Category Archives: education reform



Almost certainly not according to the experts


‘Schools now have a legal duty to secure independent careers guidance for all 12-to-18 year-old pupils. They can choose the type of careers advice they offer: for whom and by whom, whether by telephone, through a web portal, or face to face. All this is in line with the government’s drive to make schools, and their decision-making, more autonomous.

The only problem is, it isn’t working: rather than getting careers advice more appropriate to their local job market, many pupils are now forced to make do with advice that’s barely up to scratch. In early March, business secretary Vince Cable triggered a row when he said that teachers weren’t even in a position to give good careers advice. The teaching unions reacted angrily to his suggestion that their members were unfamiliar with the world of work – but few seem to have a response to suggestions that they can’t do the job the government has handed them.

The range of providers from which schools are now buying services includes local authorities, private careers guidance companies, sole traders and new social enterprises. Elsewhere in the market you’ll find education business partnerships, which offer schools integrated careers guidance or work-related learning support services, as well as FE colleges and universities, all selling careers guidance services to schools.

At present, though, relatively few schools are buying in face-to-face careers guidance from an external specialist careers provider. Even those which are commissioning services are buying fewer days than they had received before.This matters, because schools’ own efforts don’t seem to be up to scratch. A 2012 Careers England survey found that there was a postcode lottery in both the quality and the scope of careers guidance on offer to pupils. Overall, what’s more, provision was deteriorating.

A range of other organisations have also expressed concerns about the quality of schools careers guidance. Ofsted has found that three out of every four schools they had visited had not been delivering an adequate service. The CBI’s John Cridland has said that “careers advice is on life support in many areas”. As for Parliament, the Education Select Committee said in 2013, “We have concerns about the consistency, quality, independence and impartiality of careers guidance now being offered to young people.” In February, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg announced that schools were to receive new statutory guidance on what was expected from them in providing careers advice – hardly a ringing endorsement of the status quo.

None of this has surprised the guidance profession. Its members had warned ministers from the outset that, with no additional funding allocated to schools to pay for this new duty, many were likely to pick the cheapest, rather than best, option for their pupils. There were no prescribed quality standards, nor even a recommended professional guidance qualification; and the accountability framework was weak to non-existent. In short, schools do not need to account for the quality of careers advice they offer their pupils. The result is a growing perception that the government is marginalising careers professionals and careers education in schools.

In the past, there’s been an overarching consensus that young people need access to high quality, independent careers education and guidance: to make the right choices for them, to manage the transitions from one stage of their education to the next, and to ensure they have access to information on the local job market. There’s been a consensus, too, that all this is best delivered by an independent, qualified professional, and to come with embedded contributions from employers. Some experts have argued, plausibly, that the delivery of interlinked government policies – improving social mobility, reducing exclusion and NEET figures, filling the skills gaps or improving the opportunities and access for disadvantaged pupils – all stand a better chance of success if young people have easy access to good advice.

But not everyone agrees. Education secretary Michael Gove is on record as doubting the need for “a cadre of careers advisers”. He recently claimed that the new guidance, due out this month, is “all about cutting out the middle man and getting inspirational speakers in front of students to spark their ambitions”. The line seems to be that young people need inspiration, not just information. But does Gove really believe you can cut out the careers advisers in favour of employers? Few doubt the importance of employer engagement, but they and careers professionals have important complementary roles. Young people need access to both.

When the government introduced its overarching National Careers Service as part of the 2012 reforms, many hoped that this would be the organisation tasked with ensuring that no one fell through the guidance net. That, though, has turned out to be a re-branded careers service for adults. For those under 19, access is limited to its website and telephone advice service. NCS has no remit to provide face-to-face careers guidance to young people, no remit to work with schools, and no funding for services to young people beyond its online and telephone facilities.

The government has a number of possibilities open to it. Radically tightening up accountability measures with some additional funding targeted on careers guidance is one option. Bolstering the NCS, and extending it to providing face-to-face careers guidance in schools, possibly with regional contracts, is another. Or perhaps schools could be required to employ their own qualified careers advisers, responsible for providing face-to-face careers guidance to pupils, with teaching staff planning and delivering programmes of careers education.

