Category Archives: curriculum

LABOURS RESPONSE TO THE PRIMARY ASSESSMENT AND ACCOUNTABILITY PROPOSALS

 Worries over funding deprived pupils

And what about the so-called  ‘soft’ skills?

Comment

Stephen Twigg , the shadow education secretary, says that we  can all agree that raising standards during primary education increases the life chances for young people in later life. The disagreement comes in what we mean by ‘standards’ and how we achieve system wide improvements.

Responding to the 17 July announcement from the Deputy Prime Minister on primary school assessment and accountability, Stephen  Twigg said in the Commons that  he “  wanted assurances that the Government’s changes to the accountability system will promote breadth and depth of learning, as well as literacy and numeracy The new floor target of 85%, is for an assessment that the Government have yet to define.” Surely, Twigg argued,  “that is putting the cart before the horse.”  “Would it not make for better policy to define the learning outcomes first? My worry is that this is another classic case of policy making on the hoof.”

“Similarly,” he continued, “ the plan for ranking 11-year-olds has all the hallmarks of such an approach. To rank 11-year-olds runs the risk of removing year-on-year consistency, because children will be benchmarked against their peers in their current year, rather than against a common standard.”

The Government, according to Twigg, have sent out confused signals about attainment and progress. “On the one hand they are scrapping level descriptors, which heads and teachers tell me are crucial for monitoring progress between assessments, yet on the other hand, the Minister is rightly emphasising progress measures today. That is very confusing.”

“On the baseline measure for five-year-olds, there is sense in developing policy about how best to establish prior attainment to provide both teachers and parents with a clear indicator at the start of primary school. The devil will be in the detail, so it is vital that there is full consultation on that.”

Finally, on the pupil premium, he said that  additional funding to support the progress of disadvantaged children is welcome. ” I have seen many schools that have made excellent use of the pupil premium. In his statement, though, the Minister said, “Early intervention is crucial”, and I agree with him. However, how does that sit with the fact that the biggest cuts in spending in his Department have been in early intervention funding? Can the Minister assure the House that additional funding really does mean additional funding?”

Twigg continued “I worry that the Minister may—to coin a phrase—be robbing Paul to pay Paul. The Chancellor announced in the spending review that the Government are moving to a national funding formula. The independent Institute for Fiscal Studies has warned that this move could hit schools with large deprived intakes. Can he reassure the House that this really is new money and not simply giving money to schools with a lot of disadvantaged kids today, which is welcome, but taking it away in a couple of years when the national funding formula comes in?”

 In an article on the Spectators blog (18 July) Twigg, interestingly, sided with Anthony Seldons view that the curriculum proposals don’t offer much scope for a rounded education and what has been termed the ‘soft skills’ and too much by rote learning for tests. Twigg is concerned about what this government means by standards. He writes ’‘theirs is a backward looking vision, premised on rote-learning and a failure to value the importance of the skills and aptitudes that young people need to succeed. They portray these skills- such as speaking and listening skills, leadership, citizenship and resilience- as ‘soft’. Try telling that to Dr Anthony Seldon, Master of Wellington College where the curriculum is tailored to equip young people with a rounded, rigorous education. On standards, Labour’s approach is guided by what I call the ‘rigour of the future’. Rigour in core knowledge and subjects yes. But rigour and emphasis too on what Anthony Seldon calls ‘character education’ and a broad and balanced subject range and content.’Twigg doesn’t believe that this rounded education,  offered by the likes of Wellington College, should be the preserve of private schools.

 

Twigg suggests muddled thinking at the heart of the reforms. He says ‘David Laws argued for schools to have progress measures between Key Stage assessments so teachers and parents can monitor progress and attainment. This only a week after Michael Gove told MPs that Key Stage level descriptors- used by teachers to monitor performance- will go’… ‘ There might be a case to look at reforming level descriptors to ensure sufficient challenge but scrapping them outright is completely misguided and will undermine standards in primary schools’.

 

Twigg  also claims that ‘ranking pupils at 11 against others in their cohort will do nothing to raise standards, quite the opposite in fact. This is a classic policy red herring. By ranking pupils against others in their year- rather than against set, year-on-year standards- this will lead to distortions from one year to another. ‘

 

In short, Twigg believes that this is policy made  on the hoof,  is confused and lacking  in rigour. 

MASSACHUSETTS- INSPIRING GOVES CURRICULUM REFORMS

 Its Knowledge based curriculum -an inspiration for Goveian reforms

Comment

Massachusetts’ education system, and in particular its curriculum, which is heavily influenced by the thinking of ED Hirsch, was referenced in this week’s curriculum announcements.

Massachusetts prides itself on the amount of meaningful consultation it undertook before it settled on its new curriculum frameworks. The opening page to the MA Curriculum Frameworks website contains the following statement:

‘Since the enactment of the Education Reform Act of 1993, a great deal of work has gone into developing the Curriculum Frameworks.  What has made the process so effective is the grassroots involvement of thousands of people statewide. The task could not have been accomplished without the commitment, energy, and dedication of teachers, administrators, associations, parents, business, students, higher education faculty, Department of Elementary and Secondary Education staff, the Board of Education, and the public.’

Ironically, of course, the main charge levelled against the education secretary Michael  Gove over his curriculum reforms is that he has  done too little of the above, before making this weeks announcement on the new curriculum..

In Massachusetts teenagers in the state have performed strongly in the most recent global rankings for maths and science, published in December in the TIMSS (Trends in International Math and ­Science Study) report.

The performance of Massachusetts was much more successful than the US average – and was at a level that would put it among top performing science and maths countries such as Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong and Japan.

