Latest  US report claims clear evidence that good teachers really do make a big  long term difference


More research from the States on the controversial “value-added ratings,” which purport to measure the impact individual teachers have on student test scores. A teacher’s “value-added” is defined as the average test-score gain for his or her students, adjusted for differences across classrooms in student characteristics. Consensus though on this issue and how you measure added value and ensure accuracy and fairness is hard to find. Few doubt though the importance of effective teachers and the  positive effect they have on pupil performance and attainment. It is equally true that evidence shows that  poor teachers have a negative impact on outcomes.

This latest paper ‘The Long Term Impacts of Teachers :Teacher Value Added  and Student Outcomes in Adulthood’ is likely to influence the on-going national debates about the importance of quality teachers and how best to measure that quality. The quality of teachers and teachers effectiveness and their impact on pupil performance   are the big issues driving  the reform agenda in the USA. The   paper, by Raj Chetty and John N. Friedman of Harvard and Jonah E. Rockoff of Columbia, all economists, examines a larger number of students over a longer period of time with more in-depth data than many earlier studies, allowing it is claimed for a deeper look at how much the quality of individual teachers matters over the long term.  Many school districts, including those in Washington and Houston, have begun to use value-added metrics to influence decisions on hiring, pay and even firing.  Supporters argue that such metrics hold teachers directly accountable and can help improve the educational outcomes of millions of children. Detractors, most notably a number of teachers unions, say that isolating the effect of a given teacher is harder than it seems, and might unfairly penalize many teachers as there are clearly other variables that impact on pupils performance.  Critics particularly point to the high margin of error with many value-added ratings, noting that they tend to bounce around for a given teacher from year to year and class to class. But looking at an individual’s value-added score for three or four classes, the researchers in this new study claim to have found that some consistently outperformed their peers.  “Everybody believes that teacher quality is very, very important,” says Eric A. Hanushek, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford and longtime researcher of education policy. “What this paper and other work has shown is that it’s probably more important than people think. That the variations or differences between really good and really bad teachers have lifelong impacts on children.”  The study found, inter alia, that ‘When a high value-added (top 5%) teacher enters a school, end-of-school-year test scores in the grade he or she teaches rise immediately… and students assigned to such high value-added teachers are more likely to go to college, earn higher incomes, and are  less likely to be teenage mothers. On average, having such a teacher for one year raises a child’s total lifetime income by $9,000. And the gains from replacing a low value-added (bottom 5%) teacher with one of average quality grow as more data are used to estimate value-added. The gains are $190,000 with 3 years of data and eventually surpass $250,000.


Raj Chetty, Harvard University and NBER; John N. Friedman, Harvard University and NBER Jonah E. Rockoff, Columbia University and NBER

December 2011

Note-Given the clear international evidence on the impact that  good and bad teachers have on student outcomes, the Governments  drive to   focus on the quality of teachers and   their  moves to  make it easier to  remove incompetent teachers from the profession  look to be necessary,  minimum steps to improve pupil outcomes.





The debate rumbles on

Early interventions do matter

Non-Cognitive traits important for high level intellectual functioning


The measurement of intelligence is seen by some as one of psychology’s greatest achievements and one of its most controversial.

