Gerard Liston, an enterprise and employability consultant, told Schools Week,  that  he had “real concerns” about a “lack of progress and lack of sustainability” at the CEC, and said its funding – £70 million over this parliament – would be better spent on training teachers to deliver guidance in classrooms.

“There is a real limit to what can be achieved in a school through one day a month with a volunteer from business,” he said, adding that he was disappointed with the “lack of results and the superficial nature” of projects from CEC so far.’

There are fears that the CEC, is front loaded, meaning its heavy on marketing itself but light on delivery. Within a year of its establishment the then Minister Sam Gyimah talked of significant achievements omitting to  mention  what they were. Inputs are clear outputs less so. There is nothing on the CEC web site about the impact it is having on the guidance offered to  young people.  There is also a  perception developing that it is almost entirely focused on employer engagement  and ‘enterprise’ rather  than in  ensuring that pupils have easy access to professional independent guidance, including face to face guidance which evidence tells us  benefits the most disadvantaged more than anyone else  . Nor does it seem to understand what Careers ‘education’ means.    Its beginning to look like an expanding  Quango, with  as much being  spent on its  25  staff , (at least three are on six figure salaries)  its contractors  and  central London rent, as is going in to  ensuring that the quality of professional  guidance is raised throughout the system, that guidance is no longer a lottery and that the end user, the pupil , confronted with  hard and complex  choices, benefits directly.  Its most recent research confirms what we already knew, that with so much information out there pupils find it all rather bewildering, with information overload- and don’t know where to start. Which is precisely why many of  them, indeed most, would benefit from  a  meaningful,   face to face chat with a guidance professional. Very few get this though. Instead employers are being turned into proxy guidance specialists, but without the  necessary qualifications, information  and knowledge to offer real support, or guidance.

Meanwhile, pupils making crucial early choices about what routes and qualifications to take are too often not able to make informed choices. Putting an employer or Enterprise Adviser into a school does nothing to address this.  No surprise then that social mobility remains stagnant. As Dr Deirdre Hughes , a leading Guidance expert, has said “It’s great that they want to be known as an evidence-based organisation .But we don’t need to have a quango producing what’s there already. What we need is to get independent, impartial careers advice back into communities” Hughes would like to see the CEC  funding making a difference at grassroots level. Wouldn’t we all.

So rather  than paying lip service   to the Gatsby  benchmarks and cherry picking, CEC  should revisit Number 8 ,on Personal Guidance. It says:

‘Every student 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 students but should be timed to meet their individual needs.’ Why has the CEC done so little to make this happen?

And  why is it paying out so much taxpayers money to its senior members of staff ,  with such limited accountability,  and without addressing  the most fundamental challenge- to transform the quality,  accessibility and scope of professional guidance available  to our  young people .

See Schools Week Article

£70m government-funded careers company insists it has ‘achieved a lot’




A version of this article  was  published in Education Investor (September 2016)

Last April, it was reported that No 10 was in talks with the University of Buckingham about funding a new school leadership college.  Although details were sketchy, the aim seemed to be to fast -track top graduates fresh out of university, into leadership positions. With structured support from the college and experienced mentors they could serve an apprenticeship, and be   accelerated into Headships, where they are needed most. (mainly in Coastal and Rural areas, as it happens)

The discussions reflected growing unease in the government   about a looming Leadership crisis in schools.  These concerns  remain. There is a dearth of good heads, particularly in disadvantaged areas. Supply is not matching demand.

Heads are increasingly hard to find.  A 2015 survey by the National Governors’ Association (NGA), found that 43% of respondents reported that it was difficult to find good candidates when recruiting senior staff. Perhaps more alarming, many good teachers and potential leaders, eschew Headship.  In 2o15 The Key found 86.8% of school leaders believed headship was less attractive as a career choice than it was in 2010. Another survey of headteachers, by The Future Leaders Trust , saw less than half of respondents saying that they still planned to be a headteacher.

