Barnard on the Baccalaureate-Should we Re- Visit the Tomlinson Proposals ?

Alice Barnard, Chief Executive,  the Edge Foundation, in her contribution to the on –going debate on vocational education facilitated by Edge and  covered in their publication ‘ Debating the first principles of English vocational education’ (June 2018) said that ‘ The ultimate success measure for education of all forms should be the destination of its students. What matters is not simply that young people come away with a clutch of paper qualifications, but that they get the wider support, social capital and professional skills to succeed in their lives and careers. Pupil destinations should be recorded and measured rigorously and in a timely way, with comparisons showing what a school or college’s pupils went on to do up to 5 or 10 years after they left. To ensure fairness, school and college destinations should be compared with their peers providing education to a similar socioeconomic group. Mike Tomlinson was absolutely right to suggest in 2004 that there should be a single integrated end-of-school baccalaureate or diploma. This should seamlessly mix vocational and academic qualifications, an extended project and personal development, thereby measuring rounded achievement and readiness for adult life. Achievement of this Baccalaureate together with pupil destinations should be the two key measures of success.’

Interestingly the Tomlinson proposals were quite  well received when they were published, but not by the government. Ruth Kelly was Education Secretary then, and when Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, realized that the Tomlinson Baccalaureate would mean the end of the gold standard A level, he feared the political fallout, particularly in middle England. So, the proposals were quickly shelved and there then began a search for a new qualification, neither entirely academic nor entirely vocational that looked a bit different. They came up with a compromise in the form of the diploma. The diploma (not to be confused with the baccalaureate -sometime also called the diploma) was then oversold by Ministers (and I recall Steve Smith VC of Exeter) but it was pretty clear from the outset that there was no demand for it among employers nor a vast majority of university admissions tutors who saw it for what it was–A botched compromise for which there was no demand. And it looked nothing like Tomlinsons’ baccalaureate idea. The only Diploma qualification rated by Oxbridge at the time turned out to be the Enginneering Diploma but that, along with many  others, proved too expensive to deliver anyway. The Diploma initiative was a shambles from beginning to end and shamefully used young people as guinea pigs. One only hopes that the new T levels will not go the same way , but there are warning signals developing ,with divisions emerging within DFE and among employers about their roll out and robustness. Perhaps we should be revisiting Tomlinsons original proposals?



robot holding ipad

“The education system needs to ensure that it reflects the needs of the future, and prepares children for life with AI and for a labour market whose needs may well be unpredictable.”

In its report, AI in the UK: Ready, Willing and Able?, the House of Lords Committee on Artificial Intelligence (AI) considered how this technology will affect many aspects of our lives – from the economy to employment.

When it comes to the classroom, many teachers might jump on the idea that pupils will be taught by robots and human teachers will disappear forever. But actually, there are a myriad of small ways that AI could transform classrooms and support teachers to improve outcomes for students. Here are a few ways (large and small) for you to think about:

1. Easing administrative workload

AI could significantly reduce the admin that teachers often find detrimental to their workload. This isn’t necessarily data analysis – think along the lines of recordkeeping, tracking attendance, calculating grades and basic marking etc.

2. Personalised learning

AI algorithms can update themselves in real-time. This means they can personalise learning and deliver content that is suited to a student’s needs and pace much quicker than a human teacher. This adaptive learning has huge potential, for example giving learners more agency and choice, making them partners in their learning alongside their teacher, and matching their preferences to a tailored curriculum.

3. Remote/virtual learning

AI will allow students to study where they want, when they want, using whatever platform they want. This is already happening in some places, for example, the 42 in Paris is a selective school that offers an intensive computer coding course. But there are no fees, it is always open and there are no human teachers (peer- and project-based learning are favoured instead).

AI holds the potential to consign traditional, physical classrooms to history or ensure they are only used periodically. Instead, devices will connect over the internet, talking to each other and us, to ease communications between teacher and pupil, between teacher and parents, and between peers.

4. Tutoring

AI can give every student a personal, virtual tutor. This support could monitor their performance data, highlighting strengths and weaknesses, flagging relevant information, answering questions and alerting teachers. This could happen in all phases of education from early years to tertiary and even lifelong learning.

5. Formative assessment

AI can continuously check that students are learning what they are taught and give-real time feedback to teachers. Priya Lakhani’s  Century-Tech, for example, has developed a programme that reads minute details – such as how students click or move the mouse – so it can analyse how well they have grasped a topic. This allows professionals to ensure learning is embedded, and adapt their teaching techniques and pedagogy to improve student outcomes.

