Category Archives: Pupil Support



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


Too early to say?


The new duty on schools to secure access to independent and impartial careers guidance only began in September 2012 . The government believes that  it  important that sufficient time is allowed  for the duty to bed in before any firm conclusions  are drawn about the effectiveness of the new arrangements. Lord Nash recently indicated in the Lords (22 April) that ‘We are evaluating the impact of the new duty in a range of formal and informal ways.’

The Government have also commissioned Ofsted to carry out a thematic review of careers guidance, which will report this summer.

In addition, according to Lord Nash,  the government is ‘publishing education destination measures to show the percentage of students progressing to further education or training in a school, further education or sixth form college, apprenticeship, employment or higher education institution. The measures provide us with evidence of how effective schools are in supporting pupils to move successfully into the next phase or their education or into sustainable work, including through the provision of independent careers guidance.’

Ministers and officials meet and correspond regularly with a range of stakeholders on issues relating to the delivery of careers provision in schools, says Lord Nash, which is true, but Ministers are not taking on board what stakeholders and the experts are telling them. No independent report from a reputable source on government reforms to careers advice and guidance in schools has endorsed government policy in this area and international evidence suggests that school based advice  is the least effective (see the research from  Professor Tony Watts and OECD). There are grave concerns  too that  only limited access to face to face advice  is being offered to pupils which may have a negative effect on  the social mobility, access, skills and inclusion agendas. Evidence suggests that the most appropriate form of  advice for  disadvantaged pupils is face to face advice from an independent fully qualified  professional.

The government defends its policy by saying that it trusts in school autonomy. Schools themselves must make these decisions. But schools are not as autonomous as the government would have us believe. The government through its individual funding agreements with academies, for example, prescribes what schools have to do in certain areas . And if schools believe that they are autonomous when it comes to the way they use their extra funding for disadvantaged pupils, through the pupil premium, then they ought to look  very carefully at recent speeches from the schools minister,  David Laws and  Sir Michael Wilshaw of Ofsted.

Lord Nash  is confident that the government has  detailed enough  evidence ‘relating to the effectiveness of school-based careers guidance to  inform future improvements in the quality of provision,’ while concurrently telling us that there is not yet enough evidence  to gauge  whether the new school- based  service has bedded in. You dont need to be a rocket scientist to work out that schools, under budgetary pressure, will go for, the most part, for  the cheapest option, and that is not face to face advice.

It will be particularly interesting to see what Ofsted has to say in its thematic review. However, there are no plans to make a specific graded judgement on the quality of careers guidance in respect of the school inspection framework and the common inspection framework.



Schools meet the costs of careers guidance from their overall budgets. Information on the amount spent by schools on careers guidance is not collected centrally




A range of  policies, for example  the introduction of the Pupil Premium, SEN reforms, and the expansion of the academies  programme have a particular focus on those pupils left behind currently. The well-known attainment gap at GCSE level is between those who receive free school meals and those who do not—36% of pupils in receipt of free school meals achieved five or more A* to C grades at GCSE, compared with 63% of all other pupils.

The pupil premium is allocated for pupils who are currently eligible or who have been eligible in the past six years for free school meals, children who have been continuously looked after for at least six months, and children whose parents are serving in the Armed Forces. In the financial year 2012-13, the pupil premium was allocated at a rate of £623 per pupil and the service child premium was allocated at a rate of £250 per pupil. The pupil premium will increase to £900 per pupil and the service child premium will increase to £300 per pupil in the 2013-14 financial year.  That said there are still significant numbers of children living in poverty who are simply not picked up by the free school meals measure, and therefore they and their schools lose out on the valuable support that the pupil premium could give to them.

But what about what about Special schools and PRU pupils?

Lord Nash, replying to a PQ on 10 April, said ‘Pupil premium grant is allocated to each local authority in respect of eligible pupils in maintained special schools, pupil referral units (PRUs) and alternative provision (ie attending schools not maintained by the authority for which the authority is paying full tuition fees, plus all pupils educated otherwise than in schools under arrangements made by the authority).Pupil premium grant in respect of pupils in these settings can be allocated to the setting where the child is being educated or held by the local authority to spend specifically on additional education support to raise the pupil’s standard of attainment.’



In its report “Fair and Square,” the Children’s Society found that some 700,000 children living in poverty are not entitled to receive free school meals, in the majority of cases simply because their parents are working. As six in 10 children in poverty live in working families, some believe there is an urgent need to address the situation of those children who do not happen to qualify for free school meals yet grow up in circumstances just as grim as many who do.


