GRAMMARS ,AND SELECTION -THE JAMS OWFS etc

The Government is heading rapidly down a cul de sac in its policy to increase selection in the maintained sector. Either it will have to execute a U turn (not unheard of-think, Nicky Morgan) or it will come to a grinding halt , using its scarce resources and haemorrhaging political capital, to prop up a policy that cannot possibly deliver the outcomes it wants-a significant number of new, good school places for ‘ordinary working  families’ and increased social mobility.

The Grammar school model is currently demonstrably failing to help the most disadvantaged pupils and is no engine of social mobility. Justine Greening has accepted as much, and now talks about  the need for a  ‘new model ‘for Grammar schools ,  conceding past failures of Grammars to cater for the less affluent.

Selective schools continue to be dominated by the most affluent. Over half of pupils in selective schools are in families with income above the national median and fewer than one in ten are eligible for the Pupil Premium. Ironically  one  enduring  education success of this and the previous government, has been the Pupil Premium ,which specifically targets the most disadvantaged cohort with extra per capita funding  . Grammars really haven’t played any significant  part  in this success story.

The government has shifted its attention now  to what it calls ordinary working families. Although there is no official definition of an ordinary working family, the government   describes students fitting into the category as those who are not entitled to pupil premium, but who come from families earning “modest” or below median incomes.The Education Policy Institute tells us that Department for Education’s definition of  the OWF group occupies the centre of the income distribution of children in maintained schools.’ Crucially, though , the child of the OWF  currently ‘experiences attainment and progress outcomes that are above average’.

Seeking to change that model by incentivising, or  compelling,  Grammars to take more   pupils from these  ordinary working families  presents a huge new  practical  challenge. . How do you hold schools  to account ? Do you introduce a quota system? Do you dump the eleven plus in favour of another test?  Indeed, can you design a new  tutor -proof test (unlikely)?  Or ,do you lower the pass mark for young people whose families fall below the median income threshold?  The Government risks falling between a rock and a hard place here, alienating both the education establishment and grammar schools.

The three bodies that know most about social mobility and its drivers, are the Social Mobility Commission, the Sutton Trust and Teach First . None of these organisations  though believe that social mobility, remember the top  priority of Justine Greening as Education Secretary, will increase one iota on the back of increased selection. The Sutton Trust believes that Grammars should demonstrate how well they can support  the bottom third of pupils, before they  roll out  increased selection across the system.  Greening struggled on the BBC R4  Today Programme, on 13 April ,to name a single expert or institution that supports her policy (to be fair its not her Policy ,its Nick Timothys of N0 10). She couldn’t,  because there aren’t any. When NO 10 phoned around those whom it could normally rely on to support its education announcements, on the release of its Green Paper on selection, all ducked their heads below the parapet. They had a quick squint at the evidence, saw the prospect of a car crash, and made their excuses .All these organisations are alarmed too at the shift away from targeting the most disadvantaged cohort, and narrowing  the achievement gap,  to the group that  was called those who are just about managing (JAMs) ,( now called  ordinary working families’ (OWFs).

There are  many,  including  key figures who have been  broadly supportive  of the governments education reforms,   who cannot fathom  why the government is pursuing such a high risk policy,   that is not evidence -based, and  has  such little prospect  of  meaningful  educational ,or political, returns. .

GRAMMARS-DIVIDING THE TORIES ?

The Times, in a leader this week, repeated an essential truth, rooted in  evidence  ‘At the heart of the grammar schools debate is a single, uncomfortable truth. Selection is good for the children selected, and not so good for those who aren’t.’  Grammar schools just dont select   disadvantaged pupils. At the last count 3% of their intakes on average, qualified for free school meals, the clunky measure for deprivation. So they are  demonstrably  not, as is claimed by some in government, engines of social mobility.
Somewhat bruised by the evidence put before them,  ministers are considering forcing those grammars with the fewest disadvantaged children to lower the pass mark for applicants from poorer backgrounds. (Tip for SPADS-On balance, its better to look at the evidence, and then formulate a  policy rather than formulate a policy and then look at the evidence).  Lowering the pass mark, would be combined with other measures to help disadvantaged children, such as holding entrance tests on deprived council estates to encourage children there to apply. This means that the reforms that will appear in the White Paper (the Green paper consultation process, was  a window dressing exercise ,much to the annoyance of those who submitted evidence to the consultation in good faith) will be more complex than simply allowing grammars to expand and free schools to select ,so may not please the existing grammar schools lobby. There will be caveats attached,  given their poor record with disadvantaged  pupils.  Graham Brady MP, the leading Tory backbench voice on grammars, said this week “Grammars are already keen to widen the social diversity of applicants and of the pupils attending them .There are numerous ways of doing this and it would be a mistake to force grammar schools to adopt a particular approach by requiring a quota to be reserved for a particular demographics or requiring lower pass marks for entry exams.”

Grammar schools, in order to retain their status may have to change their admissions/selection procedures fairly radically. So, The Government could fall between a rock and hard place. Irritating the Grammar schools lobby on the one hand, and on the other, the bulk of the educational and research establishment who feel that the government is heading down a cul de sac on selection.

CHALLENGING BULLSHIT -THE PUSH BACK AGAINST THE NEW WORLD OF ALTERNATIVE FACTS

 

The fight back against lies, distortions half- truths and new alternative facts

Two US college professors, at the University of Washington in Seattle, Carl Bergstrom ,a member of the Department of Biology, and Jevin West, a member of the Information School, have set up a college course entitled “Calling Bullshit”.   They will teach the course at the University of Washington during  the Spring Quarter 2017. It will be structured as a one credit lecture-style seminar. Their intention is to expand the class to three or four ‘credits’ in subsequent years. ‘In the meantime,’ they say,’ connoisseurs of bullshit may enjoy the course syllabus, readings, tools, and case studies that we have developed.’

