Dylan Wiliam says in the TES that teaching cannot,  and will never be a research-based, or research-led profession. Tom Bennett, a co-founder of researchED , which has done so much to put teacher led research on the political agenda, surprisingly  agrees.

Wiliam has always been a master of the counter intuitive insight and these  frequently  grab the  headlines.  But there is a danger   that too much navel gazing among  those  currently dominating the research agenda, will undermine its longer term  credibility and lead the agenda into a cul de sac. Bennett is  right, of course, to highlight that there is quite a lot of poor research out there, that is well marketed ,  and there is too little effort   going into separating the wheat from the chaff. It is also true that good research is often misunderstood and oversimplified, with the nuances and  the full context lost, so that it ends up being misapplied. (how many of us simply look at the press reports or executive summary rather than the full report). I would also add that rather too often good insights are lost as researchers look at data from too narrow a perspective, only seeing what they want to see. and that which supports their particular agenda. And,   of course, research literacy  is generally quite poor in the profession  though  this is not limited  to teachers. Civil servants and politicians lack research literacy too.  But there does  seem to have been a recent shift in the centre of gravity of this debate, focusing on the possible negatives particularly  the negative  impact research might have on teachers  professional judgement and ‘craft’. The glass used to be half full. Now its  veering towards half empty.

Professor Wiliam talks about the limitations of research, quite a lot, but that doesn’t seem to have stopped  him pushing his own research agenda and indeed working closely with the  EEF  in research related to feedback (formative assessment, assessment for learning  etc)

Kevan Collins of the EEF is right when he says that while there has been too much qualitative rather than quantitative research Wiliam is  dead wrong to imply that the solution is to return to a time when teachers shut the door to evidence. Collins writes ‘  For too long, too many teachers have been as guilty as politicians of acting on what they believe to work, rather than what has been shown to work. Instead, we need a middle way where teaching is informed by the best evidence so that their practice is improved, and collectively the teaching profession does more to improve results especially for poorer pupils’

Lets keep this agenda on track. We need to identify good research to inform practice, we need to get teachers more involved as researchers, we need to manage and distribute this research and knowledge better , ensuring that it is user friendly and can be applied  at   the chalk face-and we should refrain from  navel gazing.


Growth of output per head determines living standards and  innovation determines the growth of output per head. So, what determines innovation?

Innovation depends on creativity,  new insights and  entrepreneurship. It’s the entrepreneurs who are central to creating  jobs. But how do  we help create more entrepreneurs? Part of the answer must lie in the education system. And ,interestingly, part of the answer may lie  too with a broader role for government .

The current education model does little, if anything, to encourage creativity, innovation, new insights or entrepreneurship. With respect to students  such are the requirements and demands of the accountability and assessment frameworks, that the system incentivises conformity and teaching to the test. It doesn’t reward creativity and innovation. Politicians will tell you that here, in England  our autonomous schools system encourages schools to innovate to improve outcomes  and gives them the freedom to   dream up new approaches to personalizing education. But  there is slender  evidence that this is the case, across the system. Nor has there been  real efforts to  design reliable  metrics to examine the relationship between educational innovation and changes in educational outcomes.   And it fails to take into account two basic factors. Firstly, schools are not nearly as autonomous as politicians would like us to believe. They have to operate within a tight regulatory framework,; they often cant invest  resources in the way they would like, and  professionals operating within the system feel dis- empowered . Secondly, the accountability and assessment regimes and the inconsistencies and lack of predictability inherent in  these systems, can act as a straitjacket when it comes to enabling  creativity, innovation, new insights as well as in  the development of the  kind of non-cognitive skills that are valued by  society and employers.

Yong Zhao, a US academic at Oregon University , is among those who argue that globally (ie its not just our problem) creativity, entrepreneurship, and global competence are the new basic skills that will bring the “coming prosperity” to the world.  But that the educational paradigm has little or no  chance of preparing the talents and citizens we need in the 21st globalized century, We are neither generating  the  necessary jobs particularly for young people   nor filling the skills gaps  that are essential for sustained  economic growth and prosperity into the future.  So, we have to change the education model .