The influential Pisa test rankings, published by the OECD, put Massachusetts as the highest performing US state – though this is against the backdrop of the US as an educational underachiever. (with the strongest economy, and a reputation for innovation the US might be expected to top international  education league tables-its not even close). According to the OECD, the US has the unwanted distinction of being the only industrialised country where the next generation is not going to be better educated than the previous – in a form of educational downward mobility.

On the 2005 NAEP tests, Massachusetts ranked first in the US in fourth- and eighth-grade reading and fourth- and eighth-grade math. It then repeated the feat in 2007. No state had ever scored first in both grades and both subjects in a single year—let alone for two consecutive test cycles.  How has Massachusetts done it?

The short answer, that educators in Massachusetts give, is that it achieves so highly because 20 years ago they implemented Hirsch’s Core Knowledge curriculum state-wide, a curriculum that now runs in over 1,000 US schools.

Its not, of course, just about the curriculum. Leadership, high quality teaching, collaboration, dissemination of best practice, competition  and  other elements are also essential for success, but Hirsch and his core knowledge win most of the plaudits.

We have covered his thinking and influence before. Here is a quote from Hirsch to give a flavour: ‘Higher-order thinking is knowledge-based: The almost universal feature of reliable higher-order thinking about any subject or problem is the possession of a broad, well-integrated base of background knowledge relevant to the subject’.  (1996)

But there is another significant claim made that is particularly interesting.

The claim is that Core Knowledge Schools have raised the bar for all and closed the gap between more and less disadvantaged students. This is particularly interesting for Gove and his advisers as they are only too well  aware that the success of this governments education  reforms will be judged on the degree to which this  achievement gap is  seen to have narrowed in England. The stakes are high.

In an extensive study in 2000 Core Knowledge students were found to have outperformed their peers in almost all categories (reading, vocabulary, history, geography and maths). During the late 1990s researchers in Maryland found that the degree to which Core Knowledge was implemented in schools was a significant predictor of student achievement gain. Another study concluded that the carefully sequenced Core Knowledge curriculum also has the potential to help disadvantaged students overcome their disadvantages and achieve academic proficiency.

Then there is the so-called Matthew effect –’For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. ’. (Matthew 25;26) This is about    the effects of accumulative advantage referred to by Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers and in Daniel Rigney’s book ‘The Matthew Effect’.(see also Professor Stanovich below)

Hirsch, of course, has studied Massachusetts. He found that Massachusetts was one of three states that made the most progress at reducing achievement gaps between 1998 and 2005. Between 2002 and 2009, the scores of African-Americans and Hispanics on both fourth- and eighth-grade reading tests improved more rapidly than those of white students. Low-income students made gains as well. Hirsch concluded in 2008  “If you are a disadvantaged parent with a school-age child, Massachusetts is . . . the state to move to.”

Note

 Professor Keith Stanovich, of the  Department of Applied Psychology and Human Development, University of Toronto used the term Mathew Effect to describe a phenomenon that has been observed in research on how new readers acquire the skills to read. Reading has cognitive consequences that extend beyond its immediate task of lifting meaning from a particular word or passage.  These consequences are reciprocal and exponential in nature. Accumulated over time—spiralling either upward or downward—they carry profound implications for the development of a wide range of cognitive capabilities. Early success in acquiring reading skills usually leads to later successes in reading as the learner grows, while failing to learn to read before the third or fourth year of schooling may be indicative of lifelong problems in learning new skills. This is because children who fall behind in reading would read less, increasing the gap between them and their peers. The combination of deficient decoding skills, lack of practice, and difficult materials results in unrewarding early reading experiences that lead to less involvement overall  in reading-related activities. Later, when students need to “read to learn” (where before they were learning to read), their reading difficulty creates difficulties that are spread  over most other subjects. In this way they fall further and further behind in school, dropping out at a much higher rate than their peers.“Matthew effects” in academic achievement (Stanovich, 1986; Walberg & Tsai, 1983).

SEVEN MYTHS IN EDUCATION-DAISY ,DAISY GIVE ME YOUR KNOWLEDGE DO!

 

Christodoulou seeks to address some myths

Focus should be on  what happens in the classroom

Comment

Daisy Christodoulou,joined the Curriculum Centre, which is part of the ‘Futures Academies’ group (Pimlico Academy etc) as its first Managing Director in August 2012 and was quickly promoted to the role of CEO.

She studied English Literature at Warwick University and trained as an English teacher on the Teach First programme in 2007.  In 2010 she edited a Policy First publication on the importance of ethos and culture in schools.  In 2011-12 Daisy worked at Pimlico Academy on a pioneering knowledge-based curriculum.  Daisy’s book Seven Education Myths: Knowledge and skills in the English Curriculum, was published this month.

Daisy is  the Curriculum Centres  English Language, English Literature, History and Geography lead.

She has spent her twenties teaching in challenging  inner-city comprehensive schools, and much of what she writes in this book is informed by what she experienced in these schools.  Her book is essential reading for anyone in education who wants to fully understand some of the thinking behind the curriculum reforms.She identifies seven myths but there are rather more out there that need to be challenged, a point that Daisy accepts. Daisy is also interested in  the advances in  neuro science and how much more we now understand about how the brain works, and how this might help inform teaching practice in future.

Much of the heated disagreement in education has been over structures. As the introduction points out, ‘both left and right prefer structural solutions to education problems’.  In a certain sense structural reforms are the easy bit (which is why politicians are so keen on them). This book shines the spotlight on what matters most: what actually gets taught in classrooms, and how it gets taught.

