Will it help point the way?

The Lords Social Mobility Committee has finished taking evidence in its inquiry into  social mobility in the transition from school to work ,and will be publishing its report in March.

Many organisations including Careers England, the Edge Foundation, City and Guilds and  Pearson, as well as  experts such as Deirdre Hughes,   submitted written evidence to the Committee .which can be accessed at

A trawl through this evidence suggests that Young people are approaching the labour market with a lack of preparation, support and guidance. Information, advice and guidance are too often neither professional, nor impartial nor comprehensive. A lack of guidance at crucial waystations in their lives, mean  that many young people,  particularly the most disadvantaged, are ill equipped to make informed decisions and choices to maximise their  life opportunities -which is bad for them personally, but also for our economy, skills base and  for the governments own  social inclusion NEET, and  social mobility agendas.

It is probable that the Committee will deliver a similar conclusion in its report. But key, will be what it recommends. The government is currently developing a careers strategy which will, if you follow Ministers current narrative, rely heavily on employers engagement with schools, enterprise advisers and work experience. What is actually required is a balanced approach which includes these elements,  but also, crucially,   easier access for young people to high quality, independent  professional careers advice and guidance and more face to face advice from  professionals  (rather than just via the web and phone) which is  of particular value  to the most disadvantaged students.

A leading expert on Careers education and  guidance ,Dr Deirdre Hughes ,wrote in FE Week recently  ‘A key element missing in all recent announcements from the Department for Education (DfE) and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) is the role of career development professionals trained and qualified to provide independent and impartial careers guidance.’ Dr Tristram Hooley  another expert on careers guidance  in written evidence, in January,  to the  Parliamentary Sub-Committee on Education, Skills and the Economy, noted  that recent careers policy has been strongly focused on increasing young people’s exposure to employers and employment, and that there is an extensive evidence base which supports the importance of building strong links between education and employment, but,  he added, ‘this focus has been pursued: (i) at the expense of a recognition of the role that career professionals can play; and (ii) without regard for the fact that most young people move from school to further learning rather than directly to work.’ Quite.

In addition, its widely accepted that  resources within the system, across departments, could, be much better  targeted and utilized to support young people, more effectively, in this much neglected area. Will this happen?   It might if the government does what it has promised to do-that is follow broadly the recommendations of the Gatsby report ‘Good Career Guidance’ 2014.

Recommendation 8 of this  influential report says:

 ‘Every pupil should have opportunities for guidance interviews with a career adviser, who could be internal (a member of school staff) or external, provided they are trained to an appropriate level. These should be available whenever significant study or career choices are being made. They should be expected for all pupils but should be timed to meet their individual needs.  Well that  couldn’t be more clear, could it?

But if one looks at the current narrative from Ministers and the Careers and Enterprise Company its all about Recommendation 5 of this report :‘ ‘Every pupil should have multiple opportunities to learn from employers about work, employment and the skills that are valued in the workplace. This can be through a range of enrichment activities including visiting speakers, mentoring and enterprise schemes.’

Will Ministers be true to the report, its spirit and its recommendations or will they cherry pick, one wonders ?   If they choose the former route, then there is a good chance that their strategy might work. But if they take the latter route, then it is hard to see that much will change,  in the guidance sector ,which will harm young people’s life opportunities, and the government’s own social , employment  and economic  agendas.



Choice, charters and vouchers

Vouchers in school reform programmes have made little headway over the years.  Mainly due to opposition to vouchers from powerful teachers unions in the United States. Indeed,  Private School vouchers are illegal in some states although nationwide, around  141,000 students use a voucher to attend a private school. Democratic  politicians  tend to shy away from vouchers because of the unions position.

