Category Archives: Think tanks


All Party Social Mobility group and Centre Forum say Character counts

Manifesto promotes importance of Character and Resilience


Why do some talented children grow up to fulfil their ambitions while others never realise their full potential? How do we create a country in which a person’s life chances are determined by their talent, not the circumstances of their birth? These are some of the difficult questions that the APPG ‘ Character and Resilience Manifesto’ aims to tackle.

The Chair of the APPG ,Baroness Claire Tyler, wrote:

‘There is a growing body of research linking social mobility to social and emotional skills, which range from empathy and the ability to make and maintain relationships to application, mental toughness, delayed gratification and self-control. These research findings all point to the same conclusion: character counts.’ She continued

‘The evidence also makes clear that people are not just born with or without Character and Resilience traits. Rather, a person learns to develop and use these abilities throughout their life. They can be taught and learnt at all stages of life. This means that policymakers and practitioners have a key role to play in encouraging the development of Character and Resilience throughout the population.’

The report says that there is growing evidence linking life chances to things beyond just test scores – that is ‘non-cognitive’ skills. In simple terms, these are attributes such as a belief in one’s ability to succeed, the perseverance to stick with a task and the ability to bounce back from life’s inevitable setbacks. In short, ‘Character and Resilience’.

At a summit last year, The APPG on Social Mobility heard evidence on how these so called ‘soft’ skills lead to hard results: where you are on the character scale will have a big impact on what you achieve. This Manifesto is an attempt to take the next step. It contains what we – as a cross party group – believe to be the best policies to enhance Character and Resilience across the life course.

In doing so, it is both a ‘call to arms’ to policy makers and an attempt to begin a wider national conversation on how developing Character and Resilience can help break down the stubborn blight of social immobility and enable people from every walk of life to realise their full potential.

 Character and Resilience manifesto

In the early years, the APPG calls on government to:

1. Introduce an Early Years Premium, extending the Pupil Premium into early years education;

2. Support development of a best practice tool-kit for the early years focussing on interventions that aid development of the crucial non-cognitive base in early child development;

3. Roll out evidence based parenting initiatives nationwide;

4. Encourage the development and implementation of an innovative campaign to convey simple but crucial child development messages to parents; AND

5. Develop a robust school readiness measure at reception that includes Character and Resilience.

In school, the APPG calls on government to:

1. Ask Ofsted to determine how to factor Character and Resilience and ‘extra’-curricular activities more explicitly into the inspection framework;

2. Make participation in ‘extra’-curricular activities a formal  aspect of teachers’ contracts of employment;

3. Create a respected, official ‘School Leaving Certificate’ that reflects a child’s achievement across a broad range of activities rather than just exam outcomes;

4. Incorporate Character and Resilience into initial teacher training and CPD programmes;

5. Support development of a best practice tool-kit for  interventions that aid Character and Resilience for specific  use in conjunction with the Pupil Premium; AND

6. Encourage all private schools to share their professional expertise and facilities that promote Character and Resilience with schools in the state sector, in keeping with  private schools’ charitable status.

In the transition to adulthood and employment, the  APPG calls on government to:

1. Encourage the growth of the National Citizenship Service and ensure that this has the explicit purpose of building

Character and Resilience at its heart;

2. Establish an officially recognised and valued National Volunteering Award Scheme to give adult volunteers formal recognition of their contribution to the lives of young people;

3. Seize the opportunity of the raising education participation age to use Character and Resilience programmes to re-engage the most disengaged 16 and 17 year olds back into learning; AND

4. Make Character and Resilience a key focus of the National  Careers Service.

In this area the APPG also calls on employers to:

5. Actively encourage staff to participate in CSR activities that develop Character and Resilience in young people;

6. Implement internal training programmes that help develop the Character and Resilience capabilities of staff; AND

7. Develop alternative routes into advanced professional positions that reflect the importance of Character and Resilience skills rather than raw academic achievements.