Here is an extract from her book about the disconnect between robust evidence and teaching practice  :

‘ After I’d been teaching for three years, I took a year out to do further study. I was shocked to stumble across an entire field of educational and scientific research which completely disproved so many of the theories I’d been taught when training and teaching. I wasn’t just shocked; I was angry. I felt as though I’d been led up the garden path. I had been working furiously for three years, teaching hundreds of lessons, and a whole lot of information which would have made my life a whole lot easier and would have helped my pupils immeasurably had just never been introduced to me. Worse, ideas which had absolutely no evidence backing them up had been presented to me as unquestionable axioms… My central argument is that much of what teachers are taught about education is wrong, and that they are encouraged to teach in ineffective ways’.

Daisy draws from her own experience of the ways in which potentially effective teachers have been made ineffective because they follow too closely the theories they have been taught in  their teacher training . Some of this training peddles not only the wrong ideas about skills and knowledge, but has also served to deprive these potentially good teachers of the knowledge they need to be effective teachers of subject matter. Teachers who are only moderately talented  as teachers can be highly effective if they follow basic  teaching principles and a sound curriculum within a school environment where knowledge builds cumulatively from year to year. Knowledge begets more  knowledge and has a multiplier effect. The ideas of ED Hirsch are much in evidence here . Daisy supports the Core Knowledge approach advocated by Hirsch (Hirsch,  by the way, admires this book and Daisys approach )

Seven Myths in brief

1. Facts prevent understanding

Myth: Facts are inert

Reality: Facts are foundations

2. Teacher-led instruction is passive

Myth: Directed instruction is counterproductive

Reality: Directed instruction is effective

3. The 21st century fundamentally changes everything

Myth: The future economy makes learning facts pointless

Reality: In a knowledge economy, knowledge is a prerequisite for innovation

4. You can just look it up

Myth: The Internet makes memory obsolete

Reality: Long-term memory is crucial for thinking well

5. We should teach transferable skills

Myth: Most skills transfer easily across subject content

Reality: Few skills transfer easily across subjects

6. Projects and activities are the best way to learn

Myth: Physical activity always enhances thinking and remembering

Reality: Physical activity often crowds out thought and memory

7. Knowledge is not indoctrination

Myth: Prescribing knowledge is a right wing ideology

Reality: Sequencing knowledge is crucial for critical thinking skills

Seven Myths in Education is out on Tuesday 18th June on Amazon Kindle, and available via the free Kindle app on iPhones, ipads, Macs, PCs and android smartphones.

http://www.thecurriculumcentre.org/blog/2013/06/10/seven-myths-about-education-introduction/

BIG CHANGES TO GCSEs

 

More robust qualification?

Comment

New-look GCSEs for schools in England are being unveiled, with exams graded from eight to one rather than A* to G. From 2015, GCSEs will move from coursework and continuous assessment to exams at the end of two years.Pupils will face more rigorous content, with those studying English, for example, having to read a 19th-Century novel and a whole Shakespeare play.

The Education Secretary Michael Gove wrote in todays Times :

‘For years our exam system has been designed to serve the interests of one group of adults: ministers. Under Labour, they boasted about ever increasing numbers of passes and took the credit for themselves. But children have been let down. They’ve been working harder than ever. But the exam system hasn’t worked for them. Thanks to changes introduced under the previous Government, exams became duller for students and less informative for colleges and employers. Tests have been chopped up into disconnected modules that encourage cram-and-forget preparation. Teaching has, in some cases, been twisted into an exercise in passing on exam technique. An over-reliance on coursework has corrupted the credibility of grades. And the bunching of our young people around A and A* grades makes it more difficult to identify the genuine spread of talent.’

Gove sees himself as attacking the ‘enemies of promise’ ,while  raising pupils aspirations.

 Key changes from autumn 2015

Changes will initially be for nine core GCSE subjects

Grading by numbers 8-1 rather than by the current letters A*-G

No more modular courses, instead full exams taken at the end of two years

Controlled assessments (coursework done under exam conditions) will be scrapped

Exams to be based on a more stretching, essay-based system

Pass mark to be pushed higher

The changes to GCSEs in England are being presented today in two reports. Exam regulator Ofqual will explain how the exams will be structured and ministers have given details of the course content.

The reforms will initially apply to a group of core subjects – English language and literature, maths, physics, chemistry, biology, combined science, history and geography.

 

The Ofqual consultation recommends:

All GCSEs become linear in design, with examinations only taking place in the summer (excluding November resits in English language and maths).

A principled approach to whether there should be tiered assessments, which will lead to a reduction in the number of subjects where there is tiering.

GCSEs graded on a scale of eight to one with a different distribution of grades.

Internal assessment only used where exams cannot validly assess the skills and knowledge required. Any alternative to exams must be fit for purpose, directly assess what they claim to assess and designed to be resilient to pressures from the wider system.

 

Ofqual says ‘The intention is that reformed qualifications in English language, English literature, mathematics, the sciences, history and geography would be ready for first teaching in September 2015.  Other subjects would be introduced from 2016.  We will also plan further consultations, in particular on how we will set and maintain standards and the title and scope of the reformed qualifications.’

 

A parallel consultation on curriculum content for the reformed qualifications has been  launched today by the Department for Education, reflecting the proposed new National Curriculum. The link to the  consultations can be found below.

 

Note 1

The GCSE changes being announced will only apply to pupils in England. Scotland has its own exam system, but Wales and Northern Ireland also use GCSEs. And the more that the exams are redesigned in England, the more that the idea of a common exam is stretched to breaking point.

