Category Archives: SPECIAL NEEDS




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

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

poor attendance,

low aspirations parents have of their children,

feelings of marginalization,

low-literacy levels and

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

Hansard- Lords -Lord Nash- 20 January


New approach to Personalised Learning

End of Drill and Kill approach


As well as being the distinguished Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Connecticut, Joseph Renzulli is Director of the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented. His research has focused, in particular, on strength-based assessment, the identification and development of creativity and giftedness in young people, and models for personalised learning. A focus of his work, crucially, has been on applying the pedagogy of gifted education to the improvement of learning for all students. His most recent work is a computer-based assessment of student strengths and a teacher-planning tool integrated with an Internet based search engine that matches highly challenging enrichment activities and resources to individual student profiles and teacher selected curricular topics. Personalised learning means different things to different people and in the UK sadly it  seems to have slipped off the agenda and has now  morphed in to how you  can use ICT to support student learning. (give students an i-pad and that’s them sorted)

The story begins a few decades ago with Joe Renzulli, PhD., and Sally Ries, PhD., education researchers who pioneered influential new models to describe student learning. Their research centred on how personalisation and differentiation—constructed around a student’s interests, learning styles, and expression styles—inspire learning. The Renzulli Learning System is the culmination of these years of research, and if you are a fan of student-centred, personalised, project-centred and uplifting pedagogy, read on to see how we use the Renzulli model to make learning truly personal.

A student’s first experience with Renzulli Learning is with the Renzulli Profiler, a detailed online questionnaire that allows the Renzulli software to generate a personal profile of each student’s top interests, learning styles, and expression styles, making it easier for teachers to get to know their students and effectively differentiate instruction. Once a profile is generated, students and teachers may use it to guide their exploration of the 40,000 online educational resources in the Renzulli database. Students can engage in self-directed learning by exploring safe, fully-vetted resources that have been specifically matched to their individual profiles, and teachers can browse the database of resources to find activities that align to specific objectives, skills, or state and Common Core Standards.

Within Renzulli Learning, teachers can give assignments that help students to:

To support Common Core and state standards success Renzulli Learning can be used to have students:

Analyze informational texts, argue and defend a point of view

Research and draw information from multiple sources

Use mathematics to describe and solve real-world problems

Demonstrate deeper learning through projects and tasks

The resources in the Renzulli Learning System place a strong emphasis on the problem-solving, creativity, and critical thinking skills that are often neglected in a “drill-and-kill” environment. This helps ensure that learners are equipped for university (College) and career ready while developing the thinking and reasoning skills that prepare them for state and Common Core assessments.

Renzulli believes that an engaged student is more likely to invest in learning and that building a curriculum around student strengths empowers teachers to make a difference in the lives of their students. The Renzulli Learning System aims to allow students to apply, deepen, and extend their learning so that, in the words of Joe Renzulli, there is “no child left bored.”

My guess is that at some stage soon  in the UK we shall  revisit  personalised learning   and seek to redefine the concept  and accept that its not just our most disadvantaged pupils that have special education  needs, in our one size fits all system of learning .


Joseph S. Renzulli is Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Connecticut, where he also serves as director of the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented


Renzulli, J.S. (1978). What Makes Giftedness? Reexamining a Definition. Phi Delta Kappan, 60(3), 180-184, 261.

Renzulli, J.S. (1994). Schools for talent development: A practical plan for total school improvement. Mansfield Center, CT: Creative Learning Press.

Renzulli, J.S., & Reis, S.M. (1985). The schoolwide enrichment model: A comprehensive plan for educational excellence. Mansfield Center, CT: Creative Learning Press


How extra funding is spent remains key


In 2011/12 the Pupil Premium was set at £488 per pupil, rising to £600 in 2012/13, and £900 in 2013/14.

Between 2011-12 and 2012-13, the pupil premium budget actually doubled in size. As a result, the government could extend the eligibility criteria so that a pupil who has claimed free school meals at any point in the previous six years became eligible

Schools are free to spend the allocated funds as they choose, though they are held accountable for the decisions they make through performance tables which show the performance of disadvantaged pupils compared with their peers, and through the Ofsted inspection framework. In short, schools will be held to account on how they spend the pupil premium, although disaggregating Pupil Premium funding from other funding that a school spends on disadvantaged pupils will be a challenge.