6. Summative assessment

There have already been significant technological advances in testing and assessment. AI can mark everything from multiple-choice questions to more complex tasks in evaluation and assessment, providing greater consistency and speed.

7. Improve flipped learning

Flipped learning is where students look at instructional content, often online, outside the classroom on their own. For example, they might watch online lectures, collaborate in online discussions, carry out further research and then follow it up in the classroom with the guidance of a teacher. This helps to clarify concepts and embed learning. AI – with its ability to personalise learning – seems perfect to support this.

8. Physical and mental health

Many young people already use intelligent wristbands to monitor their physical condition so it’s not such a leap for technology to monitor other issues, such as stress and anxiety. This physiological and psychological data could be monitored, evaluated and shared to support wellbeing.

9. Highlighting research and resources

AI can give both teachers and students immediate access to the most up-to-date research. This helps pupils with their learning, and supports teachers with their continuous professional development and pedagogy.

10. Flexibility in the curriculum

Some students are denied access to a broad and balanced curriculum because their schools can’t deliver the range of subjects they would like to. AI could help to extend a curriculum in a school, tailoring courses to pupils’ needs, with expertise, assessment and resources shared virtually across the system.

11. Presentation of information

In analogue, the way content is displayed and presented to students is very static. But technology can completely overhaul this: virtual reality headsets already mean you can immerse students in a subject, for example, walking through the streets of Ancient Rome or exploring the depths of the ocean.

12. Guidance

AI might be able to help students match their abilities and interests with viable career options (with expert, human advice supporting this). This would help young people to make informed choices about qualifications and the next phase of their education, training and employment.

13. Inclusion and special educational needs (SEN)

Imagine a world in which the most disadvantaged pupils and those with SEN have easy access, under expert direction, to support networks and the personalised teaching and resources they need.

14. Impact on teachers

Society should be as concerned with the education of its teachers as it is with the education of its students. AI can support individual teachers to develop throughout their careers, from training onwards. Whether it is through sourcing data, new research and evidence or identifying best practice, flagging events and seminars that aid their professional development, and supporting them to collaborate, the options are endless.

In their new book, The Fourth Education Revolution, Anthony Seldon and Oladimeji Abidoye write: “The impact of artificial intelligence has hardly begun but its effect will become all too apparent over the next few years and nowhere more so than in the educational sector. Though it is a revolution that is well under way it is constantly changing and the full impact of its effect on all in education is yet to be felt.”

But AI does not mean the end of the teacher. Teachers will have to adapt and their training and role will change, but they will still be a vital part of education. As Armand Doucet said: “Without great pedagogy, technology integration is worthless. Passion is what engages and empowers students. Schools have timetables; learning does not.”

A version of this Blog was published on the Teachers Web Site EdCentral

Further Reading

A beginner’s guide to… Professor Rose Luckin

Seldon, A., Abidoye, O., The Fourth Education Revolution: How Artificial intelligence is changing the face of education. University of Buckingham Press. Due for publication in May 2018

Doucet, A. Evers, J., Guerra, E., Lopez, N., Soskil, M., Timmers, K et al. Teaching in the Fourth Industrial Revolution Standing at the Precipice. Routledge 2018.


The cognitive scientist Professor Dan Willingham wrote, back in 2005, that there was no substantive empirical evidence supporting theories around learning styles. The term “learning styles” refers to the concept that individuals differ in regard to what mode of instruction or study is most effective for them. And teachers then tailor their instruction to suit the learning style of the student. This was the ultimate in personalised teaching and learning.(I came across the new term ‘individuation’  in a book the other day which seems to mean pretty much  the same as personalisation)
So, Willinghams myth-busting assertion came as a bit of a shock to many teachers as it was then a given that children learn in different ways and teachers must adapt their teaching to suit each childs’ learning style. The theory of ‘Learning Styles ‘ posits that there are three main types of learners -visual, auditory, and kinaesthetic( ie via experience—moving, touching, and doing).  It’s important, at this point, to distinguish between a learning style, and an ability. Ability refers to how well you can do something. Style is the way you do it. Learning-styles theories predict that catering to the preferred processing mode of a student will lead to improved learning. Many teacher training courses still include these theories as part of initial teacher education.
Research since 2005 seems to have broadly confirmed Willinghams proposition that learning-style theories  applied in the classroom do not bring an advantage to students. However, as Willingham points out ‘ Researchers have long known that people claim to have learning preferences—they’ll say, “I’m a visual learner” or “I like to think in words.” There’s increasing evidence that people act on those beliefs; if given the chance, the visualizer will think in pictures rather than words. But doing so confers no cognitive advantage. People believe they have learning styles, and they try to think in their preferred style, but doing so doesn’t help them think.’
So,  evidence supporting learning-styles theories is thin. Hal Pashler and his associates ,in 2008 ,for example ,reviewed the research  literature and found the following :  ‘ We conclude therefore, that at present, there is no adequate evidence base to justify incorporating learning-styles assessments into general educational practice.’ They added though  ‘ it would be an error to conclude that all possible versions of learning styles have been tested and found wanting; many have simply not been tested at all.’
Willingham highlighted a methodological issue   ‘ They also noted that many of the existing studies didn’t really test for evidence of learning styles in the ideal way. For example, if you want to test the verbalizer/visualizer distinction, it’s not enough to show that visualizers remember pictures better than verbalizers do. Maybe those people you categorize as visual learners simply have better memories overall. You need to examine both types of learners and both types of content, and show that words are better than pictures for the verbalizers, and that the opposite is true for the visualizers.’

