Category Archives: qualifications/exams


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



Look at the facilitating subjects-they do help


Its worth reminding ourselves, just occasionally, that Universities are independent and autonomous organisations and so are responsible for their own admissions decisions. The social mobility and access agendas, and the work of the access regulator OFFA can sometimes muddy the water on this issue.

It has been made clear by Russell Group universities (ie the self-appointed elite) that if you want to maximise your chances of admission to their universities they rate some qualifications as more rigorous and robust than others. The term  Facilitating subjects  is now often used when discussing admissions to HEIs.

Facilitating subjects are a group of subjects that the Russell group of universities identified in their Informed Choices publication that are usually considered to be helpful and/or required for particular courses at their universities. Informed Choices says that pupils need ‘ to have clear information about how the subjects that they choose to study in the sixth form or at college  can affect their options at university and their chances in life. That way, they can make well-informed decisions.’

Such openness and transparency by universities can, it is thought, help applicants and advisers understand the prior qualifications needed or preferred by applicants to specific courses.

Informed Choices says.. ‘some university courses may require you to have studied a specific subject prior to entry, others may  not. However, there are some subjects that are required more often than others. These subjects are sometimes referred to as facilitating subjects’.

Subjects that can be viewed as ‘facilitating’ subjects are:

• Mathematics and Further Mathematics

• English (Literature)

• Physics

• Biology

• Chemistry

• Geography

• History

• Languages (Classical and Modern)


Informed Choices -a Russell Group Guide to Making Decisions about Post 16 Education-  2012



No evidence he says that teachers with specific qualifications perform better than those without

Look at the research he says


Gabriel Sahlgren,the  head of research at the Centre for Market Research in Education  in his contribution to the Qualified Teacher debate (Telegraph 22 October) says that  despite ‘decades of research we have little understanding of what makes educators effective. Observable characteristics, including teacher qualifications, generally have no or very small effects. This is a remarkably consistent finding in most rigorous studies worldwide. If there’s anything research in the economics of education has disproved, it’s the theory that teachers with specific qualifications perform better than those without. Most people might also find this intuitive since practically everybody has probably experienced good unqualified teachers and bad qualified ones (and vice versa).’

He continues ‘Should anybody be able to become a teacher then? Not necessarily. There is some evidence that teacher subject knowledge impacts performance positively. But there are many ways to gain subject knowledge, which is probably best determined by diagnostic assessments rather than via crude measures such as degree qualifications. Indeed, an English study from 2012 found no impact at all of degree qualifications on pupil achievement. At the same time, the impact of subject knowledge should not be exaggerated. Most of the variance in teacher effectiveness remains unexplained. For this reason, the diagnostic assessments should only be used to weed out the worst apples.’

He concludes that ‘Forcing all academies and free schools to hire educators with officially approved teacher qualifications is therefore a nonsensical policy, at least if we’re interested in increasing pupil performance’.


Provocative? Counterintuitive? Yes to both. Will Sahlgren be getting a Christmas card from union leaders? I think not. Time to look back at some of the research, maybe.


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.


 Worries over funding deprived pupils

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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



More robust qualification?


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

The Education Secretary Michael Gove wrote in todays Times :

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

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

 Key changes from autumn 2015

Changes will initially be for nine core GCSE subjects

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

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

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

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

Pass mark to be pushed higher

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

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


The Ofqual consultation recommends:

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

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

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

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


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


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


Note 1

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


Note 2

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

Note 3

Ofqual Consultation

Note 4

Reformed GCSE-Subject content consultation launched



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

Language teaching a reality in high proportion of Primary schools

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tony McAleavy, Director of Education at CfBT, said:

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

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

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

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

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




Few schools run the MYP but teachers parents  and pupils like it, according to NFER research


The International Baccalaureate (IB), it is often forgotten, operates at three levels: the Primary Years Programme- for students aged between 5 and 11, the Middle Years Programme (MYP) -for those aged  between 11 and 16 and the Diploma Programme in the Sixth Form, 16 -18. The last format is the most common in the UK.