The chairman of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, Alan Milburn, described the report as “valuable”.

“Schools must do more to promote character skills as well as academic attainment,” he said.”It is not a question of either-or; the core business of a school must be to do both.”

The report has been welcomed widely, with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg saying it would help to “drive innovative thinking”.

In a speech last week, Education Secretary Michael Gove stressed the importance of extra-curricular activities.

“As top heads and teachers already know, sports clubs, orchestras and choirs, school plays, cadets, debating competitions all help to build character and instil grit, to give children’s talents an opportunity to grow and to allow them to discover new talents they never knew they had,” he said.

Shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt said the report “tackles one of the most pressing questions currently facing our education system: how do we educate resilient young people that have a sense of moral purpose and character, as well as being passionate, reflective learners?”

Edward Timpson, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education said, in the Commons on 10 February,” Schools play an important role in providing character-building activities for their pupils. Sports clubs, orchestras and choirs, school plays, cadet forces and debating competitions all help to build character and give children opportunities to flourish. Schools are best placed to determine the needs of their pupils and how best to meet them”. He added that “We are also removing unnecessary health and safety rules that prevent children from going on expeditions and seeking adventures”

Character and Resilience Manifesto Chris Paterson, Claire Tyler  and Jen Lexmond

The all-party parliamentary group on Social Mobility and Centre Forum -Feb 2014


James O Shaughnessy, formerly deputy director of the think tank Policy Exchange and adviser to David Cameron, has established Floreat Education which aims to open a number of Primary schools  which focus, interalia, on  developing  ‘good character, including virtues such as honesty, resilience and service to others’. Floreat Education has  just been chosen to open a new primary school on the site of the Atheldene Day Centre in Earlsfield.


 A CFBT Education Trust Review of evidence  seeks to define teachers’s effectiveness and what makes an effective teacher .

Working with partners including the Oxford University Department of Education, the Centre for Equity in Education at the University of Manchester, the University of Glasgow, the University of Nottingham and the Hong Kong Institute of Education, CfBT Education Trust commissioned a series of reviews of international literature covering best practice in school improvement  .

The idea that schools can impact positively on student outcomes is a crucial driver in the rise of interest in school improvement research and practice.

These reviews highlight international examples of best practice in order to effect change and identify how effective school improvement manifests itself. They form useful tools for schools and school leaders, but also act as lessons for policy makers in terms of what works around the world. Evidence led policy and practice is now high on the political agenda, as is trying to ensure that Heads and classroom teachers make the best use of available evidence to drive improvements in student outcomes.

One of the reviews is concerned with how to define a teacher’s effectiveness and what makes an effective teacher. It draws out implications for policymakers in education and for improving classroom practice.Teacher effectiveness is generally referred to in terms of a focus on student outcomes and the teacher behaviours and classroom processes that promote better student outcomes.

This review, based upon research evidence, suggests that effective teachers:

are clear about instructional goals

are knowledgeable about curriculum content and the strategies for teaching it

communicate to their students what is expected of them, and why

make expert use of existing instructional materials in order to devote more time to practices that enrich and clarify the content

are knowledgeable about their students, adapting instruction to their needs and anticipating misconceptions in their existing knowledge

teach students meta-cognitive strategies and give them opportunities to master them

address higher- as well as lower-level cognitive objectives

monitor students’ understanding by offering regular appropriate feedback

integrate their instruction with that in other subject areas

accept responsibility for student outcomes.

The review shows that in order to achieve good teaching, good subject knowledge is a prerequisite.

Also, the skilful use of well-chosen questions to engage and challenge learners, and to consolidate understanding, is an important feature, as is the effective use of assessment for learning.

Effective teaching:


New professional body for teachers under discussion

Teaching needs to develop as a profession


There is widespread consensus that the teaching profession needs to be professionalised and its status raised. If you look at the highest performing systems-Finland, South Korea, Singapore, for example, their teachers are members of a high status   profession.

