes in the field by celebrating the stars and dismissing the duds.

• Midcareer (from about eight-years-plus) is where teachers are considered to be at their peak in commitment and enthusiasm, but where they tend to be most overlooked. We need to use pay accelerators (steps up in pay), professional learning incentives, and multiple career paths to invest in keeping most of our teachers in classrooms for four to eight years at least and to take better advantage of their growing decisional capital and expertise.

• Good collegiality—social capital—is supportive and also demanding. Peer-driven change should be about pulling people into exciting changes and sometimes also pushing and nudging them beyond what they perceive as their limits, for their own and their students’ benefit.

• There are new and more positive roles for teachers’ unions, as agents of changes that benefit students and their members’ hunger for success with students, not just as opponents of bad reforms.

• Governments need to demonstrate courage and faith in investing in long-term professional capital among all teachers for everyone’s achievement, rather than pursuing short-term business-capital interests that reduce the cost and tenure of teachers, pit them against one another, and replace them with online alternatives in order to get a quick financial return.

Fullan concludes that ‘ Other countries have invested in the professional capital of their teachers, and they and their students are reaping the benefits. The United States, meanwhile, is going down a reverse path. If we don’t change direction, the consequences for our society will be catastrophic.’

Michael Fullan is a professor emeritus at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto. Andy Hargreaves holds the Thomas More Brennan chair in education at the Lynch School of Education at Boston College. They are the co-authors of Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in Every School (Teachers College Press, 2012).


Milburns report –  but what about  information, advice and guidance?

A hole in the Social Mobility Pipeline?


Tessa Stone of the Bridge Group in a Guardian article this week, looking at Alan Milburns report on Social Mobility,  was ‘surprised to see that careers information, advice and guidance (IAG) in supporting access to the professions was not given greater prominence. This is increasingly one of the largest holes in the social mobility pipeline.’ She  warns of ‘potentially disastrous consequences if this lack of support is not dealt with quickly and effectively by the government’.  She continues ‘ It is crucial that young people, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds and those with no family history of higher education, have access to first class IAG about their options and how to navigate the minefield that is higher education and career progression.’ The burden of responsibility has now been placed on schools to provide careers IAG and statutory guidance has been issued to this effect. The trouble is that no ring fenced funds have been made available to schools to deliver this service. Stone reminds us that  Alan Milburn originally recommended that £200m be transferred to schools from the previous Connexions budget (Connexions included Careers advice targeted at those at risk of exclusion) to allow schools to tender for careers services a provider of their choice. However, this money has not found its way to schools. She writes ‘ Without a ring-fenced budget, and without much clearer guidance to schools on what good careers IAG provision looks like and how to provide it, the system will fail those who need it most’ She is right, of course, and  the government has been warned about this right  from the start and chosen to ignore it. Hard pressed schools juggling their budgets will tend to choose the cheapest options-to meet their statutory duty-access to a web portal or telephone advice. Face to face advice, which is the most appropriate for disadvantaged pupils, is also the most expensive. How many schools will opt for face to face advice in the current climate? And how exactly will social mobility improve if disadvantaged pupils  do not get  early  access to good independent professional advice on the qualifications they need and the routes into training, further and higher education and  the job market including the professions? This blind spot looks likely to undermine the whole social mobility agenda.


Milburn chose instead, in his big interview in the Times,  to generate a headline , focusing  the medias attention on the charity status of independent schools, an old hobby horse of his, therefore  wasting  an  opportunity to focus on the key policy  levers  that might   help ease social mobility.In choosing to  flog a dead horse he has used up valuable political capital.

Note 2

Simon Hughes MP, who is advising the government on improving ‘Access’  said, before the statutory guidance was published,  “schools will also receive guidance which will require that all those most in need must have face to face careers guidance.” But the published guidance gives no such guarantee.

Note 3

The latest government statistics show the number of 16-to 18-year-olds not in employment, education or training (Neet) increased from 159,000 in the first quarter of 2011 to 183,000 in the same period this year. This means the proportion of Neet 16-to 18-year-olds now stands at 9.8 per cent, up from 8.3 per cent from last year.