But, what about other policies outside education? .

Mariana Mazzucato, a Sussex university professor, says in her new book – Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs Private Sector Myth- that the state has an important role here. This is counter-intuitive. It’s the private sector that’s creative, risk taking and entrepreneurial, isn’t it?  However ,  Mazzucato  claims that the   entity that takes the boldest risks and achieves the biggest breakthroughs is not ,in fact,  the private sector, but  it is the State.

But how come the  bureaucratic  state has a role in fostering entrepreneurship?  One has to look at the nature of unpredictability, risks and rewards. The huge uncertainties,  long time scales  and costs associated with fundamental, science-based innovation are hugely significant . Private  sector companies, unless they are huge , (and its small and medium sized companies that dominate economies and provide the most employment),   cannot and will not bear these costs, partly because they cannot be sure to reap the returns,  and partly because the returns  may be very long term. Investors tend to seek shorter term returns and short-termism is endemic.

Mazzucato argues that the state  in fact has an  indispensable  role in  support of  both research and development but  also as  an active entrepreneur, taking risks and accepting some of the failures that inevitably follow.

What seems clear is that our education systems are far from efficient and are not doing enough to  help develop the range of skills in young people  needed in society and the job market. It is also the case that collaboration between the private and state sectors to get the best out of both is important but underdeveloped. I would also suggest that the public sector needs, if it has such an important enabling role in research and development and as an active entrepreneur, to focus more on the skills sets and competencies of its civil servants, not least in  better understanding project management,   understanding research and data  and in the workings  of the market. And there needs to be more attachments and engagement, both ways, between the sectors.



More than 50 UK university leaders  are currently   lobbying  European policymakers against possible cuts to research funding.The EU is considering plans to divert some research money to a more broadly based strategic investment fund. Universities across Europe say this would harm research and innovation.



Progress but Limitations too?

Dr Simon Walker, who heads the Centre for Human Ecology Theory,  warns us in a recent blog , about the  limitations of neuroscience when it comes to understanding the process of learning and in developing practical tools to help in the classroom.

Neuroscientists focus on the brain and its impact on behaviour and cognitive functions. It is  now  an interdisciplinary science which liaises  with ,and straddles other disciplines, such as mathematics, linguistics, engineering, computer science, chemistry, philosophy, psychology, and medicine. Behavioural neuroscience is, for example, the study of the biological bases of behaviour. Looking at how the brain affects behaviour. Cognitive neuroscience , on the other hand,  is  the study of higher cognitive functions that exist in humans, and their underlying neural bases. Neuroscience, is, it is claimed,  producing new insights  in the ongoing development and evaluation of new approaches to learning and development .

Dr Paul Howard-Jones, a reader in neuroscience and education at the Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol, says that understanding the nature of brain development has helped economists to challenge the idea that assumes we have an innate fixed ability. And research supports the idea that investment in learning improves our ability to learn more and emphasises the importance of considering when we invest, as well as what we invest in (Heckman 2000).  Our brains are certainly more ‘plastic’ when we are younger, but their connectivity, function and even structure can change dramatically in response to learning throughout our lives. This presents exciting possibilities.  Indeed researchers believe that   much of the building of our brains comes through the use of skills and experience, which can happen at any age.

Howard Jones’ work for CIPD is interesting and instructive  in this respect ( Fresh thinking in learning and development Parts 1-3- Neuroscience and learning- Feb 2014-CIPD) see link below

But Simon Walker urges caution when it comes to neuroscience. Sometimes the neuroscience itself has been bad science, he claims. ‘ More often, the application of the science by teachers has been bad practice. Neuroscience has that seductive appeal, the promise of unlocking the kernel of what learning actually is. But neuroscience does not and, indeed, cannot achieve that. Peering into the neural activity of thirty teenagers rampaging in science, lesson three Monday morning, is currently beyond the scope of the fMRI scanners. Teaching may draw on bits of hard neuroscience but in the end, classroom teaching is a social collective experience. Neuroscience does not adequately deal with collective cognitive affective phenomena. No, teaching is informed by studies inside the brain but it will never be fully described by them. Teaching is a live happening, a collective event,’ he says.