The idea of a new (Royal) College of Teaching, appears to be gaining cross party support, aimed at nurturing professionalism and professional development. The growing feeling articulated in a recent discussion document is that the lack of an independent body really does matter, because its absence has resulted in governments stepping into the vacuum to define professional practice. This has, in turn, led to the progressive dis-empowerment of the profession, which has affected the standing of teaching in society, and its ability to develop as a profession. A discussion document says:

‘This is an idea whose time has come. A new College of Teaching has the potential to become the deeply respected voice on professional matters that teaching needs, and to develop the teaching profession in this country as the finest in the world.  In doing so, we believe that it will make a significant contribution to the lives and life chances of children and young people in this and future generations and so to the success of our country.’

Under  its  vision section the Discussion Blue print document says :

‘The College will need to be motivated by a deep sense of moral and intellectual purpose.  It would celebrate high achievement in teaching, embody the most rigorous standards, be driven by its members, advise policy-makers, and ultimately determine the standards for teaching and teachers which should be met.  If the College does its job as fully and as effectively as we envisage, teachers nationally will aspire to become members and see the professional opportunities that it opens up as a powerful contribution to the development of their careers’.

Overall the vision suggests that QTS would not be  the end of training, as it is now, but mark the beginning of a journey up, the grades for example,  from associate to fellow,  rather like  the journey from registrar to consultant in the medical profession . It would require greater levels of professionalism for membership than the basic requirements of QTS, which ought to be thought of as a minimum requirement.  There are already subject associations and the existing College of Teachers.  So part of the challenge  is to bring these together. For it to be credible, the thinking goes, it needs to be autonomous, independent, and,  in particular, financially independent. That would require it to be at arm’s length from Government and from politics.  Some believe that in the long run the college should have considerable powers and duties in relation to competence, conduct and standards. The debate on its future is being shaped now.(see link to discussion document below).  The implicit assumption is that this body will be voluntary and will rely on subscriptions from teachers. If about 20% of teachers subscribe it might work.  The feeling is that if, after  a few years , there was anything less than one in five teachers signed up, it probably wouldn’t  pack any sort of punch.

Unions have given a guarded backing to this initiative. But some leaders will see it as a possible threat to their influence. Unions have failed to raise the status of the profession partly because they agree on little, and partly because politicians tend to ignore them, so they  largely fail to shape the environment within which their members work.

A new member-driven College of Teaching: A blueprint for discussion -Discussion Document June 2013

Discussion Document – The Prince’s Teaching Institute


The Theory of Multiple Intelligences


Professor Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences has wide spread currency in education. This is due to the appeal of its suggestion that there are a range of intelligences rather than a single IQ that is based on abstract mathematic/logical deductive thinking.

Gardner has questioned the idea that intelligence is a single entity, that it results from a single factor, and so can be measured by one metric via  the  so -called  IQ test. We need instead  to take a   fuller account and demonstrate greater appreciation of human cognitive capacities.  According to Gardner ‘All human beings possess not just a single  intelligence (often called by psychologists “g” for general intelligence). Rather, as a species we  human beings are better described as having a set of relatively autonomous intelligences’.

Some children are, for instance, intuitively brilliant at acting but cant add up. A pupil might be a master of a musical instrument and sight read music at astonishing speed but be weak at expressing themselves on paper. Another child might have highly developed interpersonal skills, make friends easily, and get the best out of and inspire those around them but are hopeless at processing and weighing up academic data.  Indeed, its  not uncommon for  those individuals with very  high IQs, according to the accepted metrics, to be   poor team workers and lacking  in the   ability to  empathise  with  others-doesn’t that imply a missing ‘intelligence’’?

The multiple intelligences set out by Gardner represent a broad range of culturally valued achievement recognised in the outcomes of schooling. Gardner’s multiple intelligences have therefore been utilised to justify the development of broader curriculum opportunities and increased differentiation in teaching. Gardner defines intelligence as “the capacity to solve problems or to fashion products that are valued in one or more cultural setting” (Gardner & Hatch, 1989). Using biological as well as cultural research, he formulated a list of seven key intelligences. This new outlook on intelligence differs greatly from the traditional view which usually recognizes only two intelligences, verbal and computational.