Over a third of young people are interested in just ten occupations

Reinforces the case for access to good independent careers advice


A paper out last month asks a simple question: is there any alignment between the career aspirations of young people, aged between 13 and 18, and the best estimates of actual demand within the current and future British labour market?

The paper says ‘The question is relevant to young people, employers and the UK’s future prosperity. The question is pertinent to young people who make important decisions about their future at ages 14, 16 and 18. Such decisions, about subject options chosen or dropped and experience sought, gained or missed are essential to the ultimate prospects of young people  in the jobs market. This paper asks, therefore, whether teenagers, as they make these decisions, do so with career aspirations in mind which reflect realistic opportunities in the world of work. The short answer is they don’t.

Emma Norris’s 2011 report for the Royal Society of Arts engaged 30 staff members and 32 students from four English Further Education Colleges in structured discussion about future  decision-making. She found that:  ‘students are not fully aware of the diversity of jobs available in different sectors. This  leads them to develop aspirations that are neither determined by their ability nor  based on a comprehensive understanding of the types of jobs available. …FE learners do not find it easy to access people who have experience of the careers or education  they would like to pursue. As a result, their understanding of particular sectors is often restricted to only the most visible roles and jobs, for instance in law – a 4 barrister; in television – an actor. FE learners who decide to pursue law, or broadcasting, consequently direct their energies into attaining the most desirable, competitive and visible jobs in these disciplines as they are the only jobs they know of. (Norris 2011, 16)


A project team from the University of Glasgow reached similar conclusions in 2011.

Considering the attitudes and experiences of 490 pupils in three urban areas (London, Nottingham and Glasgow), the team lead by Ralf St Clair, found little knowledge of available jobs or how to get them:  ‘there was little correspondence between the structure of [local] labour markets and  young people’s aspirations and expectations. …Parents’ hopes for their children were mainly unspecific as to occupations; there appears to be little awareness of routes to success. …Overall, there seemed to be a common lack of understanding of the ways in which school, post-school education and vocations were linked (St Clair et al, 2011, 58, 64)

A further recent study, also commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, reached a similar conclusion.

Loic Menzies’s review of the aspirations of disadvantaged pupils found  that they were often high, but that commonly such young people and their parents lacked  the knowledge and connections to provide reliable insight into how to achieve career  ambitions (Menzies 2013).’  The results support the findings from earlier studies cited above that commonly young  people are unable to understand the breadth of ultimate job opportunities across the  economy leading them to potentially identify unrealistic career aspirations. From an employer perspective, the findings presented in this paper strongly suggest that labour market signalling is not working.  The survey shows 36.3% of teenagers to be interested in just 10 occupations (teacher/lecturer, lawyer, accountant, actor/actress, police, IT consultant, doctor, sportsman/woman,  army/navy/airforce/fire fighter, psychologist) and, as stated, half of career interests to lie in just three of 25 broad occupational sectors. While some employers will be spoilt for choice in considering new recruits, others are very likely to be struggling to find young people who  are aware of the job opportunities they have to offer and well prepared by their educational  choices for them.

Again, this reinforces the case for easy,  early access in schools and colleges to high quality, independent careers guidance for teenagers.Ofsted is currently reviewing careers advice in schools but anecdotal evidence from Careers England suggests that the quality and scope of this advice varies dramatically between  schools, following recent changes . Face to face advice from a professional  is  not always easily accessible although this is seen as the most appropriate form of advice for disadvantaged pupils.


Nothing in common: The career aspirations of young Britons mapped against projected labour market demand (2010-2020) Dr Anthony Mann, David Massey, Peter Glover, Elnaz T. Kashefpadkel and James Dawkins March 2013

This report represents the results of a collaboration between b-live, charity the Education and Employers Taskforce and the UK Commission for Employment and Skills. It is published within the  Taskforce’s Occasional Research Papers Series.


The Pupil Premium

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does that mean?

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

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

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

‘Caveat emptor’ ,as Michael Gove might say.




A new report the ‘National Strategy for Access and  Student Success; Interim report to the Department for Business,  Innovation and Skills by the  Higher Education Funding Council for England  and the Office for Fair Access   identifies, interalia , a major  area of concern  in relation to  easing access to higher education for the most disadvantaged pupils-  namely ‘the changes that came into effect in September 2012 to careers education and guidance.’ In short, schools were given  statutory responsibility for providing access for their pupils  to good quality independent careers  guidance.

