Looking Ahead- HE and 2018

Vice Chancellors remuneration has shed light on the quality of leadership, governance, and lax regulation in HE .The sector hasn’t reacted intelligently to the changing dynamic between producer and consumer. Too little transparency and accountability have been in evidence. The Office for Students, which is now  in place,  will be firing on all cylinders from April and Professor Barber has made it clear that he wants to see changes over pay, accountability and Freedom of Speech, with more to come  . OfS  aims  to  ensure that the sector is more consumer focused. How the sector is funded, and student debt, will very much remain on the agenda,  Lord Adonis will see to that. The combination of increased concerns over the value of degrees, with more information available for students on  employment destinations, will pressure universities to  improve their offers and focus more  on the  quality both of  their teaching and pastoral support.

Research has always trumped teaching in the sector .The TEF, with its clunky metrics, is work in progress, but expect some significant   rebalancing in favour of teaching.   Universities can learn more from schools about teaching and pastoral support.  So expect more co-operation between HE and secondary sectors and not just in outreach.

Technological breakthroughs in AI , robotics, the internet of things, autonomous vehicles, 3D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage and quantum computing,  will   offer immense scope for new courses, research  and  innovative  partnerships between institutions and business. So watch this space. Though some claims about AI may be overblown, it really will change the way we do things, not least in education, and, longer term, impact significantly on the employment market.

Three year degrees haven’t  had there day, but expect increased disruption in the market,  and more  students choosing non-traditional routes into employment.  More accelerated degrees will be developed  , and  possibly even four year degrees in niche areas. The Higher and Degree Apprenticeships offers will gradually improve in quality and scope , with more student choice, and better matches with employers demands but  expect incremental change here, rather than  a stampede. Delivery lags behind the up beat narrative.

As demand for education outstrips supply, globally, internationalisation of education and transnational education will grow. Structures and means of delivery are changing. Abroad, look at what Michael Crow is doing at the University of Arizona- re-engineering courses , technological delivery  platforms and pedagogy, greater use of AI,  matching excellence and improved  access in the same institution , something of a holy grail in the sector. As for Brexit,   it will have limited impact both on staff and research this  year. And , on a positive note,  there is a big incentive for universities to be more  outward looking,  to form partnerships and to co-operate with institutions  abroad  whether its in research, teaching or innovation or,  indeed, in investigating the setting up of satellite campuses.     And  lets try to be nicer to international students. We need them. In this respect it will be worth watching the passage of the Immigration Bill. Although the sector remains highly competitive internationally it is perhaps significant that students in both China and India are increasingly making Australia their second choice after the USA, and not the UK. We have few areas where we have a comparative advantage in international markets but education is one.  But we have to work harder just to maintain our competitive position,  a message that has not got through to some in government and the sector




Seeking better quality data on NEET

And more accountability from schools on tracking, destinations and careers advice


On 10 September, Lorna Fitzjohn, Ofsteds National Director for Further Education and Skills delivered a speech at the Further Education and Skills annual lecture . The speech attracted little media coverage at the time but was nonetheless important in   outlining  Ofsteds approach to the 16-19 sector.

Fitzjohn explored the issues that prevent young people from engaging in education, employment or training. She highlighted  the arresting fact that approximately 1,184,000  young people aged between 16 and 24, do not have a full-time job and are not attending full-time education or training courses. That is more than the total population of Birmingham.  She said that while the  raising of the participation age in education, training and employment to 17 last year – and to 18 next year – seems to be having a positive impact on reducing the number of 16- to 17-year-olds who are NEET, part of the problem seems to have shifted and the focus is now on the high number of young people aged 18 to 24 who are NEET. Unemployment currently affects around 605,000 18– 24-year-olds .

The lecture used evidence from the survey Transforming 16 to 19 education and training: the early implementation of 16 to 19 study programmes and is supported by background information, data and case studies.