Given that the evidence around learning styles is, at the very least contested, one wonders why trainee teachers are still being trained in the theory and what it means for classroom practice  and interventions. So much, then , for evidence informed practice.

Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence
Psychological Science in the Public Interest
Harold Pashler, Mark McDaniel, Doug Rohrer, and Robert Bjork
Dec 2008



The Careers and Enterprise Company-A Bit more Transparency Required from this Taxpayer Funded Body

The Careers and Enterprise Company must have felt  somewhat relieved  when their recent evidence  session with the Select Committee  ended. The Committee  was  less than  impressed by the CEC’s  transparency,  accountability  and the way it measures (or doesn’t ,as the case may be)  its outcomes. No board minutes are published ,for example.  Not much either on how the funding it  gets from the DfE is given out and what specific  projects it spends it on . It also spends ,and intends to  continue to spend, yearly, at least £ 1million on research. There is much waffle about stakeholders being kept informed , but if you drill down a bit they are keeping people  a bit informed about inputs, rather than substantive outputs and their impact on young people. So bruised were the CEC after the session  that they asked their Twitter  friends to send out positive messages about what a great job they are doing. Oh, dear!

Unfortunately this is how quangos too often behave, because they can.  They have no direct accountability in the way a government department,  or indeed ,a Minister has. You see quangos, such as CEC   are’ arms -length organisations’.   Always claiming   to be ‘independent organisations’ ,  in practice they are no such thing. They   are appointed by the government and taxpayer funded,  through DfE. What the government gives, it can take away ,of course , and  relying entirely on taxpayer funding ,  obviously have to be very closely aligned with, and supportive of , current  government policy. That is not independence in any meaningful sense of the word.   When the CEC was established by Nicky Morgan she said that  over time, the company would become self-funded, with employers covering the company’s costs. Yet, here we are three years down the road ,  with  the CEC  still  firmly on the governments books .  Indeed, the government has gone  terribly  quiet about the self-funding commitment .Organisations that are funded by the taxpayer should be transparent and fully accountable for how they spend taxpayer’s money.  They should also have to demonstrate clearly the   impact and value for money they offer . Telling MPs how many interactions you  have is about quantity ,not quality, or impact. .  And, of course,  they should publish the minutes of board meetings and abide by the principles of sound  governance.  It is worrying that the CEC  needs to be told the facts of  life on this score,  by the Select Committee.  Careers guidance providers and schools ,  seeking to follow recent strengthened guidance, look with growing envy on the scale of funding being allocated to this quango,. Not surprisingly they feel short changed, by comparison , and it is they not the CEC that are  delivering front line services to young people.  Shouldnt we be more careful about how we use relatively scarce tax payers money and allocate it where it will have most immediate  impact on the lives and opportunities of young people.? Bit radical I know, and left field, but it has to be said,

A Comprehensive University system? Why is the selection debate only focused on schools?


Professor Tim Blackman ,Vice-Chancellor of Middlesex University , a Professor of Sociology and Social Policy , argued for a truly radical and democratic reform of the HE sector, last year, in a HEPI booklet The Comprehensive University.