Critics complain, with some justification, that no single test can capture the complexity of human intelligence, all measurement is imperfect, no single measure is completely free from cultural bias, and there is the potential for misuse of scores on tests of intelligence. There is also a growing debate about multiple intelligences and the different types of intelligence that can be identified and nurtured- in schools, for instance. Robert Sternberg and his colleagues (Sternberg, 1999, 2006) have studied practical intelligence, which they define as the ability to solve concrete problems in real life that require searching for information not necessarily contained in a problem statement, and for which many solutions are possible, as well as creativity, or the ability to come up with novel solutions to problems and to originate interesting questions. Professor Howard Gardner has questioned the idea that intelligence is a single entity, that it results from a single factor, and that it can be measured simply via IQ tests.  Some children are, for instance intuitively brilliant at acting but cant add up. A pupil might be a master of a musical instrument and sight read music at astonishing speed but be weak at expressing themselves on paper. Another child might have highly developed interpersonal skills, make friends easily but be a hopeless sportsman.  The multiple intelligences set out by Gardner represent a broad range of culturally valued achievement recognised in the outcomes of schooling. Gardner’s multiple intelligences have therefore been utilised to justify the development of broader curriculum opportunities and increased differentiation in teaching. Gardner defines intelligence as “the capacity to solve problems or to fashion products that are valued in one or more cultural setting” (Gardner & Hatch, 1989). Using biological as well as cultural research, he formulated a list of seven key intelligences. This new outlook on intelligence differs greatly from the traditional view which usually recognizes only two intelligences, verbal and computational. Some academics, including the authors of a new report-  claim that the measurement of intelligence—which has been done primarily by IQ tests—has utilitarian value because it is a reasonably good predictor of grades at school, performance at work, and many other aspects of success in life ( see below but also   Gottfredson, 2004; Herrnstein & Murray, 1994).  The world of IQ tests and the way IQ is measured has never quite recovered from the publication of a very controversial book about intelligence by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray called The Bell Curve. The book argued that IQ tests are an accurate measure of intelligence; that IQ is a strong predictor of school and career achievement; that IQ is highly heritable; that IQ is little influenced by environmental factors; that racial differences in IQ are likely due at least in part, and perhaps in large part, to genetics; that environmental effects of all kinds have only a modest effect and that educational and other interventions have little impact on IQ and little effect on racial differences in IQ. For good measure the  authors were sceptical about the ability of public policy initiatives to have much impact on IQ or IQ-related outcomes. A new report Intelligence: New Findings and Theoretical Developments has produced some new and fascinating findings that include the following:  ‘(a) Heritability of IQ varies significantly by social class. (b) Almost no genetic polymorphisms have been discovered that are consistently associated with variation in IQ in the normal range. (c) Much has been learned about the biological underpinnings of intelligence. (d) “Crystallized” and “fluid” IQ are quite different aspects of intelligence at both the behavioural and biological levels. (e) The importance of the environment for IQ is established by the 12-point to 18-point increase in IQ when children are adopted from working-class to middle-class homes. (f) Even when improvements in IQ produced by the most effective early childhood interventions fail to persist, there can be very marked effects on academic achievement and life outcomes. (g) In most developed countries studied, gains on IQ tests have continued, and they are beginning in the developing world. (h) Sex differences in aspects of intelligence are due partly to identifiable biological factors and partly to socialization factors. (i) The IQ gap between Blacks and Whites has been reduced by 0.33 SD in recent years. We report theorizing concerning (a) the relationship between working memory and intelligence, (b) the apparent contradiction between strong heritability effects on IQ  and strong secular effects on IQ, (c) whether a general intelligence factor could arise from initially largely independent cognitive skills, (d) the relation between self-regulation and cognitive skills, and (e) the effects of stress on  intelligence.’


The report asks -What is it about school and preschool that enhances intelligence and academic abilities? Content knowledge (e.g,, learning about climate in different places in the world) and procedural knowledge (e.g., sorting shapes) are of course important, but increasingly scientists are recognizing the importance of developing self-regulatory skills and other noncognitive traits as requisite for high-level intellectual functioning . Self-regulatory skills include behaviours such as being able to wait in line, inhibiting the desire to call out in class, and persevering at a task that may be boring or difficult. There are many terms in the literature for the general idea that people can recognize, alter, and maintain changes in their behaviours and moods in ways that advance cognitive performance. These terms include self-discipline (Duckworth & Seligman, 2005), the ability to delay gratification (Mischel, Shoda, & Peake, 1988), and self-regulated learning (P. A. Alexander, 2008). Self-discipline and ability to delay gratification predicted success across a variety of academic measures (Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews, & Kelly, 2007).  What is particularly interesting about this latest study is that it addresses head -on sensitive  issues such as race, gender and intelligence. And, of course, highlights the importance of non-cognitive skills in order to succeed at school and in the workplace.

Intelligence: New Findings and Theoretical Developments; Richard E. Nisbett, Joshua Aronson, Clancy Blair, William Dickens, James Flynn, Diane F. Halpern, and Eric Turkheimer; Online First Publication, January 2, 2012. doi: 10.1037/a0026699



Class Size less important than teacher feedback and use of data for improving effectiveness


According to a Harvard University paper on New York Charter schools- Getting Beneath the Veil of Effective Schools: Evidence from New York City (November 2011)- evidence on the efficacy of market-based reforms, such as school choice or school vouchers on the one hand and   reforms seeking to manipulate key educational inputs  on the other, have, at best,  had a modest impact on student achievement . Indeed, the data suggest that increasing resource-based inputs may actually lower school effectiveness.

The authors look in detail at 35 New York Charter schools. Charters  were created in the USA  to,  firstly,  serve as an escape hatch for students in failing schools, so most are in disadvantaged areas, and, secondly to use their relative freedom to incubate best practices to be infused into traditional public schools.

