Category Archives: teachers and teaching


Surely many teachers  have a foot in both camps?
The educational and political uses of the term progressive have different provenances. Most, if not all policies advocated by the Labour party, are labelled progressive, for example. However, so frequently is the term used by our politicians ( its normally broadly  associated in some form with pursuit of equality, social justice and redistribution) that it has become virtually meaningless.
But what about progressive education? Well, we know what its not, don’t we?. Progressives, as a rule, tend to know what they are opposed to much  better than they know what they are for . So they frequently identify themselves by what they are not. Traditional education for sure is the enemy of progressives. (you would have thought the opposite of progressive is regressive, yet in education its ‘traditional’-which is not the same as regressive)
Progressive education is not whole class instruction, (which traditionalists see as the most efficient way of delivering knowledge and skills), and its is not chalk and talk, nor is it the sage on the stage, nor is it didactic.
In the early 20th century, progressive education reformers promoted a pedagogy that emphasized flexible, critical thinking and looked to schools, rather ambitiously it has to be said, for the political and social regeneration of the nation.(one reason why education has become such a political football ) . The approach was informed by Freudianism and child psychology; progressives focused on child-centred methods. In this the teacher positions each child at the centre of the learning process by focusing activities around the interests of the individual pupil-another way of expressing this is personalisation of education. Here children are encouraged to take more control of their learning. But traditionalists argue that you can personalise education, without using progressive methods.

Progressive teachers warm to group and study work and are the ‘guides on the side’- ‘enablers’ and ‘facilitators’ rather than the ‘activators ‘ who populate the more traditional world. Progressives encourage, too, student participation and activity through discussions and group projects.
Traditional teachers are experts or scholars, encouraging drill, practice and memorisation, building up a core knowledge base in their students , which begets ,in turn, more knowledge. Progressive teachers are guides and listeners who perceive themselves as democratic, or certainly not authoritarian in approach, with a  more ‘humane’ approach to learning. This is an over – simplification but gives some sense of how each side sees themselves.
Tom Bennett, a respected education blogger, has produced a table-that seeks to identify ‘progressive’ methods -on the left- and ‘traditional methods’ -on the right. But Bennett rightly points out that many teachers are flexible and in practice have a foot in both camps. Indeed he suggests that they are not inherently in opposition and might even be considered to exist in a symbiotic relationship.
Sir Michael Wishaw recently recollected that he had two outstanding teachers when he headed Mossbourne Academy whose teaching styles were at opposite ends of the spectrum. One was a young female teacher who espoused progressive methods, another older male teacher followed very traditional methods. But both were highly effective, and highly rated. He used the story to reiterate that Ofsted was not seeking to promote any particular teaching style, although he also later claimed to be rooting out inspectors who favoured the progressive style and said that progressive teaching had damaged the chances of many children in the 1960s.
How effective are the respective approaches? Professor John Hatties effect sizes are lined up to show how traditional methods (Teacher as Activator) clearly beat progressive methods (Teacher as Facilitator) in their effects on outcomes. However there is some debate over whether some of the interventions on Hatties lists can be exclusively labelled  as either in the progressive or traditionalist camp. Which rather reinforces the notion that it is not that easy or clear cut  to clearly define ‘progressive ‘ and  ‘traditional’ methods.
If you look at the work of Dewey one of the leading exponents of progressive education its pretty difficult to comprehend his dense prose. And one suspects that quite a few have misunderstood what he was saying or at least mistranslated it into teaching practice.
Although this is an interesting debate and will continue, much of it gets us not very far and serves to polarise teachers and educators. It must be sensible for inspectors not to favour one particular style and as Sir Michael Wilshaw said in 2012 Inspectors should “ simply judge teaching on whether children are engaged, focused, learning, and making progress, and in the best and most outstanding lessons, being inspired by the person in front of them”.(Ed-if the teachers in front of them isn’t that tradititional?)