We now, ostensibly,  live in a policy environment in which both policy and practice should be informed by evidence . However, Fitzjohn points out that even now   we lack  definitive reliable  data on the number of young people who are in the  NEET category. ‘Quite simply, there are far too many people that are unaccounted for. The category used for these people is ‘current activity not known’. They are often called the ‘unknowns’. If you don’t know who these young people are, how can you support them’, she asks

She said “Local authorities have the overall responsibility for recording participation in employment, education and training. However, there are no lines of accountability in making the tracking processes more efficient and effective. The accuracy of the data is also dependent on the quality of the data collection by each local authority and the reliability of data provided by schools and providers. Inspectors encountered hugely contradictory data at a local level. The anomalies were quite shocking. For example, in one area, schools collectively reported a NEET figure of 0%, while the local authority for that area reported a figure of 10%. How can we plan for improvements when we simply can’t rely on the figures we have?”..” Local authorities have the duty to collect this information, but they do not have the power to enforce the providers to submit it to them.”

Her first set of recommendations to address the problems are:

Firstly, the government must ensure that there is a reliable system for tracking a young person’s educational progress and participation throughout their learning career. Plans to use the unique learner number linked to an individual’s national insurance number may be one way forward. However, any system would need to be accurate, secure and fool-proof. Whatever the systems, local authorities must be held to account if their data collection is ineffective.

Secondly, local authorities must have legal powers of intervention to ensure that all schools, academies and FE and skills providers comply with local protocols to provide full and prompt information on learners who drop out of their courses into unknown destinations.

Thirdly, the government must ensure that schools, providers, local authorities and government agencies, such as Jobcentre Plus, are mandated to share (albeit sensitively) information about learners’ backgrounds. This information is key to providing individualised support to young people when they transfer to different education and training providers

One of the main issues is that nationally managed strategies have too often been poorly aligned with local delivery. So there must be national strategies to support local initiatives to develop long-term solutions.

So, in relation to this, here are her second set of recommendations:

Firstly, young people must be at the heart of all planning and delivery of 14 to 19 provision. The government must ensure that there are clear lines of local accountability for the range and content of education and training, be it through the local enterprise partnerships, the local authority or other bodies.

Secondly, employers must take responsibility for leading vocational education and training for young people and make sure it supports the economy of the area. In turn, providers must work with employers to ensure that what they provide leads to their learners securing employment.

Finally, all schools must collaborate with other providers and careers guidance professionals to ensure that every young person has access to impartial careers guidance to help make informed choices about their futures


She concludes ‘As for Ofsted, I can assure you that inspections will take greater account of the actions taken by schools, FE and skills providers and local authorities to decrease the likelihood of a young person becoming NEET. Inspections will focus on how well providers ensure that all young people have a fair chance to progress.’

 This is perhaps the strongest indication  yet that Ofsted  will, in  future, pay much more attention to,  and hold schools accountable for, the quality of  information that  they hold on their pupils, their progress and tracking ,  their training and employment  destinations and the quality of  the impartial  professional careers  advice and  guidance  that  they  actually receive.


More  recently, the Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said in the Commons  on 1 December, implicitly recognizing stakeholders concerns about Careers guidance in schools:”We are consulting representatives to examine what further steps we can take to prepare young people for the world of work more effectively, and to ensure that businesses are engaging with schools in meaningful ways.”

Securing a better future for all at 16 and beyond – annual lecture for further education and skills 2014 Lorna Fitzjohn, National Director for Further Education and Skills

10 September 2014




Should Ofsted inspections better reflect the fact that there are networks involved in school improvement?


At the heart of the “self-improving system” is the idea that schools should co-operate in networks, where teachers and Heads , collaborate and exchange good practice to improve outcomes. This collaboration ,of course,  must remain relevant to particular local contexts – so schools are not told to impose what worked in an affluent London borough on a school in a remote coastal town or rural area. This is more bottom up than top down. Or that at least is the theory.

Ofsted has a powerful influence on schools’ actions, but whether this influence is overall positive or negative depends on the type of school inspected and the quality of inspections.