But one thing is clear: carrying on as things are today is not an option.

(Published in Education Investor- March 2014 Edition)



The US Sanders and Rivers study still has legs and is  often referenced


An extensive and highly influential 1996 US study in Tennessee, by William Sanders and June Rivers , found, interalia, that ‘ Differences in student achievement of fifty  percentile  points were observed as a result of teacher sequence   after only three years.’

‘The effects on student achievement are both additive and cumulative with little evidence of compensatory effects.’ ‘Groups of students with comparable abilities   and initial achievement levels may have vastly different outcomes as a result of the sequence of teachers to which they are assigned’.  ‘Regardless of initial achievement level teachers in the top quintile facilitated desirable academic progress  in all students’ …Whereas,  ‘regardless of their  entering achievement levels  students under the tutelage of teachers in the bottom quintile  made unsatisfactory gains’…

In short, ‘The single most dominant factor affecting student academic gain is teacher effect’   Bad teachers do  retard the academic development of students. Its hardly rocket science , but the days when you state the ‘obvious’ without reference to evidence are long gone.

Cumulative and Residual effects of Teachers  on future student academic achievement


Some limited progress but troubling regional variations remain


There is ,as we know, and are often reminded,  a large gap in educational attainment between children from richer homes and those from poorer homes, as measured by eligibility for free school meals.(not always regarded, by the way, as the most reliable measure of deprivation). Significantly, narrowing this gap is seen as the Holy Grail in education and has largely defeated successive governments. Her Majesty’s chief inspector of schools, Sir Michael Wishaw   accepts too that this is a major challenge and that there are huge   and unacceptable variations in the attainment gap between pupils   in different local authorities. He said as much   when he described our school system as “a tale of two nations.”He added  that the system is “divided into lucky and unlucky children.”  But the lot of disadvantaged children is not predetermined.

Although most acknowledge that teaching is now attracting some very bright graduates concerns remain over the quality of teaching overall but particularly the quality of teaching and teachers in disadvantaged areas.

A Sutton Trust report, in 2011, highlighted just how important the quality of teaching is in closing this gap. It stated:“The effects of high-quality teaching are especially significant for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds: over a school year, these pupils gain 1.5 years’ worth of learning with very effective teachers, compared with 0.5 years with poorly performing teachers. In other words, for poor pupils the difference between a good teacher and a bad teacher is a whole year’s learning.” That shows the significance of raising teaching standards and ensuring that they stay high.

The government’s policy on raising attainment and closing this gap has several threads.

Firstly, the Pupil Premium, worth around £2.5 billion. The PP means a yearly uplift, for each disadvantaged young person who receives it, of £1,300 in primary education and £935 in secondary education In some schools, 80% or 90% of the young people are entitled to the pupil premium.

The government points out that the performance of disadvantaged pupils has improved across the country, since the coalition Government came to power in 2010, and it improved before that. The proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals who achieve the expected standard in maths at the end of primary school has risen from 66% to 74% since 2010, and the gap between those children and their peers has narrowed by 4 percentage points. The picture is similar at key stage 4. The proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals achieving at least five A* to C grade GCSEs, including English and maths, has risen from 31% in 2010 to 38% in 2013. Disadvantaged young people in London are now more than 10 percentage points more likely to achieve five A* to C grades including English and maths than those in the next highest-performing region.(thanks largely, but not exclusively, to the London Challenge). The gap between disadvantaged young people and their peers is narrowest in London. However, there is a variable picture throughout England and something of a post code lottery. In  14 local authorities, the attainment of free school meal pupils, at key stage 4 is more than 10 percentage points below the national average for such pupils.  In 12 local authorities, attainment at the end of key stage 4 for pupils eligible for free school meals was actually  lower in 2013 than in 2010. And as the Shadow Schools  Minister Kevin Brennan, recently pointed out in a debate (25 February) in  England last year, the GCSE attainment gap widened in 72 out of 152 local authority areas. In 66 areas, it was larger than it was two years previously. In England as a whole, the gap was 26.7% last year, up from 26.4% in 2011-12. So the challenge very much remains in place.