We should ,he says , require all universities to have more diverse intakes – socially, ethnically and by ability. Comprehensive reform of higher education is long overdue, with its likely social and educational benefits from a ‘diversity bonus’ in all our institutions. The advocacy of selection in education he claims is driven by an impulse to separate people into deserving and undeserving, ‘us’ and ‘other’ As things stand, students at the ‘not high status’ institutions know that they are, in effect, in a low-status university and, by association, are ‘low status’ people who possibly should not be at university. These low-status students are more likely to be working class and black. They are advised to head for ‘high status’ universities if they are ‘talented’. The higher education sector currently both extends opportunity and entrenches class privilege, with the latter effect far outweighing the former. This, argues Blackman ,is a pretty shocking state of affairs that needs to be addressed on equality grounds alone, but ,he points out, there are likely to be significant educational and productivity dividends from ending it too. All students would benefit from replacing a stratified higher education system with mixed-tariff institutions where the diversity of cognitive abilities and identities would be a resource for everyone’s learning. This could be achieved through open access or basic matriculation quotas. Blackman says that a variety of admission mechanisms could be used to desegregate universities and move to all but a few being comprehensive. The simplest would be to require a fixed proportion of entry to be open access along the lines of the school academies that are allowed to use selection but only for a fixed proportion of their intake. Alternatively, there could be a minimum matriculation requirement, based on minimum threshold standards across the sector, but low enough to make a significant impact on the barrier to access created by high-entry requirements. Excess demand could then be managed using a lottery. This system could be combined with a levy, creating more diverse and more successful learning communities in all our universities.

It is interesting that debate on selection is currently almost entirely focused on the schools system and the expansion, or not, of grammar schools. . Blackman has opened up another front. About time too

HEPI Occasional Paper

See also Blog


Carol S. Dweck, the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, was awarded, in 2017 , the prestigious ,new ‘Yidan Prize’ dedicated to ‘creating a better world through education today.’Her ground-breaking research focuses on the pioneering concept of the “growth mindset” built on a fundamental belief in the malleability of intelligence. The theory is about how children in the classroom are encouraged to evaluate and realize their full potential. Mindsets (aka implicit theories) are beliefs about the nature of human attributes (e.g., intelligence). The theory holds that individuals with growth mindsets (beliefs that attributes are malleable through positive effort) enjoy many positive outcomes—including higher academic achievement—while their peers who have fixed mindsets experience negative outcomes. Dweck claims that talent isn’t passed down in the genes ;its passed down in the mindset. (some recent research contests this idea). People with a fixed mindset believe talent is everything. If they’re not gifted with the ability to do something, they think they’re doomed to be a failure. Their intelligence is fixed and there is not much they can do about it. Their skills seem to be written down in their genes, just like their looks, which is why they never try to improve in something they perceive themselves to be bad at.

On the other hand, people with a growth mindset believe that whatever they want to achieve is theirs for the taking, as long as they work hard for it, apply themselves, dedicate themselves to their goal and practice as much as they can and show a bit of  effort and resilience. The good news is that just about anyone can develop a growth mindset, if given the right support. Intelligence is not fixed, but malleable, fluid and changeable. The challenge for Dweck, though, has always been how educators interpret her research, in practice. Quite a lot seems to get lost in translation, something that she herself  has acknowledged. Dweck fears that teachers who have misunderstood her work are now nagging children, and nagging doesn’t work. From a teachers  perspective transforming ideas around mindset  into practice  appears  to be about  encouraging students to try new strategies, when they are struggling to learn a concept, and  helping students to see error, or outright  failure, as an opportunity to learn and improve and as a springboard for progress. . But  there is also a sense that  practical teacher  training and professional development in mindset support,   lags somewhat  behind the theoretical framework.  Like too much research, making sure that it is of real use to a teacher in the classroom and its full implications are understood, is a big challenge.

To be fair,  unlike rather too many researchers who  can become overly defensive when challenged ,  Dweck   is  prepared to look at the evidence as it develops and fine tune her theories and even to admit to errors. She has her critics, of course . Among them are those who claim that that there is slender evidence that students’ beliefs about their ability are in any way related to their attainment.

Given this claimed relationship between mindset and outcomes, interventions designed to increase students’ growth mindsets so increasing their academic achievement—have been implemented in schools around the world.

Now researchers have undertaken two meta -analyses  . First , on  the strength of the relationship between mindset and academic achievement and potential moderating factors.  And, secondly, the effectiveness of mindset interventions on academic achievement and potential moderating factors. The researchers found that overall effects were weak for both of  meta-analyses. But before mindset supporters become  too disillusioned, the researchers found that some results supported specific tenets of the theory, namely, that students with low socioeconomic status or who are academically at risk might benefit from mind-set interventions.

Professor Dylan Wiliam commenting on the research said ” For me, the highlight is that six out of every seven growth mindset interventions had no significant impact on student achievement. So the question is, do you feel lucky today?”

