Monthly Archives: July 2012



There is an on-going battle over the prominence of synthetic phonics in teaching reading

And the new phonics screening test


Professor Dominic Wyse has co-authored The Early Literacy Handbook with primary head teacher Christine Parker. It makes a significant contribution to the on-going debate on phonics.

The Government, and in particular Nick Gibb, the Schools Minister are keen advocates of synthetic phonics. This Handbook claims to put forward a practical alternative to the government’s emphasis on synthetic phonics, underpinned by research evidence.

There are two main types of phonics – analytic and synthetic. In analytic phonics, children are taught whole words and later analyse their constituent parts, such as c-at or str-eet. In synthetic phonics, the key is to teach them sounds of letters and letter combinations first, then combine those to form words: c-a-t or s-t-r-ee-t.

Schools differ in their approaches .There is evidence that teachers  use both synthetic and analytic phonics  but  alongside several other approaches to reading, and the debate is, in a certain sense at least,  an academic one.

Synthetic phonics, claim its advocates, is the most efficient way of delivering the “alphabetic principle” to children, that’s to say, the abstract principle by which children learn that letters correspond to sounds and sounds correspond to letters. They learn this abstract principle through the specifics of “getting” (a) the examples where these correspondences are regular (“cat”, “chop”, “sit” and the like) and (b) from learning by heart “tricky words” – often the commonest in English – which are not regular, like “is” and “was”. By the end of year 1, children should have got hold of this “alphabetic principle” and to prove it, they will all sit down and do a “phonics screening test”.  Wyse and Parker argue that children learn the mechanics of language best within the context of classroom talk and high quality children’s books.  “Contextualised teaching begins with whole texts that engage children’s interest and motivation,” they write. “The most important features of texts, such as the way narrative connects with children’s sense of wonder and with their everyday lives, is emphasised first and foremost. Work on the sentences, words, letters and phonemes then follows naturally because these linguistic building blocks are made naturally meaningful when children experience them in the context of whole texts.  Teaching about letters and phonemes is an important component in learning to read, but there are serious risks if it is magnified above all others, especially as the focus of high stakes national testing.”  The book sets out to guide teachers in finding creative ways to develop their pupils’ enthusiasm for and engagement with reading and writing.  While it describes teaching techniques and strategies which bring together research and practice, the book emphasises that teachers should “avoid the idea of ‘recipes’” and release their own creativity.

Each chapter opens with an account of theory and research that relates to topics such as “multilingualism” or “grammar and punctuation”. This is then exemplified and expanded by guidance and insights into the practice of teaching.   The book encourages teachers to use technical terms such as “phonemes” (individual sounds) and shows ways to teach letters and sounds using rhymes and songs. Spelling patterns can be reinforced through games such as a treasure hunt for words ending in “ing”.  Writing on the IOE London blog Wyse, professor of early childhood and primary education at the Institute of Education, London, says the Government’s draft programmes of study for English should be completely rewritten: “Pleasure, love and an emphasis on meaning all appear to be secondary to the mechanics of phonics, spelling and grammar,” he warns.

Critics of the phonics method, such as children’s author Michael Rosen, are rarely against the use  phonics per se . They see, instead, Phonics as one tool, from a set of tools, that can  help  children  to learn to read.   Rosen argues that Phonics is only, and always only, part of the system by which we make correspondences between sounds and letters (or combinations of letters). We also do this through recognising whole words (as with what the synthetic phonics materials call ‘tricky words’ and the like. We also do it through such processes as prediction, part recognition by phonic methods (eg initial letter or letters), part by sense and meaning and so on. Many words in English cannot be entirely decoded using synthetic phonic methods. One example: the two meanings and sounds of ‘wound’. Producing both correct sounds will not of itself produce the right word. This can only be arrived at through context and meaning.  Rosen also objects to the screening test saying that it is an expensive waste of time, labels very young children failures and goes against the grain of government policy which is to end top down prescription in education, and to give autonomy to schools to make these kind of decisions themselves.