The report states ‘The Education Act 2011 ends the statutory requirements for local authorities to deliver a universal careers service to young  people. Schools have instead been placed under a statutory duty to secure careers advice but have not been given any additional funding to do so. The requirement to provide careers education has also been removed.’ The report then identifies evidence reflecting these concerns. It states ‘A report by the Work Foundation argues that ‘without careers education, careers guidance is reduced to an abrupt and isolated intervention’. They urge that ‘careers education should be embedded in the curriculum as early as primary schools and expanded on with age’

The report continues ‘ In its evidence to the Education Select Committee in October 2012, the Institute of  Careers Guidance said of the guidance offered to young people:

a. There is no overall coherence of career guidance provision whatsoever for young people up to 18.

b. For young people in schools, provision is a postcode lottery subject to budgets and head-teachers’ commitment to independent, impartial career guidance.

c. The service in schools is at best restricted in terms of student coverage and  limited to the 30 weeks of term-time provision. In the past, students and parents  have always appreciated the opportunity to access independent career guidance  during school holidays. Now, at these times, it is not possible to access independent career guidance without payment.

d. E-mail correspondence between the Association of South East Colleges and  the Skills Funding Agency has highlighted that the National Careers Service website excludes a range of courses offered by colleges of further education that are   not funded by the Skills Funding Agency.

e. Young people between 16 and 18 who are in employment but wish to  change direction or develop their career prospects do not have access to any  independent face-to-face careers guidance service without payment

Furthermore, in its report of 2011, the International Centre for Guidance Studies argued that the situation for schools was challenging as they adapt to the loss of  Aimhigher, Business Education Partnerships and the erosion of the Connexions service.

The centre argues that ‘the removal of the statutory duty to provide careers education  could result in a focus on “activities” rather than on a developmental curriculum’

Crucially, this National Strategy for Access and Student Success report says  in Para 145 pg 51 :

‘ In light of such concerns, we anticipate that the final report may recommend that a  greater governmental focus on issues of advice and guidance within schools and  colleges will be important in terms of maximising the return on investment in widening  participation to HE. The strategy will also explore how HE can most effectively engage in  supporting good information, advice and guidance (IAG) concerning HE in schools and  colleges in the new environment.’


Experts agree that face to face careers  guidance from an independent, qualified professional   is, more often than not,  the best form of  careers advice and  this is particularly the case for the most disadvantaged pupils. A number of reports, including those mentioned above, stress the importance  of easy access to high quality advice.  This will help ensure  that pupils  are better equipped to make  informed choices  regarding  the pathways into further and  higher education , training and work as well as  improving  access to higher education for the most disadvantaged pupils  and in  advancing  the governments social mobility agenda.While government guidance encourages face to face advice, where appropriate, it is left to schools to decide the  type  and scope of advice they will offer to their pupils.Given that there is no ring fenced funding for this advice , experts believe that schools, under budgetary pressure ,will opt for cheaper, lower quality  forms of  advice ie telephone advice and access  to advice through a web portal. The new National Careers Service is focused mainly on the needs of  adults.

Note 2

From September 2012, the Education Act 2011 placed schools under a duty to secure access to independent and impartial careers guidance for their pupils in years 9-11. The Careers Guidance in Schools Regulations 2013 will extend the age range to which the duty applies. From September 2013, the duty will be extended to include all registered pupils in year 8 (12-13 year olds) and years 12 and 13 (16-18 year olds).

Note 3

A  CIPD survey this month finds that parents and pupils are not getting sufficient or appropriate  advice in schools  on Apprenticeship options, which affects their take up and credibility.The survey – Employee Outlook: Focus on Apprenticeships – looked at responses from more than 400 employees with children under the age of 18. It found two-thirds of parents believed apprenticeships were a good career option, yet, only 15 per cent of them thought  school teachers gave   their children  enough information about them as an alternative to a university education.





Boarding schools can help social mobility


Lord Adonis who made it to Oxford University .from a disadvantaged background, largely due to the support of a state boarding school- Kingham Hill School in Oxfordshire -has got involved with SpringBoard, a charity that was launched last week ,(not to be confused with the literacy charity of the same name) . The charity will offer hundreds of boarding school places to disadvantaged pupils. Based on the Arnold Foundation scheme set up by Rugby School more than a decade ago, it will work with state schools and charities such as IntoUniversity, which helps young people from difficult backgrounds into higher education, and Eastside Young Leaders’ Academy, which mentors young black boys.  Adonis wrote in the Times (13 November) ‘Within a decade Springboard aims to have 2,000 disadvantaged pupils on bursaries at boarding schools across the country. If it succeeds, it will not only transform the lives of the children but it will also change private boarding schools for the better. This is a great way to help improve social mobility and build a one-nation society.’  Can boarding help? This is Adonis’ view: ‘Boarding schools have a key role to play. They offer a unique type of education — security, structure, pastoral care, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I know from my own experience that boarding schools can make all the difference to children who are in care or who are growing up in chaotic or floundering families.’

