Category Archives: Pupil Support



Professor Tony Watts claims the Government has broken promises on Careers Advice


The Government has, this month, published new Statutory Guidance (SG) and Non-Statutory Departmental Advice (NSDA) on ‘careers guidance and inspiration’ in schools.

Careers England, in its latest Policy Commentary- Careers England(CE) Policy Commentary 27, April 2014)-   authored by Professor Tony Watts , a guidance expert, describes the recent up dated Statutory Guidance and the accompanying  Non-Statutory Departmental Advice  Careers Advice  as ‘ a deeply disappointing if predictable  coda to the evolution of the Coalition Government’s policies on career guidance’.

Tony Watts also suggested that the government had broken two promises .

The commentary states ‘The Government started by making a series of inspiring promises, including:

• Establishing a new all-age careers service, to build on the best of Connexions and Next Step.

• Revitalising the professional status of career guidance.

The first of these promises was undermined by the removal of all the Connexions funding and the reduction of the remit of the new National Careers Service to exclude face-to-face guidance for young people. Now, the second promise too has been betrayed. Far from revitalising the professional status of careers guidance, the Government is undermining this by using the term loosely, by marginalising professional careers advisers, and by ignoring the importance of underpinning quality-assured careers programmes.’

Ministers have recently promoted the idea that Careers advice is as much about inspiration as it is about information, looking to employers to go into schools to deliver advice and inspiration.

However, on this Tony Watts says, ‘The ‘inspiration’ agenda, involving employers much more actively, would have been widely welcomed by the whole careers sector had it been added to the implementation of the initial promises. But the SG and NSDA present it as a substitute for, rather than a complement to, professional career guidance and professionally managed careers education programmes in schools. There is no basis in evidence or  reasoned argument to support such a position.’

Statutory Guidance


Non-Statutory Guidance-Careers Guidance and Inspiration in Schools


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 pupil premium funding will rise from £1.875 billion to £2.5 billion in 2014-15. The primary school pupil rate will increase from £900 to £1,300 to reflect the importance of early intervention. For the first time, all pupils who are looked after or leave care through adoption, special guardianship or residence orders will attract £1,900 from April 2014.

The teaching and learning toolkit, provided by the Education Endowment Foundation,  is an accessible summary of research on key education interventions that have the most  impact in this area. Any school judged to be requiring improvement, where the leadership is also deemed to require improvement, is expected to carry out a pupil premium review.  Also Schools must publish online details of what they do with the pupil premium and Ofsted will be looking very closely at its use and effect on pupils’ attainment. If the PP had been used on general provision, the school would have to justify how that had impacted all pupils. Ofsted inspections are increasingly focused on the achievement of disadvantaged pupils.  Lord Nash said on 3 February that “It is now very unlikely that a school which is not showing good progression for disadvantaged pupils would make an outstanding rating.”

Pupils who are eligible for the pupil premium:

Are registered as eligible for FSM or who have been registered at any point in the last 6 years (known as ‘Ever6’); or

Have been looked after by the local authority for a day or more; or

Were previously looked after and left care through being adopted on or after 30 December

2005; under a Special Guardianship Order on or after 30 December 2005; or under a Residence Order on or after 14 October 1991; and

Who have been recorded on the January Schools Census as being in one of these categories.

Summer schools for pupils receiving  the PP, according to DFE  ‘ provide an excellent opportunity for secondary schools to help disadvantaged new pupils understand what and how they will be studying in key stage 3. It is also an opportunity for schools to help disadvantaged pupils who are behind in key areas such as literacy and numeracy to  catch up with their peers.’


