Deliverology little more than top down command and control damaging Education, according to Professor Seddon

Whats the case?


Professor Michael Barber seems to be everywhere and much in demand. The Daily Mail tells us that he is currently charging the DFID (who manage our aid to developing countries) £4,400 a day for consultancy advice.  (The  Department  has not had to   suffer  the 20% cuts inflicted on most other Departments , meaning DFID is  relatively flush).   Recently the head of McKinsey’s Global Education Practice, where he impressed, he  is  providing education advice to Pearson Education (amongst others it transpires).

Previously Barber had made his mark in the public sector. He is a former teacher, academic (Institute of Education),Civil servant, Trade union official, and local authority man (Hackney). Back in 1997, when David Blunkett became education secretary, Barber was appointed head of the School Standards Unit, and the two of them drove forward, with considerable determination the Literacy Strategy, targeted initially at Primary schools. This was regarded at the time as a success, certainly in the initial  phase.  He went on to head the Prime Ministers (Blair) Delivery Unit in 2001 with overall responsibility for driving through public sector reforms.

He is highly regarded in both the public and private sectors. Indeed, Michael Gove, the Education Secretary asked him to be Permanent Secretary at DFE only last year, an offer he obviously declined.  He also advised Joel Klein who reformed New York schools.

Barber invented the term deliverology and gave an account of how he approached public service reforms in his book ‘Instruction to Deliver’ (2007).  His theories were central to informing Blairs public sector reforms. His power point presentations and performance  graphs were legendary, setting targets and evaluating departments  performance against  set  targets and milestones. Professor Barbers definition of deliverology is ‘ a systematic process  through which system leaders can drive progress and  deliver results’. In short, command and control. It was a top down, interventionist approach.  Governments, said Barber, face a productivity challenge; people want better services but don’t want to pay higher taxes. To meet the challenge, he went on, three management models have emerged: command and control, quasi-markets, and devolution and transparency.

Command and control, he suggested, ‘is often essential for a service which needs to improve from awful to adequate’. Its not effective, though,  for the next phase-adequate to good- where a more devolved approach is required.  In support of his argument, Barber cited literacy and numeracy in schools and waiting times for healthcare. The aim was to recognise that public services, while different from businesses in being universal and equitable, remained essentially similar in management terms. Barber said that that public service professionals need to have the mindset and capability, not just to lead radical change but to manage transformed services.

Blair set up the PMDU to drive through public-sector reform in the face of perceived civil service obstruction and inertia. It was based in his office, reporting directly to him. He gave its leadership to Barber It wasn’t easy.  By 2001/02 – ‘ the system’, in Barbers words , ‘which had worked so well between 1997-2000 had lost its edge at every level’ . Barber tells us that by October 2001 – so two years in – the position was poor. It was decided that a harder push was needed; individuals were to be held more accountable.  But by the end of 2002, at the time of the third round of delivery reports, progress was no better than mixed. 2003, was not much different.  Even one of the perceived successes,   the Literacy strategy, was under attack. Durham University’s Peter Tymms challenged the statistical basis behind the perceived success of the literacy strategy. Tymms concluded that the statistical procedures behind the startling results on which Barber had built his reputation for delivery were faulty. When the statistical error was corrected the results flattened out .He attributed most   improvements to the teachers ‘teaching to the test’

The Barber  top down approach was basically -tell mangers whats required, give them clear targets,  ensure accountability  and the delivery chain works and there are no weak links , then measure   monitor and evaluate, checking against clear milestones. And be prepared to intervene when things are going wrong (which, of course, they do, frequently)

The problem was twofold. First, the reform strategy to begin with, and indeed for some time, showed no measurable results, and politicians operate  remember ,with a four year horizon. When positive results began to show, they were hardly stellar .And, even when measurable results were available, later on, it transpired that given that billions had been invested in public sector reforms ,the return on investment was seen as, at best, marginal. Indeed some argued that some services had actually got worse. Few believe that the billions spent, delivered acceptable returns. Barber himself  says  the reforms  should be judged as a move from “awful” to “adequate” rather than from “good” to “great” And the reason for this modest change is clearly not inadequate expenditure.