Although Walker has a point, he caricatures the  issue,   and   is probably too dismissive of the potential of neuroscience to  provide important insights into the learning process, and how best to prioritize resources . Its  an area of science that has seen massive progress over the last generation and the evidence it reveals will surely  play an increasingly important role in informing policy development and at least  some classroom practice

Blog-Simon Walker

Fresh thinking in learning and development Parts 1-3- Neuroscience and learning- Feb 2014-CIPD


Marcus du Sautoy has done more than most to make mathematics more accessible to young people .

To some   students maths is an unpenetrable  language   that gets lost in translation. But  Du Sautoy is full of ideas as to how to make maths  both more interesting and  more immersive.

Take his story of the North American Cicadas:

It goes as follows- One type of Cicada   ‘only appears every seventeen years, another every thirteen, but none at twelve, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen or eighteen years. They’ve evolved prime number life cycles. Why? Because that way they’re less likely to come across predators that also appear periodically in the forest.

‘This story can be brought to life with children through drama, by making numbers from one to one hundred in the classroom and getting children to play the cicadas or the predator. As you go through the hundred years with the cicadas appearing, say, every nine years and the predator every six years, you’ll find they coincide every eighteen years. Each time they meet, the predator gets to choose one of the cicadas to eat. But change the cycle so the predators are appearing every six years and the cicadas appearing every seven years, and they don’t coincide until year forty two.’

Du Sautoy   points out that ‘Through this game children are exploring a real scientific example. It’s basic mathematics, nothing beyond the multiplication table, but because it’s a good story it embeds in the memory’

Developing illustrative  narratives like this  makes the task of teaching maths to young people  just  that  little bit easier.






Young people’s mental health forces its way onto the political agenda

Times launches a campaign


To some, teenage mental healthcare is one of the most neglected corners of the health service despite evidence of what a Times Leader recently referred to as ‘a mental illness epidemic among young people.’

Official data shows that a record number of youngsters are being admitted to hospital for self-harm, eating disorders, depression and other psychological disorders. Emergency admissions for psychiatric conditions soared to 17,278 last year, double the number four years ago. There were 15,668 admissions of young women aged 15 to 19 for cutting, burning or harming themselves, compared with 9,255 admissions in 2004.

However, the  last full study of the state of teenage mental health was published in 2004.

The Times, which has launched a campaign calling for action, believes that part of the increase in self-harm is’ a result of better reporting as the stigma attached to mental illness slowly fades. Yet much of it must be attributed to the fast-changing culture in which teenagers grow up, vulnerable to cyberbullying and living in the distorting mirror of social media.

In response to the crisis, The Times on 12 March launched a manifesto written by Tanya Byron, the leading clinical psychologist and government adviser, and three other experts in the specialty, representing the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Great Ormond Street Hospital and the Young Minds charity.

It called for:

  • A “state-of-the-nation” study to be carried out immediately to update statistics that professionals have to use, which are now 11 years old.
  • An urgent revival of early intervention services in schools and communities to prevent children from being forced to wait until their conditions are life-threatening before getting help.
  • Investment in emergency beds to end the scandal of children being held in police cells, on adult psychiatric wards or being sent across the country in the midst of a crisis.
  • The 18-week waiting time for non-urgent physical health treatment to be extended to cover non-urgent children’s mental health.

Professor Byron called the manifesto “a blueprint for urgent change”.

A  big challenge is that there is not a joined up approach to the issue of young people’s mental health . A silo mentality  has existed  which sees the issue straddling  several  government departments and agencies – Health  (Social Services) Justice   and Education. GPs, Health visitors, Sure Start Children’s Centres, schools,-school health services including school nurses, colleges, primary care and youth centres, and the Secure Estate(Youth Justice) all have a part to play in not only identifying problems and providing support, but in helping to address the stigma attached to mental health and the discrimination and prejudice encountered by those with mental health issues.