Professor Paul  Peterson reminded us in last  week’s Friedman lecture at Church House (organised by CMRE think tank) that it wasn’t Milton Friedman who first championed school vouchers , it was our own  JS Mill who  In ‘On Liberty’  wrote:

‘  If the government would make up its mind to require for every child a good education, it might save itself the trouble of providing one. It might leave to parents to obtain the education where and how they pleased, and content itself with helping to pay the school fees of the poorer classes of children, and defraying the entire school expenses of those who have no one else to pay for them.’

But although school vouchers are seen as an issue supported by the political right  (Milton Friedman etc) quite a few thinkers on the left are sympathetic to the idea of using vouchers to help the disadvantaged to get access to the best schools. More often than not disadvantaged families have to send their children to the worst sink schools, sustaining the cycle of disadvantage. Some have a way out now in the States ,with access to Charter schools-around 5 % of the student population in the States are in Charter schools. And there are some notably good charter chains -KIPP springs to mind.   But there are  also some not so good, and this applies to some private schools as well.- although  more rigorous vetting has had beneficial effects. If charters dont perform,  of course, then they lose their contract. Poor state schools tend to carry on regardless of performance and student outcomes.   Charters do appear to have had a significant impact in certain areas on attainment ( for example, in  Post- Katrina New Orleans  although a recent voucher scheme  that was  evaluated in the state had less than stellar results-the lucky ones were in fact the  students who didnt win the lottery ) Professor Paul Peterson  pointed to  evidence that Charter schools,  overall, do have a  positive effect on attainment, particularly with disadvantaged students and their record for  improving college enrollments , for example,  compares well with other local schools.

There is also some evidence out there on vouchers and their effects. Professor Peterson has tracked the impact of a voucher programme all the way from kindergarten (in 1997) to college enrollment (in 2011).  His study compared students who won a voucher lottery with students who didn’t—the only difference between the groups was the luck of the draw, the gold standard in research design.

The study shows that an African-American student who was able to use a voucher to attend a private school was 24% more likely to enroll in college than an African-American student who didn’t win a voucher lottery.

The voucher programme took place in New York City. Its initial impetus came in 1996, when Archbishop John J. O’Connor invited New York City schools Chancellor Rudy Crew to “send the city’s most troubled public school students to Catholic schools.”  That didn’t quite work out but a group of private philanthropists—including prominent Wall Street figures Bruce Kovner, Roger Hertog and Peter Flanagan stepped into the breach —creating the New York School Choice Scholarships Foundation.

The foundation offered three-year scholarships—that is, vouchers—worth up to $1,400 annually (in 1998 dollars) to approximately 1,000 low-income families with children of elementary-school age. A recipient could attend any of the hundreds of private schools, religious or secular, in New York City. The city’s largest provider of private schooling was the Catholic archdiocese, which reported average tuition at the time of $1,728 per year. Total expenditures at these schools, from all revenue sources, came to $2,400 per pupil (compared to total costs of more than $5,000 per pupil in the public schools). Over 20,000 applicants participated in the lottery.

Of the 2,666 students in the original study, necessary information was available for over 99%. To see whether those who won the lottery were more likely to go to college, Peterson and his research colleagues linked student Social Security numbers and other identifying characteristics to college enrollment data available from the National Student Clearinghouse, which collects that information from institutions of higher education attended by 96% of all U.S. students. The reserachers said that they were not aware of any other voucher study that has been as successful at tracking students over such a long period of time.

Although the study identified no significant impact on college enrollments among Hispanic students (and too few white and Asian students participated for us to analyze), the impact on African-American students was large. Not only were part-time and full-time college enrollment together up 24%, but full-time enrollment increased 31% and attendance at selective colleges (enrolling students with average SAT scores of 1100 or higher) more than doubled, to 8% from 3%. These impacts are especially striking given the modest costs of the intervention: only $4,200 per pupil over a three-year period. This implies that the government would actually save money if it introduced a similar voucher program, as private-school costs are lower than public-school costs.

The difference in the effects for African-American and Hispanic students is probably due to the greater educational challenges faced by the African-Americans. Only 36% of them went to college if they didn’t receive a voucher, compared to 45% of the Hispanic students.