 

Note 2

Meanwhile, MPs on the Commons Education Select Committee warned the plans showed relations between ministers in England and Wales were “clearly under strain”, and called for the continuation of “three-country qualifications and regulation”.Chairman Graham Stuart said members were “concerned that there is a rush towards separate exam systems for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, without careful reflection on what might be lost, or consensus that this is the right thing to do”.The education select committee has published a report on the controversial results of last summer’s GCSE English results, which ended in a legal challenge.It concluded that the “poor design” of the modular exam was the underlying cause of the problems. But there was a warning of the risks of introducing too many changes when working to a “tight timetable”.

Note 3

Ofqual Consultation

http://ofqual.gov.uk/news/ofqual-launches-consultation-on-gcse-reform/

Note 4

Reformed GCSE-Subject content consultation launched

https://www.education.gov.uk/consultations/index.cfm?action=consultationDetails&consultationId=1911&external=no&menu=1

HOW SCHOOLS SPEND THEIR PUPIL PREMIUM DOES MATTER-MINISTERS AND OFSTED ARE ON THE CASE

The Pupil Premium

Government and Ofsted  know that how the Pupil Premium is spent by schools really does matter

Comment

Total pupil premium funding will rise from £1.25 billion in 2012-13 to £1.875 billion in 2013-14. This will enable the level of funding for the deprivation and looked after child premium to increase to £900 per pupil and the service child premium to increase to  £300 per pupil.

Ministers see the Pupil Premium as the means to improve the performance of the most disadvantaged pupils, to address the long tale of underachievement and to close the achievement gap. The achievement gap is the difference in GCSE achievement between the average for pupils who are eligible for free school meals and the average for those who are not.

Research from the Sutton Trust  suggests that given  that Pupil Premium funding is not  ring-fenced (and in a challenging budgetary climate for schools), in many schools the money is being  used to fill budget deficits in other areas rather than being spent directly on the children that  generated the funding in the first place.  Self -evidently this is worrying. An Ofsted report in 2012  also found that only 10% of school leaders said that the Premium had changed the way they worked. And only half of schools said that it was having any positive effect on pupil achievement. Indeed, many schools were not even disaggregating the Pupil Premium from their main budget and were using it to enhance existing provision, rather than doing anything new with this extra funding. Ministers have been loth to intervene because they champion school autonomy.

Schools do now have to publish online information about the amount of pupil premium money the school receives and how it is being spent, as well as its impact. David Laws ,the schools minister, in a speech this month ,also  made in very clear that the government will keep an eagle eye  on   how individual schools, and  ,indeed ,chains of schools, are using the pupil premium to help improve outcomes for disadvantaged pupils and to narrow the achievement gap. Most recently Laws said (at the ASCL conference) that schools  must focus “relentlessly” on closing the achievement gap. Indeed  he ratcheted up the pressure by  announcing that  schools in England will no longer be rated as “outstanding” by inspectors if they fail to close the attainment gap between poor and affluent children. And Schools must use interventions that are known to  work.

This is a sensitive area. When Michael Gove  was  in opposition he relentlessly attacked the then  Labour government  for  failing to improve the lot of  pupils on Free School Meals pointing out that , if anything, their performance, despite significant levels of   new investment, had declined and  the attainment gap had increased.

Sir Michael Wilshaw is at one with the government in paying greater attention to the premiums use. Inspector’s judgments on schools’ leadership will consider the use of both the premium and other resources to overcome barriers to achievement for their pupils. In his annual report published in November, Sir Michael committed Ofsted to paying particular attention to attainment gaps affecting disadvantaged pupils in schools where they form a minority of less than 20% of all pupils

But not everyone believes that the funds available under the Pupil Premium  are sufficient for their purpose.  Some critics suggest   that the sums allocated for the Premium do not reflect the estimated costs necessary to equalise disadvantaged pupils’ educational needs, with those of their peers (Sibieta, IFS  2009). The OECD (2010) observes that the premium is ‘relatively low in an international perspective and it is not clear that it will cover the extra costs of admitting disadvantaged students. As the OECD notes, this risk of insufficient funding is exacerbated by the counter-incentive of high stakes accountability measures in the UK context.

What does that mean?

In short, League tables and other performance indicators, along with the recently announced rising floor targets, (see David Laws speech) mean that there are very strong potential consequences for schools whose exam achievement dips. Pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds and other vulnerable groups may then  be viewed   by schools not as a source of much needed extra funding but ,instead ,as a risk. Hence  disincentives (driven by accountability measures) may in practice  outweigh the pupil premium incentive in admitting such pupils.   Indeed, an OECD working paper on reforming education in England (Braconier, 2012,) warns  that if the “perceived deprivation funding is lower that schools’ perceived costs, they may engage in  ‘cream skimming’, trying to dissuade disadvantaged students and recruit more able students.” This is why some are warning that schools admissions policies, and in particular academies admissions (given their autonomy), should be more carefully monitored.  The Government is seeking to improve transparency by publishing data on the progress of individual schools in closing gaps in attainment for FSM pupils; a move welcomed, incidentally, by Braconier (2012).

We know that, historically, there have been some perverse incentives within the accountability framework, particularly league tables. So the government’s efforts to reframe school league tables to mitigate perverse incentives, evident in  the current system, is  welcomed by many (Laws  recent speech was well received). But it remains to be seen what effect this may have on narrowing the achievement gap.

One thing is absolutely clear, though- schools will be held to account for how they use the Pupil Premium and their grade from Ofsted will depend on how much they have managed to close the achievement gap.  Empirical evidence about what works is available, and should be used.And there are a number of interventions from which to choose.Rumour has it that technology companies are making big  pitches to schools  seeking to persuade them  that they have what it takes to make a real difference to outcomes  . But experts  urge caution. Evidence is  mixed. Remember use of technology should be driven by learning and teaching goals rather than a specific technology: technology is not an end in itself. And don’t take, at face value, what the salesmen tell you. See past the bells and whistles of a new piece of tech hardware or software  and work  out exactly what it does to help disadvantaged pupils. And ,crucially, seek independent,  ‘disinterested’  sources of advice and evidence.