Melanie Ehren a Senior lecturer at the London Centre for Leadership in Learning at the Institute of Education, says that ‘The way schools and authorities operate in this “networked system” needs to become more localised, rather than dictated by a national inspection framework which treats all schools and their governing bodies in a similar manner. Instead, a group of schools and authorities should step up to take a joint responsibility for how well a school is functioning. Ofsted inspections need to reflect this by evaluating how schools and authorities take on that joint responsibility.’

School improvement is not simply, she adds, a linear process of inspection, intervention and improvement of individual schools and of individual authorities. Ehren argues plausibly  that  if  the Department of Education  really wants to move towards a self-improving school system, centred on collaboration,  it needs to move away from thinking that individual schools operate in a vacuum. They don’t ,or at least shouldn’t. So, it follows that  the inspection regime should take this into account.

The role and activities of the regional school commissioners is interesting in this respect as they are supposed to have a more holistic , cross cutting approach to school improvement across the areas for which they are responsible.




Where do we stand?


Education debates in this country are often lively and mostly polarised. The media thrives on, and to a great extent needs, robust argument and adversarial comment but has less space for identifying where there is agreement and consensus.  However, there are many issues in education where there is substantive agreement between the political parties, where consensus has developed and been sustained over time. One such area is in the shared  understanding that good heads, teachers and schools can help others to raise standards and improve outcomes and that the skills to improve the system lie within the system itself. Politicians, across the board, want schools to take more responsibility for themselves and each other in delivering a true self-improving school system. The All party Education Select Committee, in its recent report on school partnerships and co-operation, reflected the established consensus that high quality collaboration through partnerships delivers improved outcomes.  The Committee said: “School partnerships and cooperation have become an increasingly important part of a self-improving or school-led system. We believe that such collaboration has great potential to continue driving improvement to the English education system.” Meanwhile Ofsted, back in 2010, said that whole system improvement is the holy grail of education reform.

There are a number of ways, according to Professor Toby Greany  of the Institute of Education  ‘  in which school-to-school support and system leadership can be brokered and structured, none of which are mutually exclusive. The key models in place include structural governance models (such as multi-academy trusts and federations), designations based on formal criteria (such as National Leaders of Education and Teaching Schools) and role related partnerships (such as where an executive head oversees two or more schools).’

These partnerships ,he says,  are being seen as the answer both at the “failing” end of the spectrum (where academy chains, ideally led by outstanding schools, are brokered to take control), as well as the “upstream” improvement of existing teachers.

The London Challenge and to a slightly lesser extent the Manchester Challenge, have been used as examples of how good partnership working and collaboration can work across a system of schools. Of course, with London’s success, as some have suggested, there were a number of key factors at work which are difficult to disaggregate and isolate as to their direct effect on outcomes. There was an  overarching commissioner, Tim Brighouse ,who helped provide moral leadership and drive, there was  extra funding made available  (and the disadvantaged areas targeted were becoming wealthier over the period of the Challenge) education experts known as Challenge Advisors played a significant role  and good use of  data packs allowed schools to compare their performance with other schools with very  similar characteristics (ie comparing like with like-so there was no place to hide). There was also a plentiful  supply of outstanding Heads and teachers in London from which to draw (in a sense London is exceptional in this respect)

The overarching challenge is to try and ensure   now that effective collaboration and partnerships work across the system, to deliver systemic improvement from the bottom up rather than top down. Currently collaboration is very good in some areas but signally lacking in others.  The system is fragmented. In some of the most disadvantaged areas there is the least evidence of partnership working. In other words it would be wrong to assume that collaboration is the default position.  And if you are relying on collaboration to deliver improved outcomes, then surely this is a prerequisite.

When the Challenge ended the concept of Teaching Schools, which had been pioneered as part of the London Challenge, was continued, while the number of National Leaders of Education was more than doubled. Teaching schools appear to be a success but their effects are patchy. The big challenge for politicians now is to ensure that the system has incentives (carrots and sticks) to deliver more collaboration, across the system, drawing inspiration from good collaboration projects  including, of course, the  London Challenge, while accepting that some elements that made the London Challenge successful are difficult or impossible to replicate and up-scale in other areas, for example  in rural areas  and coastal  towns .