This has led one critic, Professor John Seddon, to describe Barbers deliverology theory as ‘Mickey Mouse Command and control’ . Professor John Seddon in a lecture to academics at California State University claimed that the billions on public sector reform were in fact wasted. (CSU didn’t quite get Barber). Public services have not improved and the problem was actually Barbers approach. Deliverology made matters worse,  according to Seddon .In education,   the target setting  culture  has meant that our children   are taught to  the test and are not being properly educated.  Children are now asking their teachers, he said, will I be tested on that? So, anything that doesn’t contribute to test results is being discarded or knocked off the agenda.  Indeed, anything that cant be measured easily is now  regarded as a second order priority. So a broader education and learning experience suffers. Seddon, of course, is not the only critic of teaching to the test and the effects of the target culture on the  childrens learning experience. Many Heads see their main job as ensuring that as many pupils as possible pass  the benchmark tests,  whether it’s the key stage tests or securing good grades at GCSE and A level, securing  good league table positions.  Offering a broad education and nurturing those with real ability is not on their agenda.

A lack of improvement from this top down approach to reform is explained away according to Seddon in two ways. A failure to meet targets could mean that the targets were wrong. Or managers were not putting in enough effort, or failing to understand exactly what was required of them. Seddon defined deliverology as  ‘ a top down method by which you distort a system, undermine achievement of purpose and demoralise people’.
Seddon says that ‘Barber believes that the only way to achieve better services is through more resources.  This thinking around productivity as the challenge is misguided and wrong.  It was W. Edwards Deming that found the better way is to improve quality if you want better productivity.’

Seddon adds that  the problem with target setting is that ‘all targets are arbitrary and worse they become the defacto purpose of the organization.’   In education, the target has been to score high on tests, and so naturally the teachers purpose is to teach to the test.  The real purpose should, he points out,  be  to support learning.

Barber, Seddon claims, ‘believes that creating a bureaucracy for reporting and measurement is the same as real improvement.’  Concluding that Barbers regime ‘fostered compliance rather than experimentation ‘

Seddon expands ‘ In the latter days of Barber’s reign, the deliverology regime shifted the emphasis from top-down command and control to what was called ‘sustainable improvement, driven by the pressure of customers’ ie the second phase in reform. But to some it wasn’t  at all clear that the first phase had delivered-ie getting services from awful to adequate.

For Blair the shift was a new vision of reform, involving higher standards of performance through greater customer responsiveness. The tailoring and personalisation of services, built around customers, not producers. So, in short, a bottom up approach.  To some this meant that the top down approach hadn’t worked, reinforced by the fact that the Delivery Unit was disbanded

Seddon writes ‘ Barber’s de facto method is to create a bureaucracy for measuring and reporting that then deludes people into assuming improvements are real; his strategies for ‘unleashing’ only unleashed diseased and dysfunctional bureaucracies. ‘

The attraction of Barber is that he is a plausible and articulate advocate with broadly based experience.  So he ticks the boxes when it comes to top level experience and understanding how national and local government work. He knows how  to use data and the importance of research and what levers to pull  .But it strikes me that deliverology adds up to little more than sound project management and  it  hardly represents a new departure or  original management thinking . ie Focus, Plan, Have method ,Monitor and evaluate, and  Communicate.

Barber, to my mind, is rightly praised for getting the Literacy Strategy off the ground  with some momentum behind it and ensuring a long overdue, proper focus on the bedrocks of  literacy and numeracy in our primary schools. I have heard him speak and was impressed-he is a man   untroubled by even a scintilla of self-doubt, unlike most with an academic background.  But he surely cannot escape criticism for the failure to convince the public that there had been a revolution in public service delivery under the  Blair government. Indeed, there is no evidence that productivity improved in education over the period 1999-2006. Barber said ,remember that public sector productivity ‘is now the central issue of domestic politics’. According to the ONS ‘Productivity of publicly-funded education is estimated by dividing annual figures for output from education (taking account of quality) by inputs to education (after making an allowance for pay and price increases) (ONS 2007’) On this basis although between 1996 and 1999, productivity of publicly-funded education services increased on average by 2.1 per cent a year; from 1999 onwards, productivity fell on average by 0.7 per cent a year until 2007. In other words it fell throughout the period Barber was in charge of delivery, and at a time moreover when there was unprecedented investment in public services. It is not straightforward measuring productivity in the public sector, of course, although we lay claim to measuring it better than others, but the figures nevertheless raise some legitimate questions about the effectiveness of the reforms.  As for the target setting culture, which is a major legacy of Barber -well there are plenty of critics who say there are as many cons as there are pros to this approach. And we know that target setting can have bizarre and unintended consequences. For instance, teachers and local authorities focus most of their effort and resources on pupils at the C/D grade boundary at GCSE, to the cost of other more able pupils.

