GOVE, HIRSCH AND THE CURRICULUM
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.”
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.
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
THE FREEDOM INDEX
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
3 Hong Kong
7 United States of America
18 United Kingdom
JAMES O SHAUGHNESSY SAYS THREE STRIKES – THEN BRING IN EDUCATION MANAGEMENT ORGANISATIONS TO SUPPORT FAILING SCHOOLS
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, DefenceManagement.com (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.
PROFESSOR BARBERS VISION
New IPPR report delivers some interesting ideas about the eastward shift in power
But significant doubts remain over its conclusions
Professor Michael Barber has teamed up with the think tank the IPPR to deliver a vision of the future. Their report Oceans of Innovation says ‘We face some truly fundamental challenges that need to be overcome if the nine billion people living on Earth in 2050 are to lead fulfilled lives – the nature of the economy, the health of the environment and the avoidance of catastrophic conflict, to name just three. We also know that the pace of innovation will continue to accelerate in science and technology, posing all of us the challenge: can the search for social solutions – that seize the good from science and technology and prevent the harm – keep up?’
Key to the future is the rise of China ,the Asian Tigers and Pacific rim economies and the shift of political and economic influence eastward . But particularly China. The perceived dominance of China though puts other Pacific countries in the shade.President Obama has called China’s rise “a Sputnik moment”
The report says ‘ All this is happening in a G-zero world in which a historic transition from Atlantic global leadership to Pacific global leadership is evidently taking place. Meanwhile, the nature of global leadership itself is changing as the problems we seek to solve become more complex and less amenable to the diplomatic means of the Cold War and before.’
And what about the impact on education ? The report states ‘What is clear…is that education – deeper, broader and more universal – has a significant part to play in enabling humanity to succeed in the next half century. We need to ensure that students everywhere leave school ready to continue to learn and adapt, ready to take responsibility for their own future learning and careers, ready to innovate with and for others, and to live in turbulent, diverse cities. We need perhaps the first truly global generation; a generation of individuals rooted in their own cultures but open to the world and confident of their ability to shape it.’ Meanwhile, the report continues ’ innovations which transform societies can and will happen anywhere. Leadership, in short, will be widely dispersed and will require increasing sophistication. The report concludes ‘ It is in these circumstances that the Pacific seems destined to become the focus of global leadership. The economic and educational achievements of the Pacific region in the past 50 years are spectacular – unprecedented in fact. They lay a foundation for the next 50 years – a much better foundation than exists in many Atlantic systems – but the mix of factors that brought those achievements will not be capable of meeting the challenge ahead. Among other things, an education revolution will be required. It will need to be based not just on the growing evidence of what works, but on the capacity of the systems to innovate. It will need to unleash the leadership capacity that the next 50 years will demand. The Pacific region’s future and its capacity to become an Ocean of innovation is being shaped today, tomorrow and every day in the classrooms of Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, Melbourne and Valparaiso, San Francisco and Vancouver, Vladivostok and Shanghai, Hong Kong and Hanoi. On the success of those endeavours, all our futures depend.’
Heady stuff, indeed .The claim though that this is ‘unprecedented’ is debatable . If this means massive and rapid economic expansion and trade in a relatively narrow time frame, this clearly has happened before at various stages in History and in different regions.
I yield to no man in my admiration of Professor Barber and what he has contributed to education thinking and reforms in the UK, if not productivity. Focusing on Asia and in particular China, it is pretty obvious to many economists and social scientists that much of this extraordinary growth is from a pretty low base and many of these economies are simply catching up .It is also clear that most are highly centralised and ‘ extractive ‘ with both political and economic power concentrated in a small elite with little diffusion and considerable inequity. There is also precious little evidence that the region or individual countries are either prepared or willing to deliver the kind of responsible global leadership that is being looked for.
There is also evidence that they are less creative and innovative than perhaps they should be, ( some including China have anarchic attitudes to intellectual and physical property rights and patents which serves to obscure their deficiencies in innovation and creativity) and one has to ask why?.
