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The approach of the Department for International Development towards education in developing countries has altered significantly in recent years

Although the importance of education has never been in doubt, aid was aimed largely at supporting government’s public provision. The logic was clear. Help build up the education infrastructure and more children will be educated, particularly at the primary level where the initial focus rests.  But harsh realities on the ground led to a change of direction. The reality is that the infrastructure is so poor in many countries and there are  so few quality teachers available that  most young people have no access to  any education and those who do are not the most disadvantaged. Pumping UK taxpayers money into this sink hole was unlikely to get many returns any time soon.

On the ground  into  this yawning gap entered the private sector. Large numbers of low cost private schools and chains of schools have sprung up in poor areas to cater for the education needs of the poor. And  poor parents value education for their children , and are prepared to pay for it. It provides a ladder of opportunity for their children of course but also for them. Professor James Tooley has for years highlighted the role of the private sector in education provision for the poor. Professor Michael Barber now with Pearson is also a supporter of low cost (high quality) schools. Barber recently pointed out that 70% of Delhi’s children are educated in low fee private schools.

Some critics don’t like these developments seeing the DFID as some kind of neo-conservative outfit supporting profit makers. But the DFID under considerable pressure to support aid projects that are seen to work and deliver good value for money for taxpayers  have adopted a ‘what works’ pragmatic approach .

A recent education position paper from DFID looked, interalia, at support for Low-fee private schools in the developing world. . The Position Paper states that ‘The UK strives to get the best possible outcomes for poor people and takes a pragmatic stance on how services should be delivered. In some circumstances (parts of India, Kenya, Nigeria and Pakistan, for example), this includes developing partnerships with low-fee private schools. DFID works with the private sector in situations where the public sector is not sufficiently present (the slums of Nairobi for example) or  where state provision is so weak that the private sector has stepped in to fill the gap. Recognising that fees are still a major barrier to access for the poor, DFID’s support includes voucher schemes that subsidise access to low-fee private schools for the poorest.’

Parents may choose to pay fees rather than opting for fee-free state alternatives for a number of possible reasons. These include language of instruction, a belief that private schools are better quality and lack of local provision. Emerging evidence suggests that learning outcomes in low-fee private schools, where they exist, are relatively better than in the state sector, even though they may still be unacceptably low. A range of studies have explored the relationship between low-fee private provision and learning outcomes, in diverse country contexts. The effects are not uniform across contexts and empirical findings remain inconclusive.


However, some recent quantitative studies have shown a significant achievement-advantage for students attending private, fee paying schools even after social background is taken into account. Much of this research comes from India  and Pakistan, including French and Kingdon (2010) and Desai et al (2008). Javaid et al’s (2012) study in Pakistan finds that although controlling for a range of covariates causes the private school premium to decline, even with the most  stringent analyses private schools are no worse than government schools, with much lower levels of inputs. It should  be noted that many studies are unable to account for unobserved selection, on attributes such as parental choice of  who within the family attends private school, and the effort they put into improving the home environment for these  children.


The reasons for this need to be better understood together with consideration of what, if any, lessons can be shared between the private and public sectors to improve both. Evaluation is therefore central to DFID’s current work with low-fee private schools.  Education innovations, often driven by the non-state sector, are emerging in low- and middle-income countries to meet the rising demand for education. However, there is little objective information on the scale, scope, and, most importantly, on the learning impact on the poor of these innovations. The Center for Education Innovations (CEI) is a DFID initiative to help policymakers, education providers, researchers, and investors replicate and develop successful education models and approaches for poor people.  Launched in June 2013, CEI is an online global, public database that identifies and evaluates the most promising education innovations from pre-school through to skills training. It also hosts research and evidence on education innovations and brings together education funders through a virtual platform. The virtual platform operates through four connected channels: a database profiling education innovations from preschool to skills; a document library containing research and evidence on education innovations; a virtual platform for education funders; and education communities of practice.





There are more than 12,000 private schools in Lagos (Nigeria), attended by more than 1.4 million children (61% of primary school enrolment in Lagos) and employing 118,000 teachers.47 In response to this large and rapidly expanding sector, DFID is planning a programme of support to develop a better and more inclusive private education system that improves learning outcomes for children, especially from low-income households. The programme will work with a range of different organisations, from government to banks and mass media. It will have an emphasis on supporting the regulatory environment and research to establish a  sound evidence base for any future support.


In some areas of Pakistan’s Sindh province, nearly half of school enrolments are in private schools. Supported by DFID, the Education Fund for Sindh is an innovative 3-year pilot programme working in partnership with leading members of Pakistan’s business community. The Fund will provide vouchers to parents of out of school children to attend low-fee private schools, facilitate private management of public  schools and support organisations able to supply quality, cost-effective education. Up to 200,000 poor out of  school children in urban and rural Sindh will be supported to achieve minimum standards in literacy and numeracy

See also-Desai, S., Dubey, A., Vanneman, R., & Banerji, R. (2008). Private Schooling in India: A New Educational Landscape. ; Maryland: University of Maryland.