A report, out  last month,  from the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Taskforce  -Future in mind – promoting, protecting and improving our children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing’  recommends a complete overhaul of mental health services and makes a number of proposals the government wishes to see by 2020. These include:

A comprehensive set of waiting-time targets for services

The launch of a hard-hitting anti-stigma campaign

One-stop shop services in the community to direct young people to places that can help

Continued support throughout teenage years and into the early 20s to avoid the “cliff-edge of lost support” at 18

Greater use of online tools and apps to encourage self-help

Improved care as close to home as possible for children and young people in crisis

Extra training for GPs and other who work with children, such as staff in schools

The report sets out how much of this can be achieved through better working between the NHS, local authorities, voluntary and community services, schools and other local services. It also makes it clear that many of these changes can be achieved by working differently, rather than needing significant investment.

Rewinding a bit-to   January 2015 – a survey of headteachers, the first of its kind, found significant gaps in the “critical” treatment of their pupils’ mental health needs.

The survey, conducted by the liberal  Centre Forum think tank’s mental health commission, found that head teachers at more than half of schools in England believe the referral system for sending their pupils to child and adolescent mental health services (Camhs) is not working. Experts say it is vital to identify pupils who need support with mental health issues early on.

“The results of this survey suggest schools and young people are often let down and left to fend for themselves,” said Paul Burstow MP, chair of the commission, who warned that, on average, about three children in every classroom would experience mental health problems. “With a price tag of up to £60,000 per child per year, the life-long impact of mental illness on young people and their families is something we can’t afford to ignore.”

Demand for mental health services among the young is increasing. Economic pressures, parental separation and the impact of social media are all cited by headteachers as factors behind the rise in behavioural and emotional problems among pupils.

But when schools in England do refer pupils to mental health services because their needs are considered too complex to be managed “inhouse”, more than half, 54%, report that the referral system is ineffective.

The findings confirm concerns raised in the commission’s final report, published earlier this year, which concluded: “Schools cannot be expected to do it all, yet many head teachers are feeling unsupported by Camhs. It appears the relationship betweeen schools and Camhs is flawed in some areas or the country in terms of access, communication and follow up.”

The Commission’s final report titled ‘The pursuit of happiness‘ calls on policymakers to:

  • Establish the mental wellbeing of the nation or the “pursuit of happiness” as a clear and measurable goal of government.
  • Roll out a National Wellbeing Programme to promote mutual support, self-care and recovery, and reduce the crippling stigma that too often goes hand in hand with mental ill health.
  • Prioritise investment in the mental health of children and young people right from conception.
  • Make places of work mental health friendly with government leading the way as an employer.
  • Better equip primary care to identify and treat mental health problems, closing the treatment gap that leaves one in four of the adult population needlessly suffering from depression and anxiety and 1-2% experiencing a severe mental illness such as schizophrenia.

It is hard not to conclude that desperately vulnerable teenagers are falling through the gaps of a system ill-equipped to offer treatment that could prepare them for a full and healthy life. There is also a big challenge across the board in altering people’s perceptions about mental health, and education and information will play an important role in addressing this challenge.

Interestingly, at the end of last year I was asked by a client to predict what might be of shared concern to politicians post May.  In short what were the priority consensus issues .Mental Health was not on the agenda, or at least not high on the agenda. It is now. It is being given added momentum by the Times campaign. Nick Cleggs most recent speech makes very specific mention not only of concern but a firm pledge on resourcing (the Lib Dems to their credit have taken this issue on board in much the same way they did-the Pupil Premium)

“I have announced that we will be putting an extra one and a quarter billion pounds over the next five years into mental health services for children and young people…”said Clegg

It is also important also  to note that character education is  on the agenda which embraces the idea of promoting resilience in children, pushing positive thinking(the happiness agenda)  the use of meditation and reflection, while  promoting  well-being, all of which are thought to impact on children’s mental health and the   alleviation of  stress  .  The work of Professor Richard Layard   and that of Professor James  Arthur of the Jubilee Centre,  is instructive in this respect. Sir Anthony Seldon has done more  than any other Head to focus  policy makers on these issues, and back in  September 2006, launched  a course in happiness and well-being for  Wellington Colleges’ 4th and 5th Forms .