How many people believe that a childs learning experience is much better now than it was, say, in the late 1990s? Test results, of course, are better but test results were on an improvement curve even before 1997, as the Reform think tank has pointed out,   and, of course, improving test results tell us next to nothing about pupils learning experiences or whether our children are actually being well educated.

Professor Barber deserves much respect given his record of public service. But we seem to be still left, despite his best efforts, with public services that are  stubbornly  resistant to change, unresponsive to shifts in demand and  whose productivity never seems to measurably improve.  And now we no longer have the levels of investment in public services that Barber enjoyed when he was head of  Blairs delivery.

Barber perhaps demonstrated the limits of central government intervention. We have got to find ways of getting more from less and  the big issue now is how to achieve this. Certainly improving public sector productivity and public value is important , but this has to be accompanied by supply side reforms which  better harness  private sector resources and capital, with taxpayers money now  in  such short supply.

Professor Seddon is visiting professor at Cardiff, Derby and Hull Universities and Managing Director of Vanguard Consulting.

ONS  Public Service Productivity;Summary; Education 2007




Too few women in science engineering and technology

Report seeks answers as to why, and explores solutions


Despite considerable effort and a raft of initiatives, progress remains slow  in raising the percentage of women working in science, engineering and technology(SET). In 2008 women accounted for 12.3% of all employees in SET occupations, up from 10.3%  in 2003, but this compares with 45.1% of women in the workforce overall. This set of essays, published by the Smith Institute, seeks to  explore  the reasons why this remains the case.  The Smith Institute is a centre left think tank which sees social Justice and economic efficiency as two sides of the same coin.

Edited by Meg Munn MP, the publication  includes contributions from (interalia) Sandi Rhys Jones OBE, Sue Ferns, Head of Research and Specialist Services at Prospect, Professor Athene Donald, DBE FRS, Director of the Women in Science, Engineering and Technology Initiative at Cambridge University and  Chair of the Athena Forum and Dr Deidre Hughes,  Immediate Past President of ICG and Associate Fellow  at Warwick Institute for Employment Research. Dr Hughes topic is ‘A new era for careers – choices and consequences’

The mechanisms for change within business to recruit and retain more women in science enginnering and technology are well known. Flexible working, mentoring, role models, transparency of pay, and structured career paths (with breaks) are consistently proposed. But the prevailing workplace culture  and stereotypical   perceptions among some teachers and  sadly  some careers advisers too, have   meant that women are often reluctant to explore   opportunities in STEM.

Dr Hughes says that ‘Ofsted has recently reported that girls are receiving weak information about careers, making it difficult for them to make informed choices about courses. It highlights that most examples of work placements for young women collected from school records were stereotypical experiences. It also found that most of the schools were not doing enough to promote confidence and ambition in girls or encouraging them to challenge vocational stereotypes. In general, girls aged 11 to 14 had limited knowledge and understanding of how choices about courses and careers influenced pay and progression.’

Hughes is concerned too that on-going Government reforms will do nothing to reduce gender stereotyping. She writes ‘There is great concern that the Coalition’s current education legislation proposes  to remove the secretary of state’s direction-making powers regarding local authority  services in England and to place a duty directly on schools requiring them to secure  access to independent careers advice. Thus pupils would be reliant on the quality of advice secured by individual schools. With fewer young women choosing STEM subjects, and by  not encouraging young women through careers education and guidance interventions,  there could be further gender stereotyping in education, with resultant occupational  segregation in the workplace.’