French, R., & Kingdon, G. (2010). The relative effectiveness of private and government schools in Rural India:  Evidence from ASER data. London: Institute of Education.

Javaid, K., Musaddiq, T., & Sultan, A. (2012). Prying the Private School Effect: An Empirical Analysis of Learning  Outcomes of Public and Private Schools in Pakistan. Lahore: University of Management Sciences (LUMS) Department  of Economics.


Source:DFID-Education position paper- Improving learning, expanding opportunities-July 2013



Lessons from the London Challenge?


Research from the London School of Economics for the  Sutton Trust has shown that English schools could move  into the world’s top five education performers within a  decade if the performance of the least effective 10% of  teachers were brought up to the average. So, how do we improve the quality of teaching in our schools?  The Teacher Development Trust cites research from New Zealand on the impact of high-quality CPD on the education outcomes of children, where children taught by teachers on high-quality CPD programmes were improving twice as fast as those in other classes. The  improvement is more pronounced for those deemed in  the 20% ‘least able,’ who made improvements four to six  times as fast as their peers. The important point here is that CPD has to be high quality. Sadly,historically, much CPD hasn’t been high quality. Simply sending teachers to an occasional external course will have little or no effect on them, or  on student outcomes, for that matter.  Thomas Guskey has identified, in his research on evaluating CPD,  that impacts of CPD must be measured  through children’s outcomes. Schools have to be led by the evidence on what works to improve their pupils’ education.

Currently, there is a growing body of resources for schools to draw on. The Sutton Trust’s Pupil Premium Toolkit, the York Informed Practice Initiative (YIPI) and the Teacher Development Trust’s Good CPD Guide web site are all very  useful in this respect.

Stephen Twigg, the Shadow Education Secretary, believes that we can learn much from the London Challenge about effective CPD. So, what can we learn? He writes: (Teaching Leaders Quarterly-March 2013):  ‘There are three policy lessons.  We need a system of challenge and support. Stick without the carrot might make popular headlines but it will  do little to change the outcomes of the children served by  underperforming teachers. London Challenge advisors set clear and ambitious new standards. But they did so by working in collaboration with teachers to get buy in. Second, working across schools underpinned the programme. Teachers would receive training from high performing colleagues in other schools. It is clear that being in a different setting was an important aspect for  learning new and improved ways to teach. Third, the evidence from Ofsted’s evaluation of London Challenge found that where teachers were trained on improved teaching and learning strategies, this led to lasting legacies in their schools. Crucially, the impact was not only felt by schools in receipt of the support from  partner schools, it was also felt by host schools.

Note 1

The Logical Chain (Ofsted, 2006) noted that: ‘Few schools evaluated the impact of CPD on teaching and learning successfully’ a situation that appears not to have changed much.

Note 2

Thomas Guskey (2000) introduced a significant focus on evaluating CPD through the impact it had on learning outcomes for young people.  Guskey sees impact as being achieved at five potential levels:

participants’ reactions

participants’ learning

organisation support and change

participants’ use of new knowledge and skills

student learning outcomes

Crucially, he argues that we need to pay attention to all five levels of impact if the goal of improving classroom learning is to be achieved, especially levels 2 – 5.

Following Guskey, Goodall et al investigated the range of evaluative practices for CPD.  Using Guskey’s levels as a framework, they found that schools lacked experience, skills and tools to evaluate the impact of CPD.

(Acknowledgments to the  Teacher Development Trust)



Success based more on collaboration than competition

But need to be careful in identifying lessons for other systems


Pasi Sahlberg’s ‘Finnish Lessons’  was  voted by Lord Adonis, the former schools minister and author of ‘ Education, Education, Education’, as his book of the year. It has had a big impact on educators worldwide, seeking to emulate the highly respected Finnish education model. But Sahlberg warns other educators that the Finnish model is not easily replicable and of the dangers of drawing the wrong lessons, given the socio-economic and cultural factors at play.

By 2006, Finland was first out of 57 countries (and a few cities) in science. In the 2009 PISA scores, the nation came in second in science, third in reading and sixth in maths among nearly half a million students worldwide.

Finns only begin school at about age seven, don’t have very much homework, don’t have a particularly long school day or school year, and don’t regularly take high-stakes national tests. They also allow their teachers considerable freedoms, for example in  designing  the curriculum, and teachers  have very few centrally driven controls to cope with. Teaching is also a high status profession . All Finnish teachers are required to hold masters degrees, and only one in four applicants is accepted.

Most of the gains in achievement have occurred within the past decade or two. In the 1950s, Finland began a series of reforms that eventually moved the country away from a “mediocre” system in which most people had only completed the equivalent of middle school. But, as Sahlberg notes, it is the most recent changes that appear to have produced the dramatic rise in Finland’s test scores.

Two main sets of factors seem to be at work.