There are of course reasons for this. Their economic and political institutions are in economists parlance ‘ extractive’, rather than inclusive and plural. This means that, rather like the Soviet Union between the 1950’s to 1980s that they can grow impressively for a period but then will struggle to sustain the growth . If you want to know the reasons for this I strongly recommend a book Why nations Fail by Daron Acemoglu and James A Robinson. Far from seeing China as the clue to spreading prosperity (and innovation for that matter), Acemoglu and Robinson see it as yet another instance of a society rushing into a dead end. China is not, on their analysis, on course to dominate the world and become a hegemon (which seems to be the proposition underpinning Barbers analysis). Their argument is that the modern level of prosperity rests upon political and economic institutions and the relationship between them. Prosperity is generated by investment and innovation, and creative destruction (ie old industries being allowed to wither as new ones replace them to drive growth) but these are acts of faith: investors and innovators must have credible reasons to think that, if successful, they will not be plundered by the powerful. Incentives must be in place. If you believe that your property or profits are not secure because of the possible actions, or indeed inaction in certain circumstances, of government, you are not going to innovate or invest. In the Western Enlightenment, the whole logic of democratic law-making and ‘the rule of law’ was to stop laws from being applied selectively, to one groups advantage at the cost of others, so that kings couldn’t create different rules for you and for me. The Enlightenment killed off absolutism. Arbitrary action from local or national governments kills prosperity, innovation and investment, over the longer term. And in China, for example, laws are selectively applied. If you set up an enterprise perceived to be in competition with some local party boss.. or the party more generally you had better beware.
For the state to provide reassurance, two conditions have to hold: power has to be centralised and the institutions of power have to be inclusive and plural in nature. Without centralised power, there is disorder, which is anathema to investment.
China most certainly has centralised power and order in spades. But China resoundingly fails to tick the box of inclusive institutions. Acemoglu and Robinson quote a summary of the structure of Chinese political power: “The party controls the armed forces; the party controls cadres; and the party controls the news.” The party also controls the free movement of labour and more general access to information (look at their control over the internet) . Even basic information on its economy and the way it manages its currency lacks transparency. The Yuan is non-convertible. If you want to invest in China property is about the only option, and there is a property bubble. Its system of justice lacks transparency too, with show trials not uncommon, in which you know the verdict before the trial even begins. In education academic freedom and free speech is limited and there is a party office on each campus. There is no freedom of information. And the Communist Party of China has, from its very inception, actively encouraged strong anti-foreign sentiment. As one commentator put it recently ‘Fevered nationalism is one of its cornerstones’. If you dont think this is true take a look at what is happening in the dispute with Japan over some small islands, technically owned as it happens , by a Japanese businessman.
Acemoglu and Robinsons argument is that order without inclusive institutions may enable an economy to escape poverty, but will not permit the full ascent to sustained modern prosperity. They also point out that there is no natural process whereby rising prosperity in an autocracy evolves into inclusion. Rather, it is only in the interest of the self-serving elite to cede power to inclusive institutions if confronted by something even worse, namely the prospect of revolution.
I would suggest their analysis is sound. I see evidence that much of China is not sharing in its economic miracle and that growing inequities combined with rising aspirations and a highly centralised and high- handed political system is fundamentally unstable. Growth looks, in any case, to be slowing down. Look at the growing unrest too in rural areas, often concerning property disputes and heavy handed party officials. Nor do I see any evidence that China is prepared, any time soon, to provide the kind of responsible leadership on global issues that a power of its size and clout should already have been providing . So the chances of China becoming part of the ‘ Ocean of innovation’ and leadership over the coming years is at best an outside bet.. As for the other countries in the region- Malaysia and Indonesia look unlikely to fill the void, and South Korea is too pre-occupied with North Korea (and tied to the US-as is Japan). Singapore, is too small but is frequently cited as having a brilliant world class education system. Here is what one teacher who taught in Singapores system wrote in this week’s Times Education Supplement :’The intense desire to win is summed up by a Singapore word “kiasu”. Translated from Chinese Hokkien dialect, it means “fear of losing”. In this race for riches, Singaporean parents invest huge sums in private tuition to give their children a head start. This, not the state-funded system, is one of the main reasons for the country’s high performances in international league tables. The official school starting age is 6, but for many children, tuition kicks in well before then. Tuition after school hours is the norm and takes precedence over play’. Small wonder, then, that Singapore is worried about the lack of creativity in its students. Vietnam is making progress but is also too small and a late developer anyway (also relying heavily as it happens on after school private tuition).