Note- Acknowledgements to Wall Street Journal article – Matthew M. Chingos and Paul E Peterson   Aug. 23, 2012 and Paul E Petersons-Friedman Lecture, (CMRE) Westminster 26 January 2016

See also


Autonomy-what autonomy?
Is it time to revisit funding agreements and get the balance right between autonomy and accountability ?
At a recent meeting one head of an Academy Trust suggested that Academies have no greater autonomy now than maintained schools. Adding ,with a hint  of melancholy, that this hadn’t always been the case. He looked back at the start of the original Academies scheme, when there was more meaningful autonomy and much more cash available .( which might go some way to explaining why research shows that the initial academies programme had positive effects on attainment, whereas subsequently results have been more mixed)
The Funding agreements, that is the agreements between the Secretary of State and the  respective Academy Trust, vary considerably. Effectively they  amount to a contractual relationship telling the Trust what it can do with public money. So, in theory, as someone pointed out to me the other day, if the Secretary of State is  determined that all schools in a particular Trust should use green ink , and it has to be a particular shade of green, and that is  written into the agreement then that is precisely what they have to deliver, no ifs nor buts.  No wonder that more and more Trusts are beginning to worry about the trajectory of structural reforms.

One has to wonder, under present arrangements, what the incentives might be for Trusts to get involved with lower performing schools, particularly those in rural and coastal areas where the government is particularly keen to see quick transformation. If you look at the ‘best performing chains they were very careful about the schools they selected from the start and in what areas. (ie look at Ark and Harris). The Trusts that are struggling most, by and large,are those who  took  on the most challenging schools . Its not rocket science.
Not only do Trusts have to adjust to differing Funding agreements but much of their management time , maybe as much as 40-50%, is spent managing relationships with the DFE, Regional Schools Commissioners, Ofsted and the respective Local Authority. (yes local authorities still have a role). Compare and contrast these obligations with what private schools have to put up with. An academic at a recent event looking as school choice, suggested that academies have as much freedom as independent schools. I pointed out this was nonsense on stilts. Their freedoms  are  much more limited .
Of course, with public money involved and given the importance of education it is vital that academies, and the trusts that run them ,are held robustly to account. OECD research also reminds us that autonomous schools are only effective at raising attainment if they sit within an effective accountability framework.
But ,  if you believe in the importance of real autonomy and the galvanising effect this can have on schools, innovation ,enterprise  and pupil attainment, it is clearly important to get the balance right between autonomy and accountability . It was claimed that, too often, the old Local education authorities imposed burdensome bureaucracy on schools denying them real autonomy and the ability to make decisions for themselves.  But ironically the  worry now is that the respective, prescriptive Funding Agreements and an ever expanding and increasingly complex  accountability framework, will have the same deadening effect over time on academies.