Educationally, the Finns have a philosophy of “less is more”:  concentrating on doing  things better, rather than just doing more. In practice, they have relatively small schools so teachers generally know all the pupils in the school, and limited national-level bureaucracy, give teachers a lot of respect and autonomy and trust them, and, generally, cooperate and collaborate with each other and there is no polarisation between teaching unions and politicians. Indeed, the unions are regarded as instruments of reform. They offer a wide range of in-school services (free lunch for all students, counselling, and special education -nearly 30 percent of Finland’s children receive some kind of special help during their first nine years of school.  ), don’t give numerical/ letter grades in elementary school, and, at least at the elementary school level, try to avoid grade repetition by allowing considerable flexibility letting students progress at different rates, in different subjects.

But crucial to Finland and its success is it homogeneity and equity. Finland has a  very small-population of  5.4 m. Societally, the Finns have created a relatively egalitarian country that combines a free-market economy with the elements of a Scandinavian welfare state. Only about 4% of children live in poverty, compared to about 20%, for example, in the United States.  It is almost a classless society and there are no divisions between the independent (private) sector in education and the state sector ie the private sector is negligible in size. Then there is the issue of ‘competition’, or rather lack of it. Sahlberg points out that nothing makes Finns more uncomfortable. In his book Sahlberg quotes a line from Finnish writer named Samuli Puronen: “Real winners do not compete”. Timo Heikkinen, a Helsinki principal with 24 years of teaching experience told the  Smithsonian  “If you only measure the statistics, you miss the human aspect.” There are no mandated standardized tests in Finland, apart from one exam at the end of students’ senior year in high school. There are no rankings, no comparisons or competition between students, schools or regions. This is why Sahlberg is favoured by the left and not universally embraced by education reformers, for example, in the States. President Obamas Federal ‘ Race to the Top’ initiative ,for example,  invites states to compete for federal dollars using standardised  tests and other methods to measure teachers and to reward them.

The main driver of education policy in Finland is not though  competition between teachers and between schools, but cooperation and collaboration (a feature of Ontarios  successful system in Canada, too)


And, unlike many other countries, there is little variation between the quality of schools. So, no post code lottery.(unlike the UK)


All politicians aim, when it comes to education, to ensure that every child should have exactly the same opportunity to learn, regardless of family background, income, or geographic location. Finland is one of the few places that is pretty close to delivering this.


But Finland also demonstrates that you cannot simply import an education system or even bits of it (ie cherrypick) to ensure your system works better and you have to be careful about what lessons can be learnt and applied  . Context is everything. But one can say, with some confidence,  that the Finnish model reiterates the importance of high quality teachers and teaching,  the importance  of  a teaching profession that is high status, trusted and respected ,  and to  ensure you have a working environment in which key stakeholders can work closely  together and collaborate  to achieve shared goals to improve outcomes for students.


 Note-Pasi Sahlberg writes both as a teacher and as a professor of education.




Another dimension of positive psychology and its relevance to education


Positive psychology is making inroads into current educational thinking. Here is one aspect- Reaching a state of Flow-bear with me!

Flow in psychology’ is the mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity.

Part psychological study, part self-help book, Finding Flow is a prescriptive guide that helps us reclaim ownership of our lives.  The author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has devoted his professional life to the study of happiness and how we can attain it.

Based on a far-reaching study of thousands of individuals, Finding Flow contends that we often walk through our days unaware and out of touch with our emotional lives. He describes the mental state of flow as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost. Our inattention makes us constantly bounce between two extremes: during much of the day we live filled with the anxiety and pressures of our work and obligations, while during our leisure moments, we tend to live in passive boredom. So, the  key, according to Csikszentmihalyi, is to challenge ourselves with tasks requiring a high degree of skill and commitment. So at its most simple level-instead of watching television, for example  play the piano. Transform a routine task by taking a different approach. In short, learn the joy of complete engagement. Though they appear simple, the lessons in Finding Flow are life-altering.

Flow first came to Csikszentmihalyi’s attention while he was studying artists for his postgraduate thesis. As they worked the artists seemed to go into a trance-like state. To his surprise he found that the finished product was less important to them than the process of doing the work itself. External rewards were less important than intrinsic pleasure, an observation that went against the grain of psychological thinking at the time.


According to Csíkszentmihályi, there are ten factors that accompany the experience of flow. While many of these components may be present, it is not necessary to experience all of them for flow to occur:


Clear goals that, while challenging, are still attainable.


Strong concentration and focused attention.


The activity is intrinsically rewarding.


Feelings of serenity; a loss of feelings of self-consciousness.


Timelessness; a distorted sense of time; feeling so focused on the present that you lose track of time passing.


Immediate feedback.


Knowing that the task is doable; a balance between skill level and the challenge presented.


Feelings of personal control over the situation and the outcome.


Lack of awareness of physical needs.


Complete focus on the activity itself.