The Institute for Fiscal Studies has just produced a report that suggests that teachers salary scales, at least in London,   have little impact  on  pupil attainment . Finding  clear causal links has always been a challenge for researchers. But  the reports   hard hitting concluding   paragraph strikes me as particularly interesting :

‘It is normal to highlight the need for more research. It is urgently needed in this area. In particular, it is vitally important to put together data that would make such research possible.The Department for Education collects data on pupil performance. It also collects data on teachers. It has consistently, and for a long period, refused to collect the necessary information that would allow these two datasets to be linked. This means that we remain largely ignorant about which are the most and least effective teachers and which policies are most effective in helping attract and retain them’


No system can exceed the quality of its teachers

Yes, but…


No system can exceed the quality of its teachers is a familiar mantra-and who could disagree with it? “The quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers and principals,  since student learning is ultimately the product of what goes on in classrooms”  PISA 2009: What Makes a School Successful?

The available evidence suggests that the main driver of the variation in student learning at school is indeed the quality of the teachers. The 2007  McKinsey report ‘ How the world’s best-performing Schools systems come out on top’, found that ‘ All the different schools systems that have improved significantly have done so primarily because they have produced a system that is more effective in doing three things:

getting more talented people to become teachers;

developing these teachers into better instructors,;

and ensuring that these instructors deliver consistently for every child in the system.

Andrew Hargreaves and Michael Fullan argue in their book Professional Capital that if teachers work together, and collaborate effectively, and there is sustained investment in ‘social capital’ the sum can, in fact, be greater than the individual parts. So, the system can exceed the quality of the individual teachers within that system.  Creative, committed, skilled, capable people working collaboratively, providing mutual support within a team structure underpinned   by a team philosophy, can lead to  real  coherence and improved outcomes from the synergy that will result. If you focus on the development of individual teachers, in isolation, you will get poor returns. If you ensure that teachers work together, benefiting from each other’s experience and skills you will   generate better returns .   This certainly makes sense and is a no brainer. A good sporting team will frequently perform better than the sum of the individuals involved, if well coached, well led, and well managed.

Hargreaves and Fullan wrote ‘Social capital can raise individual human capital—a good team, school, or system lifts everyone. But, as we often see in sports, higher individual human capital—a few brilliant stars—does not necessarily improve the overall team’.

But here is the other side of the coin.  Arguably, given the quality of people  going into the teaching  profession ,which we are  often reminded (Wilshaw/Gove et al) is better now than  it has  ever been, the current school system doesn’t actually add up to the sum of the parts. Otherwise, surely, our system would not be stagnating (See Pisa 2009 and 2012) So,  the quality of the individual teachers in it is , perhaps,  actually better than the system is, overall. If this is the case, then using the Hargreaves/Fullan argument, the social capital element needs a lot more work  and investment and we need to focus much more on identifying and spreading high qualify collaborative practice within schools and between schools.



Supportive but at arm’s length


This is the government’s position on the Royal College of Teaching:

‘A successful professional body for teaching, established and owned by the teachers themselves, could play an important role in raising the standard and status of teaching. Key to the success of any such body would be its independence from government. We have been following with interest initiatives that have begun to take root in the education sector, including those under the aegis of the Prince’s Teaching Institute, and we look forward to seeing their proposal when it is published in the new year.’

David Laws-Commons PQ 6 January




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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 practice-relevant knowledge,

 strong human capital, (Hargreaves and Fullan etc )

 school-level processes of improvement, and

 external support and accountability.

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

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

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


Successful systems invest and reinvest in their professional capital

Professional capital has three components Human, Social, and Decisional


Speaking to an audience of Teachers at the SSATs annual conference in Manchester, last week, Professors Andy Hargreaves and Michael Fullan focused on the need to invest in  Professional Capital. They reminded the audience that there are two types of  Capital -business and professional capital. If you don’t invest in  both types of capital you will not get, and cannot expect,  a return.

Professional Capital is, of course, about the qualities and talents of individuals.  But its actually about much more than this. You can’t accumulate much human capital by focusing just on the capital of individuals. Essentially you have three mutually reinforcing   components  that make up this Professional capital –Human, Social and Decisional. Not only do you need to have these elements in place but you need to develop and invest in them to improve, specifically your education system.  And Professional capital, and this is key, needs to be circulated and shared. No silos here.

 Human Capital is about individual talent. You need highly able and talented teachers in the profession who are highly qualified.  And you need to invest in them. But you cannot simply rely on talented individuals to drive improvements across the system. Indeed the claim that the education system cannot be better than the individual teachers in that system is at best a half-truth.