Indeed , the Primary and Middle Years levels are rarely taught in the UK .  Currently,13 schools in the UK offer the Primary Years Programme , 11 schools offer the Middle Years Programme and 189 schools offer the Diploma Programme .

Wellington College is one of the select few to offer both the Middle Years and Diploma programmes of the IB. Wellingtons Master, Dr Anthony Seldon, admitted, when he introduced the MYP, a few years ago, that it was a risk. He introduced it because of his, (  and some pupils and parents) disillusionment with the GCSE format, and the GCSES perceived failure to enable the delivery of a rounded education. Many have criticised the GCSE format ,with Seldon  one of its  leading critics. But he did more than criticise. He offered an alternative.

The IB, generally, educates around 5,000 students, most of  whom are in  state schools. The UK is now the third largest user of the IB worldwide .However ,quite a few schools which offer the IB diploma , also offer, concurrently, A levels as an option. Perversely, recent performance tables on university entry subjects ignored the IB Diploma Programme and Pre-U, two existing alternatives to A levels.

In GCSEs subjects are discrete collections of facts grouped by academic disciplines. However there is a growing feeling among teachers that pupils need to explore the connections between subjects. Interdisciplinary, joined up learning, they believe, really matters.  Subjects shouldn’t be taught in silos. With GCSEs there does seem to be an assumption that there is a finite body of knowledge and a right answer (known by the teacher, to be used in the exam).Examiners have strict guidelines to follow which some feel punishes the brightest who do not deliver formulaic answers. But knowledge is an “exploding”, ever expanding concept so the ability to be critical, to think outside artificial boundaries and to be reflective, is essential for life-long learning and individual development. In short, the IB in its various incarnations (not to be confused with the Ebacc) believes in the autonomy of subjects and academic disciplines, but also in their connectivity and for the need for pupils to be global in their outlook. It also encourages the kind of disciplines, including intellectual inquiry and critical thinking, much in demand among employers, and universities, but which are in short supply.

So, are there any downsides?. Possibly. The IB formats are demanding on both teachers and students and require a degree of self-reliance and discipline which in not always evident in pupils. And because they demand more teachers’ time they are more expensive to deliver than other formats. Anthony Seldon has pointed out too that there is a perception that the IB receives unsympathetic offers from some universities, and this is having a direct impact on the number opting to sit the diploma. Recent research by Anna Vignoles and Francis Green ,of the Institute of Education, uncovered a systematic underestimating of top applicants with IB qualifications. But those IB students who are accepted by top universities, they find, tend to perform better than similar A-level students and are more likely to achieve upper-second-class degrees or firsts.

But what of the MYP? One noteworthy aspect of the MYP is that it comes in two basic forms. Either a school, can take the more expensive route  seeking  the MYP  as  a full stand-alone qualification:  ie  with certification (which is what  Wellington College has opted for), or  schools  go the other non-certification route and use it as a  way station to the IB Diploma, which is what most  schools, using the MYP in the UK, do. However if a pupil leaves school, at 16,  for whatever reason, and has been studying the MYP, but not with certification, then they will leave with  no qualification to show to future employers, which might be a consideration for some parents.

Dr Seldon will be particularly pleased by the findings of a recent an NFER report on the IB Middle Years programme. The NFER conducted an investigation into the teaching and learning benefits of the IB MYP, in the UK. The aim was to provide a rich qualitative picture of the programme implementation in the UK, including the impact of the MYP on non-scholastic attributes such as international mindedness and civic engagement, classroom learning environments and school culture. The research design included a comparison of IBMYP, GCSE and IGCSE curriculum and assessment documents, online surveys of teachers, students and parents, and four detailed qualitative case studies.