The Department for Education is now leading work to help schools ensure more pupils develop the character traits, attributes and behaviours, which, alongside academic achievement, underpin future success.

Ironically, of course, much pressure on children is thought to come from exams and, testing and the requirements of the accountability framework. A new education movement-Slow Education- has recently been spawned ,which sees the pace of everyday life and endless target’s and the  test driven , ‘factory schools’  system   as not conducive to good education and learning, and seeks to reduce pressure on children to allow them more time to understand what they are being tested on. It aims to establish a culture of deeper learning, so not just frenetic knowledge driven learning ,that  tests short term memory, rather than real in-depth  understanding.

Some experts say that exam stress, social media, bullying and the pressure to look slim and attractive are combining to make children’s lives unmanageable.

So that is the nature of the  problem. Addressing it strategically, in a joined up way, though, is a huge challenge. Any issue that straddles government departments and agencies and requires a multi-disciplinary approach   have big  barriers to overcome and  need clever management  .  And it is as much an issue of leadership and capacity as it is of resources. Schools, of course, already have much on their plates,   so giving  them   even more  to cope with has its own challenges, at a time when there are moves to reduce teachers workload.(and their stress)

But at least politicians have the issue on their agenda now, which is likely to continue  well into the next Parliament.

Report of the work of the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Taskforce.

Future in mind Promoting, protecting and improving our children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing-March 2015


Note 1

In addition, International Studies suggest that our children, in terms of happiness and well- being ,are not doing as well as they might be in comparative terms. A UNICEF report of 2014 on Well Being places the UK 16th out of 29 countries.  A Children Society  2012 survey found that  while most children are happy with their lives as a whole, around one in 11 (9%) are  not. This amounts to half a million children in the UK aged eight to 15 who have low well-being at any given time.


Note 2

The government is also committing £14 million over two years to invest in an Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre (AWRC) in Sheffield, which will be a world-leading research centre to design, develop and implement physical activity interventions and productsto improve wellbeing. The AWRC will form part of Sheffield’s Olympic Legacy Park and is due to open in 2016.(Budget Announcement 2015)


Quality assurance and professional standards key

Schools will need to demonstrate that they provide a high quality and impartial service.

It seems that the constructive engagement of some of the best professionals in the IAG sector with officials at  the DFE, along with a change of Secretary of State, has served to shift the policy  ground on careers guidance in schools. It may have some way to go but progress is being made.  Michael Gove famously instructed his Permanent Secretary to ensure that officials stop sending him and his advisers submissions on the urgent need to  reform IAG in schools. Officials were reassigned away from careers guidance. It was assuredly  not a policy priority.  Nicky Morgan, who replaced Gove,   was advised   by the Select Committee Chair, Graham Stuart, to take another close look at Careers guidance in schools ,which  by common consent  is rated as patchy and fragmented . She appears to have heeded his advice, although there is still some way to go .Ministers still seem to  place rather too much faith in the idea that all that is really needed is for employers to engage more  directly with schools and for work experience to improve . This is an important part of the equation, but it is only part of it.  Good, face to face advice from a qualified, independent professional will always be an essential element of  the IAG offer , and is  particularly important  for the most disadvantaged.

It is  much too  early  to say whether the new independent  careers and enterprise company  ,established to broker relationships and  to break down barriers , between the key stakeholders will have a transformative effect. It aims, of course,  not just to break down barriers but  to  help schools choose professional advisers.

There has though, clearly  been a  real effort to focus on quality assurance in the new revised statutory guidance, see link below (previous guidance was seen as too weak in this area).