 Human capital must be complemented by Social Capital—groups working hard in focused and committed ways to bring about substantial improvements. Social Capital can raise individual human capital—a good team, school, or system lifts everyone. But, as we often see in sports, higher individual human capital—a few brilliant stars—does not necessarily improve the overall team. Working with  other good teachers in effective ways really will mean that the quality of the education system adds up to more than the quality of individual teachers.  

 The third component—Decisional Capital—involves making decisions in complex situations on innumerable occasions with different problems challenges and cases- the ability and capacity to make discretional judgments . Good teachers use their professional judgement.  It is what professionalism is all about, especially when well-qualified professionals do this together. Like judges, after many years of practice and analyzing that practice and lots of case examples (Common Law) with others, teachers and other professionals know how to assess situations effectively. The evidence helps, but it’s never incontrovertible. In teaching as in  law, it’s the capacity to judge that makes the difference in the end.  Experienced well trained teachers and better placed than others to have decisional capital.  And Hargreaves reminded the audience  there is no book to tell you what to do in innumerable cases.  Professionals have to decide informed by their experience.

 When the vast majority of teachers possess the power of professional capital, they become smart and talented, committed and collegial, thoughtful and wise. Their moral purpose is expressed in their relentless, expert-driven pursuit of serving their students and their communities and always learning how to do better. Those few colleagues who persistently fall short of the mark eventually will not be tolerated by peers who see them as letting down their profession and students.

 High-performing countries use professional capital in their approach to the teaching profession. They don’t pick on, praise, or punish a few individuals. Instead, they get better and better by using a strategy that develops and retains all of their high-quality teachers and moves them all forward together.

 There were a number of  key messages being delivered here by Professor Hargreaves and Fullan. Here are just some:   

 First, of all the factors inside a school that affect children’s learning and achievement the most important is the teacher-not standards, assessments, resources or even the schools leadership but the quality of the teacher.

 Secondly, teachers and administrators must break down the classroom isolation and convert teaching into a more collaborative, and collegial profession.  Good collegiality—social capital—is supportive and also demanding. Peer-driven change should be about pulling people into exciting changes and sometimes also pushing and nudging them beyond what they perceive as their limits, for their own and their students’ benefit. And in this respect they need to know what works best and evaluate their collaborative activity, to ensure it is adding value and improving student outcomes.

 Thirdly, Social capital is more important than individual human capital because it generates human capital faster, among all teachers and for every child. Leaders have immense power with social capital to strengthen their school communities, develop greater trust, and build more effective professional collaboration—to raise the social capital in the school that develops their students’ human capital in the future.

 Fourthly we need to concentrate on moving the entire profession forward instead of obsessing about the extremes in the field by celebrating the stars and dismissing the duds.

 Finally ,mid-career (from about eight-years-plus) is where teachers are considered to be at their peak in commitment and enthusiasm, but where they tend to be most overlooked. We need to use pay accelerators (steps up in pay), professional learning incentives, high quality CPD,and multiple career paths to invest in keeping most of our teachers in classrooms for four to eight years at least and to take better advantage of their growing decisional capital and expertise.

 But what about the role of  Governments?  Their message is clear,  on this.  Politicians need to demonstrate courage and faith in investing in long-term professional capital among all teachers for everyone’s achievement, rather than pursuing short-term  ‘business-capital’ interests that reduce the cost and tenure of teachers, pit them against one another, and replace them with online alternatives in order to get a quick financial return. You do not improve professional capital by diminishing teachers judgment and professionalism, nor by employing less qualified people to teach.   Some Government policies , they claim, are driven by the imperatives of  ‘business’ rather than ‘ professional’ capital which  takes a shorter term view and is more interested in quick returns. 

 Countries that have invested in the professional capital of their teachers, and their students are reaping the benefits.  (ie implicitly  not so much  the US and UK, more Finland, South Korea , Singapore). So think about teaching in terms of the creation and circulation and the investment and reinvestment of professional capital. Governments can create good or bad climates, or enabling environments (and they have a heavy responsibility here),  to advance investment in professional capital. But it is something that must be acquired, spread and reinvested mainly  by teachers themselves, individually and together.   