Many Asian countries are also deeply suspicious of China and its growing territorial claims and sabre rattling, fuelled by its need for raw materials and energy, and so will probably be reluctant to accept its leadership. And as already stated the Communist party is deeply and historically anti-foreigners.
As for education, do not be fooled that Shanghai’s recent stellar performance in PISA tests represents Chinas whole education system. It doesn’t.
Certainly great strides have been made in education in Asia over the last generation but hot- housing and the need for out of school private tuition to meet the necessary standards suggests significant structural problems. Many, probably most, students are diligent and hardworking but too many also lack creativity, flair, a capacity for independent thought and some of the non-cognitive skills required to compete in the global employment market. It would be wrong to adopt a deterministic view about the inevitability of a shift in leadership and innovation eastwards. One also wonders where the cross cutting regional institutions are to help provide this coherent strategic leadership?
Certainly the East has been on the rise but its rise has to be placed firmly in perspective, with its sustainability by no means guaranteed. And crucially there is no obvious cross cutting institutional framework to enable such leadership to develop.
MAYBE WERE NOT DOING AS BADLY AS WE THOUGHT ON THE PISA RATING
Thought to be plummeting in the international rankings Englands system may not be doing as badly as some critics suggest. And is improving faster than many
A common claim, oft repeated and based on OECD findings, is that England over the past decade has plummeted in the international rankings: from fourth to 16th in science; seventh to 25th in literacy; and eighth to 28th in maths. This, as it happens, is not the complete picture.
The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) PISA is run by the OECD and takes place every three years. It is a sample survey that assesses 15–16 year olds in three areas: literacy, maths and science. It is frequently referenced by our politicians more often than not to highlight the underperformance of our education system.
A couple of points are worth mentioning on Pisa. Firstly, quite a few academics have considerable reservations about its methodology. Secondly, even its supporters warn that information in its tables must be used very carefully indeed ,particularly if you seek to compare performance over a number of years. The number of countries participating has varied, and the quality of information available from each country varies too ie low response rates places a question mark over the validity of some findings, and so on. Pisa also measures particular aspects of education and is more about problem solving ability than for example raw knowledge.
In the latest Pisa report (2009) UK appears to come 25th in reading, or rather that is how it has been reported
The UK does indeed appear in the 25th row of the relevant table, but the DfE appears not to have noticed that:
1) China-Taipei and Denmark are placed above the UK in the international “league table” for reading because they start with an earlier letter in the alphabet. In fact they have exactly the same score (495);
2) Twelve other countries, nominally above England in the 2009 tables, have statistically insignificant higher scores. An NfER report makes this point explicitly: “Because of the areas of uncertainty described above, interpretations of very small differences between two sets of results are often meaningless. Were they to be measured again, it could well be that the results would turn out the other way round”;
3) China-Shanghai and Singapore are above the UK in the 2009 tables but didn’t take part in the 2006 survey, so the UK can’t be said to have “fallen” below them;
4) In any event, the OECD warned explicitly in its report against comparing the 2009 and 2006 Pisa results with earlier data, because the very low response rate for earlier years created great concerns about sample validity.
The NfER report in December 2010 concluded that “England’s [reading] performance in 2009 does not differ greatly from that in the last Pisa survey in 2006”. NfER reaches very similar conclusions for maths and science, for similar reasons, while noting that science achievement actually remains above the OECD average.
So , our performance may not be very good and we should not be in the slightest bit complacent and, of course, we should definitely be doing better, while raising our sights higher but it doesn’t quite all amount to us “plummeting in the international rankings”. It is also the case that our system is improving quicker, using Pisa figures, than the likes of the USA, Sweden , Canada , France ,Finland and New Zealand (according to a 2012 study by Professor Eric Hanushek and others)
A report from the IPPR made this general observation on rankings: ‘The sampling methods of international assessments have been criticised for being too small to reliably judge a whole system’s performance, and for being open to countries ‘gaming’ the sample by excluding pupils who are likely to perform poorly (Hormann 2009, Mortimore 2009) and only provide system-level data, which makes it hard to apply the lessons at a more local level. It is also the case that ‘Country-specific factors – including the nature of curriculum, testing and teaching – can mean some pupils are better prepared for the format of international assessments than others’.