The Key findings:

IBMYP, GCSE and iGCSE curriculums covered broadly similar content, but IBMYP had a greater focus on thinking skills and international mindedness.

Teachers, students and parents were overwhelmingly positive about the programme and its benefits, although did acknowledge some challenges, especially in regard to public recognition in the UK.

MYP in the UK:

Promotes a teaching style and school ethos valued by teachers, parents and students;

Develops students as independent learners, critical thinkers and active citizens, and encourages involvement in local and global communities;

Impacts positively on school culture and classroom environments – promotes feedback and reflection, engaging and motivating for students and teachers;

MYP students demonstrate greater awareness of global issues, greater interest in understanding other cultures and greater self-efficacy and sense of civic responsibility (local and global) than other students in the UK.

Teachers had positive views on the programme,  but some teachers held negative views  about the MYP qualification. In particular, the lack of recognition in the UK was identified as problematic. Some uncertainty was expressed about how the qualification would be perceived by universities.

Offering the MYP alongside the National Curriculum was identified as the main challenge of delivery and development of the MYP. Some teachers expressed the  view that schools cannot deliver both programmes effectively.

The majority of students said they enjoyed participating in the programme and acknowledged the benefits of its focus on critical thinking and reflection whilst accepting the greater workload they perceived, compared with other courses.  Students, unlike parents and teachers, expressed less concern that the IB MYP qualification may be less useful than GCSE or IGCSE courses. A number of students felt that too much reflection was required and some felt that the  assessment criteria could be clearer.

The survey found ‘IB MYP students reported high levels of awareness on issues such as diversity, social justice, human rights, sustainable development, conflict resolution and interdependence as well as  understanding how cultural values and assumptions shape behaviours. Although  ‘self-reported’, and therefore to be interpreted with some caution, the awareness  levels of IB MYP students were significantly different from, and higher than, those  of students in non IB schools; they were also more likely to cite school assemblies,  lessons and trips alongside family and friends as major sources of learning about  these issues.  In terms of their attitudes and beliefs in relation to global issues, the responses of IB MYP students were significantly different; more said they like learning about 110 different cultures and people with different backgrounds than non-IB students.  They also demonstrated more strongly positive views in terms of ‘self- efficacy‘ in  relation to the global issues mentioned i.e. the extent to which, as individuals,  could make a difference or contribute to the global community.  In terms of citizenship self-efficacy, the belief in one’s own ability to participate in  citizenship issues, identified as a driver of participatory citizenship in adulthood, IB MYP students were more likely than non IB students to report that they thought they could do the following well: argue their point of view about a controversial political or social issue; follow a television debate about a controversial issue;  speak in front of the class about a social or political issue or discuss a newspaper  article about a conflict between countries. Finally, when asked about actions they might become involved in the next few years, IB MYP students were more likely than non-IB students to report that they  would volunteer time to help people in the local community, talk to others about their views on political and social issues and join an organisation for a political or  social cause. All of the non-scholastic attributes displayed by IB MYP students and discussed above reflect the IB ethos and demonstrate that the students espouse the values the MYP strives to promote.

Whether or not the IB continues to expand probably depends on whether reforms to GCSEs and A levels offer, to some degree at least ,what the IB is currently offering to parents and pupils. (unlikely as things stand, but there is a way to go) The IB exists because there is a demand for what it offers to students, because it  claims not to be subject to grade inflation and  because of the perception ,among some stakeholders, that   GCSEs, and to some extent, A levels, are not fit for purpose. Will the IB expand significantly into State schools? On cost grounds alone, this seems unlikely, over the medium term.  And while this report on the MYP is broadly positive ,the big question is    that -if its so good, why  have so few schools opted to take up  the qualification?

NFER-Report for the International Baccalaureate

International Baccalaureate  Middle Years Programme  (MYP) in the UK-2013



Does it make sense?


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

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

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


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



New curriculum will focus on core knowledge-influenced by Hirsch


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Note 1

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

Note 2

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