It’s not hard to see why. Though still rewarding for some, too many are being put off   by the challenges and lack of support.  School budgets have reduced in real terms by about 7%. Pupil numbers are on the rise, with a capacity shortage. There are   too few   specialist teachers. Schools are also subject to relentless changes to the curriculum, assessment and accountability frameworks, while the accelerated academisation programme brings new pressures.

Meanwhile, the focus on structural reforms has shifted attention away from Leadership, though it and the quality of teaching, have the most impact on outcomes Indeed, the one factor that all good schools have in common is good leadership As Professor Michael Fullan said “effective school leaders are key to large scale sustainable education reform’. It’s a given, if you want to transform a failing school, change the leadership.  Everything else follows. What we don’t have is proper career planning for Heads.  And our system lacks an effective end-to-end model for identifying, encouraging, training and developing the best leaders over time.

We pretty much know what we want from Heads. A clear vision and ability to see it through. While research also tells us that the closer leaders get to the core business of teaching and learning, the more likely it is that they will have a positive impact on their students.

So what we need, in short order, is to identify the best ways of developing this. There is probably no silver bullet, there rarely is in education. But look at the Buckingham apprenticeship model, and its focus on accelerated routes to Headship.  Also, The Future Leaders Trust and Teaching Leaders are doing interesting work    creating a joint network of 5,000 school leaders at all levels working in the most challenging schools in the country. Make sure that Heads and Governors are actively identifying potential leaders, and supporting their development. Look at what successful MATs are up to-the Harris Federation recruits 80% of its Heads in-house. The DFE is reviewing Leadership qualifications, about time too, as they don’t seem to have much credibility in the profession. Teach First is good at spotting leadership potential. Alumni of its two-year teaching training programme, are over seven times more likely to progress to senior school leadership. What are they getting right?   The ASCL, is developing its own Foundation for Leadership in Education, how can this contribute? All these elements may have a role to play. But there needs to be a coherent vision, with these elements working towards the same goal as part of a seamless effort.  That will require ‘political’ leadership. But we need to act now if system- wide improvements in outcomes are to be delivered and sustained.


The Green paper suggesting ideas  for  more selection in the state system has been heavily criticized. Mainly because it fails to highlight any evidence that increased selection will improve choice ,or, crucially improve the lot of the most disadvantaged either in terms of attainment or social mobility.  In fact, unless handled properly it could make their position infinitely worse.  The authors of the paper themselves seem to accept that the current selective system is unfair on the most disadvantaged pupils, because it suggests a raft of measures, incentives, conditions and sanctions   to  try  to make sure that these newly  selective  schools  will take their  fair share of the most disadvantaged pupils. (as clearly there is a perceived   risk  that  unless they are  heavily regulated and scrutinized that they wont)   So much for school autonomy, and the removal of red tape.  It  was good while it lasted. This envisages something of a bureaucratic  and regulatory nightmare .  The Green paper does seem to concede  though that the current  11 Plus test  can be coached,  (and therefore rich families have an advantage) and  that poor  children in areas that have grammar (selective ) schools tend to do  worse than poor pupils elsewhere.

This is what the  the  Green Paper says (Pg 21, Para 4):
‘Many selective schools are employing much smarter tests that seek to see past coaching and assess the true potential of every child. However, under the current model of grammar schools – while those children that attend selective schools enjoy a far greater chance of academic success – there is some evidence that children who attend non-selective schools in selective areas may not fare as well academically – both compared to local selective schools and comprehensives in non-selective areas.’

I assume  when the Green Paper refers to  the much smarter tests  that ‘ see past coaching ‘  its referring to those designed by CEM (Durham). There are few academics who have done more than Robert Coe of Durham  has to champion evidence based /informed practice in the teaching profession . But CEM  may be struggling to deliver  on these smart tests.   Becky Allen points out that a so-called ‘tutor-proof’ test ,offered by CEM and ‘introduced across Buckinghamshire (selective area) for 2014 admissions (they apparently have around 40% of the 11+ market) hasn’t really proved itself. ‘It claims to make selection fairer by testing a wider range of abilities that are already being taught in primary schools, rather than skills that can be mastered through home tutoring. Following the introduction of the test, Buckinghamshire – a local authority with very low FSM rates across its schools – saw the number of FSM pupils attending grammar schools fall in 2014 and 2015.’  So, not so smart then.