To What Extent and Under Which Circumstances Are Growth Mind-Sets Important to Academic Achievement? Two Meta-Analyses

Victoria F. Sisk, Alexander P. Burgoyne, Jingze Sun,

March 5, 2018



Artificial Intelligence and Education

Teachers and their leaders are not yet  at all focused on the how Artificial Intelligence  is  already impacting on education, nor on its potential to transform teaching and learning.

Perhaps this is not that surprising given that most of the studies on AI look at its possible impact on jobs and the employment market, with virtually no attention paid to its  potential impact on education and training. How often is it discussed in the staff room, in workshops and education conferences? Very rarely.

At a recent Roundtable , hosted by the University of Buckingham, Professor Rose Luckin  of UCL and Priya Lakhani , an AI entrepreneur ,  suggested the need for an’ Idiots Guide’ to AI in Education, to spell out the basics- the concepts around AI –  highlighting its increasing practical  relevance to teachers and students.  No, its not just about robotics which can serve as something of a distraction.  In terms of its potential ,think instead  of a personal interactive  teacher, or tutor,  with you throughout your career , and life, assisting you in advancing through the foothills of knowledge to the heights of deep learning, and skills acquisition ,spotting your weaknesses and strengths, pointing you to the sources of knowledge and the support you may need, to advance to the next level of knowledge and self-awareness,  helping to assess you, and you to assess yourself.  This is a world not too far in the future, populated  by autonomous self-motivated  learners and supported by AI, which provides bespoke support  not just for learning and employment, but for life ,  providing careers advice and pastoral support too  while monitoring your well- being and health.  and alerting you and  others to potential problems . Much of the know- how already exists to help teachers , to reduce their workload, to use real time data to provide more reliable interactive assessment, both formative and summative, to compare a student’s performance within schools, between schools, in year groups and with peers with the same socio-economic profile, to aid  teachers marking, and routine record keeping, to accelerate information acquisition, to allow teachers to tailor and personalize learning for each student, to transform the presentation of information digitally and visually, and so on  . The potential for a revolution is there, its just that inertia, and the way we structure our schools system and its accountability measures, can militate against innovation and transformation. And not much will happen until leaders  decide to grasp the nettle.
Neil Stephenson’s 1995 science fiction novel “The Diamond Age” offers an account  of the potential  in AI  . It  presents a fascinating piece of educational technology called “A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer” . The Diamond Age depicts a near-future world revolutionized by advances in nanotechnology, with the main character Nell using The Primer, which  is a typical storybook aimed at children, but which is extended in its impact  through interactive technology. Nell can change adapt alter and personalise her life,  aided by interactive technology  on an on- gong basis.
The primer can answer a learner’s questions (spoken in natural language), teach through allegories that incorporate elements of the learner’s environment, and presents contextual just-in-time information. (Imagine this in a school or university setting) The primer includes sensors that monitor the learner’s actions and provide bespoke  feedback. The learner is in a cognitive apprenticeship with the book: The primer models a certain skill (through allegorical fairy tale characters) which the learner then imitates in real life.  The primer follows a learning progression with increasingly more complex tasks. The educational goals of the primer are humanist: To support the learner to become a strong and independently thinking person.(autonomous learner)
Professor Rose Luckin reminds us that AI embraces a range of disciplines, psychology, linguistics, philosophy, cognitive science, neuro science, computer science , electrical engineering. It is cross cutting. Machine Learning will and indeed can  pretty much beat us hands down in accessing knowledge. But its nonsense to suggest its about pitting man against machine, which is where much of the misunderstanding about AI comes from. Nor is it about human teachers giving way, or being replaced by AI. In short,  It’s working out what machines and AI can do best to support teaching and learning. It’s about identifying where we have real challenges in education and then  how AI can help us solve these challenges. It may also mean teachers having to learn new skills,  but  also anticipates them being  relieved of routine tasks, much of which are a heavy burden on their workload,. It can help improve routine cognitive processes and make them more efficient. It can also help us to locate the gaps in our knowledge and identify inaccuracies in how we perceive our strengths and weaknesses, and tell us  what we know and what we don’t know. It can help develop higher order thinking and learning skills. It can provide detailed and nuanced information about each individual’s progress: intellectually, emotionally, socially, metacognitively, (metacognition- is our ability to understand and regulate our own thinking) and in terms of students developing self-efficacy. In short, it can take much of the heavy lifting out of teaching ,says Luckin. So the message is-  wake up and smell the coffee.

Note- watch out for Sir Anthony Seldons new book The Fourth Education Revolution, University of Buckingham Press, due out in May , which sets the education and AI context , provides an overview of the current AI landscape and potential developments and pitfalls , and some case studies of what is already happening around the world. .