If the Pupil Premium is to succeed in achieving its ambitious goals, the choices that  schools make in allocating the money are of vital importance.’ so said the respected  Education Endowment Foundation. The EEF has helpfully provided a toolkit which acts as a guide on the most effective evidence based interventions.

A recent evaluation of the programme noted that whilst it was too early to measure the  impact of the Pupil Premium on attainment, over half of all schools had introduced new  support for disadvantaged pupils as a direct result of the Pupil Premium., which is encouraging . But it also found that over 90 per cent of schools had focussed on supporting disadvantaged pupils before the Pupil Premium was introduced. And, significantly,over 80 per cent said that the Pupil Premium was not enough to fund the support they offered. Furthermore, many schools are not spending the funding as effectively as evidence suggests they could. For example, over two-fifths of school leaders surveyed said they used the money to fund teaching assistants. The Centre for Social Justice in its report ‘Requires Improvement’ (September 2013) says that this ‘ is deeply concerning  given that teaching assistants are amongst the least effective ways of improving outcomes’. The report adds ‘There are also concerns the Pupil Premium does not represent ‘additional’ funding, and instead that it is being used to plug gaps left by funding cuts rather than specifically to support the learning of disadvantaged pupils. Although the pressure on budgets would have been  worse in the absence of the Pupil Premium, it forms a relatively small proportion of schools’  total income – on average, between 3.8 per cent for primary schools with high levels of FSM  and only one per cent for secondary schools with low levels of FSM’. Ofsted found that only one in ten school leaders said the Pupil Premium had significantly changed the way they worked. Whilst many schools do monitor the impact of support provided, improving accountability is an important next step. Schools must now publish a statement for the previous year confirming their allocation, spend and impact. The new Ofsted inspection framework also focusses on how well gaps are narrowing within the school and in comparison to nationaltrends. Centrally, schools will no longer be rated outstanding unless they close their attainment  gaps – and if they fail to improve, a headteacher from a school that has closed the gap will  be brought in to advise them.

Another headteacher told the CSJ that they spend their allocation on need – even if this benefits children who did not themselves attract the Pupil Premium. At the end of the year the school is then forced to lie about what their allocation is spent on. In a recent survey, most schools  surveyed (91 per cent of pupil referral units, 90 per cent of special schools, 84 per cent of  primary schools and 78 per cent of secondary schools) aimed their support at all disadvantaged  pupils, according to their definition of disadvantage, of which FSM was just one part.

This is a sensitive issue for the government. They have given schools autonomy and schools have to operate within an accountability framework. But if the Pupil Premium is not being used effectively, it will not raise the attainment of FSM pupils. Raising the attainment of FSM pupils and narrowing the achievement gap between them  and  other  pupils is one of the benchmarks against which this governments education policy will be measured.  Remember that when Gove was shadow education secretary this is the area where he targeted most of his attacks on the Labour  government, in the Commons, and through PQS.

Sources: Office for Standards of Education, Children’s Services and Skills, The Pupil Premium: How schools are using the Pupil Premium funding to  raise achievement for disadvantaged pupils, Office for Standards of Education, Children’s Services and Skills, 2012

Carpenter C et al, Evaluation of Pupil Premium: Research Report, London: Department for Education, 2013

Centre for Social Justice Report-Requires Improvement-September 2013




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.


Do they make a difference? Maybe ,but  not on attainment


Over the last 15 years, teaching assistants (TAs) have become a central part of policy and practice in meeting the needs of lower-attaining pupils and those with SEN. Over this period, TAs have grown to comprise an astonishing quarter of the UK mainstream school workforce. Some claim that that using TAs to provide one-to-one and small group support to struggling pupils works well.  Others fear that they they dont have the necessary skills and training to cope with these specialist  tasks.One serving teacher  told me that the reality for many TAs today, is that ” they sit beside the most appallingly behaved children, lesson after lesson, and try to limit the damage they do by reprimanding them, encouraging them or distracting them.’

It does seem likely that schools will seek to extend this support work  through the Pupil Premium. However, research suggests   that schools should be cautious about the use (or misuse) of TAs assistants. Results first published in the 2009 book Reassessing the Impact of Teaching Assistants: How Research Changes Practice and Policy, by Peter Blatchford, Anthony Russell and Rob Webster,  on a five-year study of 8,200 pupils, found that pupils who received the most support from TAs consistently made less progress than similar pupils who received less TA support. In Reassessing the Impact of Teaching Assistants the authors recommend:

  • TAs should not routinely support lower attaining pupils and those with SEN
  • Teachers should deploy TAs in ways that allow them to ‘add value’ to their own teaching
  • Initial teacher training should include how to work with and manage TAs
  • Schools have a formal induction process for TAs
  • More joint planning and feedback time for teachers and TAs.