Consistent with the second mission, charter schools employ a wide variety of educational strategies and operations, providing dramatic variability in school inputs.

This paper collects data on the inner-workings charter schools and correlate these data with credible estimates of each school’s effectiveness.

The authors find that traditionally collected input measures – class size, per pupil expenditure, the fraction of teachers with no certification, and the fraction of teachers with an advanced degree – are not correlated with school effectiveness. In stark contrast, they  show that an index of five policies suggested by over forty years of qualitative research – frequent teacher feedback, the use of data to guide instruction, high-dosage tutoring, increased instructional time, and high expectations – explains approximately 50 percent of the variation in school effectiveness. The results, they claim,  are robust to controls for three alternative theories of schooling: a model emphasizing the provision of wrap-around services, a model focused on teacher selection and retention, and the “No Excuses” model of education. They conclude by showing that ‘ our index provides similar results in a separate sample of charter schools. Moreover, we show that these variables continue to be statistically important after accounting for alternative models of schooling, and a host of other explanatory variables, and are predictive in a different sample of schools.’

The authors state ‘While there are important caveats to the conclusion that these five policies can explain significant variation in school effectiveness, our results suggest a model of schooling that may have general application. The key next step is to inject these strategies into traditional public schools and assess whether they have a causal effect on student achievement.

Getting Beneath the Veil of Effective Schools: Evidence from New York City

Will Dobbie; Harvard University; Roland G. Fryer, Jr.; Harvard University and NBER


Education Review Group

Campaigning group fails its first test


At the recent judicial hearing on public benefit and schools, independent schools were  widely seen to have  scored a victory.  But  one  lobby group at the hearings  was  left frustrated.  The Education Review Group whose  membership is from the broad left   including such luminaries as Fiona Millar, Margaret Tulloch and Melissa Benn, failed to persuade the court that independent schools did not merit their charitable status.   When not campaigning against Academies and Free schools,   these campaigners manage to  now find time to attack independent schools  and their charity status.Their  energy and reach , if not their effectiveness, has to be admired.

The group wants  charity law and the guidance that goes with it  tightened up . They believe that granting charity status to most independent schools is plain wrong because, in their view, much of what they do serves no charitable purpose.  The court  wasn’t  terribly sympathetic. Nor did the  court give the  power to the charity commission to determine what  public  benefit is.Politicians  had passed the baton on public benefit to the commission. But their guidance has been opaque and,  in short ,they made a hash of it.  Which is pretty much what the court judgement implied. The truth is that the commission  couldn’t  define what public benefit means in practice or  give a clear steer to schools . Indeed , if anything, they  signalled  support for bursaries (although by definition they benefit the few rather than the many)   while giving little weight to schools  other charitable activities.  Now charity trustees will make the decision on what constitutes public benefit   but, and this is important, they  must make more than de  minimis or token provision for the poor. The ERG believes this is a missed opportunity to give real weight to the public benefit requirement for charities ie a chance to hammer what they see as elitist schools who don’t deserve charity status.

“This is a missed opportunity” intoned a spokesman for the group at the end of proceedings “ to address  fundamental problems with so called charitable schools. When even the Prime  Minister is calling for an end to educational apartheid between state and private  schools it is regrettable that the court has not done more to ensure this happens.  There are indications within the judgement that the lavish ‘gold plated’ provision  within schools without any thought for poor pupils cannot continue but unless the  charity commission can go in and check this will mean little in practice”

The ERG though seem to be out of touch with what has been happening over the last few years. Most independent schools have extensive outreach programmes, share facilities and teaching resources with state schools and increasingly are becoming involved with academies. There are currently 30 independent schools actively involved in the academies programme working with existing underperforming schools to deliver  ‘ sustainable transformation’. This includes seven schools acting as lead sponsor, nine as co-sponsor and a further 14 as educational partners.

Despite the best  efforts of  the ERG   independent schools will retain their charitable status for the foreseeable future.



Very few struck off for incompetence


Many more teachers have been struck off by the GTC for misconduct than incompetence. From 2001 to the present day, the General Teaching Council for England, which currently administers the regulatory system for teachers, has prohibited a total of 228 teachers—211 teachers have been prohibited for misconduct and just 17 for professional incompetence. In 2011/2 68 were struck off for misconduct and just one for incompetence

If teachers are struggling, self evidently they should receive support and be given a chance to raise their game. If they are incapable or unwilling to improve it is equally clear that  they should be removed  from the profession . As these figures confirm incompetent teachers are simply recycled from school to school often with the collusion of Heads, governors and unions. Given the damage incompetent teachers do to the life chances of children in their care-this is nothing short of a scandal.