So what relevance does this have for education? Csíkszentmihályi has suggested that overlearning a skill or concept can help people experience flow. Another critical concept in his theory is the idea of slightly extending oneself beyond one’s current ability level. This slight stretching of one’s current skills can help the individual experience flow. Flow can lead to improved performance too. Researchers have found that flow can enhance performance in a wide variety of areas including teaching, learning, athletics and artistic creativity. Flow can also lead to further learning and skill development. Because the act of achieving flow indicates a strong mastery of a certain skill, the individual must continually seek new challenges and information in order to maintain this state.


In the late 1980s Csikszentmihalyi and several colleagues undertook a longitudinal survey of over 200 talented teenagers to discover why some are able to develop their talents while others give up. One of their principal findings, published in Talented Teens – The Roots of Success and Failure was that ‘flow was the strongest predictor of subjective engagement and how far the student progressed in the school’s curriculum in his or her talent’.


The authors suggest three ‘promising steps for promoting optimal experience in the classroom’:


1. The most influential teachers were found to be those who always continue to nurture their interest in their subjects and do not take their ability to convey that enthusiasm for granted. Learning was found to flourish where the cultivation of passionate interest was a primary educational goal.


2. Attention should be paid to ‘conditions that enhance the experience of maximum rewards’. Everything should be done to minimise the impact of rules, exams and procedures and to focus on the inherent satisfaction of learning. (In a more recent interview, Csikszentmihalyi has stated that although it makes some sense to work on students’ weaknesses, it makes even more sense to work on their strengths, ‘Because once someone has developed strengths, then everything else becomes easier.’)


3. Teachers must read the shifting needs of learners. The flow state is not a static one: once a skill has been mastered it is necessary to add more complexity if the student is not to become bored – there must always be a close fit between challenges and skills. The teacher’s sense of timing and pace, of when to intervene and when to hold back, is therefore crucial. There must be freedom wherever possible for the student to control the process, but teachers must also draw on their experience to channel students’ attention.




Csikszentmihalyi, M. & Rathunde, K. (1993). The measurement of flow in everyday life: Towards a theory of emergent motivation. In Jacobs, J.E.. Developmental perspectives on motivation. Nebraska symposium on motivation. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.


Csíkszentmihályi, Mihály (1975), Beyond Boredom and Anxiety, San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.


Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1997) Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life. Basic Books, New York.


Csikszentmihalyi, M (2002), Flow: The Classic Work on How to Achieve Happiness, Rider, London

Thoughts about Education on www.newhorizons.org


Csikszentmihalyi, M, Rathunde, K, and Whalen, S (1997), Talented Teenagers: The Roots of Success and Failure, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

Scherer, M (2002), ‘Do students care about learning? A conversation with Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’Educational Leadership 60 (1)



Coalition loves the model-but very different to ours


Canada  has a similar  reputation to Finland when it comes to  social equity and the excellence of its education system.

In Canada, education is the responsibility  of  each  of its the ten provinces and three territories, creating considerable internal diversity. The proportion of between school variation in Canada (15.1 per cent) is less than half that of the OECD average (33.6 per cent). This suggests that parents can be fairly confident of consistent attainment standards across the education system, and that performance is less dependent on the particular school one attends.

Alberta  has long been of interest to Goves education team, indeed since well before the election, as  it introduced  to a significant degree, system wide choice, within schools and between schools, in the early 1990s. And Canada does well against international benchmarks.

Charter schools  were welcomed in Alberta  making school choice a central feature of its education reforms. In fact, Alberta is the only province in Canada with charter school legislation, although there are just  13 charter schools in Alberta, serving approximately 7,500 students and  representing  not much more  than one percent of Alberta’s total K-12 enrolment. Alberta recognizes that parents have the right to choose a private school too for their children and has provided financial support for private schools since 1967.  From a rate of $100 per student in 1967, government support has increased to the current level of 60% of the base instruction rate for school jurisdictions for all level 1 funded private schools, and 70% of applicable per student grants for level 2 funded private schools  It is the only province to provide financial support for those who teach their children at home.

Edmonton Public School Board  for example  has a highly diversified  system, with the types of schools provided:  starting with the local neighbourhood schools,  then charter schools,  private schools (partially funded by government with 4.5% of pupils attending private schools );  French speaking schools,single-sex schools, gifted schools, and specialist schools in sports, arts, social sciences, and so on.  Alberta is also sympathetic to home education. Calgary is fairly similar, although choice is much more restricted in rural areas. The diversity of schooling options within Alberta’s public sector – has created strong competitive pressures between school boards.  As the richest province and fastest-growing economy in Canada, Alberta has invested a considerable amount of money in education. From 1993 to 1996, there was large scale educational reforms in Alberta.  Klein’s Progressive Conservative Party introduced several pieces of legislation, most notably the Deficit Elimination Act and the Government Accountability Act, which radically changed the educational landscape. The number of schools boards was radically cut, funding schemes redesigned ,school based management was introduced,  with schools obliged to establish school  parent councils , there was more province wide testing and provisions were created for the establishment of charter schools. In  addition in 2002, in response to public demands, the government established ‘Alberta’s Commission on Learning’ to conduct a comprehensive review of the K-12 education system.