Gardner, initially, identified  in Frames of Mind (1983) seven intelligences :

(1) Logical-Mathematical Intelligence — the ability to detect patterns, reason deductively and think logically. Most often associated with scientific and mathematical thinking.

(2) Linguistic Intelligence – the ability to use language masterfully to express oneself rhetorically or poetically. Also allows one to use language as a means to remember information.

(3) Spatial Intelligence — the ability to manipulate and create mental images in order to solve problems. Not limited to visual sight, Gardner noted that blind children can possess spatial intelligence.

(4) Musical Intelligence — the ability to read, understand, and compose musical pitches, tones, and rhythms. (Auditory functions are required for a person to develop this intelligence in relation to pitch and tone, but it is not needed for the knowledge of rhythm.)

(5) Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence — the ability to use one’s mind to control one’s bodily movements. This challenges the popular belief that mental and physical activity are unrelated.

(6) Interpersonal Intelligence – the ability to apprehend the feelings and intentions of others.

(7) Intrapersonal Intelligence — the ability to understand one’s own feelings and motivations.

The latter two intelligences are separate from each other. Nevertheless, because of their close association in most cultures, they are often linked together.  Subsequent research and reflection by Howard Gardner and his colleagues looked  at three other intelligences -a naturalist intelligence, a spiritual intelligence and an existential intelligence. Gardner concluded that the first of these ‘merits addition to the list of the original seven intelligences’ (Gardner 1999).

Naturalist intelligence enables human beings to recognize, categorize and draw upon certain features of the environment. It ‘combines a description of the core ability with a characterization of the role that many cultures value’

Gardner (1983) argued that culture also plays a large role in the development of the intelligences. All societies value different types of intelligences. The cultural value placed upon the ability to perform certain tasks provides the motivation to become skilled in those areas. Thus, while particular intelligences might be highly evolved in many people of one culture, those same intelligences might not be as developed in the individuals of another. Although the intelligences are separated from each other, Gardner claims that the seven intelligences very rarely operate independently. Rather, the intelligences are used concurrently and typically complement each other as individuals develop skills or solve problems. An example is given of a dancer- a dancer can excel in his art only if he has 1) strong musical intelligence to understand the rhythm and variations of the music, 2) interpersonal intelligence to understand how he can inspire or emotionally move his audience through his movements, as well as 3) bodily-kinesthetic intelligence to provide him with the agility and coordination to complete the movements successfully.

Mindy L. Kornhaber (2001), a researcher involved with Project Zero, identified a number of reasons why teachers and policymakers in North America have responded positively to Howard Gardner’s presentation of multiple intelligences. Among these are that:

… ‘ the theory validates educators’ everyday experience: students think and learn in many different ways. It also provides educators with a conceptual framework for organizing and reflecting on curriculum assessment and pedagogical practices. In turn, this reflection has led many educators to develop new approaches that might better meet the needs of the range of learners in their classrooms.’

So, what is controversial about this theory? First, some academics believe that it is not based on sound science or robust empirical evidence. Secondly, if true, we would have to radically rethink and re-imagine how we teach our children and indeed  what we teach them. Learning styles would have to be adapted to suit children with different intelligences. Teachers would be expected to think of all intelligences as equally important. This is in vivid contrast to traditional education systems which typically place a strong emphasis on the development and use of verbal and mathematical intelligences. Thus, the Theory of Multiple Intelligences implies that educators should recognize and teach to a broader range of talents and skills. And Teachers should structure the presentation of material in a style that engages most or all of the intelligences.