So, there are grounds for worrying that the balance between autonomy and accountability  is now out of kilter. It could well be time to examine the relationship between DFE and academy trusts and the impact the fast moving accountability regime is having on the ability of these nominally ‘autonomous’ schools to have a transformative effect, throughout the system and to improve, radically, student outcomes, which ,its sometimes forgotten, was the purpose of these reforms in the first place. Maybe the relationship between DFE and Trusts needs to be re-set.
A report out this month, from the left leaning IPPR think tank, says ‘ While most commentators have focussed on the implications that ‘academisation’ will have for the role of local authorities in the school system, less attention has been paid to the growing difficulties with the legal framework that governs schools – specifically the fact that an increasing proportion of schools are now governed through individual contractual funding agreements with the secretary of state for education, rather than through legislation.
This, it notes, ‘ cuts to the heart of debates about school autonomy, and is integral to the way in which the government manages the education system. Contractual funding agreements set out the combination of freedoms and constraints that are placed on individual academies, but have proven unable to provide a consistent set of freedoms across schools, and have a number of drawbacks:
they don’t always protect autonomy
they have created a large bureaucratic burden on government and schools
they have created an inconsistent and contradictory set of freedoms among different academies
they risk tying academies to poorly performing chains
they are subject to less parliamentary scrutiny.
The IPPR suggests that a system based on legislation and common statute, by contrast, would have the potential to allow all academies, regardless of the timing and circumstance of their creation, the optimal balance of autonomy and accountability necessary to deliver a first-class education to pupils.
The IPPRs proposals may not be to everyone’s liking but the fact that the IPPR thought it necessary to publish a report on the issue now, indicates that this issue, simmering in the background for many months, may slowly but surely be getting up a head of steam.
Academy trusts are very cautious about airing their concerns in public, lest they are used to attack the government, upsetting the delicate relationships they have to manage with the DFE and other key stakeholders , while potentially undermining confidence in the whole academies programme, but these issues need to be addressed sooner rather than later by Ministers,
IPPR Report- A legal bind: The future legal framework for England’s schools


Are Freedom and Tolerance British values.? If so shouldn’t we protect them in our universities?

One wonders whether   the West’s loss of faith in its own values has led to various attacks on free speech and greater intolerance. It cant have escaped anyone’s notice that a section of motivated and  well organised  students in some of  our universities are seeking to ban speakers whose views are regarded as extreme or  offensive to them. .Students are  cultivating the art of being offended before really  knowing beforehand what is actually going to offend them. They are developing a robust view that their sensitivities and sensibilities are of paramount importance. Indeed their ‘ right’  not to be  offended trumps any rights to freedom of thought expression and speech. In this bonkers world if a speaker holds views that you regard as offensive and/or extreme you have a right not only to be offended but to ban  that speaker from campus  and more, to  prevent them from  speaking at all  , denying them a public platform .  One has grounds for wondering whether these students know what universities are for. Why, such widespread intolerance is more evident  now, than ever before,  is hard to fathom. Certainly the  social media  buttresses  self-absorption and narcissm in some individuals , and also puts them  more easily in touch with like -minded  fellow travellers , but why  the scale of such intolerance, and why now?

Universities, of course, were established in the first place to foment intellectual inquiry  and discourse ,  bastions of free speech and  the dialectic, encouraging the free flow of ideas information debate  and argument, championing tolerance and the values  of the Enlightenment.

WB Yeats reminded us in the Second Coming that ‘ The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.’ And one wonders whether those in charge of our universities lack all conviction.  Certainly the response of universities to this new threat appears hesitant at best, and supine at worst.  It was Spinoza who said in a free state, every man may think what he likes and say what he thinks.” (Spinoza is himself quoting a passage from Tacitus – “the rare happiness of times when you can think what you like and say what you think” But one couldn’t be blamed for thinking that some of  our University campuses have become seed beds  of intolerance, dictating what we can and can’t  think or say.(an increasing problem in the States too)

Does upholding Free speech in our universities mean that everyone should be allowed to say whatever they like? No, of course not . Freedoms are never absolute they are always qualified. (not least by laws) So Freedom of Speech is not unrestricted. There comes with it responsibility- for example if you incite  violence, hatred ,  racial insults etc   you will be prosecuted.  And quite right too. But the default position must be overarching tolerance ,and only exceptionally should one limit or qualify  freedom of speech. The balance seems to have shifted though in the opposite direction

Dr Joanna Williams, a senior lecturer at the University of Kent,  writes ‘The biggest threat to academic freedom today is neither students nor government policy but the reluctance of academics to defend universities as places of intellectual dissent where diverse views are heard and robustly debated. Higher education should teach students how to think and not what to think.’

The ancient Greeks understood the importance of the dialectic –that is a discourse between two or more people holding different points of view about a subject but wishing to establish the truth through reasoned arguments. This should be a central pillar   to any good education, budding  in schools, then  flowering in a blaze of colour  at university.  Its time for academe to wake up to the threat this represents not just to our values but to the reputation and integrity of our universities.