‘Caveat emptor’ ,as Michael Gove might say.

http://econpapers.repec.org/paper/oececoaaa/939-en.htm

EBACC IS ENCOURAGING TAKE UP OF LANGUAGES IN SCHOOLS

CFBT EDUCATION TRUST RESEARCH ON LANGUAGES IN SCHOOLS

More take-up of languages in schools since the  Ebacc introduced 

Language teaching a reality in high proportion of Primary schools

But wide spectrum of practice and inconsistency and discontinuity between Primary and Secondary schools

Comment

CfBT Education Trust, on 20 March, published the results of national surveys of primary and secondary schools, revealing the multiple challenges for languages within the new English National Curriculum.

The ‘Language Trends’ report shows that while foreign language teaching is already a reality in most primary schools, there is a very wide spectrum of practice and a lack of consistency in both approach and outcomes. Teachers need further training and support as the subject becomes statutory in September 2014, particularly in those schools where provision is currently least developed.  However, on a positive note, schools in England have been encouraging more teenagers to take up languages since the introduction of the English Baccalaureate league table measure, the report suggests.

The report reveals a disconnect between the primary and secondary systems which means that the vast majority of pupils do not experience continuity and progression as they move from Key Stage 2 to Key Stage 3. Secondary schools cannot cope with the diversity of pupils’ language learning experiences in Key Stage 2, and it is not on their agendas to do so.

Teachers of languages in both independent and state schools would welcome reforms to GCSE and A level examinations which would encourage steady progression in the acquisition of language skills and improve pupil motivation. They would like to see wider recognition of the value of language learning as an essential tool for success in the modern workplace. On the evidence here, teachers would welcome a return to externally assessed final exams at both GCSE and A level. They would like to see changes which measure and encourage steady progression in the development of linguistic skills and their practical use in a range of contexts.

At 50% of state-funded secondaries, at least half of older pupils are now taking a foreign language GCSE.  In 2010, this was the case in 38% of schools. However ,  it might be the case that  anti-European sentiment may be turning teenagers off modern foreign languages.

There is  some  evidence an “erroneous” view that languages such as French and German are no longer useful when, in fact, they are still needed in the workplace, according to the language specialist Teresa Tinsley, who co-authored the report.

Tinsley acknowledged that current “anti-European discourse” is not helping the issue, She said that entries for A-level French and German fell by more than half between 1996 and 2012. There has also been a decline in students taking these subjects at GCSE.  “Entries for GCSE in Spanish and other foreign languages continue to rise, but not in sufficient number to compensate for the decline in French and German.”  Tinsley added that the falls in French may be more obvious because it is a widely studied language.  “It is possible that because French is the most commonly taken language, when you get a drop-off it affects these languages in the frontline more.”  Tinsley said she understood the popularity of Spanish.  “I think there’s a perception that French and German are not useful in the global economy, which is a totally erroneous perception.  “All the information shows that the languages that are most needed in the workplace are French and German and I think there is an erroneous perception that because Spanish is a global language, it is therefore going to be more useful – but that doesn’t necessarily reflect the structure of our economy and the trading links that we have.  “I think that the rhetoric and the discourse around Europe and the anti-European discourse is not helpful for languages.”

The report’s co-author, Kathryn Board, added: “I would say, from a perception point of view, that when you look at society in general in this country and you see that pupils are not motivated to learn languages, parents are not motivating their children to learn languages and generally, we’ve got a society that doesn’t recognise the value of languages, when you get a rhetoric in the media on a daily basis that feels anti-European, anti-eurozone, one might assume, over time, that it underlines an already unfavourable feeling about languages.”

Tony McAleavy, Director of Education at CfBT, said:

“A recent international study showed that English pupils were significantly behind their international peers in terms of foreign language learning. If we are to turn this situation around, we must capture the opportunity provided by the introduction of foreign languages into the primary curriculum, linked to the aspiration for improved standards in the reformed GCSE and A levels’.”

The report concluded that ‘This survey provides the first nationwide evidence on the situation of languages in primary schools since 2008 and shows that, despite anecdotal reports of a reduction in provision during the period of this government’s national curriculum review, language teaching is now a reality in a very high proportion of primary schools. Although 97% of respondents reported that they are teaching a language, this may be an overestimation of the national picture, in that primary schools not teaching a language may have been less inclined to reply. Nonetheless, the survey achieved a high volume of responses and clearly shows that languages are firmly on the agenda in primary schools. However, the report provides evidence of a very wide spectrum of practice and a lack of consistency between schools both in their approach to language teaching and in the outcomes they achieve. There is a strongly expressed need – as well as evidence of an implicit need – for further training and support, particularly for those schools without expertise or commitment to the notion of language teaching in primary schools’.

The report states ‘Following the introduction of the EBacc ,as a performance measure, an increasing number of schools report that the number of students taking languages at KS4 has risen. Among the changes made, many schools have made languages compulsory or highly recommended for some pupils. The figures suggest that most able pupils are now engaging – willingly or not – in language learning. However, there is a dearth of provision for less ‘academic’ pupils and no incentive for schools to provide this.’

Only 11% of state secondary schools have arrangements which allow all pupils to continue with the same language learnt in primary school. Secondary schools cannot cope with the diversity of pupils’ language learning experiences in KS2, and it is not on their agendas to do so. A perception of excessive disparity and diversity in language provision in primary schools – and, indeed, the reality in many cases – is leading secondary schools to dismiss the value of what has been learnt and to ‘start at the beginning again’.