The theory has been aligned with learning styles in the USA. But Gardner has been somewhat frustrated by the way his work has been interpreted and applied, in some schools at least. Memorably, on a visit to Australia he was surprised to be told that there was a state-wide programme that was supposed to be partly based on his theory. But what he saw instead was ‘ a mish mash of practices-left brain and right brain contrasts, sensory learning styles,”neurolinguistic programming” and multiple intelligences approaches all mixed up with dazzling promiscuity’.(Intelligence-Reframed-2000).

Transforming this theory into practice is undoubtedly a challenge

Wellington College has loosely adapted Gardner’s theories to determine that each child has “eight attributes”, which, it sees, as four sets of pairs: the logistical and the linguistic, the creative and the physical, the spiritual and the moral, the personal and the social. The school has incorporated this holistic  thinking into its physical space. The school says ‘Each of these intelligences, or aptitudes, is embedded in Wellington life, providing direction to the development of individual education. In this fashion the whole child is prepared to manage self, manage relationships and manage their own learning, work and performance’

But  not everyone buys into the theory.

Professor John White, Emeritus Professor of philosophy and education at the Institute of Education London, believes that the distinctions and criteria used by Gardner are as arbitrary as traditional eugenic theory. “Gardner suggests there are eight different types of intelligence,” White told the Guardian in 2006, “But at no point does he explain how he arrives at this number. Rather than being based on extensive observation, Gardner appears to derive his taxonomy from the cultural world. He also identifies eight criteria that each intelligence has to meet, without adequately explaining how these are derived or satisfied. It’s a grandiose theory that works on an artistic rather than a scientific model.” Most damning of all, as far as White is concerned, is that multiple intelligence theory dovetails too   conveniently with the existing national curriculum. Children can flourish in different areas, such as music, PE and art, and no one need ask difficult questions about the actual content of what’s on offer. Except, of course, for White. “Intelligence is about exercising good judgment in adapting means to ends,” he says. “We all have different goals, and it simply seems confusing to corral thousands of types of intelligence into just eight categories”. But it is also presumably wrong using this logic  to seek to have one IQ test to determine an individual’s intelligence. Talk about blunt tools!

Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences, however, provides a useful theoretical foundation for recognizing the different abilities and talents of students.  Students are not one dimensional. Many   have potential that is neither recognised nor supported. This theory acknowledges that while all students may not be verbally or mathematically gifted, or obviously intelligent using normal accepted metrics many children may have particular strengths in other areas, such as music, spatial relations, or interpersonal knowledge which are valued by them as individuals   but also by society and of course the employment market.

Approaching and assessing learning in this manner allows a wider range of students to successfully participate in classroom learning and encourages parents and teachers to provide the necessary support to build on pupils strengths and improve their confidence and self-esteem.  It is also worth noting how highly employers rate interpersonal skills in the workplace which if Gardner is to be believed requires a particular type of intelligence that can be nurtured and developed in schools and elsewhere .

It is surely a pity that so few schools do much or indeed anything to focus on this element of a childs development


Less than it seems?


Ken Clarke was summoned by the Speaker to make a statement this week on the so-called ‘ Bilderberg’ conference .The Bilderberg organisation exists for the purpose of holding meetings once a year in various countries to discuss  world affairs. Each year   around 140 decision makers and opinion formers —drawn from both sides of the Atlantic; from Europe including Turkey, and from the United States and Canada. (including the World Trade Organisation, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank), attend.  The invitees  are drawn from the worlds of government, politics, academia, defence and journalism.  Nobody attends representing any particular organisation to which they might belong. Clarke complained that he had never previously answered a question in the House of Commons on behalf of a private organisation for which the Government have no responsibility. The Bilderberg conference is somewhat secretive and draws the attention of conspiracy theorists, who claim that key decisions are made at this conference that affect us all but there is no transparency involved.  Michael Meacher MP wondered why “the largest and most powerful lobbyists’ group in the western hemisphere—an anti-democratic cabal if ever there was one—should operate in conditions of utter blackout and complete secrecy”

Clarke was dismissive.  He pointed out that the Bilderberg meeting does not make any decisions, nor does it pass any resolutions.