Have a look at Martin Robinsons book The Trivium



Moves to harness insights on behaviour to shape policy and its delivery

Persuading Ministers, and indeed departments, to change policy and do something differently is always a challenge.  But behavioural scientists are beginning to understand what levers they need to  pull to sell new ideas and insights that might  lead to substantial changes in ministers and departmental thinking and ways of doing things, while making savings.

The Behavioural Insights Team or ‘Nudge Unit’ was set up by the Coalition government in 2010 backed  by David Cameron and Nick Clegg .Its mission was , informed by the latest science on behaviour ,  to design policy and delivery mechanisms . Many of the assumptions made by government around how and why people make decisions are simply wrong. The Nudge Unit set out   to transform the approach of at least two major government departments, to inject a new understanding  of human behaviour across government, and to deliver a ten -fold return on its cost, all within two years.  If it failed in these, then it would be wound up. In fact, It succeeded .The Insights Team not only flourishes (within the Cabinet Office) but is even advising foreign governments now on how to implement behaviourally informed policies.

Its main objectives now are;

making public services more cost-effective and easier for citizens to use;

improving outcomes by introducing a more realistic model of human behaviour to policy; and wherever possible, enabling people to make ‘better choices for themselves’

Richard Thaler and  Cass Sunsteins  2007 book’ Nudge’ , originally called  ‘Libertarian Paternalism’ ,a clunkier and altogether  less attractive title, was such a success because it made the world of behavioural science, which had crossed over into economic thinking as well,  more accessible and of  practical  worth to policy makers.

Through small, incremental adjustments in the nuts and  bolts of government informed by  insights into human behaviour, you  can get people to respond more readily,  and to ‘nudge’ them  to make choices that  protect their interests  but also improve the returns for the government and its agents saving time money and adding value.

Whether its encouraging people to pay tax owed, or parking fines, or to insulate their houses, to save energy, to start contributing to personal pension schemes that will benefit them, to filling in applications to college, to re-entering the labour market , to seeking  childcare support –  there are a myriad ways in which simple and nuanced  adjustments can make a huge difference to take up. Even if you only increase take up by, say, 5%, for example, the financial savings can be huge.

Both political and economic theory posits that individuals make rational choices that benefit them. But the reality is that frequently people don’t  make sensible choices, and  for a number of reasons. They don’t have enough time, they have too many choices,   there is too much hassle, or friction involved , the form they have to fill in is confusing etc.  Science has found that If you make it easy  and attractive  for people and show  that others are doing it too, then you stand a greater chance of success  . Computer generated letters that are de-personalised really don’t  often work,  yet they are churned out by government and business, regardless.  Sanctions and threats often don’t work either, in the way you want them to work,  and the same goes  for  financial incentives.  Social pressure, because we are ‘social ‘animals, after all, is often  much more effective. Personalising messages and telling people what others are doing is more likely to work.

Behavioural scientists help  us to understand this esoteric area.

At the most basic level   if you personalise a letter  and make it easy to understand and  adopt the  same approach to  the  forms you send out,  removing the hassle that goes with so many,  you will almost certainly  secure  better returns. Better and more effective communications is  part of the equation of course.  But there is much  more to it than that.

The BIT is into piloting small projects, across government and using randomised control trials to test the outcomes. Simple ideas. like opting everyone in for pension schemes (ie the default position) but also  giving them the choice of opting out, means that a vast majority will not opt out, because there is  the hassle factor and friction involved. Ie you have to positively make a decision to opt out.   These initiatives not only pay for themselves but generate significant returns on top of it..

The BIT unit have produced a pneumonic checklist to help policy makers   to influence behaviour-EAST. Make it Easy. Attractive. Harness Social Influence. And make it Timely, choosing a time when  people are most likely to be  receptive.