Language learning in primary and secondary schools in England-Findings from the 2012 Language Trends survey – Teresa Tinley and Kathryn Board-CFBT Education Trust-March 2013

http://www.cfbt.com/newsandevents/latestnews.aspx

 

LEAGUE TABLES AND ‘FACILITATING’ A LEVELS-IS THERE LOGIC IN THIS APPROACH?

LEAGUE TABLES AND ‘FACILITATING’ A LEVELS

Does it make sense?

Comment

The Government says that it wants A Level students to follow a broad academic programme, post 16, that prepares them for degree-level study and keeps open as many university course options as possible.  It wants universities to help design A levels too. And for them to concentrate  first on  the so called  ‘ facilitating subjects’. The facilitating subjects are those  that are most often required by universities. The list is made up of Maths and further maths; Physics; Biology; Chemistry; History; Geography; Modern and classical languages; English Literature. (see Russell Group FAQs)

The government has introduced a new measure into the school league tables for the first time this year. It’s a measure of the percentage of 18 year olds who achieved overall grades AAB or better in these  facilitating subjects. These institutions would usually expect at least two of those subjects to have been taken for most of their degree courses.  The Government, however, is judging schools by whether students studied these subjects in all three of their A-levels.  Christopher Jefferys in a blog for the Good Schools Guide, says there are grounds for asking- why? Of course these subjects are important, he accepts.  By what logic does having taught more pupils for this narrow range of subjects indicate that one school is providing a better or more successful education than another? Given the proportion of senior politicians and cabinet members who studied PPE at Oxford, he wonders how many of them would have passed the three-A-levels-in-facilitating-subjects-at-grades-AAB. The  Prime Minister for the record took  A-levels in History of Art, History, and Economics (with Politics), so he scores one out of three.  So, suggests Jefferys, this measure-three facilitating subjects- on the face of it looks questionable and arbitrary. He has a point.

Laura McInerney,  a former teacher, now consultant, writing in the Guardian this week, would probably agree. She  is at a loss to understand why these subjects are regarded as  ‘facilitating’, as leading universities do not actually require three of these subjects. The Russell Group only suggests taking at least two of these  subjects. And then only if a student wants to keep their  options open. McInerney finds little logic in the approach.   She writes ‘A student can study geography at Oxbridge without having done geography A-level. To do music, they must have studied music at A-level. Hence, not having music actually closes that option, whereas not having geography does not. So the list fails immediately even by its own logic.’ Indeed.

Note

The Head of Tiffin School  wrote  to the Director of the Russell Group, pointing out that only 44% of their students got AAB in facilitating subjects, but 89% got into Russell Group universities (Source LSN)

THE MASSACHUSETTS MODEL-INSPIRING GOVE?

THE MASSACHUSETTS MODEL

Successful and influenced by Hirsch

Hence Gove referencing Massachusetts

Comment

At his recent speech at the SMF, the Education Secretary ,Micheal Gove, praised the Massachusetts curriculum in which their “history curriculum requires students to be taught in rich factual detail about their heritage”. ED Hirsch the American academic who articulates the need for a core curriculum of knowledge and the importance of memorisation had a significant influence on Goves thinking behind the new curriculum. But Gove has been criticised for rushing through the proposals, of not properly consulting the experts or listening to them. Historians, for example, have written to the Observer this week complaining about the content of the new history curriculum and the need to identify consensus, through proper consultation.

Massachusetts prides itself on the amount of meaningful consultation it undertook before it settled on its curriculum frameworks:

The opening page to the MA Curriculum Frameworks website contains the following statement:

‘Since the enactment of the Education Reform Act of 1993, a great deal of work has gone into developing the Curriculum Frameworks.  What has made the process so effective is the grassroots involvement of thousands of people statewide. The task could not have been accomplished without the commitment, energy, and dedication of teachers, administrators, associations, parents, business, students, higher education faculty, Department of Elementary and Secondary Education staff, the Board of Education, and the public.’

Of course there is a consultation now underway (see link below) but the charge is that Governments generally   tend to have made up their mind before public consultations   take place and that the subsequent  process is little more than  an exercise in window dressing and / or cherry picking . We shall see.(I would suggest that it is worth looking in detail at the proposals and contributing to the consultation because the Secretary of State and DFE  will be less willing to ignore such contributions now  than they were a week ago, before the U turn on the EBC )

But why is Gove referencing Massachussetts?

Because its educational achievement outcompetes every other US state .For instance, the state leads the USA in reading and mathematics on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. It routinely excels even when you control for income and parental income level. On the 2005 NAEP tests, Massachusetts ranked first in the US in fourth- and eighth-grade reading and fourth- and eighth-grade math. It then repeated the feat in 2007. No state had ever scored first in both grades and both subjects in a single year—let alone for two consecutive test cycles.  How has Massachusetts done it?

The short answer that educators in Massachusetts give is that it  achieves so highly because 20 years ago they implemented Hirsch’s Core Knowledge curriculum state-wide in 1993, a curriculum that now runs in over 1,000 US schools.

Its not ,of course, just about the curriculum. Leadership, high quality teaching, collaboration, dissemination of best practice  and  other elements are also essential for success, but Hirsch and his core knowledge win most of the plaudits

We have covered his thinking and influence before. Here is a quote from Hirsch to give a flavour:

‘Higher-order thinking is knowledge-based: The almost universal feature of reliable higher-order thinking about any subject or problem is the possession of a broad, well-integrated base of background knowledge relevant to the subject’.  (1996)

But there is another significant claim made that is particularly interesting.

The claim is that Core Knowledge Schools have raised the bar for all and closed the gap between more and less disadvantaged students.