In short,  it would seem that  a test that ‘ sees past coaching’ has not yet  been developed. It may be a long wait .


The Eleven Plus exam determines whether or not a child gets into a grammar school. Critics claim this is an arbitrary age at which to test children on their abilities and potential and that the exam is unfair on disadvantaged pupils who tend not to have educated parents, who can help them, or access to private tutoring. There has long been a claim that the exam is cleverly designed to be tutor proof and is structured to identify ‘real’ potential and ‘intelligence’ . But, If you believe that intelligence is not fixed (Carol Dweck) and there are different types of intelligence (Howard Gardner) then you are not likely to rate this exam.
There is of course too, a cottage industry in private tutoring that exists precisely in order to get children into grammar schools . So this claim has always been open to challenge. In addition, at least 18% of successful grammar school applicants attended private primary school, most of which, offer bespoke support for grammar school applicants.
In addition, Becky Allen points out that a so-called ‘tutor-proof’ test ,offered by CEM (Durham) and ‘introduced across Buckinghamshire for 2014 admissions (they apparently have around 40% of the 11+ market) hasn’t really proved itself. ‘It claims to make selection fairer by testing a wider range of abilities that are already being taught in primary schools, rather than skills that can be mastered through home tutoring. Following the introduction of the test, Buckinghamshire – a local authority with very low FSM rates across its schools – saw the number of FSM pupils attending grammar schools fall in 2014 and 2015.’
Recent analysis from the IFS found that attending a grammar school is good for the attainment and later earnings of those who get in, but that pupils in areas with selective state education who do not pass the 11-plus entrance exam do worse than in areas without grammars.
Proposals in the Green paper suggest that Ministers have doubts about the 11 Plus too. It says that selective schools would have to admit children at different ages, such as at 14 as well as at 11 and 16, to cater for pupils who develop later academically.



The work of Professors John Hattie, Eric Hanushek and Robert Coe, among others, tells us that good teachers  arent just born, but they  can be made,  with good training and   support and  an openness to new evidence of what works.   .
There are many myths about what effective classroom interventions look like, but more robust research is challenging and correcting  these myths. We know that high quality teaching has a dramatic and positive effect on student progress, whereas poor teaching really does close off life opportunities, for some, indeed far too many..
In the UK teachers have been helped in this particularly by the work of John Hattie (Visible Learning) who has designed an ‘Effects table’ that orders the most effective interventions, but also the Education Endowment Foundation, which has reviewed research and designed a user friendly toolkit that guides teachers through evidence based robust interventions that improve outcomes. If you show teachers what works and they then apply it in their practice, the chances are that it will improve their students outcomes. (It might surprise you but reducing class size is one of the least effective interventions, whereas getting good feedback from students and acting on it. is one of the best, according, at least ,to Hatties work.) What works in terms of effective teaching, seems to be high-quality instruction ,using evidence of what works, and so-called “pedagogical content knowledge”—a blend of subject knowledge and teaching craft..
The Economist recently quoted Charles Chew, one of Singapore’s “principal master teachers”, an elite group that guides the island’s schools: “I don’t teach physics; I teach my pupils how to learn physics.”
Teachers like Mr Chew, the Economist pointed out, ask probing questions of all students. They assign short writing tasks that get children thinking and allow teachers to check for progress. Their classes are planned—with a clear sense of the goal and how to reach it—and teacher-led but interactive. They anticipate errors, such as the tendency to mix up remainders and decimals. They space out and vary ways in which children practise things, cognitive science having shown that this aids long-term retention.
These techniques work, according to the Economist (11 June) . In a report published in February the OECD found a link between the use of such “cognitive activation” strategies and high test scores among its club of mostly rich countries. A recent study by David Reynolds compared maths teaching in Nanjing and Southampton, where he works. It found that in China, “whole-class interaction” was used 72% of the time, compared with only 24% in England. Certainly Nick Gibb ,the schools Minister, thinks that our teachers and schools have much to learn from the East and has focused in particular on the way mathematics is taught there.  (Singapore, South Korea, Shanghai)
So ,there is plenty of high quality evidence out there about what works and what can really help improve the quality of teaching. The problem is that too many schools don’t take this seriously enough. How to identify the best and most robust research, to manage it ,to ensure that it is disseminated to the right people, who can use it, , and to ensure that it is applied in the classroom, is still a vast challenge, it seems. Broadly, awareness of research and utilising it to inform practice all comes under the umbrella of whats called ‘Knowledge Management’. And, Knowledge Management in our schools system is simply not good enough. Depressingly a recent survey of middle leaders responsible for Teaching and Learning in schools found that just a third thought education research important. We still have a long way to go ,it would seem.