But closing the achievement gap-regarded as the Holy Grail in education- remains a  huge  challenge .As John Dunford pointed out ,recently, in a letter to the Guardian – ‘While the gap has not narrowed in secondary schools, in primaries it has. The most recent data for key stage 2 shows the gap between pupils eligible for free school meals and all other pupils narrowed from 20% (2011) to 17% (2012).’ (based, though, on just one years’ results)

For schools interested  in summer schools, see link


Gove blames lobby for talking garbage

But lets look at the facts


Michael Gove in the recent Education Select Committee pre-Christmas hearings criticised the supposedly “self-interested” careers lobby who “lack intellectual rigour” and who  talk “garbage” He conjured up the spectre of an all-powerful shadowy careers lobby. Did he mean the CDI or Careers England one wonders ? When pressed by MPs he refused to elaborate. He appeared to question the need for professional careers guidance, while arguing that greater employer involvement in schools is  needed (to inspire pupils).  Greater employer involvement with schools and pupils must be a good thing. But surely   this works best in synch with  pupils accessing sound, independent, professional , face to face  careers advice, along with  up to date information on the job market. (something that is not happening in  too many schools)

Gove neatly sidestepped the compelling fact that criticism of careers guidance in schools has come from a significant number of stakeholders and embarrassingly, too, from the respected conservative Chair of the Select Committee itself, Graham Stuart.  Indeed, not only did the Committee in its report on careers guidance criticise policy on careers guidance but  reviewed much written evidence opposed to current policy from a broad range of experts .  Significantly ,the government ignored advice from Professor Tony Watts, who was commissioned  by them to provide a report on lessons from international evidence. Among the growing band of critics are the CBI, Pearson, the Edge Foundation, the British Chambers of Commerce, Ofsted, the Social Mobility and Poverty Commission, the IPPR, Professor Tony Watts et al .

Katja Hall of the CBI said  late last year “The quality of careers advice in England’s schools remains in severe crisis. For 93 out of 100 young people to not feel in possession of the facts they need to make informed choices about their future is a damning indictment” For the Secretary of State to  imply that criticism is coming solely from self-interested parties in the careers guidance sector,  based on slender evidence, is at best misleading.  Indeed one is hard pressed to find any independent report or research from a third party that backs current government policy in this important area.

Certainly careers advice in the past has been of variable quality. And part of the problem is that some politicians have themselves received poor careers advice during their schooling and so perceive it as a waste of time.  But international evidence clearly tells us just how important good careers advice and guidance is, particularly for the most disadvantaged pupils and is a prerequisite for improving social mobility, which is high on this government’s own  agenda.   The government is finding it increasingly difficult to hold its policy line on careers guidance in schools and this may go some way to explaining Goves apparent tetchiness when pressed on this issue during the  committee hearings.


Interventions from early childhood onwards can improve character according to new research

Character skills rival IQ


We rely an awful lot on achievement tests in our schools. They are used to sift and sort people, to evaluate schools, and to assess the performance of entire nations (PISA etc). But new research from the States finds that school achievement test scores predict only a small fraction of the variance in later-life success.

For example, adolescent achievement test scores only explain about 15% of the variance in later-life earnings.  So its unlikely that measurement error accounts for most of the remaining variance. Something very fundamental is missing.

A new paper ‘Fostering and Measuring Skills-Interventions that Improve Character and Cognition,’  from the National Bureau of Economic Research’posits that achievement tests do not adequately capture character skills such as conscientiousness perseverance, sociability, and curiosity  despite the fact that character skills are clearly valued in the job market and elsewhere.

Employers, while looking for technical and practical skills, value general communication skills, social skills- evidenced ,for example, in  customer handing,-and teamwork skills. But they often complain that evidence of these skills is  in short supply, in school leavers .Indeed, until recently, these skills and support for them in schools, have largely been ignored.

However, economists and psychologists have constructed credible measures of these skills and provide evidence that they are stable across situations and predict meaningful life outcomes.

What is meant specifically by the term character skills? In this study researchers use the term character skills to describe the personal attributes not thought to be measured by IQ tests or achievement tests. These attributes go by many names in the literature, including soft skills, personality traits, non-cognitive skills, non-cognitive abilities, character, and socio-emotional skills.

Psychologists primarily measure character skills by using self-reported surveys or observer reports. They have arrived at a relatively well-accepted taxonomy of character skills called the Big Five, with the acronym OCEAN, which stands for: Openness to Experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism.