In an extensive study in 2000, for example, Core Knowledge students were found to have outperformed their peers in almost all categories (reading, vocabulary, history, geography and maths). During the late 1990s researchers in Maryland found that the degree to which Core Knowledge was implemented in schools was a significant predictor of student achievement gain. Another study concluded that the carefully sequenced Core Knowledge curriculum also has the potential to help disadvantaged students overcome their disadvantages and achieve academic proficiency.

Then there is the so-called Matthew effect – ‘to those who have, more shall be given, but from those who have not, even what they have shall be taken away’. This is about    the effects of accumulative advantage referred to by Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers and in Daniel Rigney’s book  ‘The Matthew Effect’.

Hirsch points out that ‘unless an early knowledge deficit is quickly overcome, the deficit grows ever larger’; for him, ‘the cumulative principle explains the phenomenon of the widening gap’ in achievement across and within countries. Therefore, Hirsch concluded, ‘we can greatly accelerate the achievements of all students if we adopt knowledge-oriented modes of schooling.’ (2006 xii)

Massachusetts uses Hirschs ideas   and is successful. Hence, Goves enthusiasm for his ideas.

In summary, Hirsch’s ideas can be distilled as follows: at the core of academic achievement lies a  body  of essential knowledge and the more you accumulate this knowledge the more you will accelerate your academic achievement .

But ,as Gove is finding out,what constitutes core knowledge  is  very much open to debate.

Notes

The National Assessment of Education Progress, or NAEP, which is an exam administered to a sample of fourth, eighth and twelfth grade students every two years in reading and math. All states and DC have been included since 2003.The NAEP is called “the nation’s report card,” and Massachusetts students have long been dominant.

Hirsch has studied Massachusetts. He found that Massachusetts was one of three states that made the most progress at reducing achievement gaps between 1998 and 2005. Between 2002 and 2009, the scores of African-Americans and Hispanics on both fourth- and eighth-grade reading tests improved more rapidly than those of white students. Low-income students made gains as well. “If you are a disadvantaged parent with a school-age child,” Hirsch said in 2008, “Massachusetts is . . . the state to move to.”

https://www.education.gov.uk/aboutdfe/departmentalinformation/consultations/a00221262/reform-national-curriculum

GOVE, HIRSCH AND THE CURRICULUM

GOVE, HIRSCH AND THE CURRICULUM

New curriculum will focus on core knowledge-influenced by Hirsch

Comment

E.D. Hirsch is an American professor whose radical ideas about what should be taught in schools are set to have a profound effect on English schools. A favoured intellectual of the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, Hirsch advocates a curriculum strongly grounded in facts and knowledge. He also believes that there are certain specific ideas, works of literature and scientific concepts which everyone should know so that they can be active participants in society. This is aimed at counteracting what Gove describes as a prevailing left-wing or ‘progressive’ ideology among teachers.

In a speech to  the Social Market Foundation, on 5 February, Gove promised to rid the curriculum of “vapid happy talk” and ensure pupils had a structured “stock of knowledge”.

Hirsch promoted the idea of the importance of cultural literacy—the necessary information that students must have to understand what they read. After arguing, in Cultural Literacy (1988), that young people are not becoming good readers because they lack cultural literacy, Hirsch 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.”  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. Indeed his Core Knowledge curriculum, created in 1986, is now used in more than 1,000 schools and preschools in 47 States.  So teaching a core knowledge is essential. And this  must detail specific information for students to learn. It is a “lasting body of knowledge, which includes such topics as the basic principles of constitutional government, mathematics and language skills, important events in world history, and acknowledged masterpieces of art, music and literature”  Hirsch asserts that “the principal aim of schooling is to promote literacy as an enabling competence”. Crucially general knowledge should be a goal of education because it “makes people competent regardless of race, class or ethnicity while also making people more competent in the tasks of life.” This general knowledge includes knowing a range of objective facts. Hirsch says that highly skilled intellectual competence only comes after one knows a lot of facts.

Knowledge, according to Hirsch, is “intellectual capital” – that is “the knowledge and skill a person possesses at a given moment.”  He also  says that the more knowledge and skill a person has, the more they can acquire. “Learning builds on learning” he argues. So, the more a person knows, believes Hirsch, the more a person can learn in a multiplier effect. He calls existing knowledge “mental Velcro”, which allows for additional knowledge to become attached to  it , and so  a memory replete with facts learns better than one without.

In  his speech Gove criticised the widespread opposition to the English Baccalaureate, the performance measure introduced in 2010 which gauges secondary schools by the proportion of pupils who get a C or above in six GCSEs – English, maths, two of the sciences, history or geography and a language.

“The reaction from the Labour party, the teaching unions, teacher training institutions and all too many figures ostensibly dedicated to cultural excellence was visceral horror,” Gove said.

In the most scathing and personal section of the speech Gove argued that his Labour shadow, Stephen Twigg, along with the party’s leader, Ed Miliband, and Ed Balls, the children’s minister turned shadow chancellor, wanted to deny disadvantaged pupils the benefits of a liberal education of the sort they enjoyed in studying for degrees in politics, philosophy and economics at Oxford.

Dipping into popular TV culture  by referencing  the TV costume drama Downton Abbey,  Gove said: “The current leadership of the Labour party react to the idea that working-class students might study the subjects they studied with the same horror that the Earl of Grantham showed when a chauffeur wanted to marry his daughter.

“Labour, under their current leadership, want to be the Downton Abbey party when it comes to educational opportunity. They think working-class children should stick to the station in life they were born into – they should be happy to be recognised for being good with their hands and not presume to get above themselves.”