Some of the success of oil rich Alberta has been put down to its wealth but , even when their relative socio-economic advantage is taken into account, students in Alberta still perform better, on average, than their counterparts in other provinces.

When the think tank  Policy Exchange undertook research   into Albertas success it found that most  educationalists it interviewed  thought that its performance could  be attributed to the combination of a centralised curriculum and clear provincial standards. The Education  Ministry also attributed Alberta’s performance to the overall quality of its teaching force. Alberta is the first (and, to date, only) province in Canada to adopt a teaching quality standard (Alberta teachers are among the best paid in Canada too). However,  in terms of accountability the province opts for  collective, rather than individual, accountability- it has  no system for instance  of regular inspection. As Policy Exchange found ‘ there is a shared perception that the best way to get all stakeholders on board is through organic dialogue and relationship-building and not by ‘holding a hammer over them’. In short, Alberta Education has chosen not to develop prescriptive measures on the grounds that each school is best equipped to identify the strategies that work best in their circumstances. While competition  is seen as a driver for change in Alberta, the government and stakeholders, as  recent Teachers TV programmes found,  have also encouraged collaborative practices and networks across schools, districts and stakeholders. This approach is  evidenced in the Alberta Initiative for school improvement   which is described as ‘a bold approach to supporting the improvement of student learning and performance by encouraging teachers, parents, and the community to work collaboratively to introduce innovative and creative initiatives based upon local needs and circumstances.’ And Heads  are encouraged to move schools regularly. What is interesting though is  the approach of  Principals of community schools in Alberta to charter schools and to competition. If  a Charter school opens up in their vicinity rather than moaning about  the threat of sink schools, privatisation and a two tiered system  they  more often than not  aggressively compete with that charter  school, to try  essentially to make it irrelevant  and to close it down. But unlike  many teaching leaders here , they don’t challenge the right of a charter school to exist or  for it to compete in their area , seeing it as more of a positive  challenge than a threat.

There is a  broad curriculum entitlement for all  Alberta schools with added features in some and high status for non academic , more practical courses. The  curriculum and exam system are the same throughout the province, enabling province-wide comparisons of student and teacher achievement. Alberta doesn’t stream or set children until they reach 16.

When a parent chooses in Alberta that is it, the choice happens (notwithstanding some limitations in rural areas)  while money flows to the provider, and that must be good.

Rhonda Evans made two films about Albertas system, for Teachers TV which are worth looking at. She has suggested that the Alberta system, given its focus on equity and collaboration, is almost socialist in its approach- but she misses the point.  Socialism places little value on individuals freedom to choose,  which  is at the heart of Alberta’s system-socially democratic looks like a much better and more accurate  description.

Rhonda Evans’s  two films about schools in Alberta can be seen at http://www.teachers.tv/videos/autonomy-choice-and-competition



But Government needs to be careful over the figures


The Education Secretary Michael Gove pointed out in the Second Reading of the Education Bill, on 8 February,  that the QCDA quango (shortly to be culled) has a total  staff of  393 employees of which 76 are in its Communications Department. Remember, this quango looks after the curriculum, which will be radically reformed by this Government. The QCDA doesn’t have that many defenders, it has to be said, its new and is , well  sort of, a partial successor to the not much lamented QCA. Education Journalists tend to have   quite good contacts in the communications departments  of these  type of organisations  So,  the education journalist Warwick Mansell, sharing  others astonishment at this figure,  did some  digging on this. He found that this figure  actually  covered the world and his wife –  in fact all staff in the communications and QCDA and Ofqual customer services departments, including switchboard and helpline operators; web and publishing editors; people who support schools and local authorities in delivering national curriculum tests, and those who deliver communications to employees. In April 2010, prior to the announced closure of QCDA, there were in fact  15 staff at QCDA dealing directly with communications, including three in the press office and one in internal communications.

I don’t hold a torch for the QCDA or many other education  quangos for that matter but   if one is going to criticise them (and there are plenty of grounds for doing so) Ministers can I am  sure present a strong case without the need to play fast and loose with the figures. Its all a bit unnecessary and counter-productive.



Policy on Careers advice  being decided now-professionals need to make their voice heard


Social Mobility was high on the last Government’s agenda, and it is a priority shared by the Coalition Government.

As well as being of  importance to the individuals concerned, social mobility is also important for society and for the economy. This is now widely accepted and part of mainstream thinking, informed by evidence.

The Coalition Governments  programme was unequivocal  – “We both want a Britain where social mobility is unlocked; where everyone, regardless of background, has the chance to rise as high as their talents and ambition allow them. To pave the way, we have both agreed to sweeping reform of welfare, taxes and, most of all, our schools.” (The Coalition: Our Programme for Government, 2010).