To make matters worse, according to the  TES,  no cases referred to the GTC since the end of August last year will lead to completed hearings before the council is closed in March because of time constraints.

Teacher leaders  understandably want to raise the status of their  profession . But it is hard to see how this will ever happen if those teachers  who dont meet the highest professional standards are  protected and kept in the profession.



Little impact on performance

Need to rethink their use


A 2011 Sutton Trust publication ‘A Toolkit of Strategies to Improve Learning’  with regard to  Teaching Assistants found  that “Most studies have consistently found very small or no effects on attainment.”  A new book ‘Reassessing the Impact of Teaching Assistants: How Research Changes Practice and Policy, by Peter Blatchford, Anthony Russell and Rob Webster,’ finds that pupils who received the most support from TAs consistently made less progress than similar pupils who received less TA support.

Over the past decade the number of Teaching Assistants hired in schools has trebled, with 213,900 employed  in  2011  alone.

Teaching assistants may be useful in providing administrative support to teachers, freeing up much needed time  but they are not essential it appears, to raising pupil performance. Indeed pupils who get more attention from TAs, for example those  who are low attaining  or with special needs, get less attention from the qualified teacher which may well  not be in their interests.

The authors say that that schools and policy-makers need to make radical changes in the way teaching assistants are deployed in classrooms. The book reports on a five-year study of 8,200 pupils. Results from this study – the Deployment and Impact of Support Staff (DISS) project – found that pupils who received the most support from TAs consistently made less progress than similar pupils who received less TA support.  Numbers of TAs have more than trebled since 1997, now making up a quarter of the school workforce. These results demonstrate that “the fault is not with TAs, but with decisions made — often with the best of intentions – about how they are used and prepared for their work,” the authors argue.  They say: “There has been a drift toward TAs becoming, in effect, the primary educators of lower-attaining pupils and those with special educational needs. Teachers like this arrangement because they can then teach the rest of the class, in the knowledge that the children in most need get more individual attention. “But the more support pupils get from TAs, the less they get from teachers. Supported pupils therefore become separated from the teacher and the curriculum. It is perhaps unsurprising then that these pupils make less progress.”  These results are now widely recognised and have fed into the Lamb Enquiry on SEN, new Ofsted guidance and the Government’s SEN green paper. The Deployment and Impact of Support Staff (DISS) project is the biggest study of TAs and other school support staff worldwide.

In Reassessing the Impact of Teaching Assistants the authors recommend:

•        TAs should not routinely support lower attaining pupils and those with SEN

•        Teachers should deploy TAs in ways that allow them to ‘add value’ to their own teaching

•        Initial teacher training should include how to work with and manage TAs

•        Schools have a formal induction process for TAs

•        More joint planning and feedback time for teachers and TAs.

The authors say that change is essential, but the answer is not to do away with TAs. “Budget cuts and the pupil premium can provide the impetus for school leaders to seriously consider the value they want to derive from expenditure on TAs, and find creative ways of making this happen,” they say. But keeping the status quo is not an option. “The present default position, in which pupils get alternative – not additional – support by TAs, lets down the most disadvantaged children.”



Sensible debate required -remembering its politicians who created the system enforced by amenable regulators


The recent expose by the Daily Telegraph of apparently dodgy practice by at least some examiners and exam boards has kick started a debate about testing, assessment and examinations. Arent some exam boards easier than others? Why do our children have to sit so many tests? Isnt political pressure leading to year on year grade inflation,? How come, having sat through at least  ten years of education, so many young people with qualifications   still lack the abilities and skills to thrive in the jobs market and are ill prepared for higher education too?

Some critics are calling for radical change in assessment and examinations, the cost of which has spiralled in recent years so that the exam budget is now the second largest item in secondary school budgets, after staffing. What happens in the classroom is  driven mainly  by the demands and requirements  of the assessment and accountability frameworks. So, if we want the education landscape to change, shouldn’t more attention be paid to how the assessment and accountability frameworks work  in practice and  how they relate to each other and the resulting  impact they have on the  teaching and the learning environment?  If this is the case then a curriculum review should surely,  logically work in tandem with an assessment review. Schools  decisions are strongly driven by the incentive framework in which  they are placed. So,  the national exam system and the central importance to schools of the performance tables  tend to  over-ride everything else that happens in schools.