Ministers, though,  point to poor progress in young   pupils reading over a sustained period, which is unacceptable,  with too many pupils not  reaching the required standard  and who are then  ill- prepared for the transition to  secondary school . They cite  research that shows impressive results  from synthetic phonics teaching. ( eg The Effects of Synthetic Phonics Teaching  on Reading and Spelling Attainment-A Seven Year Longitudinal Study-  Rhona Johnston   and Joyce Watson-2005)

The Early Literacy Handbook by Dominic Wyse and Christine Parker. Published by Practical Preschool Books, a division of MA Education Ltd. ISBN 978-1-907241-26-0.



Joe Nutt tells me ‘Anyone interested in this issue should start with Mariah Evans huge research project, “Family scholarly culture and educational success: Books and schooling in 27 nations,” published in the “Research in Social Stratification and Mobility” about two years ago to get an idea of just how important the family’s (not the school’s) role in literacy development is.’




Published Letter-The Times 30 July 2012 

Sir, No one doubts the importance of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects, but making maths compulsory post-16 would surely be counterproductive. Most people cope very well in the jobs market with basic maths skills. Of course it is important to raise standards at primary and at early secondary level, but coercing pupils into studying maths post-16 is unlikely to greatly improve outcomes. For such a policy to be workable you would need a cadre of high-quality maths teachers. This is currently not the case. Even top private schools find it hard to recruit good maths teachers.The danger, of course, is that this would damage the prospects of those who are keen on maths because they have to share their class with demotivated pupils. Mediocre teaching plus demotivated pupils doesn’t equal a good learning environment. Maths is perceived as dull by many pupils, and part of this is probably due to the teaching and a lack of imagination and creativity in the way the subject is taught.There is no silver bullet here, but beginning early, at the primary level, to ensure that maths is accessible, engaging, relevant and fun for pupils would be a good start. We should begin by focusing on the shortage of good maths teachers rather than coercing pupils to continue to fail at maths for a bit longer.

Patrick Watson  London SW8



Thought to be plummeting in the international rankings Englands system may not be doing as badly as some critics suggest. And is improving faster than many


A common claim, oft repeated  and based on OECD findings, is that England over the past decade has plummeted in the international rankings: from fourth to 16th in science; seventh to 25th in literacy; and eighth to 28th in maths. This, as it happens, is not the complete picture.

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) PISA is run by the OECD and takes place every three years. It is a sample survey that assesses 15–16 year olds in three areas: literacy, maths and science. It is frequently referenced by our politicians more often than not to highlight the underperformance of our education system.

A couple of points are worth mentioning on Pisa. Firstly, quite a few academics have considerable reservations about its methodology. Secondly, even its supporters warn that information in its tables must be used very  carefully indeed ,particularly if you seek to compare performance over a number of years. The number of countries participating has varied, and  the quality of information available from each country varies too ie low response rates places a question mark over the validity of some findings, and so on. Pisa also measures particular aspects of education and is more about problem solving ability than for example raw knowledge.

In the latest  Pisa report (2009)  UK appears to come  25th in reading, or rather  that is how it has been reported

The UK does indeed appear in the 25th row of the relevant table, but the DfE appears not to have noticed that:

1) China-Taipei and Denmark are placed above the UK in the international “league table” for reading because they start with an earlier letter in the alphabet.  In fact they have exactly the same score (495);

2) Twelve other countries, nominally above England in the 2009 tables, have statistically insignificant higher scores.  An NfER report makes this point explicitly: “Because of the areas of uncertainty described above, interpretations of very small differences between two sets of results are often meaningless. Were they to be measured again, it could well be that the results would turn out the other way round”;

3) China-Shanghai and Singapore are above the UK in the 2009 tables but didn’t take part in the 2006 survey, so the UK can’t be said to have “fallen” below them;

4) In any event, the OECD warned explicitly in its report against comparing the 2009 and 2006 Pisa results with earlier data, because the very low response rate for earlier years created great concerns about sample validity.

The NfER report in December 2010 concluded that “England’s [reading] performance in 2009 does not differ greatly from that in the last Pisa survey in 2006”. NfER reaches very similar conclusions for maths and science, for similar reasons, while noting that science achievement actually remains above the OECD average.