Michael Gove, the Education Secretary,  has said that schools must be the ‘engines of social mobility’.  Alan Milburn, a former Labour Cabinet Minister  who delivered a seminal report  on social mobility to the last Government,   is  now an adviser to this Government.

But improving education is not a stand-alone panacea to improve social mobility.

There are other inter-related and mutually supportive  factors at play. As politicians champion more choice,  individuals are required to make more informed  choices at different stages in their lives, and more so now than ever before. They need support in this. Individuals change their  career paths  more frequently than ever before and a “job for life” is no longer the norm.  So ensuring that they are better positioned to choose the options that best suit them, with the skills for career management and career development is crucial .

Hence, having  easy access to relevant, independent,  high quality  information advice  and guidance, informed by the labour market,  is  essential.

Social mobility is broadly dependent on individuals being empowered to take action. As Professor Alison Wolf (currently heading a review on 14-19vocational qualifications for the government) said “ Informed choices have to be a key goal but everyone has to take responsibility for the decisions they make”

So, access to sound professional advice is important for all individuals from as young as 13- choosing for instance  what subjects to study at GCSE or  their equivalent,  to meet their  career aspirations – to a fifty year old adult wishing to train and re-skill for a different work role and seeking advice as to what options are available .

A Nuffield Review (2008) suggested that ‘all education and training providers, in conjunction with Connexions, need to develop more effective Information, Advice and Guidance services to ensure an appropriate match between student, provider and course.’   With the job market more competitive now than it has been in a long time, this requirement is even more pressing.  A consensus is developing though around certain approaches . It suggests that while careers advice and guidance is being offered to some pupils, either through schools, the  Connexions service  or colleges, this advice is  too often  of  variable quality and  too rarely delivered by a professional who is properly qualified. In Connexions case, the prevailing wisdom amongst policy makers (whether factual or not) is that advice is prioritised to target those threatened with exclusion, and this service is currently suffering draconian cuts across local authorities (who have responsibility for Connexions), with damaging effects upon careers support in particular.   There is also a growing feeling (and expected to be announced shortly as confirmed Government policy) that  there should be an all-age service  and that it must ensure sufficient support for both adults and young people, without disadvantaging either. The Conservatives before the election had committed themselves to an all age Careers Service and an adviser in every secondary school . But there is growing frustration among guidance and careers professionals of a policy vacuum developing, with Connexions cuts decimating services and still no clear steer  from Ministers, post election or clear vision for the proposed all age service and too little meaningful dialogue between them, the Government and officials.

A recent report from Careers England (August 2010)  ‘Social mobility of young people and adults in England:  the contribution and impact of high quality careers services’ reflects some of this frustration. It  states ‘The creation of an all-age careers service that would replace/incorporate the careers advice offered  to young people by the Connexions, currently run by local authorities, and the national Careers Advice Service for adults has yet to be fully articulated by the new Coalition Government, nor have plans been discussed yet with employers in the careers sector and allied careers professional associations.’

The limitations of  unsuitably qualified teachers giving advice  to pupils, that is often partial, has been highlighted often enough by the professionals, backed by international studies.

The Careers Alliance (Careers England, ICG, NCN and ACEG)  has pressed  for assurances from the Government that it will favour  a partnership model with careers advisers working within institutions from their position of independence by being employed by the all age careers service, and bringing labour market and wider opportunity market information into every school and college.

It wants the Government’s help to  build capacity, assure quality, and promote expansion in careers support activities for all UK citizens through a new and dynamic re-engineered   system that  also takes account of both formal and informal careers services and careers support activities. And it wants  support  for the careers sector to raise the status of the profession and improve its all-round stature.

Politicians consistently stress the importance of universal  access to good information and guidance, yet fall short when it comes to creating the  enabling environment, with the   resources to  make it happen. Yes, we have to be realistic as  there are on-going cuts to services but  it is clear that much   more can  be achieved, within existing funding  constraints, with some  fundamental re-engineering of the architecture – and, most importantly, effective careers advice and guidance has economic pay-offs, enabling more people to engage successfully in learning, succeed in work, become tax-payers, assist wealth creation and contribute to the public purse rather than become a drain upon it .

Professionals have been  active in trying  to focus the attention of  politicians now on the importance of resourcing a reinvigorated careers service for all, realising that now is the  vital period to seek to reshape the policy  landscape.   There is  a   UK Careers Sector Strategic Forum operating . Also a Careers Profession Alliance (formerly a Colloquium)  has been formed   recently, in an attempt  by careers professional associations  to work better  together in  providing a single voice to Government on the design and development of an all-age careers service framework in England.

Careers England, the trade association for employer organisations in career education and guidance in England,  has expanded  its membership and  influence  recently (see report) and is seen as an important voice for the employers of careers guidance  professionals . It is organising a number of key meetings with DfE and DBIS officials  and its Task Groups.