Hughes concludes ‘Teachers are well placed in local communities but their skills and experience in providing careers support is generally very limited. The demise of the Connexions services  has exacerbated the issue of young people’s access to high-quality and impartial careers  guidance. A lack of ring-fenced funding in educational institutions for careers provision is a major concern. While this period of uncertainty remains, professionals will have to  find a way of managing this. Embedding STEM, labour market information and ICT within  both initial work-based and off-the-job training must be achieved at low cost. However, there is a high cost for individuals, particularly for families and communities and for the national economy, of ill-informed career decisions. Inspiring girls and women to visualise and experience future possibilities in STEM has to be up there as a major priority’.

Unlocking potential –perspectives on women in science, engineering and  technology;Smith Institute 2011




Hughes champions need  for  face to face  Careers guidance 

And demands clarity on transitional arrangements


Simon Hughes was appointed as the Advocate for Access to Education by the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister in December 2010 and was asked to report on how to promote access to further and higher education.  He said in his report published  last week that all schools in England should channel university scholarships to their poorest pupils.  Linking scholarships directly to schools and colleges would motivate children, he said.  And this would end the situation where some schools sent no pupils to university. He had been among those warning that poorer pupils could be put off from applying to university by the trebling of the cap on tuition fees. From 2012, universities in England will be able to charge up to £9,000 a year for undergraduate courses. In his report called Advocate for Higher Education, Hughes said his most important suggestion was that scholarships should be offered through schools. Under the planned National Scholarship Programme, starting in 2012, students from poorer homes (with an income of less than £25,000 a year) will be eligible for annual awards of about £3,000 – and the current plan is for these to be allocated through universities. Mr Hughes said poor youngsters should be told about the scholarships at 15 and would then apply for the funding – and university – a year or two later.

The report includes thirty recommendations.

Hughes is strongly  critical of  his own  Governments careers policy.

He stresses the importance of professional Careers Advice and expresses real concerns that current government policy does not support the giving of face to face careers advice and that students will suffer because of this.

He writes ‘ At the age of 13 and 14 (in English schools year nine), every student should have  made available to them information on all future pathways through education to  employment, including clear information about which types of careers different  educational  choices can lead to. The information should take the form of a full guide to the types of qualification required to reach the next stage in their education or  career. The guide should not just focus on the professions or higher education; it should detail the opportunities and benefits of further education, higher education, apprenticeships, training and employment after school-leaving age. Most importantly, it should also detail the costs and financing arrangements available for all routes of apprenticeship, training and study. The guide should also contain a list of independent resources available to young people to help them with their decisions.’ He continues ‘ The government should act urgently to guarantee face to face careers advice for all  young people in schools. Government should also guarantee careers information, advice and guidance up to 17 and then 18 in line with the increase in the compulsory schooling age.’

He concludes ‘  The government should urgently publish a plan of how it intends to maintain the  expertise of current careers professionals between the closures of local authority  careers services in 2011 and the beginning of the all age careers service in 2012’

Significantly, in a not so  veiled criticism of his own governments policy, Hughes wrote ‘However, there is a very widespread view among most past and present school students  who I spoke to around the country that young people overwhelmingly value receiving  careers information, advice and guidance from another person – in person. Current  government plans do not guarantee this and so there is in addition very serious and  widespread concern that students will suffer accordingly. There is also considerable concern  in schools and colleges, among young people, teachers and career professionals that the  new system will not provide the comprehensive service needed in time for those needing  professional help with career choices in 2011-12.’

Government proposals in the Education Bill, currently in the Lords, envisage schools being given a clear duty ‘to secure access to independent and impartial careers guidance for pupils in years 9 to 11’. This includes information on the full range of 16-18 education and training options. (Clauses  26 and 27)

However, no extra money is being earmarked for this service. The type of advice offered ie web based, telephone or face to face is not stipulated, but given that face to face advice is the costlier option, it is likely that most schools will opt for web based advice. Disadvantaged pupils are thought to benefit most from face to face advice.   Currently careers advice is patchy in schools and with Connexions services being dramatically cut, there is limited availability of professional guidance, through these local services, which ,in any case, vary in quality between local authorities. The government intends to consult on extending the duty to students up to the age of 18 in schools and in colleges in due course. Currently there is considerable confusion over transitional arrangements for providing advice to young people reflected in the Governments  hurried decision to hold a Careers Summit last week to discuss transitional arrangements and the challenges faced by those offering guidance and careers advice