Helping people to make the right decisions through re-framing policies and processes to take into account how they actually behave and make decisions is eminently sensible. David Halpern, who has done so much to persuade Ministers to invest in the idea that behavioural insights really can deliver more efficiencies and savings  puts it thus:

‘We seek to introduce a more realistic, empirically grounded model of what influences human behaviour and decision making’.  Halpern sees behavioural insight approaches as ‘ a tool or lens through which to view all policy interventions  and can be used to subtly refashion conventional policy tools.’

But how might this approach be used in education?

We know that many early childhood interventions can be effective and improve young children’s life opportunities- what about nudges to ensure parents are  more actively engaged in these,  and earlier. How about a nudge to encourage those   with mental health issues, to seek support,   or a nudge to encourage the most disadvantaged students and their parents   to apply to  universities or high quality apprenticeships . Indeed,   there is also surely scope  for  nudging young pupils to make appropriate choices of routes into FE ,HE, training and employment(some useful work has already been done at Jobcentres by BIT)   and  in studying  appropriate qualifications to improve their life opportunities .Or, perhaps,  targeting those in the NEET category to secure engagement in education training or a job. These and other areas surely could be susceptible to nudges that will benefit the individuals concerned, save costs, reduce waste and benefit the economy. What’s not to like?


Well, there are some worries that the government will nudge citizens to do things that are not necessarily in their interests, but safeguards are possible here and indeed  so far   appear  to be operating reasonably effectively.

At present most of the insights have produced incremental changes but it is probably only a matter of time before an insight delivers revolutionary change in the policy arena. Arguably recent pension reforms are revolutionary.

BIT has harnessed evidence and delivered results that have cost little to implement and delivered substantial measurable returns. They have also shown a welcome willingness to evaluate what they do, rigorously and ethically,(RCTs) using outside auditing and are prepared to admit mistakes with equanimity, to adapt and to learn.  Above all  they have managed to shift an initially sceptical establishment to a position  where ministers and civil servants are now prepared to engage with the BIT in the early design of policy initiatives.

Watch this space

See Inside the Nudge Unit-How Small Changes can make big differences-David Halpern –WH Allen 2015



What can we expect in education in 2016?

Professionalisation-The teaching profession will take one more step towards raising is status as the Teaching College advances from the foothills towards its establishment in 2017. Member-driven voluntary , and run by teachers for teachers, much of the heavy lifting on this project will begin in 2016. The government for sure will seek some leverage over its development given that taxpayers seed money will be involved. Interesting that some unions now realize that they can better  shape the education environment and enhance  the professions  status by engaging constructively with the government rather than throwing their toys out of the pram,  from somewhere in the far  distance.

Character Education-whether you can teach character in schools may be a moot point but resilience and other character traits and non-cognitive soft skills will be more heavily promoted in schools

Careers Guidance-Guidance in schools is a mess. Ministers have pretty much admitted as much, as has the regulator Ofsted. The government will deliver a Careers Strategy in the spring .But it’s a big challenge The Lords Social Mobility Committee and a joint Committee (BIS/Education Select Committee) will deliver a report too . Ministers are obsessed with getting more employers into schools, delivering better work experience but are still struggling with the idea that some children , particularly the most disadvantaged, really do need early access to face to face advice from a professional. Talking to a few self-serving employers wont in itself cut the mustard. Big changes are  needed here if the social mobility and access agendas are to take off. .

The Prevent strategy-efforts to protect children from radicalisation in schools, through a more proactive information campaign across the schools system will be increased.There is now greater awareness of how vulnerable some children are to grooming via the internet so there will be more restrictions on its use in schools.