SBSA (State Boarding Schools Association) schools claim to provide high quality boarding at the lowest possible cost. You pay only the cost of boarding as the education at SBSA schools is free (state education is free). This means that rather than paying £25,000+ a year for an independent boarding school, you would probably be paying less than £10,000 a year at a state boarding school. There are 38 state boarding schools across the UK which are attended by more than 5,000 children.

Fees vary but range between £8-£12,000, compared to £10,000-£30,000 in the independent sector.  State boarding schools are witnessing a surge in popularity, with the number of places rising by a quarter over the past decade – an increase driven, probably  in part, by family breakdown, which has in effect left some children homeless.

One problem though is that they are forbidden to use any of their fees income on capital projects, or to borrow money to pay to build facilities. The net result is that rather too  many are in a state of disrepair.



‘How children Succeed’-its not just about cognitive skills

Character is what leads to lasting success


If you do well in exams and pass the tests you are set to succeed in life. Not necessarily. Until recently, most economists and psychologists believed that the most important factor in a child’s success was his or her IQ. This notion is behind the obsession with test scores. Tests, of course, are important, but there is much in a child’s education and learning  that cannot be reliably tested.  It is also the case that confidence in  the testing regime, certainly in England,  is at an all time low.And an individual’s non-cognitive abilities are now assuming  much  greater importance to employers who need them in the workplace

Education policymakers here and in the States have been driven by the need to promote more rigour and robustness in academic standards. Test-based accountability measures have been enacted with the intention of holding schools accountable for reaching these higher standards, measuring pupils cognitive skills. Its nearly  all about content knowledge and testable academic skills.  But in How Children Succeed,  Paul Tough argues that the qualities that matter most for students have more to do with character: skills like perseverance, curiosity, conscientiousness, optimism, and self-control. Economists call these non-cognitive skills. Psychologists call them personality traits. Neuroscientists sometimes use the term ‘ executive functions’. The rest of us often sum them up with the word  ‘character’. Tough offers the revolutionary concept that character, unlike DNA, is not fixed or completely innate in a person. It is, in a word that recurs throughout How Children Succeed, malleable.

This is what Tough says’ … the conventional wisdom is that the big problem for low-income kids is that they don’t get enough cognitive stimulation early on. In fact, what seems to have more of an effect is the chaotic environments that many low-income kids grow up in and the often stressful relationships they have with the adults around them. That makes a huge difference in how children’s brains develop, and scientists are now able to trace a direct route from those early negative experiences to later problems in school, health, and behaviour. The problem is that science isn’t yet reflected in the way we run our schools and operate our social safety net. And that’s a big part of why so many low-income kids don’t do well in school. We now know better than ever what kind of help they need to succeed in school. But very few schools are equipped to deliver that help.’

Tough talked about character in a recent interview, citing the KIPP chain of not for profit  charter schools and its dedicated founder, David Levin. KIPP schools produce report cards for academic performance but also  character assessment. “Dave is doing new and important work,” Tough said, adding:  ‘He has a new vision for character and it’s quite scientific in that he’s trying to figure out which character strengths make a difference in a kid’s success. And at the root of his research and thinking is the assertion that character is… a set of qualities that [enables] kids to change themselves and qualities that parents and teachers can instil.’  The schools Tough  writes about in “How Children Succeed” that are collaborating on a character initiative are those KIPP charter schools in New York City, which serve a mostly low-income student population, and Riverdale Country School, a private school in the Bronx that serves a mostly high-income student population. Together, they have come up with a list of seven character strengths they are trying to encourage in their students. KIPP had discovered that  their most successful students were not necessarily those that came top in tests but those, instead,  that were the most resilient .

Tough points out that protective parents, with the best of motives, might well be harming the longer term prospects for their children: ‘By not giving them the chance to learn to manage adversity, to cope with failure, we produce kids who have real problems when they grow up. Overcoming adversity is what produces character. And character, even more than IQ, is what leads to real and lasting success.’