And Meacher’s colleague, Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, also attended this year’s meeting, as did Lord Mandelson. So it embraces those who don’t have their hands on the levers of power too.

The Bilderberg group now publishes a list of all those who attend the meetings and the topics that are discussed.  The topics on the agenda this year included “Can the US and Europe grow faster and create jobs?”, “Africa’s challenges”, “Trends in medical research” and “Developments in the middle east”.

Less conspiracy, one feels, more a  mini-Davos, under Chatham House rules, that  doesn’t necessarily include   ‘has been’ politicians.



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.”




Survey of heads suggests cuts to vocational provision in schools

Cause for alarm?


New research carried out by the  IPPR think tank, supported by the Edge Foundation, an independent charity that supports practical, technical and vocational education, shows that 60 per cent of schools are either planning to cut the provision of vocational qualifications or have already done so.

This is despite 85 per cent of school leaders agreeing that vocational qualifications are valuable for their students. The IPPR  says that the results of this  survey of senior teachers in English state schools suggests that potentially valuable vocational courses are being removed from school curriculums as a result of changes in 2012 that cut 96 per cent of courses from school performance league tables following recommendations in the Wolf report.

This month marks a year since the government announced the removal of the majority of GCSE-equivalent vocational qualifications from the school performance league tables, in response to valid concerns about the rigour and value of some courses.

When interviewed, two thirds (66 per cent) of the senior school leaders whose schools were cutting vocational provisions admitted that the decision had been taken as a result of the changes to the school performance tables. Just 15 per cent said that the reason for reducing the number of vocational courses was that they did not believe that the courses were valuable.

By contrast, four in five (79 per cent) senior teachers interviewed agreed that vocational qualifications provided a firm foundation for school leavers to join the world of work. Not only that, over two thirds (69 per cent) agreed that vocational qualifications were useful not only for those leaving school aged 16 but ‘offer a strong foundation for further study or training’.

Jan Hodges, CEO of the Edge Foundation, which supported the research, said:

“We want high quality vocational qualifications to achieve parity alongside other educational routes for young people. Our concern is that in attempting to guarantee quality the Government has used a sledgehammer to crack the nut. Schools are now being forced to drop valuable technical, practical and work-related courses or risk getting no credit for the provision.”

The IPPR concludes

‘This poll supports what education analysts have known for some time: that head teachers are highly sensitive to what the government measures in its school performance tables. England needs a self-improving school system in which schools are able to offer learning opportunities that they are confident are in the best interests of their young people. This requires a reformed accountability system for schools that creates fewer perverse incentives and a qualifications framework that is less vulnerable to changing political imperatives in Whitehall.’

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “Previously schools could do well in performance tables by offering poor-value qualifications, 94% of which failed rigorous tests by experts to check their value to pupils’ future education and employment prospects. “We strongly believe that vocational education needs transforming for young people to succeed in today’s job market, which is why we have overhauled the system to recognise only high quality vocational courses that lead directly to a skilled trade or profession.”

Survey of 252 senior teaching leaders in English state schools in England carried out by Opinion Matters between 10th and 21st December, 2012.


Note-The Edge Foundation wants to ensure that “learning by doing” is valued equally with academic learning



UK surprisingly low in freedom league table but  there are some other surprises too


The Freedom index is contained in a new book, Towards a Worldwide Index of Human Freedom, which examines the characteristics of “freedom” and how it can best be measured and compared between different nations.  “Our intention is to measure the degree to which people are free to enjoy classic civil liberties—freedom of speech, religion, individual economic choice, and association and assembly—in each country surveyed. We also look at indicators of crime and violence, freedom of movement, legal discrimination against homosexuals, and women’s freedoms,” said Fred McMahon,  a Research Chair in Economic Freedom (Fraser Institute) and editor of Towards a Worldwide Index of Human Freedom.  Although 18th  is not much to boast about the UK is ahead of, interalia, South Korea, Sweden, Belgium, Germany, France and  Italy.