Research ‘Lessons from London schools’ due out this year  is being carried out by CfBT Education Trust with Centre for London and LKMCo . This might provide some useful evidence and insights to help inform this debate and some   pointers as to the way forward.




The Headteachers’ Roundtable-Launches its Education Manifesto

The Headteachers’ Roundtable  an influential,  non-party political group of Headteachers, operating as a think-tank, exploring policy issues from a range of perspectives, is seeking to shape the education debates in the lead-up to the next election. Very deliberately they are moving beyond structures  to focus on what happens in the classroom, and the quality of teaching . This is about practitioners appealing directly to politicians , and the Gove team are monitoring closely what HTRT is  proposing .

The HTRT  goal is ‘ to provide a vehicle for people  working in the profession to influence national education policymakers so that  education policy is centred upon what is best for the learning of all children.’

Launched on May 7th 2014, exactly one year before the General Election, the Education Election Manifesto  aims to stimulate discussion around five key policy areas:

• A World Class Teaching Profession

• A rigorous, inclusive and flexible curriculum and qualifications framework

• Intelligent accountability

• Coherence in a fragmented system

• Tackling Underachievement at the Source

The manifesto outlines ten key policy proposals.  Over the coming months the HTRT  will produce more  detailed policy statements suggesting how each proposal could be implemented in practice.

Ten Policies towards a Great Education for All

1a: To introduce the entitlement to a professional development programme leading to QTS for all  teachers after a maximum of two years’ induction and a masters-level professional qualification  after five years.

1b: To implement the blueprint for the College of Teaching with compulsory membership for all teachers.

2a:To introduce a National Baccalaureate framework following the Headteachers’ Roundtable  model.(see Note)

2b: To introduce progressive qualifications in English and mathematics up to Level 3 to facilitate continued study to 18 for all learners.

3a: To implement an Intelligent Inspection Framework.

3b: To stabilise Performance Measures.

4a: To harmonise freedoms across maintained schools and academies.

4b: To Introduce Transition Standards Grants to incentivise innovation towards systematic primary- secondary progression.

5a: To develop a National 0-5 Parent Support Strategy.

5b: To establish a National Recruitment Fund.

A Great Education for All The Headteachers’ Roundtable  Education Election Manifesto 2015



One correspondent, an experienced teacher, author  and education consultant  wondered how much this would all cost ? Quite a lot he suggests.


HTRT proposals for National Baccalaureate:




Partnership grows out of partnership

And Partnerships  are improving outcomes in Lincolnshire

CfBT Education Trust has just published a research report  ‘Partnership working in small rural primary schools’ .

Robert Hill and the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) were commissioned  to investigate the most effective ways for small rural primary schools to work together in order to improve provision and raise standards. The project sought to examine the circumstances and context of small rural schools in Lincolnshire and evaluate their different leadership models (such as collaborations, federations, partnerships or academy chains) to:

identify successful approaches to collaboration likely to have a positive impact on pupil achievement

identify barriers to successful collaborative models

understand the role of the local authority in enabling effective partnership

place the Lincolnshire approach in the context of approaches being adopted in other areas in England and best practice in partnership as identified in research literature

identify issues and recommendations for policymakers to consider.

The report provides three sets of ten lessons for schools, policymakers and local authorities.

As well as the main report of findings there is a secondary report composed of supporting materials which is also available to download.

Although the researchers looked specifically at partnerships involving small schools, which have their own distinctive challenges ,some of the lessons learnt will be of interest  and utility to secondary schools.  The authors do not think that academisation and the establishment of teaching schools will , by themselves, address the problems and challenges facing small primary schools. There are 4,000 schools in England with fewer than 150 pupils and 1,400 with fewer than 75.