Mental Health– Ministers have decided that mental health in schools is an issue. Data suggests that in every class of thirty there are around three pupils who have mental health issues. However, whether it’s a greater problem now than ever before is difficult to judge. There is certainly greater awareness of the problem, so more reporting is evident. Natasha Devon is helping to develop a more coherent approach to identifying and supporting children with mental heath issues in schools and alleviating the stigma . The penny seems to have dropped that social media and bullying are major issues that affect mental health. A rigorous and burdensome assessment regime probably doesn’t help much either .And that the problem, is cross cutting, ,in  Primary schools  in Higher Education and in the private sector.

Curriculum-the Government seems less gung-ho now about forcing schools to focus so much  on Ebacc subjects. If you give schools freedom over the curriculum it’s a nonsense to then prescribe to Heads  from the centre what their curriculum should look like. Its fair to say that the government should have a say in ensuring that schools offer a well balanced curriculum but should surely give schools more wriggle room not least so that the arts and creativity are allowed to thrive.,and  that not all teaching is to the test.
Assessment-I don’t think for a second that the government, as it has threatened, will create just one exam board or fiddle too much with the current assessment system. I just cant imagine Ministers, with  a  new found  responsibility for assessment, sitting there accepting the media flak that comes with results day every year . But there will be a closer look at how technology can be better utilized  both for pupils taking tests and in assessment processes to ensure more speed and consistency.
Academisation –the government is pledged to increase the number of academies. But there are problems on the horizon. Many of the big multi academy trusts will tell you that they are over regulated and spend too much time managing their relationship with DFE, RSCs and Ofsted. They complain that they really don’t have any freedoms, find it hard to innovate , and are beginning to wonder why they have taken on demanding schools in poor areas. Because they are given precious little slack in this area. The government wants more MATs in rural and coastal areas but most will see this as too risky and with  insufficient  incentives in place to encourage them to do so. Ministers want academy chains to help deliver transformative changes but  how this is to be achieved when so many chains are not allowed to expand by the government  and the best chains are cautions about expanding further  is anyone’s guess.

Schools Funding-we will have sight next year of the new schools funding formula. My view is that it is bound to be fairer than the current system but will still be controversial and will deliver its own anomalies. Some schools will see significant improvements in their funding , others will see a drop. Local MPS will make their feelings known. All against the background of a significant real drop in funding for schools, in the region of 20% according to some estimates.  Heads and governors will have to do more with less. Watch out for Graham Stuart in this area . He is a man with a mission since stepping down as the Select Committee chair

Regional Schools Commissioners –by the end of next year we will know whether or not the RSC system works. My view is that they are going to find it hard to deliver their (increased) responsibilities with the resources and staff they currently have and will find themselves vulnerable to attack (think Ofsted).

Research-we will see more extensive efforts to ensure that schools access the latest research and use it in the classroom. Ofsted may take an increased interest in how schools and groups of schools are using research tied mainly to the Pupil Premium

Collaboration– Collaboration as a principled approach to school reform and a self-improving schools system is good. Motherhood and Apple pie spring to mind. But there is a growing realisation that we still don’t fully understand what precise collaborative arrangements are best for driving up pupil attainment and schools improvement. More empirical research is needed in this area. What collaborative arrangements, that focus on improving attainment,  are scalable ?

Teacher Shortage- its not absolutely clear whether or not  their is a crisis in teacher  recruitment and retention. Ministers appear sanguine, experts such as Professor John Howson less so.  There does seem to be a shortage in certain areas (try recruiting a specialist maths teacher, for example) . We will know either way next year.  Targets for ITT in the Primary sector have been met but  there has been a shortfall in the Secondary sector. The recent recruitment campaign rather suggests that Ministers  are not quite as laid back on this issue as they might at first seem. And of course we wouldn’t have such recruitment problems if we were able to retain more teachers and ensure that they had clearer career pathways and sound continuous  professional development throughout their careers .