The proposition here is that ‘Skills are not set in stone at birth. They can be improved. Cognitive and character skills change with age and with instruction. Interventions to improve skills are effective to different degrees for different skills at different ages. Importantly, character skills are more malleable at later ages.’  So, the clear message is, on the development of character skills- interventions really can and do help . Character skills also predict later-life outcomes with the same, or greater, strength as measures of cognition.

This paper reviews the recent evidence on the predictive power of cognition and character and, crucially the best available evidence on how to foster them. A growing body of empirical research shows that character skills rival IQ in predicting educational attainment, labour market success, health, and criminality.

The paper says ‘Character is a skill not a trait. It can be enhanced, and there are proven and effective ways to do so. Character is shaped by families and social environments. At any age, character skills are stable across different tasks, but performance on any task depends on multiple skills as well as the effort expended on it. Effort, in turn, depends on the incentives offered to perform the task. Since all measures of character and cognition are measures of performance on some task, it is necessary to standardize for incentives, effort, and other skills in measuring any particular character or cognitive skill. Despite these difficulties, reliable measures of character have been developed, although there is always room for improvement.’

‘Though stable at any age, skills are not set in stone over the life cycle. Both cognitive and character skills can change. Parents, schools, and social environments shape them, although there are important genetic in influences. Skill development is a dynamic process. The early years are important in laying the foundation for successful investment in the later years.’

While there is hard evidence on the importance of the early years in shaping all skills, some character skills are more malleable than cognitive skills at later ages.

‘Fostering and Measuring Skills-Interventions that Improve Character and Cognition-   from the National Bureau of Economic Research’  James J. Heckman, Tim Kautz Working Paper 19656 Cambridge Massachusetts

November 2013


The accountability framework and gaming

Focus on C grade distorts the system


League tables measure what proportion of pupils are awarded at least a C grade in English, maths and three other subjects at GCSE level. The resulting dividing line separates what the FT describes in a Leader as ‘ the pedagogical sheep from the goats’. Schools therefore have an incentive to focus teaching time and resources on pupils  who are judged by their school to be on the borderline C/D grade at GCSE. This has long been the case. Ofqual (not Ofsted) has discovered, unsurprisingly perhaps,  that thousands of teenagers are being put in for multiple GCSE maths exams in the hope they will get crucial C grade passes in at least one of them. As much as 15 per cent of candidates sitting GCSEs  – around 90,000 candidates – were last year submitted for maths exams with more than one board. Ofqual officials believe there will be a repeat this year because the pressures that drove schools to do it – including boosting performances in league tables – are still there.

This distorts teaching incentives with real consequences for what children learn. Schools self-evidently have few incentives to push more able and gifted students to achieve high grades – or indeed  to help weaker pupils who  are rated  as having a slender chance of reaching a C grade. Too much of the effort goes into heaving borderline candidates over the dividing line . This serves to work against the interests of a majority of pupils.

Ironically, given successive governments very public commitments to increasing social mobility, the pupils most likely to have the  potential to be  socially mobile are the most able, who are not being given the support they deserve to realise their potential  under the current accountability regime. It is also clearly the case that raising the attainment of disadvantaged pupils (on Free School Meals)  and closing the achievement gap between them and their peers is going to be made infinitely harder if the focus remains on the C/D boundary as FSM pupils   tend to be at the bottom of the attainment spectrum.

Professor Chris Husbands, of London university’s Institute of Education  got straight to the point when he said “Multiple entries have generally been driven by the impact of the school accountability framework rather than the best interests of young people.”The interests of  young people should always be paramount.

There is also a rather fundamental question that needs to be answered in these austere times. Exams cost  the taxpayer a lot of money. Is  entering  a  pupil  for two exams in the same subject,   with  different boards,  a responsible  use  of taxpayers money ?

The good news is that the government appears to be moving away from the C to D borderline. A consultation is under way about switching to a points-based measure that would address some of the problems associated with the current system.