The government sees the Teach First programme as important in narrowing the attainment gap. Bright, motivated graduates are placed in schools after brief training and on-going mentorship , mainly in disadvantaged areas and the scheme is being extended. Indeed, the scheme  is now one of the top graduate recruiters.

Ofsted is addressing regional under performance through its regional inspection arrangements, with focused inspections of local authorities and groups of schools. It is carrying out inspections, not only of schools, but of the school improvement function.  Schools that are not narrowing the gap will in future  not be able to achieve an‘ outstanding’ Ofsted rating. The chief inspector plans to ask challenging questions of local authorities and others about their contribution to school improvement although local authorities complain that much of their previous resource has been diverted to support the academies expansion. Wilshaw wants to  to inspect  chains of schools but so far this is being resisted by ministers, though it is clear that some chains are more effective than others at raising attainment.

David Laws, the schools Minister, is targeting schools and local authorities where the attainment of disadvantaged pupils is unacceptably low. He recently wrote to 214 schools—115 primary and 99 secondary—with the poorest value-added progress among disadvantaged pupils.Value added measures are thought to flush out coasting schools.

Teaching School Alliances are now seen as vital to drive improvement, along with   peer support networks. Currently, 345 teaching schools cover around 4,800 other schools. In September, the Secretary of State announced an expansion to reach a total of 600 alliances by 2016.

And leadership is also seen as vital, although getting the best Heads and Deputies into the most disadvantaged areas can be a big challenge. (one distinct  advantage that London has  always had is that it is  easier to attract good teachers and heads to the capital, than many other areas . Teachers’ partners and spouses of teachers are also more likely generally to find jobs in  London than elsewhere, adding to its appeal ).

From September 2015, the talented leaders programme announced by the Deputy Prime Minister will start by matching 100 head teachers with underperforming schools in areas that struggle to attract and develop outstanding school leaders.

However, the challenge remains and the wide gap in performances between different local authorities in this area remains troubling.


All Party Social Mobility group and Centre Forum say Character counts

Manifesto promotes importance of Character and Resilience


Why do some talented children grow up to fulfil their ambitions while others never realise their full potential? How do we create a country in which a person’s life chances are determined by their talent, not the circumstances of their birth? These are some of the difficult questions that the APPG ‘ Character and Resilience Manifesto’ aims to tackle.

The Chair of the APPG ,Baroness Claire Tyler, wrote:

‘There is a growing body of research linking social mobility to social and emotional skills, which range from empathy and the ability to make and maintain relationships to application, mental toughness, delayed gratification and self-control. These research findings all point to the same conclusion: character counts.’ She continued

‘The evidence also makes clear that people are not just born with or without Character and Resilience traits. Rather, a person learns to develop and use these abilities throughout their life. They can be taught and learnt at all stages of life. This means that policymakers and practitioners have a key role to play in encouraging the development of Character and Resilience throughout the population.’

The report says that there is growing evidence linking life chances to things beyond just test scores – that is ‘non-cognitive’ skills. In simple terms, these are attributes such as a belief in one’s ability to succeed, the perseverance to stick with a task and the ability to bounce back from life’s inevitable setbacks. In short, ‘Character and Resilience’.

At a summit last year, The APPG on Social Mobility heard evidence on how these so called ‘soft’ skills lead to hard results: where you are on the character scale will have a big impact on what you achieve. This Manifesto is an attempt to take the next step. It contains what we – as a cross party group – believe to be the best policies to enhance Character and Resilience across the life course.

In doing so, it is both a ‘call to arms’ to policy makers and an attempt to begin a wider national conversation on how developing Character and Resilience can help break down the stubborn blight of social immobility and enable people from every walk of life to realise their full potential.