Critics such as Anthony Seldon and Professor Ken Robinson have long complained that schools have pretty much lost any idea of what education is for, driving out creativity and independent thought while  becoming, instead, exam factories encouraging rote learning  and teaching to the test.  The chairman of the Independent Schools Council, Barnaby Lenon, has just  called for greater use of sophisticated multiple-choice questions and teacher assessment in A-levels and GCSEs and advocates the introduction of qualified chartered assessors, with every school having at least one chartered assessor to act as a guarantor of standards of teacher assessment. (the debate over multiple choice questioning polarises opinion)

Professor Mick Waters believes that the exam system undoes so much of the good work teachers and others do in exciting in children a passion for the respective subjects. Waters wrote in Secondary Education (5 Jan) ‘ Too many exams, though, are examples of a “spit out all you can remember” experience so that you can pass the exam and then forget it all. As a society, we persist with the rite of passage experience for young people, archaic in nature, a sort of trial by ordeal. When else in life would we enter a room, sit a metre away from everyone and work in silence for two hours? In real life, presented with a problem at work, most people immediately contact others, ask opinion, test solutions, seek information, pool knowledge and construct solutions that others critique.’ Waters , of course,  used to be a  senior regulator  with the now somewhat discredited QCA, so  he was  very much part of helping to uphold and sustain  the  system he   now  so  readily condemns.

John Dunford says that we now need to put more trust in the professional judgment of teachers to mark students’ work through the course and use those marks to award a grade, or at least a substantial part of it, say 50%. Alongside this, a system is needed to give validity, and thus all-important public credibility, to the grades awarded by teacher assessment. Dunford writes in the Guardian ‘With a network of chartered assessors across the country, accredited by the Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors, which I chair, to carry out in-course assessment to external standards and to act as guarantors of the assessment judgements of other teachers in their schools or colleges, we would have a system that would have greater validity than existing grades and be fairer to students. Instead of harking back to a golden era of assessment that never really existed, the government should set in place a thorough review of assessment and examinations and look at how teacher assessment could be used more effectively. The Chartered Institute stands ready to play its part in delivering an assessment system that would set the world-class standards to which politicians frequently ask educators to aspire’

Dunford believes that the Government, as a matter of urgency, should  set in motion a  major review of assessment and examinations from which the previous government also shrank, but which is sorely needed and that it makes sense to do this alongside the review of the curriculum, the timescale of which has been extended.

Not everyone will agree with Dunfords approach. Indeed if you look at how pupils coursework modules have been assessed and the weaknesses and pitfalls inherent in that system, the system Dunford suggests looks likely to share many of its in-built weaknesses.  Indeed, not everyone shares Dunfords confidence that teachers, under  huge pressure will, more often than not,   exercise  disinterested professional  judgement when it comes to rating their own pupils work.

It would be a mistake to heap the lions share of the   blame for all this on  the exam boards .Yes, they have made mistakes, working within a pressure cooker of a system,  and what the Daily Telegraph exposed is unacceptable but it’s the politicians and regulators who have established the enabling environment ,both in terms of assessment and accountability ,  in which this can  happen, along with the  perverse incentives that go with it . The Boards have to react and respond quickly to the shifting priorities and  agendas set by politicians.  Cambridge Assessment called a couple of years ago for an adult debate about assessment, testing and the perception of grade inflation-and the silence from politicians was at the time, and indeed until very recently, deafening.

There is a strong case for a  review of the way we assess our pupils and the impact this has on the education of our children. Politicians tend to focus though on structures because that is ,in a certain sense, the easy  bit  of the equation. The more difficult bits are teacher quality and effectiveness, the curriculum , accountability and assessment.The Government is making an effort to address some of these elements but progress is  painfully slow, and when it comes to assessment.. hard to identify.

Note-The Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors, Chaired by John  Dunford  who  was general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (formerly the Secondary Heads Association) from 1998 to 2010,  is a professional body dedicated to supporting the needs of everyone involved in educational assessment.

Its members include everyone involved in assessment, from senior examiners, moderators and markers to individuals with an interest in or responsibility for assessment in primary schools, secondary schools, colleges, universities, training centres and other educational organisations. Dr Neill Day a senior examiner said  “We have a teaching profession and we have examiners. Each has a role in maintaining standards, yet one has a formal identity while the other exists in its shadow. With the formation of the Institute, we have the chance to recognise and encourage examining and examiners for their important role”