CFBT Education Trust provides school improvement support in Lincolnshire  and the report states ‘Lincolnshire provides a test-bed for how far it is possible to foster partnership working, address previous obstacles and build a school-to-school improvement model for small rural  schools’

 Ten Lessons for schools:  

Build on existing partnerships and relationships

Keep local partnerships geographically focused

Ensure that head teachers leading a collaboration develop strong relationships, shared values and commitment to each other

Be clear about governance, funding and accountability

Involve middle leaders in the leadership of partnerships

Use business plans and action plans to prioritise what partnerships will do together

Use action plans to prioritise and clarify what partnerships will do together.

Focus partnership activity on improving teaching and learning through teacher-to-teacher and pupil-to-pupil engagement and learning – including the use of digital contact between staff and pupils.

Focus any dedicated resources on providing dedicated leadership or project management time to organise activity and/or cover transport costs.

Be prepared to engage in multi-partnership activity and for the form and membership of partnerships to evolve over time.

Monitor and evaluate the impact of partnership activity


Ten lessons for local authorities:

 Provide a clear vision of the future in terms of school-to-school working.

Be flexible about the structural arrangements for partnerships but encourage a direction of travel   that moves to more structured arrangements – and formalise the arrangement, whatever form it takes.

 Expand the use of executive headship, using soft influence and hard levers (for example, intervening when schools are failing or struggling to recruit a new headteacher) to reinforce the growth of local clusters and the recruitment and retention of high quality school leaders.

Insist on schools agreeing on measures of progress and success – which they track and monitor

Focus any allocation of ring-fenced resources on providing some dedicated leadership or (start up) project management time to coordinate partnership activity and/or cover transport costs.

Reinforce a partnership strategy by the way that other policies on areas such as children’s services and place planning are framed and implemented.

Use simple practical initiatives to help foster partnership depth – such as time at headteachers’  briefings for cluster heads to work together, appointing the same professional link adviser to all the  schools in a partnership and enabling partnerships to jointly procure CPD.

Identify headteachers to champion the strategy, build ownership among their peers and provide a guiding coalition for change.

Support networking and communication between schools and partnerships through newsletters,  micro-websites and conferences.

Stick with the initiative – recognising that elements of the programme will evolve and that the full benefit will take time to come through.

Ten lessons for policymakers:

Set a clear, consistent vision and strategy for primary schools – and small primary schools in particular – to work together in small clusters but without being prescriptive on the form it should take.

Recognise in the way that policies are developed that schools are likely to engage in partnership with other schools on a number of different levels.

Affirm the role of local authorities in steering and enabling clusters to develop and grow.

Work with faith bodies to encourage and facilitate cross-church/community school partnerships.

Aim to develop 3,000–4,000 executive leaders of primary schools and provide a career path and training and development to match this ambition.

Encourage governors to work and train together across clusters, and encourage moves towards exercising governance at cluster level through federations, trusts and multi-academy trusts.

Reinforce the strategy of cluster working by enabling school forums to allocate lump sums to clusters as well as to individual schools.

Communicate the value of partnership working to parents and the wider world in order to provide more support for the efforts of small schools in developing partnerships.

Ensure that the accountability regime balances the competitive pressures among schools to recruit pupils with measures that value partnership working.

Evaluate the impact of partnership working at national level and provide tools to help schools assess the impact of partnership initiatives.

 There is a spectrum of partnership models in evidence. This ranges from loose, informal collaboration between schools, through informal collaboration underpinned by a memorandum of understanding , to more  formal collaboration, for example, including  a management agreement with an executive head, and on to a Federation or multi-  academy trust with  executive head teacher  and single governing body.

 Of the 99 small schools in Lincolnshire just 7 are in no form of collaborative arrangement.

As far as outcomes are concerned, the report says ‘Identifying the impact of Lincolnshire’s partnership programme is both difficult and easy. It is relatively easy to establish whether there has been progress and improvement but much more difficult to be sure about the causes for that improvement. There are three useful sources of evidence that deal with the first issue – whether there has been improvement.’