The IPPR report wants us to develop a more considered and systematic approach to using international comparisons in the English school system. And how about giving more publicity to the TIMMS findings?
IPPR Report-Benchmarking the English School System-Against the Best in the World-Jonathan Clifton; July 2011
Achievement Growth-Professor Eric Hanushek, Paul E. Peterson , Ludger Woessmann (Harvard University-2012)
Other International benchmarks:
Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMMS) Run by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational
Achievement, TIMMS assesses 9–10 year olds and 13–14 year olds on their skills in both maths and science. TIMMS takes place every three years and more than 50 countries participate. It focuses on curriculum and as a result tends to test pupil’s content knowledge rather than their ability to apply it.
Progress in International Reading and Literacy Study (PIRLS) PIRLS assesses 9–10 year old pupils on their reading literacy. Using a similar design to TIMMS, it focuses on assessing their knowledge and content of the curriculum. It takes place every five years and there are currently 35 countries participating. PIRLS is also run by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement.
PHOENIX FREE SCHOOL REJECTED
The Phoenix Free school in Manchester ,not approved by the DFE in the latest round of bids, was keen to emphasise its military credentials and the bid was backed, too ,by respected former army chief ,Lord Guthrie. The rejection came as a bit of a shock and surprise to the sponsors. It was particularly galling given the work, nearly all pro bono, put in to getting this bid off the ground. It wasn’t helped by reports that three creationist schools had got through the vetting process (there is little substantive evidence that these schools are creationist) .The Coalition government had, after all, signalled that it rather liked the idea of schools backed by former servicemen and attracting more former troops into the classroom.
Education Secretary Michael Gove had warmed to the idea of introducing a variation of Troops for Teachers, a scheme started in the US in 1994. The Centre for Policy Studies reminded us back in 2008 of the Troops to Teachers (T3) US programme .Retiring US servicemen are retrained as teachers, mostly for high-poverty, typically violent inner-city schools. T3 is extraordinarily successful and is popular with Head Teachers, retiring servicemen and the military. Pupils demonstrably benefit from T3. It is thought that many UK inner-city schools face similar problems to those of US inner-city schools. The CPS suggested that a UK Troops to Teachers programme could be based on the example of Skill Force – a successful British charity which already employs ex-servicemen to work closely with schools with hard to reach children (albeit mostly outside the main classroom). Gove made all the right noises when the CPS pamphlet, by Tom Burkard, was published, referring to it also in speeches. ( Burkard also of course supported the Phoenix school.)
But it is the Labour party, in the form of Shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg, which has taken up the baton. Twigg after some flip flopping over Free schools policy is finding his feet. He recently endorsed the idea of schools with military links proposed in a ResPublica pamphlet earlier this year. The think tanks report called on the Coalition to back a pilot scheme that will see 10 schools set up in “Neet blackspots” – where a large proportion of youngsters are not in education, employment or training – before rolling them out in all local education authorities. It said: “Military academies would open up new opportunities for those lacking hope and aspiration; they would change the cultural and moral outlook of those currently engulfed by hopelessness and cynicism.” The report ‘ Military Academies – Tacking Disadvantage, Improving Ethos and Outcomes and Revitalising our Armed Forces, was compiled in the wake of last summer’s riots.
Its interesting that the while the Tories seem to have gone cold on this whole idea, the opposition is very much up and running with it. And Philip Blond ,who heads ResPublica and was lauded by David Cameron over his Big Society ideas , now has one foot placed in Labours camp.
Many people rashly assume that servicemen are natural Tories . Troops, more often than not, feel let down by politicians of whatever political colour.. But if you look at your History books many of the biggest cuts to the services (since the withdrawal from Empire)) have been inflicted by Tory led governments. The latest , just announced, are the biggest since the Cold War. Options for Change (1990), led to an 18% reduction in manpower. The 1982 Falklands war is irrevocably tied up with the Tory Defence cuts of 1981. Food for thought?