1 New Zealand

2 Netherlands

3 Hong Kong

4 Australia

5 Canada

6 Ireland

7 United States of America

8 Denmark

9 Japan

10 Estonia

11 Switzerland

12 Norway

13 Finland

14 Austria

15 Luxembourg

16 Chile

17 Iceland

18 United Kingdom



Not a recipe to privatise state schools ,but profit makers could have a role  with not for profits  in rescuing failing schools


James O’Shaughnessy, formerly a key adviser to David Cameron, now supporting Anthony Seldon in the expansion of the Wellington family of schools, (and working for Portland PR part time), says, in a new Policy Exchange report’ ‘Competition meets Collaboration’ that Ofsted’s new, tougher inspections could lead to a fivefold increase in the number of schools being told they need to improve. To deal with this seam of chronic weakness in England’s schools he recommends that a new failure regime – based on Ofsted’s new ‘three strikes and you’re out’ inspection regime – should be introduced to turn around the weakest schools:

On the first occasion of receiving a ‘requirement to improve’ the school is obliged to become an Academy under a new sponsor

On the second occasion, the Academy is obliged to join a successful chain. An Academy chain is a group of three or more independent state-funded schools with a shared educational vision, and which are bound together legally, financially and operationally

On the third and final occasion, the governing body is obliged to hand over the running of the school to a proven educational management organisation (EMO) which would operate the school on a payment by results basis. EMOs are private or not-for-profit providers that run schools under contract to a commissioner, such as a governing body or local authority.

Academies and particularly Academies which are part of a Chain are improving outcomes, according to the most recent evidence ,and so are  well placed  to assist failing schools.

The media, of course, spun this story rather differently, along the lines that a former  top Cameron adviser wants profit makers to run state schools.  Small wonder that debates on education are so polarised if the media rather too frequently, for the sake of an eye catching headline,  mislead their audience and fail to provide context or to properly report the key findings of reports.  Straw men spring to mind.Needless to say the opposition recycled this skewed  view.  What he is actually saying is that profit makers should be allowed in the supply mix, but after other options have been tried. In short,  if  turning a school into an academy and then handing it on to a chain haven’t been enough to break the cycle of underachievement, says O Shaughnessy, the governing body should be obliged to appoint an external provider to run it. The school and its assets would stay in the charitable sector, but they would be able to access the expertise of private providers who would be paid by results. Not for profits and state enterprises could also be in the mix. This hardly amounts to privatisation  or for profit operators  taking over  the state system.

This new failure regime, he says, would be applied by a beefed up Office of the Schools Commissioner (OSC) and a network of new local school commissioners, themselves appointed and overseen by the OSC.

Education management organisations, operating under sharp, performance-based contracts that offer much greater improvement incentives than the funding agreements currently being signed with academies’, should be brought in if the Academy route fails.  He concludes that ‘ it is absurd and counter-productive to prevent, for purely ideological reasons, successful school improvement businesses from turning around those schools with have proved resistant to other interventions’. Who could argue with that?

Competition Meets Collaboration -Helping school chains address England’s long  tail of educational failure James O’Shaughnessy-Policy Exchange


Attractive idea but   maybe lacking traction


The challenge represented by the NEET cohort-those young people not in education employment or training -has flummoxed politicians for some time now.

Although there is considerable churn, with   young  people moving in and out of the category,  combined with arguments about who is technically in  the category-for over a decade now around 10% of the 16-24 cohort have been classed as NEET . Despite governments best intentions and investment ,little has changed.

Jon Coles the former DFE official  memorably said, not so long ago, that NEET is  ‘a matter of life and death’ ,as around 15% of those now in the category will be dead within a decade.