‘In 2009 the performance of pupils in small schools was significantly below that of their  peers in larger schools and was lagging behind the national performance.(As   measured by the proportion of pupils achieving level 4 or above in English and mathematics (and, for  2013, in reading, writing and mathematics). However,  in  2012 pupils in the  smallest schools were matching the national benchmark and also the achievement of the largest  schools in Lincolnshire. In 2013 results indicate that small schools were just above both the national performance level and the average for other groups of Lincolnshire schools – apart from those with  181 to 270 pupils.’

Second, the number of small primary schools with fewer than 90 pupils falling below the government’s  floor target for primary schools fell from over 20 to single figures in 2012 and to just one in 2013. This is despite the threshold for the floor target having been raised twice during this period.

Third, the Ofsted inspection outcomes of the smallest primary schools inspected during the school years 2011/12 and 2012/13 show significant improvement. The number of ‘outstanding’ and ‘inadequate’  (respectively Grade 1 and Grade 4) small rural schools in Lincolnshire has remained the same but  there has been a sizeable reduction in the number of ‘satisfactory’/’requiring improvement’ (Grade  3) schools and a corresponding increase in the proportion of ‘good’ (Grade 2) schools. The 65 Lincolnshire schools, taken as a group, have moved from having inspection outcomes that are much  poorer than other primary schools in England to having, on average, better inspection outcomes. ‘

Partnership working in small rural primary schools: the best of both worlds Research report Robert Hill, with Kelly Kettlewell  and Jane Salt-April 2014





Lincolnshire has 21 Special schools, 276 Primary schools and 59 Secondary schools, including 83 Academies. In addition, Lincolnshire remains one of the few areas in the UK to retain Grammar Schools and there are also a range of Primary and Secondary schools provided by the independent sector. CfBT Education Trust  took responsibility for school improvement in Lincolnshire in 2002 and since then the performance of schools and settings has shown sustained improvement year on year.

In 2012, CfBT won the Education Investor award for ‘Best School Improvement Service’ for its work in Lincolnshire.


No system can exceed the quality of its teachers

Yes, but…


No system can exceed the quality of its teachers is a familiar mantra-and who could disagree with it? “The quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers and principals,  since student learning is ultimately the product of what goes on in classrooms”  PISA 2009: What Makes a School Successful?

The available evidence suggests that the main driver of the variation in student learning at school is indeed the quality of the teachers. The 2007  McKinsey report ‘ How the world’s best-performing Schools systems come out on top’, found that ‘ All the different schools systems that have improved significantly have done so primarily because they have produced a system that is more effective in doing three things:

getting more talented people to become teachers;

developing these teachers into better instructors,;

and ensuring that these instructors deliver consistently for every child in the system.

Andrew Hargreaves and Michael Fullan argue in their book Professional Capital that if teachers work together, and collaborate effectively, and there is sustained investment in ‘social capital’ the sum can, in fact, be greater than the individual parts. So, the system can exceed the quality of the individual teachers within that system.  Creative, committed, skilled, capable people working collaboratively, providing mutual support within a team structure underpinned   by a team philosophy, can lead to  real  coherence and improved outcomes from the synergy that will result. If you focus on the development of individual teachers, in isolation, you will get poor returns. If you ensure that teachers work together, benefiting from each other’s experience and skills you will   generate better returns .   This certainly makes sense and is a no brainer. A good sporting team will frequently perform better than the sum of the individuals involved, if well coached, well led, and well managed.

Hargreaves and Fullan wrote ‘Social capital can raise individual human capital—a good team, school, or system lifts everyone. But, as we often see in sports, higher individual human capital—a few brilliant stars—does not necessarily improve the overall team’.

But here is the other side of the coin.  Arguably, given the quality of people  going into the teaching  profession ,which we are  often reminded (Wilshaw/Gove et al) is better now than  it has  ever been, the current school system doesn’t actually add up to the sum of the parts. Otherwise, surely, our system would not be stagnating (See Pisa 2009 and 2012) So,  the quality of the individual teachers in it is , perhaps,  actually better than the system is, overall. If this is the case, then using the Hargreaves/Fullan argument, the social capital element needs a lot more work  and investment and we need to focus much more on identifying and spreading high qualify collaborative practice within schools and between schools.