So , our  performance may not be very good and we should not be in the slightest bit complacent  and, of course, we should definitely be doing better,  while  raising our sights higher  but  it doesn’t quite all  amount to us “plummeting in the international rankings”.  It is also the case that our system is improving quicker, using Pisa figures, than the likes of the USA, Sweden ,  Canada , France ,Finland and New Zealand (according to a  2012 study by Professor Eric  Hanushek and others)

A report from the IPPR made this general observation on rankings: ‘The sampling methods of international assessments have been criticised for being too small to reliably judge a whole system’s performance, and for being open to  countries ‘gaming’ the sample by excluding pupils who are likely to perform poorly  (Hormann 2009, Mortimore 2009) and only provide system-level data, which makes it hard to apply the lessons at a more local level. It is also the case that ‘Country-specific factors – including the nature of curriculum, testing and teaching – can mean some pupils are better prepared for the format of international assessments than others’.

The IPPR report wants us to develop a more considered  and systematic approach to using international comparisons in the English school system. And how about giving more publicity to the TIMMS findings?

IPPR Report-Benchmarking the English School System-Against the Best in the World-Jonathan Clifton; July 2011

Achievement Growth-Professor Eric  Hanushek, Paul E. Peterson , Ludger Woessmann  (Harvard University-2012)


Other International benchmarks:


Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMMS) Run by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational

Achievement, TIMMS assesses 9–10 year olds and 13–14 year olds on their skills in both maths and science. TIMMS takes place every three years and more than 50 countries participate. It focuses on curriculum and as a result tends to test pupil’s content knowledge rather than their ability to apply it.


Progress in International Reading and Literacy Study (PIRLS) PIRLS assesses 9–10 year old pupils on their reading literacy. Using a similar design to TIMMS, it focuses on assessing their knowledge and content of the curriculum. It takes place every five years and there are currently 35 countries participating. PIRLS is also run by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement.


A  Lords Select  Committee has just recommended that maths study should be made compulsory post 16. Why? Because  our education system is not producing enough  students who are proficient in STEM subjects, and some  universities complain that they have to lay on remedial classes to ensure that undergraduates can cope with their courses  (while  other universities are  seen as offering  STEM related courses  that lack  academic rigour ,so compounding the problem)

Nobody doubts the importance of STEM subjects and the need for the education system to deliver pupils in greater number who are proficient in STEM subjects. But making maths compulsory post 16 is not without its detractors, who suggest that  such a prescriptive   move could well be counter-productive. Even top private schools find it hard to recruit good maths teachers. Maths is perceived as dull by many pupils, and part of this is probably due to the  quality of teaching. Simply coercing pupils into studying maths post 16 is therefore unlikely to greatly improve outcomes.You need in place a cadre of high quality maths  teachers to make this policy  work. This is currently not the case.  The move  may even damage the prospects of those who are keen on maths because they have to share their class with de-motivated pupils who would prefer to study anything but maths. Mediocre teaching  plus  de-motivated pupils doesn’t  equal   a good learning environment.

There is no silver bullet here, but starting early, at the Primary level  to ensure that maths is  accessible, engaging  and fun for pupils would be a good start. It is also the case that those who are perceived to be weakest at maths are placed in the bottom set , more often than  not, with the worst rather than the best maths teacher-which self-evidently   serves to reinforce failure and reduce  pupils self-esteem, which is hardly likely to deliver   improved outcomes. Time for a re-think?

Note- STEM subjects are- science, technology, engineering and mathematics


CPD is seen as key to improving teacher quality


Everyone now seems to agree that improving the quality of teachers and teaching in the classroom lies at the heart of school improvement.

Evidence from around the world illustrates that the quality of teachers is the most important factor in determining the effectiveness of a school system. It is also accepted that teachers’ development and training doesn’t stop after their initial teacher training. Becoming a good teacher should be viewed as a journey, with ITT the start point. So it’s a given   that  teachers require good continuing professional development throughout their careers. (see the work of Professor Dylan Wiliam, amongst others)

 So what exactly is CPD?