 Character and Resilience manifesto

In the early years, the APPG calls on government to:

1. Introduce an Early Years Premium, extending the Pupil Premium into early years education;

2. Support development of a best practice tool-kit for the early years focussing on interventions that aid development of the crucial non-cognitive base in early child development;

3. Roll out evidence based parenting initiatives nationwide;

4. Encourage the development and implementation of an innovative campaign to convey simple but crucial child development messages to parents; AND

5. Develop a robust school readiness measure at reception that includes Character and Resilience.

In school, the APPG calls on government to:

1. Ask Ofsted to determine how to factor Character and Resilience and ‘extra’-curricular activities more explicitly into the inspection framework;

2. Make participation in ‘extra’-curricular activities a formal  aspect of teachers’ contracts of employment;

3. Create a respected, official ‘School Leaving Certificate’ that reflects a child’s achievement across a broad range of activities rather than just exam outcomes;

4. Incorporate Character and Resilience into initial teacher training and CPD programmes;

5. Support development of a best practice tool-kit for  interventions that aid Character and Resilience for specific  use in conjunction with the Pupil Premium; AND

6. Encourage all private schools to share their professional expertise and facilities that promote Character and Resilience with schools in the state sector, in keeping with  private schools’ charitable status.

In the transition to adulthood and employment, the  APPG calls on government to:

1. Encourage the growth of the National Citizenship Service and ensure that this has the explicit purpose of building

Character and Resilience at its heart;

2. Establish an officially recognised and valued National Volunteering Award Scheme to give adult volunteers formal recognition of their contribution to the lives of young people;

3. Seize the opportunity of the raising education participation age to use Character and Resilience programmes to re-engage the most disengaged 16 and 17 year olds back into learning; AND

4. Make Character and Resilience a key focus of the National  Careers Service.

In this area the APPG also calls on employers to:

5. Actively encourage staff to participate in CSR activities that develop Character and Resilience in young people;

6. Implement internal training programmes that help develop the Character and Resilience capabilities of staff; AND

7. Develop alternative routes into advanced professional positions that reflect the importance of Character and Resilience skills rather than raw academic achievements.

The chairman of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, Alan Milburn, described the report as “valuable”.

“Schools must do more to promote character skills as well as academic attainment,” he said.”It is not a question of either-or; the core business of a school must be to do both.”

The report has been welcomed widely, with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg saying it would help to “drive innovative thinking”.

In a speech last week, Education Secretary Michael Gove stressed the importance of extra-curricular activities.

“As top heads and teachers already know, sports clubs, orchestras and choirs, school plays, cadets, debating competitions all help to build character and instil grit, to give children’s talents an opportunity to grow and to allow them to discover new talents they never knew they had,” he said.

Shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt said the report “tackles one of the most pressing questions currently facing our education system: how do we educate resilient young people that have a sense of moral purpose and character, as well as being passionate, reflective learners?”

Edward Timpson, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education said, in the Commons on 10 February,” Schools play an important role in providing character-building activities for their pupils. Sports clubs, orchestras and choirs, school plays, cadet forces and debating competitions all help to build character and give children opportunities to flourish. Schools are best placed to determine the needs of their pupils and how best to meet them”. He added that “We are also removing unnecessary health and safety rules that prevent children from going on expeditions and seeking adventures”

Character and Resilience Manifesto Chris Paterson, Claire Tyler  and Jen Lexmond

The all-party parliamentary group on Social Mobility and Centre Forum -Feb 2014


James O Shaughnessy, formerly deputy director of the think tank Policy Exchange and adviser to David Cameron, has established Floreat Education which aims to open a number of Primary schools  which focus, interalia, on  developing  ‘good character, including virtues such as honesty, resilience and service to others’. Floreat Education has  just been chosen to open a new primary school on the site of the Atheldene Day Centre in Earlsfield.


It was a reaction against one size fits all teaching-placing the needs of individual learners at the heart of the system

But dropped off the agenda

Does it still have utility?