The Commons Education Select Committee  in their  report  ‘Participation by 16-19 Year olds  released last  week said:

‘Online career guidance, which allows young people to explore at their own pace and according to their own interests, is valuable; and we heard praise for the online careers services offered by DirectGov. However, this is no substitute for personal advice, given on the basis of an understanding of a young person’s circumstances and ambitions. We recommend that the all age careers service should be funded by the Department for Education for face to face career guidance for young people.’


Note: There is centrally funded face to face guidance for adults through DBIS but no centrally funded guidance for young people through DfE. Careers guidance will be funded from schools  budgets. Few doubt that this will mean schools opting for the  least costly option-advice through a web portal. A Careers adviser in Great Yarmouth told BBC news on 27 July ” “a  web site  can give you information, that’s if you can find the web site,   but it  cant have a conversation with you and  it cant start to unpick  all the other stuff that is going on  in your life that may be impacting on  the decisions that  you make”.

It seems likely that the most disadvantaged pupils will suffer most from the lack of face to face advice.

Report to the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister  from the Advocate for Access to Education  ‘The Hughes Report’; July 2011




Possibly not

Thumbs down from New York at least


There has been a long running debate over whether or not employee bonuses work in incentivising individuals to improve their productivity and performance. It is often the case, and this includes in teaching, that it is difficult to disaggregate the work and efforts of one employee from that of others. When measuring outcomes, how do you fairly separate and distinguish the efforts of one individual from that of the broader team, and how much weight do you attach to the effects of collaboration and mutual support within the team? As far as schools are concerned the whole process can, it is thought by some school leaders, undermine collaboration between teachers and the teamwork  central to the work of school staff.  So there are some grounds, conceptually, for doubting the effectiveness of bonuses, and also some research that leads one to question whether bonuses have any link to improved performance. In the workplace bonuses, more often than not, are regarded now as part of the yearly remuneration package, as distinct from a specific reward for outstanding work over and above the call of duty and what might normally be expected from an employee. In the States reformers have focused on bonuses as a means of raising teachers and students performance although measuring teachers performance and how you do it to ensure fairness is   itself a contentious issue.   In the 2007–2008 school year, the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) and the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) implemented a pay-for-performance program called the Schoolwide Performance Bonus Program (SPBP). Although most school districts in the US  continue to tie educator pay to  years of service and education level, many states, districts, and schools  in recent years have experimented with alternative compensation systems that include not only performance-based pay but also bonus pay  for acquiring new knowledge and skills, teaching particular subject  areas, and working in hard-to-staff schools. The New York Times reported this week that a New York City programme that distributed $56 million in performance bonuses to teachers and other school staff members over the last three years will be permanently discontinued. The decision was made in light of a study that found the bonuses had no positive effect on either student performance or teachers’ attitudes toward their jobs.  The NYT writes  ‘The study, commissioned by the city, is to be published Monday by the RAND Corporation, the public policy research institution. It compared the performance of the approximately 200 city schools that participated in the bonus program with that of a control group of schools. Weighing surveys, interviews and statistics, the study found that the bonus program had no effect on students’ test scores, on grades on the city’s controversial A to F school report cards, or on the way teachers did their jobs.’  “We did not find improvements in student achievement at any of the grade levels,” said Julie A. Marsh, the report’s lead researcher and a visiting professor at the University of Southern California. “A lot of the principals and teachers saw the bonuses as a recognition and reward, as icing on the cake. But it’s not necessarily something that motivated them to change.” The Rand Report, in its Summary, states ‘Past research has found mixed evidence of the motivational effects of  school-based bonus programs and has indicated that motivation is often  mediated by perceptions of fairness and the size of the bonus. Research is also inconclusive about the effects performance-based incentives have on staff collaboration, while some of the broader accountability literature suggests that there are some potential desirable and undesirable effects on classroom practices. There is also limited and mixed research evidence on how these programs affect student achievement.’