The five-year study, the Deployment and Impact of Support Staff (DISS) project (the largest study of TAs worldwide) measured the effect of the amount of TA support on the academic progress of 8,200 pupils, while controlling for factors like prior attainment and level of SEN. Worryingly, the  analyses, across seven year groups, found that those who received the most support from TAs consistently made less progress than similar pupils who received less TA support. So given the resources invested in Teaching Assistants and their apparent lack of impact on  pupil attainment, and  the possible role they may have  in support of the Pupil Premium , some searching questions surely  need to be asked.  But perhaps its unfair to blame TAs. Fully  qualified teachers  often  value the support afforded by TAs. And   the results from the DISS project seem to show that  it is the decisions made about – not by – TAs, in terms of their deployment and preparation, which are at fault.



Just 34% of Free School Meals  Pupils achieve five good GCSEs


Latest  up-dated data is just out  for 2010/11 on attainment for GCSE and equivalent results for pupils attending maintained schools (including CTCs and academies). The  information covers different pupil characteristics, specifically gender, ethnicity, English as a first language, eligibility for free school meals (FSM) and special educational needs (SEN) at national and local authority level. It shows:

58.2 per cent achieved 5 or more A*-C grades at GCSE or equivalent including English and mathematics GCSEs (an increase of 3.0 percentage points from 2009/10).

Girls continue to outperform boys: 61.9 per cent of girls achieved 5 or more A*-C grades at GCSE or equivalent including English and mathematics GCSEs compared with 54.6 per cent of boys.

Chinese pupils are the highest attaining ethnic group, with 78.5 per cent achieving 5 or more A*-C grades at GCSE or equivalent including English and mathematics GCSEs.

58.5 per cent of pupils whose first language is English achieved 5 or more A*-C grades at GCSE or equivalent including English and mathematics GCSEs, compared to 55.8 per cent of pupils for whom English is not a first language.

34.6 per cent of pupils eligible for FSM achieved 5 or more A*-C grades at GCSE or equivalent including English and mathematics GCSEs, compared to 62.0 per cent of all other pupils.

33.8 per cent of disadvantaged pupils (pupils eligible for FSM or looked after children) achieved 5 or more A*-C grades at GCSE or equivalent including English and mathematics GCSEs, compared to 62.3 per cent of all other pupils.

The proportion of pupils with SEN without a statement achieving achieved 5 or more A*-C grades at GCSE or equivalent including English and mathematics GCSEs is 24.7 per cent, compared to 8.5 per cent of pupils with SEN with a statement, and 69.5 per cent of pupils with no identified SEN.





Isnt it time to change this crude measure for deprivation?


The proportion of pupils, around 80,000, receiving Free School Meals (FSM) has long been used as the main indicator for deprivation.

However, experts have long considered it too crude a measure to give an accurate picture as it is based on just one income-based variable. FSM is not a comprehensive measure as a significant number of those eligible do not sign up either because they do not want school food or more often because of the stigma attached to receiving free food. In addition, FSM is  all or nothing – any formula including FSM assumes that a child who’s family income is low enough to receive them (around £16,000) has additional educational needs but one whose family is just over the limit needs no extra support. It is also a purely economic indicator, and does not take into account that certain communities are culturally rather than financially deprived.