Schools will not be allowed to simply designate a teacher without the necessary recognised professional qualifications to provide careers advice and guidance. Here below an extract:

Evaluation and monitoring of advice and guidance

Quality assurance and feedback

  1. In developing careers provision for pupils, there are currently three aspects of quality assurance that schools should take into consideration:
  • The quality of the school careers programme. The Government recommends that all schools should work towards a quality award for careers education, information, advice and guidance as an effective means of carrying out a self-review and evaluation of the school’s programme. The national validation, the Quality in Careers Standard, will assist schools to determine an appropriate quality award to pursue. There are currently twelve quality awards that are recognised as meeting the Quality in Careers Standard.
  • The quality of independent careers providers.The recognised national quality standard for information, advice and guidance (IAG) services is the matrix Standard. To achieve the Standard, organisations will need to demonstrate that they provide a high quality and impartial service. Schools can access an online register of organisations accredited to the matrix Standard.
  • The quality of careers professionals working with the school. The Career Development Institute has developed a set of professional standards for careers advisers, a register of advisers holding postgraduate qualifications and guidelines on how advisers can develop their own skills and gain higher qualifications. The main qualifications for careers professionals are the Qualification in Career Guidance (QCG) (which replaced the earlier Diploma in Careers Guidance) and the Level 6 Diploma in Career Guidance and Development. Schools can view a register of careers professionals or search for a career development professional who can deliver a particular service or activity.


Careers England, the Quality in Careers Consortium and the CDI deserve some credit for their persistence in seeking to secure these important changes. And in ensuring that they developed a clear set of professional standards.

A national data base will operate from 15 October making available a full range of post-16 options and opportunities.


Ps David Harbourne ,who heads research at the Edge Foundation, which has been critical of the quality and scope of careers advice in schools,  noted that the new guidance rather too often says “should” rather than “must”


Careers guidance and inspiration in schools

Statutory guidance for governing bodies, school leaders and school staff- March 2015


Exam Boards intending to drop some languages 

But if they are so important to the government shouldn’t they subsidise them ?

A brief Commons debate this week (24 March) reminded us that a number of exam bodies have decided to pull out of teaching GCSE and A-Level for what is termed ‘lesser-taught’ modern languages.

It seems that from 2016 or 2017 we will lose a large number lesser-known languages. These include Arabic, modern Greek, Japanese, Urdu, Bengali, modern Hebrew, Punjabi, Polish, Dutch, Persian, Gujarati and Turkish. The decision by exam bodies has been made on the grounds of low uptake and/or financial viability

A report by the CBI published in 2014 found that 65% of businesses say they value foreign language skills, most importantly for building relations with overseas customers and overseas suppliers.

Minister Nick Gibb confirmed that “some exam boards have announced their intention to discontinue their qualifications in some languages. Those decisions appear to have been driven more by short-term commercial interests than by a robust analysis of the language skills our economy will clearly require in the future.”

We have a particularly poor record in this country when it comes to learning the main foreign languages, let alone ‘the lesser known languages’. The Government through its Ebacc and other  measures has sought to address the challenge of protecting the main modern languages, but this measure doesn’t much help the lesser ones.   Language learning is facing a ‘difficult climate’ in schools as take up at GCSE and A-Level remain low, according to a recent  report from the CfBT Education Trust and the British Council,  while attracting enough pupils to study a language post-16 is seen as the ‘most widespread challenge’ for language teachers’.

Its an interesting point made by Gibb about the skills requirements of the economy but since when have exam boards been responsible for analysing the language skills our economy will require in the future? They react to demand, and incentives, and are currently not incentivised to protect  these lesser taught languages .You can provide incentives either through the accountability framework or through financial rewards.

Exam boards have to make decisions that are commercially sound. Take Turkish, an example used by Gibb. Turkish GCSE attracted only 1,403 entries last year, and for the Turkish A-level there were only 354 entries. How does it make commercial sense to continue with these qualifications? Polish was mentioned several times in this debate. In 2013/14, the number of pupils at the end of Key Stage 4 attempting GCSE Polish was 3,321. In 2013/14,  700 students were entered for an A-level examination in Polish.

Gibb has promised to raise the issue with the Heads of  the exam boards and invite them “to consider their positions “and ,rather grandly,  added ,with all the gravitas he could muster ,that he wanted  the  boards “ to subordinate what I believe to be a commercial calculation to the far more significant long-term economic and cultural considerations for this country.” The latter is his job. And if he and the government think it so important they should provide the incentives rather than insist that the exam boards take a hit.

Gibb, at an early  point in the debate,  suggested that “compensation” (ie some form of subsidy) might be an option .   suggesting he  would address this issue  later  on in the debate ,but then never did.