Michael Fullan is a professor emeritus at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto. Andy Hargreaves holds the Thomas More Brennan chair in education at the Lynch School of Education at Boston College. They are the co-authors of Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in Every School (Teachers College Press, Routledge  2012).


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




People have a tendency to want to avoid a loss – more so than we want to receive an equivalent gain – a tendency known as loss aversion. Behavioural scientists have known about this for some time.

Imagine that teachers   were told at the beginning of the year that in order to be awarded a bonus of say £3,000 at the year end, they will have to show continuous improvement throughout the year and meet certain clear goals in terms of their CPD. The teacher would have points docked from their assessment when his or her performance or achievement was inadequate, and so teachers would work hard to stay on track to receive their end of year bonus.  How might this affect the respective teachers effort, expectations, performance, and assessment relative to current practice? Another variant might be paying teachers in advance and then asking for a proportion of the money back if the teacher, or their pupils, perform poorly according to transparent  metrics.

Research in the States doesn’t seem to support positive effects for performance related pay on student outcomes, linked just to test scores. And, indeed, linking performance related pay to test results carries with it some perverse incentives and is not necessarily very fair. Classroom observation is also seen as an unreliable method of assessing merit. So might it be worth listening more to what  behavioural scientists are telling us?





Surprise findings, maybe


We all learn throughout our lives. But learning as part of the formal educational enterprise—takes place mainly in school classrooms, as a result of the daily, minute-to-minute interactions that take place between teachers and students and the subjects they study.

This is stating the blindingly obvious, perhaps. But surely too little attention is paid to what actually happens in the classroom and the quality of teaching. We are a lot more concerned, for instance, about what doctors do in their surgeries and medical research than we are about what teachers do in the classroom or to the research that tells what best practice in the classroom is. Yes, what doctors get up to is a matter of life and death but what happens in the classroom can determine whether a child makes a success of their lives or fails to meet their potential with all the personal  and social consequences that this entails.

It seems logical that if we are going to improve the outcomes of the educational enterprise—that is, improve learning— we have to intervene directly in daily classroom instruction. And we also have to   find out how best  to  up- scale  and share what works  if we are at all serious about improving the educational outcomes of all students, especially students now stuck in chronically low performing schools.

Professor Dylan Wiliam of the Institute of Education has found, perhaps counter-intuitively, in his research, that it  isn’t knowledge of the subject, nor for that matter the quality of initial teacher training, that really makes a good teacher. Instead it is professional development throughout a teachers career, particularly the early years, the first five to ten, that is most important and has the most significant effect on outcomes.

There is also other research that suggests that teachers only improve in the first two to three years after ITT, then their performance plateaus.

So, Teacher quality is the most important determinant of how much pupils learn in school and the effect is much greater than is commonly supposed.

Professor Wiliam has found that pupils taught by the best teachers learn four times as much as those taught by the worst.  Recent Research too by Professor Simon Burgess from the University of Bristol seems to confirm the effects of bad teaching on academic achievement. He found that children taught by the worst teachers get at least a grade lower pass mark at GCSE than those taught by the best. In addition, Peter Tymms, professor of education at Durham University, led a study, published in the journal Educational Assessment, Evaluation and Accountability that found that  having  a bad teacher in the first year at primary school can blight a child’s entire education. The research discovered that the effect of having an exceptionally poor – or an unusually good – teacher in the reception year was still detectable six years later. The findings suggest that many pupils are being betrayed by schools that, in an effort to rise up national league tables, concentrate their best teachers on pupils about to take their Sats tests at the age of 11.

Professor Wiliam’s research found that Subject Knowledge actually accounts for just 15% of the difference in teacher quality

Where teachers receive their initial teacher training, Professor Wiliam has found, is almost irrelevant. Instead, the most important variable is teaching skill and what matters most, in this respect, is that teachers acquire a commitment to sound professional development throughout their careers.

What is clear is that the quality of good and bad teaching has a very significant effect on outcomes and the life opportunities of our children and deserves much more attention. Structural reforms, alone, were never going to deliver improvements across the system. It is clear that our politicians realise this but structural reforms amount to the low hanging fruit of education reform. The biggest challenge remains improving what happens in the classroom which is infinitely more complex and not very susceptible to the   centrally driven prescriptions of politicians.




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.