The book Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths And Total Nonsense: Profiting From Evidence-Based Management ; Harvard Business School Press; by  Jeff Pfeffer  and John Sutton  debunked a few  management myths and reviewed the extensive literature on the links between incentives and teacher performance. It turns out that although there always have been people with great faith in pay for performance systems for teachers — going back to at least 1918 — careful studies show over and over again that they do not improve student performance. It doesn’t stop people though re-launching the idea from time to time, claiming its new, and finding out along the way that it doesn’t work (again)

Rand Corporation; A Big Apple for Educators New York City’s Experiment with Schoolwide Performance Bonuses: Final Evaluation Report



Sir Ken Robinson says we need a new Paradigm

Stop  factory-style standardisation, encourage divergent thinking


 Sir Ken Robinson says that education reforms throughout the world are problematic as the systems of education are largely the product of the enlightenment,  and therefore  the needs of a classical academic education . Two reasons countries want to reform education are – to meet the economic challenges of the 21st Century.  And secondly   cultural, that is retaining a sense of distinctive cultural identity at a time of rapid change and   globalisation.  But in the process we are alienating and boring  our  children, because  reforms are informed by the past rather, than looking to the future. They are conceived, in fact, for the requirements of a very different age.   So the result is that education systems are organised still like a factory system. They are modelled in the interests of industrialism and cast in the image of industrialism, motivated by a production line mentality and standardisation, with standardised tests, curriculum etc.  The most important data  in this system is a child’s  date of birth,  so their date of manufacture. Put children through in age groups, in batches, by date of manufacture and standardise everything. Yet children learn at different paces and  in different ways. But we educate them  regardless, in  these  batches. Divergent thinking in children  is essential. But we just don’t support it in schools. Education doesn’t support divergent thinking, it prefers conformity.    Divergent thinking is the capacity to think laterally, to find multiple answers to questions .Teachers encourage the idea that there is just one right answer. Creativity is the capacity to think original ideas that have value and that comes as a product of divergent thinking. He claims, perhaps most controversially, that ADHT is a fictitious epidemic.  Our children are living in the most intensely stimulating period in history, besieged by stimuli that distract them but we penalise them for being distracted-we want them to conform instead, to keep them bored , so we  anesthetise them rather than release and harness  their energy.  He talks of aesthetic experience where your senses are alive. Instead, children are being medicated as routinely as we used to remove children’s tonsils. ADHT, he points out, has risen in line with standardised testing. We should wake up our children to what is inside them.

His conclusion is that we have to break the mould and completely re-think and reshape  education reform.  To paraphrase ,education systems knock the creativity out of children and he used the example of a paper  clip to illustrate this. A longitudinal study found that the younger children are, the more likely they  are  to come up with creative ideas about possible uses for a  paper clip, so, over time, divergent thinking is  educated out of them by the system that   demands  standardisation and conformity.  We need to go in the opposite direction to standardisation and encourage  instead divergent thinking, not thinking in linear or convergent ways. We have to get over academic, non -academic, vocational versus academic split which are all a myth.  We must recognise too that most great learning, happens in groups, through collaboration, not in an atomised way .And we must change the culture and mindset  in our education institutions.

Sir Ken Robinson, PhD is an internationally recognized leader in the development of education, creativity and innovation The videos of his famous 2006 and 2010 talks to the prestigious TED Conference have been seen by an estimated 200 million people in over 150 countries.



Burnham’s utilitarian approach eschews Latin


Andy Burnham, the Shadow Education Secretary, gave a speech at Demos this  month in which he sought to articulate the main themes being explored by Labour’s Schools Policy Review.  Significantly, he did not commit a future Labour government to overturning the coalition government’s new Free Schools or Academies. Indeed he didn’t mention them.  Its probably worth noting, in this respect, that ,by the next election, the majority of  secondary schools in England could have already converted to academy status.

So what are Labour’s themes?

Burnham said he would look to build a school system in England based on three clear principles:

First, where hard work is properly rewarded and all young people have something to aim for beyond school.