Curee, a centre of expertise in professional development and learning for education professionals, helps us here. It identifies the Key characteristics of effective professional development and learning. It has found that the Key components of professional learning that are linked with significant benefits to staff and pupils, range through:

• drawing down targeted, usually external, specialist expertise

• giving and receiving structured peer support

• professional dialogue rooted directly in evidence from trying out new things,

• focusing on why things do and don’t work as well as how they work ie defining  professional reflection as building theory and practice together

• sustained enquiry oriented learning over (usually) two terms or more;

• learning to learn from observing the practice of others

• ambitious goals set in the context of aspirations for pupils

• the use of tools and protocols to help secure coherence, sustain learning,  secure depth and make evidence collection and analysis manageable and useful.

Research also shows that the best professional development is not solely about attending courses, but involves high levels of observation and feedback, sharing the practice of the best teachers. One other organisation worth watching in this area is the newly established Teacher Development Trust headed by former teacher and author David Weston


Did Professor Hayes views disadvantage the Phoenix   FS bid?


News that the Phoenix Free school ,in Manchester, had not won DFE approval to open in 2013, in the latest round, came as a shock to those involved, not least because it sought to stress its links with a military ethos and self-discipline and was backed by former army head, Lord Guthrie.  One of the schools very public supporters was Professor Dennis Hayes of the University of Derby.  Hayes co-authored a book with Kathryn Ecclestone ‘The Dangerous Rise of Therapeutic Education.  They broadly share the views of Professor Frank Furedi about the teaching of social and emotional development in schools. In short, they are highly sceptical.  They see the main   focus of schools in the maintained sector now   as  social engineering ,  no  longer  seeing  serious academic study as paramount.

Their basic critique is that all the ‘support’ and apparent concern for wounded individuals offered by therapy, and its prioritisation of the emotions, leads to ‘diminished selves’.  A therapy industry has grown up based on ‘pop-psychology’, not  informed empirical evidence.  From demeaning and effectively compulsory ‘circle time’ in primary schools to ‘learning power’ programmes and peer mentoring in secondary schools to the endless monitoring and self-surveillance techniques in FE to the emphasis on vulnerability in  University  the authors depict an educational world which has surrendered to  these therapy ‘professionals’.  Their argument is that training in appropriate emotional responses and a cultivation of what they call ‘a passive narcissism ‘has become the norm.  In schools a concern with vulnerability is giving way to a programme that actively promotes ‘emotional well-being’ as part of the curriculum. This they claim,’  is a bizarre kind of attempt by government to order up happiness by edict.’ The authors point out that the SEAL programmes which were so enthusiastically promoted by New Labour are based essentially on this  ‘pop-psychology’. SEAL is ,according to the government , “a comprehensive, whole-school approach to promoting the social and emotional skills that underpin effective learning, positive behaviour, regular attendance, staff effectiveness and the emotional health and well-being of all who learn and work in schools”. The SEAL programmes  are not the result of empirical investigation but rather gain their legitimacy because they echo what is going on in popular culture.  Indeed, Therapy becomes a way of life. Therapy believes that people are weak and vulnerable; everyone is a victim and external challenges are best avoided.  In contrast, the authors believe that young people benefit from engaging with the world and not being wrapped in cotton-wool. They argue that adult students are demeaned by emphasising the benefits to ‘self-esteem’ of participating in adult education above the increased subject or craft knowledge they gain. They want an education which is based on the Enlightenment values of ‘reason, science and progress’. They argue for a compulsory (this is implied) liberal humanist education based around subjects and the authority of teachers.

One wonders whether this had any impact on the DFE when assessing the suitability of  Phoenix’s bid. Hayes may have a point . And to be fair, the above outline of his views probably doesn’t fully do them justice , and over-simplifies them,  but this kind of thinking,  more generally, is not currently mainstream (mind you neither is creationism and the Guardian claims that three of the latest successful FS bids have creationists behind them -they dont -but lets not go there).  Certainly their approach to traditional ,rigorous  academic  education follows the Governments line. But thinking in DFE and the government, more generally (think of Cameron’s Happiness index)is that support for  positive thinking, emotional intelligence, resilience and so on are  part of a child’s  rounded education and can, at least to some extent, be  supported  in school to help the childs personal  development and  of course to  improve outcomes. Emotionally mature and resilient pupils tend to do well at school regardless of background.