Michael Nicholson, Director of Admissions at Oxford University, in a letter to the Guardian  on 3 March said  that  ‘Free school meals are a bad measure of diversity at selective universities– not least because a significant number of students are not eligible for free school meals simply because they attend sixth-form colleges, further education institutions or (on bursaries) independent schools . And many students opt not to claim free school meals even if they qualify. Around 10% of Oxford University students come from families with incomes below £16,190 (the key eligibility criteria for free school meals). Only about one in 10 of these students actually claimed free school meals – the rest wouldn’t have been counted in any of the figures related to free school meals, which you cite as an indicator of Oxford’s poor access record.’ There are other measures that could be used. One alternative, identified by Policy Exchange in its pre-election report on the Pupil Premium and   used by 12 authorities, is the Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD). This is a combined indicator developed by the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) across seven different domains (housing, education, health, crime, employment, income and living environment). Previously the IMD was only calculated at ward level which was not hugely useful as inter-ward geographies can differ dramatically. In 2004 the IMD was applied to Super Output Areas (SOAs), which are small areas averaging around 1,500 people designed by the Office of National Statistics, using zone-design software to combine compact shape and relative social homogeneity. There are 34,378 SOAs compared to around 10,000 wards at any given time (wards are electoral and so boundaries change regularly – one of the benefits of SOAs is that the boundaries do not change allowing more accurate trend analysis). Applying IMD at this level gives it a greater level of accuracy enabling authorities to use it in a formula. Bury, for example, scores each pupil by their IMD and allocates deprivation funding accordingly.  However, IMD is not pupil specific and even though SOAs are tightly drawn there are still small pockets of deprivation in predominantly affluent ones and vice versa. The Policy Exchange report (co-authored as it happens by Sam Freedman currently an education adviser to Gove) recommended using a “geodemographic” classification like ACORN or MOSAIC which analyse individuals’ postcodes using 400 variables derived from the census and other sources but are relatively simple to understand.  The report stated ‘The MOSAIC classification is a better predictor of student performance than other proxies like Free School Meals.’

Under the current school funding system in England, most funds are allocated on a per-pupil basis – the more pupils a school has, the more funding it receives. However, the money a school receives for each pupil is adjusted (‘weighted’) to take into account pupils’ characteristics, such as their age, whether they have special education needs (SEN), and whether they come from a deprived background (Free School Meals). Local authorities create their own ‘fair funding formula’, deciding how much extra money the schools under their control receive for different sorts of pupils. However much of the extra money for poorer students comes not from annual revenue funding via the DSG but through central government grants which are often designed to support specific policy outcomes while the  FSM  remains  the predominant indicator in the various formulae used by local authorities to re-allocate their share of the DSG.

The Government has set out a Free Schools funding formula and Ready Reckoner  for   the Academic Year 2011/12 that  is based  on a number of  different components. Which amongst others takes into account the needs of disadvantaged pupils on FSM.  Ministers announced  in December 2010  allocations for the first year of the £625m pupil premium , revealing that it would be distributed at a flat rate of £430 for each child registered for free school meals. The pupil premium for 2011-12 will be allocated to local authorities and schools with pupils that are known to be eligible for free school meals as recorded on the January 2011 school census, pupil referral unit census and alternative provision census. So,  each pupil known to be eligible for free school meals will attract £430 of funding which will go to the school or academy via the local authority or YPLA if the pupil is in a mainstream setting or will be managed by the responsible local authority if the pupil is in a non-mainstream setting.

If politicians want to accurately target disadvantaged pupils,  which is clearly a priority of the coalition government , the FSM  benchmark is a pretty blunt tool .There should be a consultation to identify a better way of identifying and targeting our most disadvantaged pupils  for their sakes but  also to secure a better return for the investment made in this important area of public policy.

Note: Of the 80,000 students eligible for free school meals in the United Kingdom, only 176 achieved three As at A-level



Government looks again at the Admissions Code

But how do you stop selection?


The Government apparently intends to rewrite the school  admissions code. Ministers believe that the code for school admissions, which has legal force, is unnecessarily long and difficult for parents to navigate if they wish to mount an appeal.

There is a strong suspicion that the way admissions are currently handled does little to help our most disadvantaged pupils or  to progress the social mobility agenda.

According to Barnardos (Report-Unlocking the Gates-2010) half of all pupils entitled to free  school meals, are concentrated in a  quarter of secondary schools and if you look  at the top secondary schools (on a  measure of getting five GCSEs  at A* to C including English and  maths) they  take on average only five  per cent of pupils entitled to free  school meals, less than half the  national average .It seems accepted that  widening  access to good neighbourhood  schools has a critical role to play  in narrowing the opportunity gap  in education.