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

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

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

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

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

In  Canada –Alberta- the ministry of education’s 2010–2013 business plan addresses personalised learning  and articulates the intent to “support a flexible approach to enable learning any time, any place and at any pace, facilitated by increased access to learning technologies (Alberta Education 2010a, p. 70). In the plan, personalization is addressed in the same breath as technology, where one is the facilitator of the other. In many ways this is a natural reaction of a government looking to create/support public services in a more digitized society, where people are experiencing (or perceiving) greater choice, more voice and increased scope for self-organization throughout their (digital) lives. In the more recent recommendations from Inspiring Action on Education (2010b), Alberta Education’s vision for policy directions, legislative change and transformational shifts for education in the province, personalized learning is not equated solely with emerging technologies, but positioned as extending students’ learning experiences into community. “Personalized learning means that … students have access to a greater variety of learning experiences that include and extend beyond traditional education settings and benefit from increased community involvement in their learning” (Alberta Education 2010b, p. 14).

In the United States the idea of personalisation is focused  mainly, it seems, on utilising  technology. The Charter schools movement is taking a lead on using ICT to personalise learning . A recent CFBT Education Trust report-Making the most of Free school Freedoms’ looked interalia at innovation taking shape in New York Charter schools. The report says that ‘The ‘School of One’ uses  sophisticated technology and algorithms to find the best matches between students,  teachers and resources, and thereby generates a unique timetable for each student every  day. This provides a new level of personalisation for students and ensures they never move on from a concept until they have demonstrated mastery.’ The report continues ‘Technological innovation in a number of US charter schools in particular, is taking the form of what are known as blended or hybrid models of learning wherein computer and face-to face learning take place more and more in parallel’.  It mentions the Rocketship Education which is one such small but growing network of charter schools which is having resounding success serving an overwhelmingly low-income immigrant community in San Jose. Rocketship is at the cutting edge of school reform thanks to its vision for how technology will integrate with, and change, the structure of the school.’

The exciting thing about Academies and Free schools, the independent schools being created as part of the UK education reforms, is that with their new freedoms they have the potential to seek to reshape the learning environment and to innovate around personalising education revisiting and redefining the whole concept. They could act as incubators for innovative ideas and practice, which could help drive system wide reforms.  Personalised learning is not a pedagogic theory nor a coherent set of teaching approaches, but an idea that is struggling for an identity.  But it is a reaction against the ‘ one size fits all model’ and accepts the importance, identity and needs of individual learners, and that they learn in different ways and at different paces and respond differently to their learning environment.  To be effective personalised learning also requires a joined up collaborative approach, at least according to Hargreaves model. No silos here, its all about joined up thinking and delivery. Collaborative working, of course ,is supposed to be at the heart of our self-improving school system.    The fact is all good schools will seek to personalise learning  for their pupils but some will have a clearer idea of what it in means in practice, than others .One thing it doesn’t mean, by the way, is simply giving each pupil an Apple Mac.Or accepting too readily  all the claims made by computer salesman on the effects that technology has on individuals  learning.

But perhaps we should revisit the concept and , here is a radical idea,put the individual learner at the heart of system.

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

Government of Alberta. Retrieved August 12, 2010, at

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

School of One

Rocketship Education




The latest Ofsted Report on schools referred to “the long tail of underperformance of white children from low-income backgrounds” (page 24).  Compared to other ethnic groups of similar class backgrounds, this ethnic group remains largely socially immobile (Strand, 2008; Demie & Lewis, 2010; Evans, 2006; Gillborn & Kirton, 2000).

As Michael Wilshaw has recently argued, over the past six years improvements have been seen among deprived children from every other ethnic group, but such progress has been too slow in schools which have significant white working-class populations. It has been widely argued that the central reason for white working-class pupil underachievement remains social deprivation which is largely characterized by:

poor attendance,

low aspirations parents have of their children,

feelings of marginalization,

low-literacy levels and

lack of targeted support to break the cycle of poverty and disadvantage.