Many schools are  not disaggregating pupil premium funding from other funding targeted at the disadvantaged 

The latest independent evaluation of the Pupil Premium, out this week ,makes interesting reading. We  know that schools will be held accountable for how they use the Pupil Premium  and for closing the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers.Ofsted keeps reiterating this, as does David Laws, the schools minister. But schools are making  two things clear that serve to muddy the waters. First the Pupil  Premium alone is  not enough to fund the support they offer  for disadvantaged  pupils,  which includes  a wider group of pupils than those  technically eligible for Pupil Premium  funding . Secondly ,schools often combine funding from the Pupil Premium with funding from other sources in order to sustain provision targeted at  this  wide range of disadvantaged pupils.This   may make it difficult for the government (and Ofsted) to easily evaluate and assess the way the pupil premium is used in schools as they may not be able easily to disaggregate Pupil Premium funding from other funding used to target disadvantaged pupils  . Some schools, of course,  might be able  to show  directly  what they had spent the Pupil Premium on but in other cases, the specific items  funded by the Pupil Premium would not necessarily be defined separately in schools’ financial data and so would be difficult or impossible  to provide.In short, schools spend more on disadvantage (as they define it) than  they receive in Pupil Premium funding, and in many cases  that funding is not the principal driver of  their provision.

So, self -evidently, this  may provide a significant challenge for Ofsted inspectors trying to establish whether or not the Pupil Premium has been spent effectively.

Evaluation of Pupil Premium Research Report; July 2013;Hannah Carpenter, Ivy Papps, Jo Bragg, Alan  Dyson, Diane Harris & Kirstin Kerr, Liz Todd &  Karen Laing TNS BMRB, TECIS, Centre for Equity in  Education, University of Manchester &  Newcastle University


The Pupil Premium takes the form of additional funding allocated to schools on the basis of the numbers of children entitled to and registered for free school meals (FSM) and children who have been looked after continuously for more than six months. Schools received £488 per eligible pupil – approximately 18% of the pupil population – in 2011-12 and £623 per eligible pupil in 2012-13. Eligibility was widened to cover approximately 27% of the  ,population in 2012-13 with the inclusion of those recorded as eligible for FSM at any  point in the last six years.John Dunford is  the new Pupil Premium Champion. (Thank goodness he doesnt have the title Czar-we  already have more Czars than the Romanovs’  ever did) .John Dunford is the Chair of Whole Education and the Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors, and former General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders.

Note 2

From September 2013, Ofsted will introduce a sharper focus to the performance and progress of pupil premium pupils in their inspections. It is unlikely that a school will be judged ‘outstanding’ if its disadvantaged pupils are not making good progress.

Schools will now be held to account for:

the attainment of their disadvantaged pupils

the progress made by their disadvantaged pupils

the in-school gap in attainment between disadvantaged pupils and their peers



Professor Stephen Gorard suggests cash incentives might help improve performance

Others are not so sure


Incentivising children from poor homes with cash rewards to attend school, do their homework and read books is the most effective way to improve their exam results, a major research project has concluded.  The lure of money is a far more effective way to boost the attainment of disadvantaged students than other large-scale initiatives to raise aspirations, according to a review of more than 165,000 research studies and journal articles. But offering money in direct exchange for final results has little impact, because children from poor backgrounds do not know what steps to take to succeed, according to the research. Instead, children should be rewarded for the small steps they need to take to achieve good grades.  The conclusions, from Professor Stephen Gorard of the UK’s University of Birmingham, were presented recently at the American Educational Research Association conference in San Francisco. They draw on research completed in Australia, Britain and the US. Stephen Gorard is Professor of Education Research at the University of Birmingham, Principal Methods Expert for the US government Institute of Education Science, a member of the ESRC Grants awarding Panel, and Academician of the Academy of Social Sciences. His work concerns ‘ the robust evaluation of education as a process from “cradle to grave”, focused on issues of equity and effectiveness.’  Professor Gorard recommends that schools put aside up to US$200 (£130) a year for poor students, a portion of which is taken away each time a student fails to meet set goals on attendance and work. (ie incentives framed as losses-which some advocate for teachers too) .In the UK, the money could be aimed at students who are eligible for free school meals, (FSM is a measure of deprivation) although other countries have tried a tiered approach, Professor Gorard said.  His research, according to  the TES, may call into question government investment in schemes that attempt to raise student aspiration on the basis that aspiration alone will improve results. Looking at the evidence in the various research reports, which collectively involved more than a million students, he found that neither parental expectations of educational success nor students’ own aspirations made any difference to their actual grades.  “Aspiration could be an indication of success, not its cause,” Professor Gorard said. “Anyone with a sole concern to improve educational outcomes for those most at risk would be advised to seek an intervention elsewhere.”