Since the Education Reform Act 1988, parents have had a degree of choice over  which school their child attends, also known as ‘parental preference’. However,  the system for determining school admissions is complex, particularly when  schools are oversubscribed .Good schools of course  are all oversubscribed, but  few are able to expand to accommodate the demand for places. Although most parents get places in the school of their choice, a significant minority don’t.   If you look at London,  a third of parents did not get their first choice secondary school for this autumn. Figures from the Pan London Admissions Board (PLAB) show just 65% of families got a place at their preferred school. In the London borough of Kensington and Chelsea, some 15 per cent of children failed to gain places at their parents  preferred schools – believed to be the highest failure rate in England. And nearly 40% of children in Westminster, 39% in Southend and 38% in Barnet will miss out on their parents  first preference this September. In total more than 79,000 children  missed out on a place at their first-choice secondary school for this September,

The complexity of the admissions process is acknowledged which is why the previous government, in 2005,  announced  plans to develop a national network  of Choice Advisers. However, a  recent evaluation of the initiative found great variation in the provision  of Choice Advice: some services did little more than answer the queries  of self-referring families about how  the admissions system worked,  whereas others  specifically targeted  disadvantaged parents, providing  them with intensive support. Given the scale of local authority cuts many believe that this service will   suffer in  many  areas.

Local authorities act  as the admissions authority for the  majority of schools, but certain types  of school act as their own admissions  authority. The recent growth in  foundation schools and academies  means that there are increasing  numbers of schools which act as  their own admissions authority.  In January 1988, 15 per cent of  schools were their own admission  authority, by January 2009, that   figure had almost tripled to 42 per cent. and with the expansion of Academies and Free schools this proportion will increase over time.  Schools that are their own  admissions authority are subject  to the School Admissions Code, which was rewritten by the last Government.   It is designed to ensure they allow fair  access for all.  However  there is some evidence that  many of the best performing schools are  more socially selective. A report  by the Sutton Trust in October 2008 found that 74 out of the 100  most socially selective schools in England were their own admission  authority. In particular, voluntary aided schools (typically those with  a religious focus) seemed to take  disproportionately fewer pupils  entitled to free school meals,  compared to their local population. It is true that the best state schools tend to have less than their local authority average of pupils with SEN and on FSM. This is hardly surprising-if the inputs are good, the outputs tend to be good too.

A study by West A, Barham E, and Hind A (2009) Secondary school admissions in England: Policy and practice found that  even following  the new admissions code   there is still not 100  per cent compliance, particularly  amongst schools which are their own  admissions authority. The study identified a number of ways in which  schools were acting in accordance  probably  with the letter, but not the spirit, of  the new code – operating admissions  systems that are so complex and   difficult to understand that they  may deter less well-educated and  confident  parents from applying. Schools also ask for additional information  and use other techniques that are perfectly legal but might aid selection without leaving evidence  in the form of  a paper trail.

And this really seems to be the challenge. How do you stop schools selecting when they are doing it covertly? Tightening up the admissions code might help a bit. But  remember much thought went in to drafting the current code which has only just been adopted .  And what do you do about identifying schools that  operate within the letter but not the sprit of the Code and, once identified , how do you  put a stop to  unfair practice?




What is it, and how do you measure its effectiveness?

New literature review provides (some) answers


CfBT  Education Trust  has published a literature review ‘ Achieving successful outcomes through  Alternative Education Provision: an  international literature review’ to help improve understanding of how to measure the effectiveness of Alternative Education Provision (AEP), bring together evidence of effective approaches to AEP and to  identify promising practice and lessons that might be transferable from AEP to mainstream provision.

The  Coalition Governments education White Paper  said that  it will address the lack of a ‘common or transparent measure’ of the quality of alternative provision, where it is not inspected by Ofsted, by introducing a quality mark for alternative provision or through tighter regulation of  that provision. This report provides useful  evidence to help inform  that policy.

The report acknowledges that defining AEP is problematic, as not only can it take numerous forms (private and third sector  provision, FE provision, LA provision, online provision, work-based learning and vocational education,  full time and part time) but it can also have different objectives (educational or social, prevention  or intervention), be aimed at different beneficiaries (individual, family, community) and finally have  different meanings in different countries.