Philip Blond,who heads up ResPublica is one of the more original  and refreshing thinkers in the think tank community and heavily influenced David Camerons approach articulated in the Big Society idea.  He believes that neither the collectivist nor the individualist approach to politics has worked-so we need a radically new approach to public policy . Not many would disagree.Social mobility is stagnant and the gap between the  ‘haves’ and ‘ have nots’ has,  if anything, widened.  He is keen to develop new approaches to helping address the NEET challenge, the problems of intergenerational deprivation and the lack of opportunities for too many children and young people. The intermediate institutions within society that help bind it are not functioning at present  and are diminished ,  not helped by top down interventions. His analysis is compelling.

Following the ResPublica publication Military Academies: Tackling disadvantage, improving ethos and changing outcomes –ResPublica held a discussion in  Westminster this week  to look at new approaches to tackling intergenerational disadvantage and socio-educational dysfunction. These military academies, it is envisaged,  would employ ex-Forces as qualified teachers, have veteran mentors, and offer on-site cadet force and extended provision of adventurous outdoor training. ResPublica asked a panel of experts whether we have lost the foundational moral institutions that can build the resilience, discipline and confidence that our children need, from the most disadvantaged areas of our society.

Speakers included Phillip Blond,   who co-authored   the Military Academies report ;  Julian Brazier MP, Conservative MP for Canterbury and a former Territorial Army Officer, Andrew Bridgen ,  Conservative MP for North West Leicestershire.– who trained as a Marine  -  and Joel Shenton, Editor, (chair). It’s a big topic, of course, but discussions centred on the role that Military Academies and Cadet Forces might play in engaging young people threatened with exclusion who can be mentored and supported by former military men and women to help   nurture the kind of skills and values  on display within the services  (team work, leadership, loyalty , personal responsibility, self-discipline, resilience and so on)and  which are so important  for success in life and  in order to contribute to the broader community. The argument goes that a solution to tackling these problems lies within groups and communities and peer to peer, support at the grass roots. Military Academies with a distinctive new ethos  could provide part of the architecture to  help address these issues, as  local intermediary institutions  could teach the skills and provide  the mentoring support to alter outcomes for those who live in our most troubled and disadvantaged communities.

Stephen Twigg MP, the shadow education secretary, backed the report’s findings when it came out.  He said: “The Armed Forces can make an important contribution to the nation not just on the battlefield but by embedding the standards and values they embody within our social fabric. One way this can be achieved is through educational provision.” But public   backing from the government has been less obvious, to the irritation of Blond. Indeed it is worth reminding ourselves that a very recent  Free school bid-the Phoenix School in Manchester-  backed by former servicemen, including a former Army chief, Lord Guthrie  and which was  committed to doing pretty much what the military academies  are supposed to do-was  recently rejected by the DFE on the grounds that it  didn’t have sufficient community support, a claim vigorously  contested by the bidders.

The Centre for Policy studies produced a report, a while back, recommending that former servicemen should teach in our classrooms (borrowing from an American model) –Blonds idea goes a bit further in that the whole grain and  ethos of these institutions should reflect that of the services.( He even suggested at one point that the Navy had an impressive record of social mobility in that a third of  serving officers began as ratings) One contributor from the floor expressed concerns that military involvement might be seen as a means of exploiting vulnerable teenagers and this was   simply a recruiting tool for the services. Blond said that this was absolutely not the intention and he stressed the need for young people to stay in and serve their local communities. At present policies enable a small group of young people to move up the social ladder  but leaving their communities behind.

The idea is, on the face of it,  attractive and Blond is a breath of fresh air, but getting it up to scale in the current  economic and political climate is a big ask particularly given that no Minister has obviously  taken it on board and the opposition has embraced it with such enthusiasm. The experience of the Phoenix school hardly provides grounds for optimism. Certainly such schools could make a difference in some communities.

But  even  if  the  plan  does get off the ground it will not be sufficient in scale or scope to tackle   the entrenched NEET problem. But, then again, perhaps the only way to tackle NEETs is incrementally,  but systematically too, with a series of mutually supportive  and  carefully targeted programmes.