Michelle Rhee in London
Policy Exchange talk
Gove praises her moral leadership
Michelle Rhee was Chancellor of Washington DC schools for three tumultuous years 2007-2010. She visited London this week to talk about education reforms in the USA.
Her main message-put the interests of children first by ensuring there is a high-quality teacher in front of every classroom every day.
When she became the chancellor of schools in 2007, a mere 8 per cent of eighth-grade students were doing maths at their proper grade level, yet 98 per cent of teachers got satisfactory evaluations. Rhee says ‘our kids were failing, we were saying, “Well done, good job” to the adults educating them.’
Shortly after taking office she was told that DC spent more per student than virtually every other district, yet consistently delivered some of the worst results. Around $1 billion was spent in D.C, where $90 million was spent in this geographically small district just on busing – this amounted to a staggering $18,000 per student. As if this wasn’t bad enough the D.C. school district was often sued for failure to make the mandatory accommodations required by law for special needs students, which ultimately required the district to pay for the placement by the district of these students in private schools. Many of these private school were not even in DC, but in neighbouring states –Maryland, Virginia etc. Schools don’t need more money, Rhee says, they need to be held accountable for how they spend the money they have. The per capita student spend in DC is in fact comparatively good. She says that it is the interests of children that must drive the system. Too often it is the interests of adults and the vested interests they represent that are the driver. These interests benefit from a dysfunctional system because they are not held to account. How teachers performed in DC classrooms just didn’t matter.
Introducing Rhee at the think tank Policy Exchange, one of the most influential think tanks, on 26 June, the Secretary of State for Education , Michael Gove, said that she had the clear moral leadership to overcome the sheer power of vested interests and had influenced reform throughout the country.
Its often forgotten that Rhee is a Democrat. Democrats tend to be sensitive to lobbying by organised labour. But she realised that she had to get rid of underperforming officials and teachers quickly , which was never going to be backed by unions. She closed two dozen schools, sacked over 1,000 educators, and fired two thirds (36) of the Principals. She also got rid of security of tenure. Whether teachers were good or bad didn’t seem to matter before she took over. If teaching cuts were made it was always last in, first out, so the longest servers had security of tenure, regardless of their performance. But with a new evaluation system in place you could now identify the best and worst teachers. (rated in four categories)
Rhees approach was that that you must do for other children want you would want done for your own children (its notable how few local leaders sent their children to DC schools-unlike Rhee).And you must seek to remove partisan politics from the equation and do whatever is necessary and right for children. Their interests must always guide reform. ( which is why she supports a voucher scheme for the most disadvantaged students against the wishes of many local democrat politicians)
Rhee wanted all teachers to be evaluated in large measure by how much they can boost their students’ scores on standardized tests. Scores are fed into a complex formula that rates how much “value” a teacher has added to each student over the year. Socio-economic factors are also taken into account and teachers are also observed at least five times in a year in the classroom. Some account is also taken of what teachers contribute to the school outside the classroom. Rhee says teachers who consistently don’t add value should be fired; those who do well should be rewarded with six-figure salaries. Under her system an excellent teacher could be awarded twice the salary they had in the old system in which 98% of teachers were rated good. Rhee has acknowledged the value-added formulas aren’t perfect, but says they’re the only objective way to assess and compare teacher performance. “That’s the best measure we have,” Rhee has said.
Rhee reminded the audience at Policy Exchange of Warren Buffets solution for improving education. Abolish private education and introduce a lottery system for entry to state schools.
Rhee resigned in the autumn of 2010 after Mayor Adrian Fenty ,who had recruited her, lost an election . It is arguable that Unions were sufficiently angry with Rhee that they campaigned to defeat him. Fenty had no regrets though because the reforms worked and didn’t blame Rhee for his defeat.
Rhee has set up StudentsFirst a network of interlocking lobbying groups, advocacy organizations and political action committees which now has over a million supporters. Launched on the Oprah Winfrey show, its main purpose is to spread and sustain education reform throughout the States ,putting the needs of students first.
Rhee says that test results show D.C. students greatly improved in maths and reading from 2007 to 2009. DC became the only major city system to see double-digit growth in both their state reading and state maths scores in the seventh, eighth and tenth grades over three years.In 2009, D.C. outpaced the nation in gains. The District of Columbia was the only jurisdiction in the country to see gains in every subgroup. The graduation rate rose, and after steep declines, enrollment rose for the first time in forty years.