However, it found that  one  of the most  useful ways of conceptualising AEP comes from the US Department of Education which defines  alternative education as a school that ‘addresses needs of students that typically can’t be met in  a regular school, provides non-traditional education, serves as an adjunct to a regular school, or  falls outside the categories of regular, special education or vocational education.’ However, thinking  of AEP solely as ‘schools’ excludes some types of alternative provision. (The range of types of  programme that may be referred to as AEP are illustrated in Appendix 6.1. of the report ) For this review  the authors have  therefore adapted an American definition  so as to retain a focus on education programmes. For the purposes of this review alternative education provision is defined as: schools or programmes  that are set up by local authorities, schools, community and voluntary organisations, or other entities,  to serve young people whose needs are not being met and who, for a variety of reasons, are not succeeding in a traditional learning environment. The authors of a 2009 paper published by the think-tank Demos  suggest that in relation to AEP there is a need for:

•  ‘an accountability system that captures a richer idea of success in education – that allows  schools, and children and young people’s services to flourish’


•  ‘an Ofsted-style function of inspecting and monitoring voluntary and community and private  sector organisations and awarding them a single quality kitemark; this kitemark scheme could  build on the experiences of the new Learning Outside the Classroom ‘Quality Badge’ scheme.’

The research into AEP reviewed in this document supports this view and aims to build a clearer  picture of what any such accountability system or kitemark scheme could capture in order to  evidence the effectiveness of AEP appropriately. The main body of this report explores further the evidence of what contributes to effective AEP and the achievement of successful outcomes for  young people through AEP; and concludes with a proposed framework that could be used both in  planning or assessing AEP.

The evidence reviewed suggests some essential characteristics of effective AEP. Effective AEP is:

• Based on trusting, caring relationships

• Based on effective assessment of need

• Person-centred

• Purposeful (outcomes focused)

• Personalised and appropriate (curriculum/addressing needs)

• Flexible and accessible

• Delivered by highly skilled and trained staff

• Monitored and assessed (to ensure needs are met and to inform delivery)

• Supported by the wider family and community.

The review found some evidence to suggest what outcomes can reasonably be expected from  effective AEP. Outcomes that the literature suggests are typically measured, but may not be solely  attributable to the provision, are:

• Academic attainment and increase in numbers of learners receiving awards for their performance

• School attendance

•  Reductions in disruptive and/or violent behaviours and exclusions, suspensions, or referrals

• Reduction in offending behaviours

• Improved sense of direction and self, including changes in self-esteem, confidence, motivation,  and health awareness

• Improvement in developing and sustaining relationships (with family, project staff, peers) including  changes in the ability to communicate, cope with authority, and work with others

• Positive progression routes.

However,  this review  did  not successfully identify evidence of the processes or mechanisms by which  those characteristics suggested to be integral to effective AEP actually impact on outcomes, nor  did  it find  evidence of causality. In short, it did  not uncover how or why these characteristics  make AEP successful.

But,  by  combining the list of effective characteristics, or ‘inputs’, with a list of outcomes drawn from the  literature, an outline framework that could be useful in designing new AEP and also in monitoring  the effectiveness of AEP has been produced. More work is needed on this outline framework to  identify what tools and evidence could be used to measure or assess the effectiveness of both the  inputs and the outcomes and to test its appropriateness for all types of AEP.

In general, the findings of the literature review reflect the sentiments of Brown Ruzzi:

‘The creative and individualized environments of these educational programs serve to  reconnect and re-engage out-of-school youth providing them with an opportunity to achieve in a different setting using different and innovative learning methods. While there are many Achieving successful outcomes through Alternative Education  Provision: an international literature review different kinds of alternative schools and programs, they are often characterized by their flexible schedules, smaller student-teacher ratios, relevant and career oriented themes, and  modified curricula.’

.Achieving successful outcomes through  Alternative Education Provision: an international literature review ;Paul Gutherson, Helen Davies, Ted Daszkiewicz-CfBT Education Trust (2011)




They  have special needs too


It’s not fashionable to talk about spending more resources and time  on our extremely gifted students. There has always been resistance, in some schools at least,  to even identifying gifted and talented pupils, as this is perceived as smacking of elitism and as in some way undermining the  ‘comprehensive’ ideal . For now, education reformers want to close the achievement gap to ensure that the most disadvantaged pupils  are given improved access to good schools and universities  and that their  educational  outcomes improve, laudable aims of course. But a plausible argument can be put that our most gifted children have special needs as well, and some doubt that leaving it up to schools alone  will  enable them to get the support they deserve.

The Young Gifted and Talented programme (YG&T) was set up in 2007 to provide support and opportunities for gifted and talented children aged 4 to 19, including those who were members of the former National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth (NAGTY).

The YG&T Learner Academy gave  them the opportunity to participate in activities designed to stretch and challenge them through a range of online and face-to-face events. It also created  opportunities for gifted and talented students to meet and socialise with other young people with similar interests and outlooks.