The government has made disadvantaged pupils a priority. In November 2010 Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, declared it imperative for the UK to become an “aspiration nation” (BBC News 2010) where schools must become “engines of social mobility providing every child with the knowledge, skills and aspirations they need to fulfil their potential”( The Cabinet Office 2011: 36)Indeed when Michael Gove was  shadow education secretary many of his attacks on the (Labour) governments policies focused on its perceived failure to improve  the performance of the most disadvantaged pupils and to narrow the achievement gap. The government believes that increasing poor children’s attainment can break the inter-generational cycle of poverty, and so  education reforms are focused on both raising attainment for all and closing gaps between disadvantaged pupils and their peers. School results  clearly show pupils from low-income families perform less well than all other pupils at key stage 2 and key stage 4, including  specifically white pupils.

The government’s main policy to address this is the pupil premium.  White working class pupils are not specifically targeted, although some argue they should be, and as a matter of urgency given the consistency of data.

The Pupil Premium, by giving schools extra funding to raise the attainment of disadvantaged pupils, aims to improve social mobility in the longer term. The pupil premium was introduced in April 2011. In addition the structural reforms namely the academies/free schools scheme is supposed to target the most disadvantaged areas, although some say that it is not doing so enough.  Lord Nash in a PQ on 20 January said ‘We have given school leaders greater autonomy to drive improvement in their schools; around half of the 174 free schools are located in the 30% most deprived communities. In addition we are reforming the accountability system so that schools are held to account for both the achievement and progress of all their pupils. The new national curriculum and reform to GCSEs will also make sure that all pupils are taught the essential knowledge that matches expectations in the highest performing jurisdictions.’

Some argue that a significant obstacle to raising white working-class achievement is the failure of the central government to recognise this particular population as having  very specific  and distinctive needs that continue not  to be met by the school system (Demie and Lewis 2010; Gillborn 2009). Lib Dem MP David Ward has said that most ethnic groups had representatives to speak up for their children’s education needs. But there were few pushing the cause of white working class children. The Select Committee is currently taking evidence on this issue, with one panel addressing the extent to which vocational education can help to address White working class underachievement, and a second focused on the ‘bigger picture’ of the problem of underachievement in education by this group, in terms of connections with   the wider social issues.



Demie, F. and K. Lewis (2010). “White working class achievement: an ethnographic study of barriers to learning in schools.” Educational Studies 33(2): 1-20.

Evans, G. (2006). Educational Failure and Working Class White Children in Britain. New York, Palgrave MacMillan.

Gillborn (2009). Education: The Numbers Game and the Construction of White Racial Victimhood.

Department for Education (2010). White paper: The importance of teaching. Norwich, TSO. 91.

Reay (2009). Making Sense of White Working Class Educational Underachievement.

Strand, S. (2008). “Educational aspirations in inner city schools.”Educational Studies 34(4): 249–267.

Hansard- Lords -Lord Nash- 20 January



The government recognises the importance of school to school collaboration



In its response to an Education Select Committee report  on school partnerships and co-operation the government said:

‘The government’s vision is for a self-improving, school-led system where schools and teachers are able to respond to local need through school-to-school support and collaboration. These principles form the basis of the teaching school model, where partnerships are formed through alliances and, in some cases, through more formalised networks. We will continue to explore whether there is a greater role for government in helping schools to identify and understand the characteristics of effective partnership and collaboration to support more school-to-school working.’

‘The evidence shows that, rather than having a negative impact on a school’s attainment levels, working with others improves a school’s outcomes. Chapman’s research for the National College on federations showed that in this model both the weaker school and the strong supporting school see an increase in performance.’

Note 1 Recent research suggests that one example of successful school collaboration across a system, driving improvements in performance, is the London Challenge.

Introduced in 2003,  it was a partnership between central and local government, targeting intensive support on the capital’s most deprived boroughs. Between 2003 and 2006 the proportion of students with five or more GCSE passes at A* to C rose faster in London than nationally – and even faster in the disadvantaged boroughs.

Note 2 Chapman et al, (2011) A study of the impact of school federations on student outcomes, National College

Source- Government response to Education Select Committee report  School Partnerships and Cooperation -20 January 2014




The Department for Education has published a report on how so-called “converter”(as opposed to ‘sponsored’) academies have performed after their change of status. These account for more than two-thirds of the 3,613 academy schools.