This is an extract from a recent Government  policy document  ‘Supporting the development of young people’s underlying social and emotional capabilities is a strong theme in the Government’s Positive for Youth strategy, which encourages a stronger focus on early help to support all young people to succeed’

(A framework of outcomes for young people-2012)

Acknowledgements to:

The Dangerous Rise of Therapeutic Education is published by Routledge (2009)



The Phoenix Free school in Manchester ,not approved by the DFE in the latest round of bids,  was keen to emphasise its military credentials  and the bid was backed,  too ,by  respected former army chief ,Lord Guthrie. The rejection  came as a bit of a shock  and surprise to the sponsors. It was particularly galling given the work, nearly all pro bono, put in to getting this  bid  off  the ground. It wasn’t helped by reports that three creationist schools  had got through the vetting process (there is  little substantive evidence that these schools  are creationist)   .The Coalition government had,  after all, signalled that it rather liked the idea of schools backed by  former servicemen and  attracting more former troops into the classroom.

Education Secretary Michael Gove had   warmed to the idea of   introducing a variation of   Troops for Teachers, a scheme started in the US in 1994. The Centre for Policy Studies reminded us back in 2008 of the Troops to Teachers (T3) US programme .Retiring  US servicemen are retrained as teachers, mostly for high-poverty, typically violent inner-city schools. T3 is extraordinarily successful and is popular with Head Teachers, retiring servicemen and the military. Pupils demonstrably benefit from T3.  It is thought that many UK inner-city schools face similar problems to those of US inner-city schools.  The CPS suggested that a UK Troops to Teachers programme  could be based on the example of Skill Force  – a successful British charity which already employs ex-servicemen to work closely with schools with hard to reach children (albeit mostly outside the main classroom).  Gove  made all the right noises  when  the  CPS pamphlet, by  Tom Burkard, was published, referring to it also  in speeches. ( Burkard  also  of course supported the Phoenix school.)

But it is the Labour party, in the form of Shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg, which has taken up the baton.  Twigg after some flip flopping over Free schools  policy is finding his feet. He  recently endorsed the idea of schools with military links proposed in a ResPublica pamphlet earlier this year.  The think tanks report  called on the Coalition to back a pilot scheme that will see 10 schools set up in “Neet blackspots” – where a large proportion of youngsters are not in education, employment or training – before rolling them out in all local education authorities. It said: “Military academies would open up new opportunities for those lacking hope and aspiration; they would change the cultural and moral outlook of those currently engulfed by hopelessness and cynicism.” The report ‘ Military Academies – Tacking Disadvantage, Improving Ethos and Outcomes and Revitalising our Armed Forces, was compiled in the wake of last summer’s riots.

Its interesting that the while the Tories seem to have gone cold on this whole  idea, the opposition is very much up and running with it.  And Philip Blond ,who  heads ResPublica and was lauded by  David Cameron over his Big Society ideas , now has one foot  placed in Labours camp.


Many people rashly assume that servicemen are natural Tories . Troops, more often than not,  feel let down by politicians of whatever political colour.. But   if you look at your History books many of the biggest cuts to the services  (since  the withdrawal from Empire))  have been inflicted by Tory led governments. The latest , just announced, are the biggest since the Cold War.  Options for Change (1990),   led to an 18% reduction in manpower. The 1982  Falklands war is irrevocably tied up with the Tory  Defence cuts of 1981. Food for thought?


England ranks 26th out of 34 OECD countries for highly able

Professor Smithers report for the Sutton Trust finds highly able pupils are neglected

But does it cut the mustard?


Why is it that politicians who  put such a high premium on social mobility and place it  top of their agendas spend so much time focusing on higher education, and improving access there , when   young people’s  chances of  being socially mobile  are determined much earlier in their lives? Clearly the most able and gifted children in the maintained sector have the most potential to become socially mobile, yet precious little effort is made to identify these pupils and once identified, to give them the necessary personalised support   to fulfil their potential  while ensuring  that they are  educated in a challenging environment  that stretches them.