Are Free Schools selective?
One interesting aspect of the Grammar schools debate, which has marked the start of May’s premiership, is how Free Schools might be used to introduce more selection into the State system. Nick Timothy, who now Heads May’s NO 10 Policy unit , used to head the New Schools Network, which promotes Free Schools. He has made it clear that he thinks expanding selection in the State sector is a good thing. So. that could mean, more Grammar schools,  and  also more selection  in new Free schools(500 more expected in this Parliament) Either full, or partial selection . Already perhaps(see below) some Free schools are not being quite as ‘ inclusive’  as they could be.
Timothy  might have  been taken aback by the hostility the leaked proposals for perhaps 24 new grammar school, received from across the political spectrum, amid calls to point to  robust evidence that Grammar schools improve the lot of the most disadvantaged pupils, and can drive social mobility across the board.
Government insiders are now tentatively suggesting that there would be no large scale expansion of Grammars. Just the 24, which looks like policy made on the hoof. If you believe in Grammars, and their transformative effects, you surely cant believe that just 24 schools are enough to drive transformation across the system. It also suggests too, does it not, a lack of confidence in Academies, and their capacity to transform the system. So what  are they  trying to achieve here?

To change any system you need to look at what drives improvement in student outcomes. Evidence is pretty clear. Yes ,structural reforms can be important, providing schools are given meaningful autonomy and are rooted in a robust accountability framework (not the same as red tape, by the way). But this is only one side of the coin. Evidence also tells us that high quality, distributed leadership is important, along with high quality teachers and teaching. We are short of good leaders and good teachers in the areas we need them the  most.  Ministers seem preoccupied with structural reforms, which are the low hanging fruit of educational reform, and seem to have a blind spot when it comes to the other drivers.
Returning to admissions, it seems that Free schools have a mixed record on admissions. Research by Professor Rebecca Morris in 2014 looked at admissions criteria  used by the first two waves of secondary Free Schools in England. She found a real diversity of criteria being used by this new type of school and  in how they are prioritising access. Free Schools are able to choose their own feeder schools, set their own catchment areas, prioritise particular postcode districts, guarantee places for children of the school’s founders or opt to use banding systems. Although the admissions policies of the majority of secondary Free Schools appear to be adhering to the 2012 Admissions Code legislation, (the Admissions code is being reviewed). Morris notes the influence that such criteria may have in creating intakes which ‘ are less balanced in terms of socioeconomic status, ethnicity or religious affiliation.’
Morris says ‘ It.. demonstrates the potential for these new schools to increase levels of stratification between schools in the local area. Some schools are clearly attempting to use their admissions policy to admit socially balanced intakes, offering priority to those eligible for the Pupil Premium or by participating in Local Authority-wide banding systems. The majority of schools, however, are not operating in this way.’
Its probably worth remembering that one of the original objectives of Free Schools was linked to the provision of high quality education for those from deprived backgrounds

Admissions Criteria of Secondary Free Schools-Rebecca Morris 2014
Other recent research has also concluded that Free Schools “are opening in disadvantaged neighbourhoods, but are taking fewer poor children than the other local schools” (Green et al., 2014).


The Higher Education sector should be wary. There is a narrative developing, articulated with increasing regularity in the media, that students are not getting value for money from their university education.