Higher Education- so, switching sectors -Jo Johnson’s  modest efforts to shift Higher Education from  being supply to demand driven are to be welcomed. As are his efforts, expressed in the recent Green paper, to improve the quality of teaching in universities which is far too variable,    and to give students a greater voice . A focus on better accountability  with easier access to information , including on employability , are aimed at ensuring  students can  make  better informed choices.Steps to open up the market perhaps lack ambition, but are heading in the right direction. Inevitably, entrenched interests   claim  there is no need for change. I simply dont  buy it .And I find it very hard  indeed to believe the findings of the National Students Survey, where student satisfaction rates are always  (unbelievably ) sky high (think North Korea).  Never has there been such a dis-junction between anecdotal evidence  (try talking to recent graduates across  degrees and institutions  from Russell group Unis) and official  survey data. I predict that closer attention will be paid to   ensuring we mine better data  from students and closer attention is paid to pastoral support . But  I predict modest changes in the sector, partly because of resistance from within the sector  ,but also because radical change could require Primary legislation, which is not on the cards.Other issues on the horizon include how Higher Education can,  or indeed are willing to adapt   to the Prevent anti-terrorism strategy, and how Vice Chancellors react to the threats to freedom of speech on campuses, as the claimed  right  not  to be offended by the views of others,  seems to  be trumping the right to freedom of speech and expression. This is arguably one of the greatest current threats to our universities.

Apprenticeships and Skills  The government has a  target of 3m apprenticeship starts by 2020.From April 2017, employers will have to pay 0.5 per cent of their pay roll costs towards an Apprenticeship  levy — offset by a £15,000 allowance meaning that most employers would not have to pay. The levy will fund £900m of apprenticeship spending and comes with a new employer-led Institute for Apprenticeships, which will set standards and quality. It is encouraging that the government is tackling the shortage of high quality  Apprenticeships. For too long inadequate training programmes  have sought to be passed off as bona fide  ‘ Apprenticeships’   when they are no such thing, so the focus on quality and  protecting the Apprenticeship brand  along with  new funding has to be welcomed . But there will be in 2016 some  increased tensions between employers  and the government  as greater clarity is provided  on the detail. FE colleges will be expected to improve  their Apprenticeships offers, and there will be much more pressure  in the Further Education sector to rationalise  and cut costs-so expect more strategic alliances between Colleges , and  a few, perhaps as many as 10-15 colleges , will close or merge.

Above are some initial predictions (to be added to, in due course ) for 2016



Carol Dwecks research on growth and fixed  ‘Mindsets’  has seen a recent resurgence in interest and popularity  here, but one wonders whether teachers understand what it might mean for their practice.

This is what Dweck says about mindset: “We found that students mindsets- how they perceive their abilities –  played a key role  in their motivation and achievement and we found that if we changed their mindsets we could boost their achievement. More precisely students who believed their intelligence could be developed (ie growth mindset ) outperformed those who believed their intelligence was fixed (ie fixed mindset)”

But  it is worth noting that John Hattie found ,in his seminal work ‘Visible Learning’ – that growth mindset  only had an effect size of.19 well below the hinge point of .40 . So not much  then compared to, for example,  providing feedback, which is .73

I have never been entirely sure about the implied  science based precision in  Hatties  work, and  given the confusion  over what a growth mindset actually means  it’s a bit of a dangerous game to  seek to measure its effect in this way, I would have thought.  What confusion, you may ask? Well its pretty clear that to some teachers growth mindset translates pretty much  to  ‘more effort’.  But Dweck reminds us that it isn’t just about more effort. She has said” Perhaps the most common misconception is   simply equating growth mindset with effort”

So if its not just effort, what is it? Dweck talks about new strategies , seeking help from others when  you  are stuck  and “ a repertoire of new approaches” which frankly isn’t all that helpful.  Maybe the problem is that I am stuck  with a fixed mindset (with too many cognitive biases to boot ). But  I suspect teachers  need a little more help in understanding how  to help learners  develop a growth mindset and what  that might mean  for their classroom practice.

Some suggestions for Teachers ?