The Institute for Careers Guidance also plays an important role and  through its President  Dr Deidre Hughes, it  has been arguing  robustly the case in the media and behind the scenes  for an all age careers service framework. The ICG’s annual conference takes place in Belfast this  November http://www.icg-uk.org/annual_careers_summit.html and John Hayes, the Minister responsible for the new Government’s Careers Service policy, is a key speaker.

The  immediate  challenge is to formulate  a coherent, clear  narrative describing what is needed, how it can be delivered and at what cost to decision makers and opinion formers.

The Careers Profession Taskforce in England  led by Dame Ruth Silver CBE, commissioned by the former Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF),  is due to report to the Government this autumn .Its recommendations will have the full endorsement of the careers sector as well as the Association of School and College Leaders. It is to be hoped that Ministers will listen to the informed and expert views of the professionals as it shapes its careers service policy.

Careers England Paper- Dr D Hughes


Towards a Strong Careers Profession’

The report of the Careers Profession Task Force

October 15 2010:

The report of the Careers Profession Task Force has been published on the Department for Education website. ICG President Dr Deirdre Hughes was one of the Task Force members, representing the Institute and the profession.

Commenting on the report, she said: “Individuals’ aspirations and achievements must be nurtured and supported so that they can maximise their talents and lead fulfilling lives. The Careers Profession Taskforce has recognised this and the growing need for individuals to have access to reliable and impartial careers information, advice and guidance. Its key findings provide an ambitious and exciting blueprint for the careers profession to build on best practice and to improve the stature and profile of its work. Clearly, having a strengthen careers profession will improve social mobility and achieve greater prosperity for future generations.”

Task Force Report



On going debate on Early Years curriculum generates more heat than light

But New report helps identify what works abroad-six programmes showing significant impact


There is considerable on-going debate about  how to educate our youngest children and  what is  the right balance to be struck  between play and more formal methods of instruction.

Today, the important question before researchers and policy makers is what kind of preschool or nursery is most effective for young children? Which particular programmes have positive outcomes and what elements of these programmes contribute to their effectiveness?  The early years curriculum has divided  experts and the debate is now somewhat  polarised. Some believe that that we have got the mix about right and young children  need clear goals and targets , others that  the last governments approach  was too prescriptive, was  not evidence based (ignoring best practice in the most successful systems)  and   is  weighted too heavily towards teaching,  not allowing  sufficient time or scope for children to  play, and less formal activities.

Notwithstanding  some difficulties in evaluating the locally delivered  Sure Start programme (the initiative is highly devolved)   what evaluations we have , have delivered at best  mixed findings.  While there have been positive impacts on social development and health outcomes, there has been no significant impact on oral language development, an important precursor to success in school (Belsky & Melhuish, 2007)

A new report from CFBT Education Trust looks at international (mainly US) evidence  ‘‘Effective early childhood education programmes: a best-evidence synthesis’ reviews research on the outcomes of programmes that teach young children in a group setting before they begin reception.

The aim of the review is both to assist educators and policy makers in deciding the types of programmes to implement and to inform researchers about the current evidence on nursery programmes as well as guiding further research. This report systematically reviews research on the outcomes of programmes that teach young children in a group setting before they begin reception. Study inclusion criteria included the use of randomised or matched control groups, and study duration of at least 12 weeks. Studies included valid measures of language, literacy, phonological awareness, mathematical, and/or cognitive outcomes that were independent of the experimental treatments. A total of 40 studies, evaluating 29 different programmes met these criteria for outcomes assessed at the end of preschool and/or reception/kindergarten.

The review concludes that on academic outcomes at the end of preschool and/or reception, six early childhood programmes showed strong evidence of effectiveness and five had moderate evidence of effectiveness.

The best approaches were those that provided a planned curriculum and emphasised teacher-led practice, supported by so-called structured “child-chosen” activities. Of the  programmes reviewed, eight are available for implementation  in the UK.

Most of the studies reviewed were conducted in the US, many in large urban areas. However, the similarities of the challenges of large inner city communities in the US to those in the UK lead one to think, according to the report,  that the findings would likely generalise to the UK.  A few longitudinal studies have followed their subjects into secondary school, and even adulthood. These studies show that comprehensive programmes, from a cognitive developmental perspective rather than a solely academic focus, had better long-term effects on social adjustment outcomes such as reductions in delinquency, welfare dependency, and teenage pregnancy, and increases in educational and employment levels. While the curriculum is one important factor that differentiates early childhood programmes, another factor that also differentiates programmes is the degree of support that the teachers are provided in implementing the curriculum.

The authors state ‘The findings of this review add to a growing body of evidence that programmes can have an important impact on increasing the school readiness of young children. There is a tremendous need for systematic, large-scale, longitudinal, randomised evaluations of the effectiveness of preschool interventions in bringing children from high-risk environments to normative levels of academic achievement. However, this review identifies several promising approaches that could be used today to help children begin primary school ready to succeed’ . Oli de Botton, a senior consultant at the CfBT Education Trust and  former teacher, told  Children and Young People Now recently   that early education should balance the discipline of teaching with play. But he also said that  teacher intervention and use of academic materials improve outcomes significantly, particularly for the most deprived children. “Effective programmes didn’t exclude play, but they did include a significant amount of teacher-directed activity,” he explained.