Second, where we reach every single child, by judging schools on the difference they make for every individual student – including how far schools stretch the brightest

Third, where learning is made relevant to life today, building the character and qualities young people will need to succeed in 21st century

He said “Reward, reach, relevance – these will be my 3Rs to guide schools reform in the 21st century.” Burnham wants a school  system that is   “comprehensive and collaborative”

Mike Baker who was chairing a discussion session at Demos picked out 10 themes from Burnhams speech   which struck  him as significant:

Labour’s approach will reject the current nostalgia for Latin and rote-learning or what Burnham called the ‘back to the future’ approach. The EBacc will not be applied universally.

The Policy review will take a broad view of education, including an emphasis on creativity.

It will seek clarity for those students taking a vocational route.

There could be a UCAS-style ‘clearing’ process for those seeking to enter apprenticeships, with the best opportunities going to those who work the hardest.

League tables will be reformed, using Value-Added or Contextual Value-added measures.

A minimum entitlement for all pupils (e.g. to one-to-one tuition) is being considered as is an expectation that every student should achieve a grade Cat GCSE in Maths and English.

Labour will take a more ambitious view of the role of work experience and placements to encourage social mobility.

An updated version of Tomlinson will be brought back, introducing a true, broad Baccalaureate.

teaching may become an all Masters-degree profession

Local Authorities will be given a clearer planning role and a role to encourage collaboration between schools

Burnham believes that what he calls the market model “encourages schools jealously to guard the best of what they’ve got; and will produce winners and losers, where young people get trapped in struggling institutions”.  How this last theme will fit with a school system dominated by autonomous state schools is hard to see but he clearly reflects Labours concerns that the current focus on autonomy  may ,potentially, lead to an atomised system in which collaboration between schools is reduced and the most vulnerable suffer because the support services, currently offered to them by local authorities, are cut back.

Ministers for their part,  point out that Academies, as part of their funding agreements, need to demonstrate a collaborative approach and show that they are community focused

Burnham seeks to caricature Goves approach to the curriculum by focusing on Latin as an unwelcome blast from the past. The argument goes -Gove prefers to focus on a dead language rather than, for instance, ICT that is more relevant to the workplace. There are suggestions here of a utilitarian approach to education-in other words education is about preparing pupils exclusively  for the jobs market, a view  shared by some former Labour Education Secretaries .  So, rather than Latin, Burnham prefers engineering, business studies and ICT to create “a route into work” for Britain’s young people.  But Burnham may be missing the zeitgeist. Many more state schools are taking up Latin than, say, five years ago. And the Independent newspaper, not renowned, it has to be said, as a hotbed of reactionary sentiment, opined last  week ‘Latin is the maths of the humanities – a training in analytical thought for which no previous knowledge is required. It fires the imagination of the young with its goddesses, gladiators and mythological flying horses. It offers a great foundation for later language learning. Its students do better in reading, comprehension, vocabulary and conceptual thinking. Ipsa scientia potestas est’

It is worth reflecting what  Schumacher said about education. He agreed that  science and engineering produce know-how, but the task of education should lie first and foremost with the know-what – the transmission of ideas of value so that we know what to do (with the know-how). Thus, Schumacher argues that a science and technology-focused education system can be like a dead-end street – “know-how is nothing by itself; it is a means without an end.”

Meanwhile Andy Burnham and his team will be gearing up,  over the summer,  to launch attacks  on the Education Bill, still with the Lords. One area where the Government is vulnerable  is  the new national careers service  and advice and guidance in schools. It seems that most pupils will not have access to face to face professional  careers advice in schools , as schools will opt for the cheapest  option-access to advice through  a web portal  . The BIS has provided funds for  adult face to face guidance but the DFE has provided none for the same service  for  schools. Who will suffer most from this?. The most disadvantaged pupils, in other words those pupils who are supposed to be the key priority of the coalition government. Both the Commons Select Committee and Simon Hughes the  ‘Access tsar’ have  recently stressed the importance of face to face advice.



But what Benchmark do we use?

And will current reforms deliver improved performance?

IPPR report looks at International Benchmarking


The IPPR think tank has just published a report on International Benchmarking.