In the words of a recent academic study  (see below) ‘… there is still much to be learned about how to leverage  non-cognitive factors to transform educational practice from its current focus on content knowledge and  testable academic skills to the broader development of  adolescents as learners.’

The Consortium on Chicago Schools Research report titled “Teaching Adolescents to Become Learners: The Role of Non-cognitive Factors in Shaping School Performance: A Critical Literature Review.’ June 2012




Use Interventions that are known to work


The Pupil Premium was introduced in April 2011 to target support for the most disadvantaged pupils.

Pupil premium funding is provided to schools which have on roll pupils known to be eligible for free school meals (the deprivation premium); children in care who have been continuously looked after for at least six months (the looked after child premium); and children whose parents are serving in the armed forces (the service child premium).In 2012–13 schools were allocated a total of £1.25 billion funding. In 2012-13 the pupil premium  has been worth £600 per child,  rising to £900  next year and by 2014-15 this is expected to rise to approximately £1,200 per child. From this September, schools have to publish details of how they use their premium. The DFE also publishes in the school performances tables information about disadvantaged pupils’ achievement. Ofsted has a closer focus on how the premium is used and on how it benefits pupils. The principle the government is adopting generally, in introducing the pupil premium, is to leave discretion on how it is spent as much as possible to individual heads because they will know the circumstances of the children for whom they are responsible. But there are concerns that some schools are simply using the premium to fill shortfalls in school funding or are using interventions that are ineffective. The Education Endowment Foundation, which was set up specifically to spread good practice and help other schools learn the most effective ways of tackling disadvantage has published a tool kit  which provides evidence of the types of intervention that work.  An Ofsted  survey  this year  based on the views of 262 school leaders found most said that the introduction of the Pupil Premium had had some impact on the way that they did things. However, school leaders in only one in 10 schools said that it had ‘significantly’ changed the way they worked – all of whom were in more deprived areas. Very few schools said that it had had any impact on their approach to admissions or exclusions. Around half of the schools that responded to the additional inspection questions thought that it was having a positive impact on raising pupils’ achievement, but relatively few could as yet provide evidence to substantiate this. Clearly it is disappointing that so many school don’t at this early stage believe that it is having much impact.

Unions have warned that some schools are using the Premium to meet perceived  funding shortfalls-which is  clearly  not how the Premium should be used.

The Education Endowment Foundation stresses how important it is to apply approaches that are known to work. The research summarised in their Toolkit suggests that different ways of using the premium are likely to have very different impacts on attainment.

The Government  has commissioned  two evaluations  of  the Pupil Premium — from Ofsted and its  own external evaluation of the premium’s first year. The findings of both reviews will be available next spring



Publication helps schools to meet their new statutory responsibility


From September 2012, schools will be legally responsible for securing access to independent and impartial careers guidance for all pupils in years 9-11. Careers guidance secured under the duty must include information on all 16- 18 education or training options, including Apprenticeships. In March 2012, the Department for Education published ‘Statutory Guidance for Schools – Careers Guidance’. Schools must have regard to this in exercising their new responsibilities.  Apart from the elements identified in the statutory guidance, schools are free, to decide what careers provision to make available in accordance with the needs of their pupils.  However, no ring-fenced funding  will  be available to schools to provide this support.-so they will have to find the funds from existing budgets.

The Guide accepts that ‘that most, if not all, young people would benefit from individual, face-to-face careers guidance to enable them to make informed decisions about future options based upon consideration of the wealth of information available from a  range of sources and media.’

On the face of it this looks good. But face to face advice is more expensive than other forms of advice (by telephone and via web portals) .Most experts believe that schools will go for the cheaper option, though face to face advice is regarded as essential for the most disadvantaged pupils.  It is also the case that social mobility will improve if young people are given good  independent advice as early as possible(aged 12/13) so they can choose the qualifications and pathways into Further /Higher Education  ,or  into employment,   that  are most appropriate for them. There has always been a concern that schools advice has been of poor quality and not always  impartial , given that schools have a financial  interest in keeping pupils on their rolls.

A further worry is that Ofsted will not inspect the quality of careers advice being offered by schools-so how exactly will schools that fail to provide good careers advice-be held to account?

Schools can retain their careers adviser ‘but, as the statutory guidance makes clear, you will need to supplement this with external sources of careers guidance to meet the new duty. This could include an external careers provider, employer visits, mentoring, website and telephone helpline access. Taken together, the external sources must provide information on the full range of post-16 options and access to face-to-face support where needed’.

Securing  Independent  ,Careers Guidance  A Practical Guide for Schools