Education Foundation Report
Leading thinkers and practitioners give their visions for education
The Education Foundation claims to be the UK’s first independent, cross party, education think tank. It aims to, rather immodestly, ‘lead, shape and deliver change and reform in the British education system ‘. It is headed by Andy Fordham and Ty Goddard and has just published its first report.
Launched last summer with the endorsement of Joel Klein who drove through New York’s school reforms, before joining News International (great timing), the report consists of a number of essays from an eclectic mix of education reformers, thinkers and practitioners. The preamble to the report says ‘Our first step as a solutions-focused education think tank was to gather a group of thirty-five leading thinkers: an inspiring, influential mix of teachers, policymakers and other practitioners. We asked them three simple but far reaching questions: what’s important?; what works?; and what next?’
Professor Simon Baron Cohen writes of the importance of empathy in education and its teaching as an extra layer to enrich our schools and relationships in and around them. Rachel de Souza focuses on the need for a flexible, progressive and forward-thinking education system, ever open to new ideas and better ways of working. Lord Lucas of Crudwell and Dingwall sees harnessing the potential of parents in driving forward the education system. Professor James Tooley warns of the real limitations of the state in delivering education policy and practice. Dr Anthony Seldon wants our schools and universities to move from a factory model to a world class system. Dr Elizabeth Sidwell wants to create a seamless integrated system involving schools, Further and Higher education. Jan Hodges says learning by doing should be valued equally with academic learning and high quality technical, practical and vocational learning should be an integral and valued part of every young person’s education, and so on. There are some very interesting contributions here and it is well worth looking at. Identifying a common thread though, to focus reform energies and efforts, and indeed the future work of the Foundation, which, at its launch, wanted to identify what schools are for in this century, will be something of a challenge. We seem to have lots of visions here, some over- lapping, others not. Still the overarching message that we need more high quality evidence to inform policy and practice is sound.
If we want to transform our education system its not just about structures ,important though they may be. We have to change what happens at the sharp end in the classroom, and accept that education is so much more than passing tests and exams. For far too many that simple message has yet to get across.
The Journey to Education Reform
- CRACKDOWN ON EXPLOITATION OF INTERNS
- PAYING FOR RESULTS-CAN IT HELP RAISE PERFORMANCE- OR DOES IT CORRUPT THE LOVE OF LEARNING?
- PROSPECTS JOINS MUTUAL JOINT VENTURE TO DELIVER PUBLIC SERVICES-GOVERNMENT KEEN ON EMPLOYEE OWNED MUTUALS DELIVERING PUBLIC SERVICES
- PROFESSOR TONY WATTS RESIGNS FROM THE NATIONAL CAREERS COUNCIL
- EDISON LEARNING AND THE NAHT UNION LAUNCH A SCHOOL IMPROVEMENT INITIATIVE WITH DFE BACKING
- THE FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT OF ACADEMIES-WHAT HAPPENS IF THERE ARE CONCERNS?
- PUBLIC ACCOUNTS COMMITTEE REPORT ON ACADEMIES-SOME CONCERNS OVER FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT
- CAIRNS OF BRIGHTON COLLEGE BACKS ACADEMIES
- IS CAREERS ADVICE IN SCHOOLS EFFECTIVE OR IS IT TOO EARLY TO SAY?
- LEMOVS TEACH LIKE A CHAMPION -TOP TECHNIQUES USED BY THE BEST TEACHERS
- THE PUPIL PREMIUM AND SPECIAL SCHOOLS
- EDUCATION EXPORTS-NEW GOVERNMENT STRATEGY IN THE WINGS?
- Careers advice and Guidance
- Charity Status
- Charter School
- Coalition Education Policy
- Conservative policy
- Discipline and Truancy
- early years learning
- education market
- education quangos
- education reform
- Free schools
- higher education
- Home Education
- independent schools
- primary schools
- Public Services Reform
- published letters
- Pupil Support
- quality assurance
- quality assurance and inspection
- school governance
- secondary schools
- Secure Estate
- SPECIAL NEEDS
- teachers and teaching
- Think tanks
- us education system
- Youth policy