The Sutton Trust has just released a report  that has found that  the few high performing pupils we have in maths ,according to international tests, are nearly all in the independent sector or grammar schools. Are we to believe that among the 93% of  our pupils  in the state system there are virtually no talented mathematicians’?

England’s teenagers are just over half as likely to reach the highest levels in maths in international tests as students from other developed nations finds a major review of the support for highly able children. England ranks 26th out of the 34 OECD countries when compared in terms of the proportion of highest achieving children in maths tests at age 15 according to the Sutton Trust research. The few high performing pupils in the England come mostly from independent and some from grammar schools, with “almost no pupils” achieving top levels from non-selective state schools warns the report.

In England only 1.7% of children reached the highest level in maths compared with 7.8% in Switzerland and 5.8% in Belgium (8.7% in Flanders), and an average of 3.1 % across all OECD countries. But the report, by the Centre for Education and Employment Research at the University of Buckingham, says that on a world scale, the picture is even more concerning – 26.6% achieved the highest level in Shanghai and 15.6% in Singapore (full listing in table below).   Maths in almost all countries is compulsory to the age of 18 except in England where almost 90% of students drop Maths after GCSE.  So comparisons at the age of 18 would look far worse than the already worryingly poor performance at 15.The report argues that England’s poor international performance is the result of successive failures of policies and programmes to do enough to stretch the most able children.It advocates that highly able children should be identified in tests at the end of primary school, and their progress and performance tracked in published secondary school tables. National tests meanwhile should include more difficult questions, so that there is ample opportunity for the highly able to show what they can do.

The last government created the ‘gifted and talented’ programme to get schools to stretch their most able students, but the report argues that a more honest and straightforward term would be ‘highly able’.

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: “These are shocking findings that raise profound concerns about how well we support our most academically able pupils, from non-privileged backgrounds. Excellence in maths is crucial in so many areas such as science, engineering, IT, economics and finance. These figures show that few bright non-privileged students reach their academic potential – which is unfair and a tragedy for them and the country as a whole.”

In response, the Sutton Trust is announcing a call for proposals to pilot projects supporting and stretching the highly able in non-selective state schools. These projects will be rigorously evaluated, with those that are successful scaled up to many more schools.

Co-author of the report, Professor Alan Smithers said: “Policy and provision for the highly able in England is in a mess. The root of the problem is that ‘gifted and talented’ is too broad a construct to be the basis of sensible policy. In our view the focus should be on those with the potential for excellence in the major school subjects. The key issue is that secondary schools should be held to account for the progress of the highly able.”

The review found that when schools were required to report the percentage of ‘gifted and talented’ pupils, the percentages ranged from zero to 100%. Interviews with headteachers and ‘gifted and talented’ co-ordinators in schools provided the explanation for the unrealistic figures: they were unclear exactly what was meant by ‘gifted and talented’.“It was not unusual to hear the complaint that the highly able are a neglected group,” says the report. It warns that low income pupils in particular could be isolated in poor schools.

Some schools have attempted to provide for the high attainers within school through setting, streaming, accelerated learning and extension studies. Others have concentrated on out-of-school activities such as master classes, competitions and visits. “In some cases, ‘gifted and talented’ appears to have been more of a rationing device for popular trips than a means of high-level education.”The report recommends that the “confusing and catch-all” construct ‘gifted and talented’ be abandoned. Instead the focus, as far as schools are concerned, should be on children capable of excellence in school subjects, with pupils termed simply as the ‘highly able’.

Highly able children should be identified in Key Stage 2 tests at the end of primary school, possibly those making up the top ten per cent of performers nationally in state schools, and their progress and performance tracked in published secondary school tables. Evidence of under-performance of the highly able should be a trigger for the inspection of schools.

The report recommends that provision for the highly able should be integral to schools and not a bolt-on. At the same time national tests and exams should include more difficult questions, so that there is ample opportunity for the highly able to show what they can do.