This report looks at the performance of such converter academies, many of which, of course,  would have been higher-attaining schools before they changed their status.

In terms of GCSE results, this summer’s results showed 70% of converter academies achieving the benchmark of five good GCSEs including English and maths, compared with 59% of local authority schools.

Education Secretary Michael Gove said: “This report shows that academies are doing much better than local authority schools.

“Academy status lets teachers get on with the job, free from bureaucratic interference. Our reforms are raising standards and giving more parents the choice of a great local state school.”

A Labour spokesman said: ‘It is not the legal status of a school that matters most, it’s the quality of the teaching in the classroom.

“David Cameron has watered down teaching standards by allowing unqualified teachers into classrooms on a permanent basis. The Tory-led government is neglecting teacher quality for all schools, which is damaging standards across the country as a whole.”

The reports key findings are:

Based on outcomes from inspections carried out during the 2012/13 academic year:

Primary converter academies previously rated as outstanding were more likely to  retain that rating than local authority maintained mainstream schools.

Primary converter academies previously rated as good were more likely to subsequently be rated as outstanding than local authority maintained mainstream schools and were also less likely to achieve a lower rating.

 Primary converter academies previously rated as satisfactory were more likely to improve that rating than local authority maintained mainstream schools.

Secondary converter academies previously rated as outstanding were marginally more likely to retain that rating than local authority maintained mainstream schools.

 Secondary converter academies previously rated as good were more likely to subsequently be rated as outstanding than local authority maintained mainstream schools and were also less likely to achieve a lower rating.

 Secondary converter academies previously rated as satisfactory were more likely to improve that rating than local authority maintained mainstream schools.



What will they do and what is the timescale?


The Government has been attacked over the perceived lack of accountability in the schools system. With a majority of secondary schools now ‘autonomous’ academies  and directly accountable to the Secretary of State, critics have suggested that some form of middle tier is needed to ensure that struggling schools are spotted early on and given support.  Most academies are singletons, and not part of a chain. Chains  are thought  to be more accountable and more likely to drive up standards. The government has responded to these concerns by announcing that   eight full-time Regional Schools Commissioners will be appointed  this summer.

The RSCs will be classed as civil servants in the Department for Education, on fixed five year contracts.  They are expected to take up post in time for the 2014/15 academic year.

RSCs will undertake functions on behalf of the Secretary of State for Education. These are expected to include:

 Monitoring performance and intervening to secure improvement in underperforming academies;

Taking decisions on the creation of new academies; and

 supporting the national schools commissioner to ensure that there are sufficient sponsors to meet local need.

The RSCs will fulfil this role for all academies, including where academies and free schools offer 16-19 provision. The head teacher boards supporting RSCs will comprise of local education leaders, including headteachers from academies rated as outstanding by Ofsted.  Around six of these outstanding heads will support each RSC. According to the government ‘This will ensure that skilled academy leaders have a voice in the development of the academy system in their region. The remit of the boards will not extend to further education or sixth form colleges and, therefore, we do not anticipate automatic representation for their Principals.’

The costs of RSCs  have yet to be fully determined However, any costs will obviously have to  be met within existing departmental administration budgets, which are being cut overall by 50% in real terms by 2015.


Lord Nash letter



Time to move away from the Factory model of schooling, says Professor Mehta


Jal Mehta, an assistant professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, is the author of the book “The Allure of Order: High Hopes, Dashed Expectations, and the Troubled Quest to Remake American Schooling.”

He makes the familiar claims  in his book that the way schools are organized, and what happens in classrooms, hasn’t changed much in the century since the ‘Progressive Era’. His proposition is that the US still has the same teachers, in the same roles, with the same level of knowledge, in the same schools, with the same materials, and much the same level of parental support.(Professor Ken Robinson has said much the same thing, as has Anthony Seldon here)

He writes in the New York Times ‘Call it the industrial-factory model: power resides at the top, with state and district officials setting goals, providing money and holding teachers accountable for realizing predetermined ends. While rational on its face, in practice this system does not work well because teaching is a complex activity that is hard to direct and improve from afar. The factory model is appropriate to simple work that is easy to standardize; it is ill suited to disciplines like teaching that require considerable skill and discretion.’