Note 1

London’s Pimlico Academy is one pioneering school that has introduced a   “Hirsch-style” curriculum in its new primary school. Two young women are  leading this experiment: Anneliese Briggs and Daisy Christodoulou. Pimlico Academy of course is supported by  venture capitalist Lord Nash, recently appointed  an  education minister to replace Lord Hill.

Note 2

Ed Hirsch’s thinking, which Gove  so admires (as does Nick Gibb the former schools Minister) is seen as antithetical to the progressive, child centred approach to education as articulated by thinkers such as John Dewey (active in early twentieth century).  To be fair , concerning  Dewey, his views are often caricatured by critics and taken out of context partly, one suspects, because they are not  so easily understood and he is a less easily accessible writer than Hirsch. And, of course, he isn’t around to clarify his ideas for us.   Dewey wanted a  better  balance between delivering knowledge and memorisation  while  fully taking into  account  the interests and experiences of the student. Dewey became one of the most famous proponents of hands-on learning or ‘experiential’ education. Hirsch  has had more influence on US schools. And, significantly, the best performing US state-Massachusetts-is heavily influenced by Hirsch, hence it is  frequently referenced by Gove. Hirsch has studied Massachusetts. He found that Massachusetts was one of three states that made the most progress at reducing achievement gaps between 1998 and 2005. Between 2002 and 2009, the scores of African-Americans and Hispanics on both fourth- and eighth-grade reading tests improved more rapidly than those of white students. Low-income students made gains as well. “If you are a disadvantaged parent with a school-age child,” Hirsch said in 2008, “Massachusetts is . . . the state to move to.”

http://www.smf.co.uk/media/news/michael-gove-speaks-smf/

ARE LEAGUE TABLES MISLEADING?

 

School league tables: Revealing or misleading?

New research claims that league tables mislead because they report past performance rather than indicating how schools might perform in the future

Comment

At the centre of the accountability framework for schools sit league tables. These tables have been changed recently to try to ensure that they are more comprehensible, relevant, accurate and transparent, so that parents can understand them better in order to support them in making informed choices. Indeed, each year parents are encouraged to use school league tables to help choose a secondary school for their children. Headteachers and governors, because of the league tables perceived importance, are highly sensitive to what the government measures in its school performance tables.  But George Leckie and Harvey Goldstein argue that such comparisons are crude and ultimately misleading. The most high profile secondary school league tables are those publishing the percentage of children getting five A* to C grades at GCSE.  However, Leckie and Goldstein claim ‘ this performance measure is an unfair way to compare schools as it says more about differences in schools’ intakes than it does about differences in their quality. Such league tables are also an unreliable way to compare schools as, with only around 200 students per school sitting GCSE exams each year, it is a ‘noisy’ measure of how well schools are truly performing.’  The so-called ‘contextual value-added’ (CVA) measure, published by the Government until it was abandoned in 2011*, was considered to be a better measure for comparing schools as it adjusted for differences in schools’ intakes and was published with error bars to communicate the statistical uncertainty in schools’ performances.

 

The authors write ‘Our research has focused on a fundamental problem in using secondary school league tables, value-added or otherwise, for school choice: school league tables report the past performance of schools, based on children who have just taken their GCSE exams, whereas what parents want to know is how schools will perform in the future when their own children take the exams. Consider parents who chose a secondary school for their child in autumn 2012. Their child will enter school in autumn 2013 and will take their GCSE exams in 2018. Thus, the information parents need when choosing is how schools are predicted to perform in 2018. However, the most recent information available to them is the school league table for how schools performed in 2011.’

 

They point out ‘There is therefore a seven-year gap between the available information and what parents want to know. Clearly, the more schools’ performances change over a seven-year period, the less reliable league tables will be as a guide to schools’ future performances.’

 

They continue ‘To examine how serious a problem this issue is, we first examined the official CVA school league table data. We found that many schools which were performing in the top quarter of schools seven years ago perform in the bottom half today. We then predicted schools’ current performances based only on data from seven years previously. We found that these predictions were so imprecise that almost no schools could be distinguished reliably from one another.

 

This means that, for choosing a school, the league tables carry very little useful information and, by not communicating this fundamental problem to parents, they are very likely to mislead.

 

More should be done, they conclude, by the Government and the media to communicate this important limitation to parents.

 

George Leckie is a Lecturer in Social Statistics at the Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol. Harvey Goldstein is a Professor in Social Statistics at the Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol.

 

*UPDATE=Thursday 24 January: This article was updated to clarify that from 2011 CVA was no longer used, though was in place when this research was originally carried out.

 

References:

Department for Education (2012). Performance tables. Retrieved 21 December 2012.

Department for Education (2010). ‘Key Stage 2 to Key Stage 4 (KS2-KS4) Contextual Value Added Measure (CVA) Including English and Maths’ in 2005 Key Stage 4 Contextual Value Added (CVA) Pilot. Retrieved 21 December 2012.

Leckie, G. and Goldstein, H. (2009a). School league tables: Are they any good for choosing schools? Research in Public Policy, Bulletin of the Centre for Market and Public Organisation, 8, 6-9.

http://www.bristol.ac.uk/cmpo/publications/bulletin/research8.html

Leckie, G. and Goldstein, H. (2009b) The limitations of using school league tables to inform school choice. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society: Series A, 172, 835-851.

Leckie, G. and Goldstein, H. (2011). Understanding uncertainty in school league tables. Fiscal Studies, 32, 207-224.

Goldstein, H. and Leckie, G. (2008). School league tables: what can they really tell us? Significance, 5, 67-69.

 

Note. CVA measures are attractive to many   but academics are still  debating how best to measure  value added  as there are a number of different approaches to its measurement. No single model is universally accepted.