This Government has said that we should compare our education system with the best in the world. It a good idea in principle. While PISA is the most widely used international assessment, and is favoured by this government,  there are a number of different studies that can be used for benchmarking performance. Each study has a slightly different design and focus. None of them is perfect and  each has its critics. Our pupils rate  better in some, than in   others, ie OK in TIMMS not so good in PISA,  but the problem, to an extent, with all of them is whether they are accurately comparing like with like-ie apples to apples. And they measure slightly different things. PISA tends to measure students ability to apply knowledge to problem solve. TIMMS, their grasp of facts.  As the IPPR report says ‘The sampling methods of international assessments have been criticised for being  too small to reliably judge a whole system’s performance, and for being open to  countries ‘gaming’ the sample by excluding pupils who are likely to perform poorly  (Hormann 2009, Mortimore 2009) and only provide system-level data, which makes it hard to apply the lessons at a more local level.It is also the case that ‘Country-specific factors – including the nature of curriculum, testing and teaching –  can mean some pupils are better prepared for the format of international assessments than others’.

So what are the benchmarks?

Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) PISA is run by the OECD and takes place every three years. It is a sample survey that assesses 15–16 year olds in three areas: literacy, maths and science

Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMMS) Run by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement, TIMMS assesses 9–10 year olds and 13–14 year olds on their skills in both maths and science. TIMMS takes place every three years and more than 50 countries participate. It focuses on curriculum and as a result tends to test pupil’s content knowledge rather than their ability to apply it.

Progress in International Reading and Literacy Study (PIRLS) PIRLS assesses 9–10 year old pupils on their reading literacy. Using a similar design to TIMMS, it focuses on assessing their knowledge and content of the curriculum. It takes place every five years and there are currently 35 countries participating. PIRLS is also run by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement.

UNICEF -Child Well-Being Indicators

UNICEF have developed a broader set of wellbeing indicators that include health and safety, education, family and peer relationships, attitudes, behaviours and risks. Many of the education indicators are drawn from PISA and TIMMS and therefore do not represent new assessments. However they are brought together with the other indicators of wellbeing to give a more holistic assessment. comparing like with like.

The IPPR report  wants us to develop a more considered  and systematic approach to using international comparisons in the English school system.  While international comparisons have been used in England in the past, they have not  involved systematic benchmarking.  It says the first step in this direction is Ofqual’s work to benchmark English qualifications to ensure they are ‘world class’ (Ofqual 2011).

Other countries have developed more comprehensive approaches to benchmarking. Broadly speaking, there are three ways in which other countries have incorporated  systematic international comparisons into their school systems:

Linking national assessments to international tests such as PISA

Setting national targets to raise a country’s score or rank on international assessments

Establishing institutions that can systematically apply learning from overseas into the national context

Trying to learn from the world’s top-performing school systems is a welcome move, and  the report says ‘ it raises thorny questions over how the government can ensure schools reflect  these lessons in their day-to-day practice. It is not clear how the use of international benchmarking will fit with the government’s desire for schools to be ‘self-improving’, with  parents and teachers driving changes in the system’

Selecting the most appropriate  benchmark  is challenging . And, crucially, once you choose your benchmark-in our case its seems to be PISA- you need to develop a programme that secures you the desired outcomes against the chosen benchmark  This report reminds us that  ‘ Lessons from overseas are only useful if they can inform the English system. An institutional framework needs to be developed that allows these lessons to inform the day-to-day practice of schools in England.’

One problem, of course  is  that politicians have to demonstrate improvement ,so there is a tendency to cherry pick and use results out of context, to put a positive spin on them.

Looking at what PISA measures, are we confident that on-going education  reforms will   mean our children will perform better in  the next PISA tests?PISA , as we have said,  tests students ability to apply facts to problem solve, rather than simply measuring their  ability  to memorise facts.  Our system of testing is widely believed to encourage rote learning of facts rather than  using facts to solve problems So  what element in the current  reforms will be the main driver to deliver improved performance in PISA tests? The Ebacc,  or the envisaged , more traditional, core curriculum?

IPPR Report-Benchmarking the English School System-Against the Best in the World-Jonathan Clifton; July 2011