By contrast, when students were offered financial rewards for academic performance, there was a noticeable difference. Several studies, involving more than 40,000 students in total, considered the effects of ‘educational bribery’. When students from state schools in four US cities – Chicago, Dallas, New York and Washington, DC – were offered financial rewards in exchange for good test results, it did not have a significant effect.  Professor Gorard said that this was because students wanted the cash but did not know how to go about earning it. “Interviews with the students suggest that, although they may be excited about the incentives, they do not actually know how to improve their grades,” he said.  Professor Gorard said that while investment in initiatives to raise aspiration might not improve results, it could have other benefits. “Attainment is important but it is only one possible educational outcome,” he said. “Others – such as future participation, well-being, preparation for citizenship, resilience and happiness – could be just as important.  This looks suspiciously like marketization of student performance, which some believe is simply a step too far. Professor Michael Sandel of Harvard, one of the most influential  thinkers globally, opposes marketization, (though not always) as  he says, it  can degrade and corrupts social values. “Certain goods have value in ways that go beyond the utility they give individual buyers and sellers,” he writes. “How a good is allocated may be part of what makes it the kind of good it is.”  Writing for Prospect magazine recently in an article titled ‘If I ruled the world’ he said  that the notion that economics offers a value-neutral science of human behaviour is implausible but increasingly influential. He writes ‘Consider the growing use of cash incentives to solve social problems. The NHS is experimenting with what some have called “health bribes”—cash rewards to people for losing weight, quitting smoking, or taking their prescribed medications. In the United States, some school districts have tried to improve academic achievement among disadvantaged students by offering them cash rewards for good grades, high test scores, or reading books. A charity that operates in the US and the UK offers drug-addicted women £200 to be sterilised, or to accept long-term birth control devices. As ruler of the world, I would not necessarily abolish these schemes. But I would insist that we ask, in each case, whether the cash incentive might degrade the goods at stake, or drive out non-market attitudes worth caring about. For example, if we pay kids to read books, do we simply add an additional incentive to whatever motivations may already exist? Or, do we teach them that reading is a chore, and so run the risk of corrupting or crowding out the intrinsic love of learning?’


The TES pointed out last week that Schools in the UK have experimented with various types of reward schemes to motivate children, to varying degrees of success, including the widely used Vivo Miles system, in which students collect credits towards prizes including iPods.But David Day, principal of the Isle of Sheppey Academy in Kent, South East England, told TES that he had dropped the scheme because the results did not justify the cost. He has now turned to the cheaper alternative of writing postcards and letters to students when they perform well or show a good attitude or attendance.  “We felt that the power of words could be more influential than the power of monetary rewards,” he said. “Children like to be praised. Ultimately, students have to have it in their hearts and minds; the ambition for success cannot be bought. It’s self-motivation that we must engender.”  The fact is that although cash incentives are used in all walks of life, they are rarely used with students, even in US school districts.  A recent randomised study of three school districts in Chicago found that incentives do in fact affect student performance, although there is substantial variation across settings. Incentives framed as losses have consistently large effects relative to other educational interventions (0:12 0:22 standard deviations). The researchers found, though, mixed evidence on the impact of incentives framed as gains with large effects in two school districts (0:2 0:4 Standard deviations) and no  effects  in the third. They also found  that that while older students are more responsive to financial incentives younger students are not and respond better to non-financial incentives.  The conclusion of this study is that both financial and non-financial incentives are useful tools  to help increase student motivation and effort, but  that there are important factors that will impact on whether or not these incentives are effective, or not.

The Impact of Short-term Incentives on Student Performance Steven D. Levitt, John A. List, Susanne Neckermann and Sally Sado -September, 2011