The full report concludes that on academic outcomes at the end of nursery and/or reception, six programmes originating in the USA, show strong evidence of impact: Curiosity Corner, Direct Instruction, ELLM, Interactive Book Reading, Let’s Begin with the Letter People and Ready Set Leap! Whilst most of the programmes delivered some child-led activities, teacher input was always emphasised.

Effective early childhood education programmes: a best-evidence synthesis(2010)-CfBT Education Trust

Bette Chambers University of York and Johns Hopkins University; Alan Cheung Johns Hopkins University; Robert E. Slavin University of York and Johns Hopkins University; Dewi Smith Success for All Foundation; Mary Laurenzano Johns Hopkins University

For report and case studies see:




Some Universities may be using non-disclosure agreements to hide poor performance and maladministration

5528 staff signed non-disclosure agreements in the last three years


It does seem than some institutions that survive wholly or in part because of taxpayers money still haven’t  quite got the message that  if you are funded from the public purse you  have to be  both  accountable and transparent in your dealings . The Freedom of Information Act can help in this respect but it is extraordinary how many grant funded organisations are not subject to the FOIA and it has its limitations.

Recent revelations  from the NHS concerning how whistleblowers are muzzled using public funds and  the dreaded Non-Disclosure Agreement  is deeply worrying not least because it has grave consequences for patient safety and best practice .  The  world of education is not immune from these shenanigans either. According to AcademicFOI.com  the  University of Southampton along with University College Falmouth are the only  two  institutions not responding to FOI requests.  So that on the face of it sounds good. But one needs to   drill down a bit deeper . Universities are according to a AcademicFOI.com survey entering with increasing frequency into non-disclosure agreements. 5528 University  staff signed non-disclosure agreements in  the last three years. 366 of these resulted from employment tribunal claims  that were settled prior  to hearings, at a total cost  to the taxpayer of £11.5m . According to a correspondent in the Independent (4 August) ‘ the  use of these agreements is frequently linked to redundancy, which in many universities are now being pushed through by managerial decision with little or no real consultation.’ The correspondent continues ‘In effect, tax-payers’ money is being diverted by the managements of universities to silence criticism of often arbitrary decisions, and fend off scrutiny of a frequently lamentable performance. Academics are told they will not get the redundancy payments to which they are entitled if they say anything to criticise the administrations which have pushed them out.’

A non disclosure agreement (NDA) is any agreement that restricts the right of an individual or a university to discuss a matter in public. Usually in employment disputes they are part of a Compromise Agreement. The exact wordings vary and are kept confidential but typically the member of staff signs their agreement not to discuss their settlement with anyone apart from immediate family or professional advisers. They also agree not to publicly criticise the university or discuss the dispute that led to the agreement being signed.  The main justification for using NDAs in resolving employment disputes is that both individuals and universities can put disputes behind them and move on with their reputations intact. But they  can also act as means of ensuring that important  and possibly embarrassing facts  concerning the academic, research or pastoral functions of a university are  withheld from the public. This affects their accountability.

Academic FOI.com says “ There is no scrutiny as to whether a university with 20 NDAs resulting from employment disputes is “moving on” from 20 different minor disputes or “moving on“ from one major, and possibly unresolved, problem. There is an obvious conflict between widespread use of NDAs and legitimate whistle blowing of genuine problems within universities. Within research the use of NDAs is understandable where confidential commercial research is being undertaken. The difficulty arises if staff working on a project discover ethical or other problems after they have signed NDAs. The extensive use of NDAs in restructuring programmes prevents the affected staff from engaging in public debate about the wisdom or otherwise of that restructure. The use of NDAs for staff combined with strict rules on unauthorised media interviews and vague rules on “bringing the university into disrepute” creates a system which is not at all transparent.”

Just thirteen universities over the last three years signed no NDA agreements. Of the top five  who did sign NDA settlements – Manchester signed 26 . (it also topped the Tribunal claims on 40) Birmingham 20 , Bristol 17, UCL 15  and Manchester Met 11. In terms of settlement costs Liverpool John Moores  tops the League table  on £ 362,108 and Manchester comes second on  £ 247,881

Two things stand out. First there is a trend developing to  cut deals with employees  in the public sector, including with  whistleblowers,  behind closed doors at considerable expense to the taxpayer , which, in some instances  at least, serve to withhold important information on the respective  institution from the public. Second the standards of accountability and transparency across the HE sector are simply not good enough. Part of the new funding deal for the sector which will be forged over the next couple of years must include a big quid  pro quo. In return for more funds there must be greater openness, transparency and accountability  across the sector in admissions, performance,  degree of student satisfaction, the value  added , the employability of  their   graduates   and the way they  manage public funds. (oh,  almost forgot, and how much they pay their leading staff)