But not everyone applauded the report. Tim Dracup ,  a former civil servant, regarded as a leading international  expert on  support for  Gifted and Talented pupils, and who  Tweets  under  the pseudonym Gifted Phoenix, was  highly critical.  He said that ‘ The Report accentuates the negative for its own purposes, failing entirely to recognise and celebrate the positive – and largely because of its blinkered adherence to such a narrow and impoverished conceptualisation of gifted education. Faced with a stark choice between:

an imposed requirement based on the recommendations in this Report, or

a flexible framework permitting a degree of autonomy in accordance with the principles laid down in the national identification guidance and Quality Standards

I would choose the latter every time – and I believe that most schools would do so too. By all means let us develop and implement a strategy to support our high attaining learners, but let us not pretend – as does this Report – that support for high attainers is synonymous with a properly designed gifted and talented education strategy.


There is considerable irony in the fact that the Sutton Trust – an organisation established to champion social mobility – has published a Report which, if its proposals were implemented, would almost certainly strengthen the advantage enjoyed by high-attaining students from more privileged backgrounds, while denying support to exactly those learners who need it most. (my italics)

In gifted education, as in all education policy, we must maintain a judicious balance between excellence and equity. To espouse one at the expense of the other does not cut the mustard.’

Educating the Highly Able; Alan Smithers and Pamela Robinson Centre for Education and Employment Research University of Buckingham July 2012

Note-Sutton Trust Looking for Pilot Projects to support the most able pupils

Types of projects

We are particularly interested in project ideas which draw on academic evidence in this area, but this should not discourage innovative and creative approaches.

Applicants should also bear in mind a number of other points:

•        We would like to receive project proposals that focus on those pupils capable of excellence in core academic school subjects – pupils we have termed simply the ‘highly able’.

•        We are open to considering various methods of defining this group – for example those attaining at the 90th percentile and above, the 95th percentile, or the new Level 6, as recommended by the University of Buckingham research.

•        As many of these pupils will be in grammar and independent schools, we are also open to projects which define the highly able on the basis of school performance and local context, providing the selection method can be justified.

•        Projects may also focus on the “exceptionally able” pupils.  Since, on average, there may only be one or two per year per school, we are interested in imaginative ways of bringing them together.


•        The Trust is also keen to explore provision for highly able pupils that is integral to schools and not simply a “bolt-on” to mainstream provision


•        The Trust already supports a wide range of initiatives focussed on university access at age 16-plus.  We are therefore particularly interested in programmes that start earlier on, in key stage three or four, but which may continue to support the students through their transition to FE and HE.


•        Applications can come from any not-for-profit organisation, including schools, charities, universities, colleges and social enterprises.


•        All funded projects will be independently evaluated for impact by leading researchers in the field.

How to apply

At the initial stage we would like a simple, brief outline of the project idea, containing some key pieces of information:  a summary of the project’s aims and how they would be delivered; how the students would be selected; the evidence behind this approach and its likely impact; as well as indicative costs and envisaged scale.

Please limit the proposal to two sides of A4 maximum and email to by 30 September.

We will be in touch with applicants in the autumn with a view to developing the supporting the first project by the end of the year.




Not for Profit Education Service provider recruits Steve Munby as its new Chief Executive

Neil McIntosh hands over in November


International education consultancy CfBT Education Trust has appointed Steve Munby, currently Chief Executive of the National College for School Leadership, as its new Chief Executive. Steve will take up the post this November. He replaces long-standing CEO Neil McIntosh who steps down after more than 20 years in the role.

Established 40 years ago CfBT Education Trust, ranked by income, is the 30th largest charity in the UK , now   with an annual turnover exceeding £100 million and employing more  than 2,000 staff worldwide. Originally established to provide the recruitment, induction, administration, professional, development and resettling of British  teachers aswell as  directly  training British teachers for service abroad, it has developed into a leading education services provider offering a comprehensive range of services,  with a substantial footprint both here and abroad.  Its staff currently support educational reform, teach, advise, research, inspect and train.