This echos concerns, shared by other educators, that the teaching profession, rather than improving its status, is being de-professionalised. Unions have little influence in shaping policy and have failed to raise the status of the profession.

Mehta  continues ‘Teaching requires a professional model, like we have in medicine, law, engineering, accounting, architecture and many other fields. In these professions, consistency of quality is created less by holding individual practitioners accountable and more by building a body of knowledge, carefully training people in that knowledge, requiring them to show expertise before they become licensed, and then using their professions’ standards to guide their work.’ Some of these arguments are being used by those in the UK who advocate a new professional body for teachers (Royal College of Teaching etc).

By these criteria, his conclusion is   that American education is a failed profession. There is no widely agreed-upon knowledge base, training is brief or non-existent, the criteria for passing licensing exams are much lower than in other fields, and there is little continuous professional guidance (and development). It is not surprising, then, that researchers find wide variation in teaching skills across classrooms; in the absence of a system devoted to developing consistent expertise, we have teachers essentially winging it as they go along, with predictably uneven results.

The top systems recruit the top graduates (Investing in Human capital -see Professor Hargreaves and Fullan on this)). Training in these countries is more rigorous, more tied to classroom practice and more often financed by the government than elsewhere.

In America, both major teachers’ unions and the organization representing state education officials have, in the past year, called for raising the bar for entering teachers; one of the unions, the American Federation of Teachers, advocates a “bar exam.” Ideally the exam should not be a one-time paper-and-pencil test, like legal bar exams, but a phased set of milestones to be attained over the first few years of teaching. Akin to medical boards, they would require prospective teachers to demonstrate subject and pedagogical knowledge — as well as actual teaching skill.

He continues ‘Tenure would require demonstrated knowledge and skill, as at a university or a law firm. A rigorous board exam for teachers could significantly elevate the quality of candidates, raise and make more consistent teacher skill level, improve student outcomes, and strengthen the public’s regard for teachers and teaching.

We let doctors operate, pilots fly, and engineers build because their fields have developed effective ways of certifying that they can do these things. Teaching, on the whole, lacks this specialized knowledge base; teachers teach based mostly on what they have picked up from experience and from their colleagues.’

The ‘Allure of Order’, explores the power of ideas  in shaping politics. When a new paradigm arises “Newspapers, legislative debates, and other forums where issues are debated and decided take up issues different from those they did before. Existing actors’ identities are reshaped as the new problem definition changes the way people think about an issue. … New actors and groups are also created.”

But, unlike a number of current narratives on the problems of education, Mehta goes further by offering guidance for the route to universal good schools. He discusses four elements needed for a successful school system:

 practice-relevant knowledge,

 strong human capital, (Hargreaves and Fullan etc )

 school-level processes of improvement, and

 external support and accountability.

He ends by looking for new institutions to try new approaches and old institutions to reform themselves: “We can only hope that they have learned from the lessons of the past and seek not to control but to empower, creating the infrastructure upon which talented practitioner can create the good schools of the future.”

The changes needed to professionalize American education won’t be easy, he admits. They will require money, political will and the audacity to imagine that teaching could be a profession on a par with fields like law and medicine. But failure to change will be more costly — we could look up in another 30 years and find ourselves, once again, no better off than we are today. Several of today’s top performers, like South Korea, Finland and Singapore, moved to the top of the charts in one generation. Real change in America is possible, but only, he says, if they stop tinkering at the margins.

Its interesting how many of the perceptions about what needs to change in the United States are shared by educators here in the UK when championing the need  for reform. There is a consensus building here that a new professional body is required to elevate the status of the profession, independent of  both unions and government.;jsessionid=985C8A681F1ABEA4DBBE353E3C9D56FB?cc=gb&lang=en&