The graduate premium is not as big as Ministers claim, and in any case is narrowing significantly.  There are now   serious alternatives to a university education, including high quality apprenticeships and company and on the job  training programmes .Employers, fed up with the quality of graduates who apply  for their jobs, who signally lack   the kind of soft skills they are looking for,   are now   looking elsewhere. Thats the narrative. Students are being miss-sold  a university education.  Why saddle yourself with debt when you can be paid while you train for a guaranteed job?. Earlier this year the Higher Education Statistics Agency published figures showing that one in four graduates was not in a graduate job six months after receiving a degree

The Intergenerational Fund think tank, says that student debt payments wipe out the benefit of higher salaries for most graduates. Indeed, MP Frank Field found out from the Office for National Statistics  that more than a quarter of graduates were paid less than the £11.10  an hour average for those on work-based training schemes (Apprenticeships) in 2013 . With a  government focus on  incentivising the provision of   more high quality Apprenticeships the balance is likely to have tipped further in favour of those on work based training schemes, over the last three years.

Alice Thomson in the Times, this week ,wrote ‘The 500,000 students settling into campuses this autumn will be incurring average debts of £44,000. For those inspired by their courses and for the intellectually gifted, this is probably still worth every penny, but for many of the 49 per cent of the population who take up places at university it will be close to a waste of time. The higher education ombudsman has received more than 2,000 complaints from students in the past academic year over issues such as too little time with tutors, overcrowded lecture theatres and poor teaching. Apprenticeships are in many ways far better value for money. The National Grid’s engineering training programme for school leavers pays £23,500 a year.’ Thomson’s views are shared by a number of other commentators.

There is not much evidence that the sector is fighting back. Its  looking complacent, unaware of the avalanche that is about to hit it.

A report out this week from The Money Charity reinforces the idea that students are overburdened with debt.  The figures reveal that the latest group of students from England to begin to pay off their loans owe more than ever before.
The average debt for the graduates who entered repayment this year was £24,640, up from £21,170 in 2015. Due to incremental rises to tuition fees and maintenance loans, the sum owed by students has risen steadily for the past decade, tripling since 2003. Much of this is driven by the introduction, and gradual rise of tuition fees.

The other, often overlooked, driver of rising student debt is the runaway cost of accommodation, which requires ever larger maintenance loans just to keep up. Original research from The Money Charity last year found median rents growing by £277 between 2014 and 2015.

To make matters worse, this is the last group of students to pay a maximum of £3,465 in tuition fees before the rise to £9,000. So the 2017 group will immediately owe £16,605 more than their predecessors, even before we take into account the rising maintenance loans.
This year’s graduates, who will begin to repay next year will face average debt levels of well in excess of £41,000 – 35% of the average outstanding mortgage (£117,162)!
Michelle Highman, Chief Executive of The Money Charity says:
“For nearly half the young people in the UK, becoming a student will be the first step into adult life, with all the financial responsibilities that brings. We worry that these early, formative experiences of debt will leave a lasting legacy.”
“Normalising large quantities of debt right at the start of people’s financial independence risks setting them up to fail. The size of these sums may also affect later borrowing such as loans and mortgages.”
Universities are not just about preparing young people for the job market. Far from it. But students are now  paying for their Higher Education and incurring substantial debts before they even begin their working lives. This means that increasingly they will think about future earnings and the size of the so-called graduate premium and the likelihood of getting a graduate level job after their studies. They will take a keener  look at destination measures. In other words, how successful graduates  are, from particular institutions and courses, at getting good jobs after graduation. That is the new reality. And the sector will have to respond.

On a positive note for the sector, most young people aged 11-16 want to go to university, according to the latest survey(Sutton Trust). But more engagement with employers ,from 16 onwards   and better information on the options available to them,  could  mean that by 18   less   of this cohort  will opt  for Higher Education.

See Graduate Employment and Earnings Outcomes of Higher Education Graduates: Experimental data from the Longitudinal Education

Outcomes (LEO) datase
The median earnings five years post graduation for those graduating in 2003/04 was £26,000 compared to £25,500 for those who graduated in 2008/09