It runs a number of schools in both the maintained and independent sectors, including academies and new free schools, establishing a CfBT Schools Trust to provide support for its schools through a strong team of school improvement experts able to provide advice and guidance on all core subjects and whole-school issues. Its broader work includes the development of curriculum standards, capacity building, school improvement (it runs the school improvement service in Lincolnshire) and structural reform, institutional strengthening and sustainability, community participation, development of strong and successful public/private partnerships and supporting reform in post-conflict countries. It is also a major contractor to Ofsted for schools inspections.

It reinvests its annual surplus in educational research and development projects which helps inform education policy and practice in the UK and overseas in order to benefit learners worldwide.

Steve began his career as a secondary school teacher in Birmingham, later  moving to the North East of England where he worked as a teacher and  then as a lecturer. In 1987, he became a consultant on student assessment and records of achievement, working for the nine local education authorities in North East England, before becoming an Inspector within the Education Department in Oldham. He then managed the Advisory Service in Oldham  before moving to Blackburn in 1997 as the area’s Assistant Director of  Education.  From 2000 to March 2005, he was Director of Education and Lifelong Learning in Knowsley, Merseyside. Since 2005 Steve has been Chief Executive of the National College. The National College is the first college anywhere in the world uniquely dedicated to the professional development of school leaders. Its mission is ‘to develop and support world-class leaders with the talent and vision to change children’s lives.’ It provides  a range of leadership development programmes and support that gives leaders  ‘the opportunity to be the best they can be harnessing the skills and energy of the best leaders so that they can drive improvement beyond their own schools and organisations’.

During Neil’s tenure CfBT Education Trust significantly expanded the scope and value of   its operations, both in the UK and abroad, including the management of large government contracts, and it has been at the cutting edge of education reforms over the last generation, stressing the importance of evidence based policy and practice. The quality and scope of its research is acknowledged internationally and is frequently referenced.


Philip Graf , Chair of the Trustees of CfBT Education Trust, said of Neil McIntosh  “Since he joined CfBT as CEO in 1990 Neil has transformed the organisation from a £7.4 million per annum manager of English Language programmes to an organisation with an annual income of more £150 million and a worldwide presence as a leading education consultancy and I feel sure that we shall continue to flourish under Steve’s leadership.”


Steve said that he was proud of his seven year record at the NCSL and “the  positive impact  that the College has made on the lives of children and young people in England.”He added “I am really excited about taking on the new role of CEO at CfBT. It is a unique opportunity to lead a strong charitable organisation with a great reputation working in the field of education in the UK and globally, especially an organisation with such a clear moral purpose and commitment to public benefit.”


Education secretary Michael Gove said: “Steve has been an excellent public servant, and I am very grateful to him for the inspiring way he has led the National College over recent years. His commitment to improving school leadership has had a hugely positive impact on the lives of many children and young people across the country. I wish him all the best in his new role in CfBT.”



The School Information Regulations 2012

If you run a school-you may need to up-date its web site

Ebacc information required


Schools should  take note  that from September 2012 there are changes to the law  covering  exactly what information  is required on your schools web site  . The rules have become more detailed because from September the website can be the ‘school prospectus’ and the requirement to annually publish a prospectus  disappears.

There is no need to panic.  Many schools, most probably,  will already have a detailed website that covers most of the new requirements  with Curriculum information, detailed calendars, info about staff, etc.  It is important though to read the new Regulations.

Information has to include for example.-The  Name, address, telephone number  of school  , information on admissions, including any selection or over-subscription criteria, and information about where parents can access the Local Authority’s composite prospectus. Also  links to the most recent OFSTED report and to the School Performance Table on the DfE Website. And, of course,  a statement about the school’s ethos and vision.

At KS2 you must ,for example,  include: (a) % achieving Level 4 or above in Eng & Maths, (b) % achieving Level 5 or more in English, (c) % achieving Level 5 or more in Maths, and (d) % making ‘expected progress.

At KS4 you must include: (a)% achieving 5 A*-C in GCSEs or Equivalents including Eng & Maths, (b) % achieving the English Bacc, and (c) % of pupils making expected progress

This is by no means all the information required. Go to the School Information (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2012 (Statutory Instrument  2012-1124) and have a closer look if you are worried.