The YG&T website also   provided information and links to other sources of support for parents, governors and those who work with gifted and talented children and young people.

In England  the  network of external out of school support is going or has already gone .   The   academy has been scrapped and the £20m funding targeted elsewhere.

Separate cash for out-of-school master classes, workshops and summer schools  has also been be withdrawn and a national register of bright children is being abolished.

The last government said the money earmarked for gifted children  would instead be mainstreamed, in other words  go directly to schools, giving individual head teachers more power to promote the needs of gifted pupils.  Although Schools were told to prioritise bright children from the poorest backgrounds, this has been largely left up to heads. But many experts believe that without central government  pressure ,and some ring fenced funding,   the gifted and talented will lose out. This is yet another manifestation  of  the opposing struggle  among reformers between giving schools real  new autonomy and central prescription, with school autonomy winning out. It was the last Labour Government that decided to devolve responsibility for direct support back to schools.  However, without supplementary  out of school, specialist, external support afforded to  our most gifted pupils ,we are in danger of not developing our best talent in state schools.

Denise Yates, chief executive of the National Association for Gifted Children, told the  previous DCSF select committee in hearings last year  that provision was already patchy in schools.

“On the one hand, there are excellent schools with excellent leadership and excellent programmes for gifted and talented, but parents are extremely worried that the other end is not catered for,” she said. “There are a lot of schools that don’t understand what gifted and talented means, who aren’t prepared to put programmes in place that cater for gifted and talented children and parents are extremely concerned.” She suggested some schools were concerned about promoting the needs of gifted children because it was seen as “elitist”. “I think the sooner that gifted and talented stops being seen as an elitist issue and the sooner it starts being seen as an equal opportunities issue the better,” she said. “If you pick somebody by definition you are always going to not pick somebody [else] and I think that’s an issue that has got to be considered within society as a whole.”

In a curious way the Gifted and Talented  issue mirrors what is now  happening over sport  in schools. A centrally driven scheme, fomenting local partnerships, will soon be abolished and schools will in future, exercising their autonomy,  take full responsibility for competitive sport  , but sportsman are up in arms over the changes. Partly because the  partnerships were unfairly criticised in their view by the Government. And partly because they have not much confidence that cash strapped Heads will afford any priority to school sports, whatever Ministers might say. Experts on Gifted and talented pupils feel largely sidelined too and have little confidence in schools willingness to identify  and support gifted pupils.

The previous support regime was certainly not perfect. There were some teething problems, it was relatively slow in getting started  and there was at times a clear lack of coherent leadership, picked out by expert witnesses at the Select Committee hearings last year  but there were innovative schemes introduced which also won admiration too. In the last couple of years there were signs of real progress.   But you will find few who support the current regime as being adequate, using any benchmark and  too many schools have outdated attitudes, refusing still  to identify gifted pupils just as some schools eschew competitive sports.

Ofsted’s Annual Report 2009-2010, published on 23 November 2010, highlights that schools are not challenging gifted and talented pupils and not meeting their needs, even in schools that are doing well in other areas. This lack of challenge impacts negatively on motivation and children’s achievement levels.

Paragraph 75 of the report states:

“For more academically able pupils, inspection evidence shows that teaching and learning can be insufficiently challenging and poorly matched to their needs. This is a weakness even in some schools otherwise judged to be good. Where this is the case opportunities for independent learning can be too limited, teaching is too directive, and additional tasks for higher-attaining pupils often simply require pupils to complete more of the same work rather than introduce new challenge. As a result more able pupils can lose enthusiasm and fail to make the progress of which they are capable.”

Parents have an important role in support of their own gifted children, of course. “Parental engagement in education is twice as predictive of  a pupil’s academic success as where a family lives, their colour or race, income levels or whether they are working

class, middle class or upper class. Where this engagement is intensive it can be ten times more predictive”  (Henderson & Berla, A New Generation of Evidence, 1996) and “Parents have the greatest influence on the  achievement of young people through supporting their learning in the home environment” (Engaging parents in  raising achievement; do parents know they matter? By Prof Alma Harris and Dr Janet Goodall, University of  Warwick, 2007). But  parents  need help too  from the school system to ensure that their child reaches its potential.

‘Ofsted’s verdict would seem to suggest that in too many cases this is not happening. Time for a re-think?