As they explain on their Home Page, ‘we feel that the world has become over-saturated with bullshit and we’re sick of it. However modest, this course is our attempt to fight back. We have a civic motivation as well. It’s not a matter of left- or right-wing ideology; both have proven themselves facile at creating and spreading bullshit. Rather (and at the risk of grandiose language) adequate bullshit detection strikes us as essential to the survival of liberal democracy. Democracy has always relied on a critically-thinking electorate, but never has this been more important than in the current age of false news and international interference in the electoral process via propaganda disseminated over social media. In a December 2016 editorial in The New York Times about how America needs to respond to Russian “information warfare”, Mark Galeotti summarized:

“Instead of trying to combat each leak directly, the United States government should teach the public to tell when they are being manipulated. Via schools and nongovernmental organizations and public service campaigns, Americans should be taught the basic skills necessary to be savvy media consumers, from how to fact-check news articles to how pictures can lie. “The Academics say they could not agree more.’

They subscribe to the following definition of bullshit:

‘Bullshit is language, statistical figures, data graphics, and other forms of presentation intended to persuade by impressing and overwhelming a reader or listener, with a blatant disregard for truth and logical coherence.’

They continue:

‘It’s an open question whether the term bullshit also refers to false claims that arise from innocent mistakes. Whether or not that usage is appropriate, we feel that the verb phrase calling bullshit definitely applies to falsehoods irrespective of the intentions of the author or speaker. Some of the examples treated in our case studies fall into this domain. Even if not bullshit sensu stricto, we can nonetheless call bullshit on them.’

‘In this course, we focus on bullshit as it often appears in the natural and social sciences: in the form of misleading models and data that drive erroneous conclusions’.

It  has been  said that a lie gets half way around the world before the truth has even got its  boots on. Social media accelerates this process .It gives instant,and wider currency to the views of  a motley  crew of charlatans, fraudsters, con men , conspiracy theorists  bigots  psychopaths,  and demagogues, to name a few.  In this Echo Chamber views, however extreme , and plain  wrong ( in other words not backed by  objective  evidence),  attract a spurious credibility simply by being digitally published ,’liked’  and ‘shared’ .  So minority  views can begin to look mainstream.  And, frankly ,with so many sources of information and little transparency about the sources, or motivation of those disseminating information, it is hard,  and something of a hassle,  to check their veracity. And, where is the help?

It is also the case that the Russians,  with not a  a huge amount of subtlety,  have cottoned on to the idea that  if you control information sources,  and hack around  a bit,  you can say pretty much what you like and a significant minority  will believe it, without the willingness or ability to fact check.  Its all part of a cunning plan to  create a perception of a strong , ‘dont mess with us’ Russia, and  for it to position itself to  compete on  a more equitable basis with the USA (and China)and  to woo back its lost sheep in what it regards as its sphere of influence, in Eastern Europe . But one must not  just blame Putin.

The new Trump Presidency  has managed to introduce the Orwellian construct of ‘alternative facts’ . In short, lies. But lies that come from the Office of the Presidency.

So, helping people to be made more aware of how to spot the objective truth  and ‘ fact check’  seems to be a matter that  deserves  rather more attention than it is  currently  getting.

And….

For all those ‘snowflake’ students, campaigners ‘liberal’ academics and Facebookers seeking safe spaces, no platforming, and other restrictions on free thinking and free speech take a long hard look at  This,  from a ‘liberal’ philosopher who understood and articulated liberal values:

“The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.” JS Mill On Liberty

AUSTERE TIMES  IN GOVERNMENT ? NOT REALLY. THE BONUS CULTURE SEES TO THAT

We know that savings have to be made and costs cut in public services, that we have to get more from less,  and productivity has to improve,  because that’s what we are told by Ministers. Strange then that at the Energy Department, as policy  lurches  from one crisis to the next, and experts predict a mismatch between supply and demand, with an acknowledged  shortage of generating capacity and a creaking national grid,  and an  expensive nuclear deal in prospect  that may or may not work,(probably the latter), one has grounds for wondering why so many civil servants who deal with Energy policy  are due bonuses.

The Public Sector is heavily into bonuses but has yet to produce any evidence that they work (ie for example- they incentivise employees to increase productivity). Because-well – there isn’t and they don’t. Bonuses might work on a production line, making widgets, but for more complex team oriented tasks and  services,  there is  scant evidence that they  do,  or at least  they   only work in certain very specific and limited  contexts.  Apart from anything else its extremely difficult to disaggregate an individual’s singular efforts and added value from that of other team players. Or, establish clear cause and effect rather than simply identifying correlations.  The empirical evidence just isn’t there. If evidence tells us anything it is that  non-monetary incentives (e.g., recognition, respect, autonomy, etc.) can be  much more powerful motivators of behaviours in the workplace. I can guarantee, by the way, that the departments ‘productivity’ will not have increased over the last year, and as Professor Michael Barber has reminded us in the past, improving  productivity is a  key task and benchmark  of any and every  government department.

New figures show that Energy secretary Amber Rudd’s department blew a total of £1,299,729 on whats called “Non-consolidated performance related payments”, aka bonuses, in 2014-15. A whopping £284,586 was earmarked for just 108 “Senior Civil Servants”, meaning these departmental mandarins hooked themselves a median average of £9,800, with some payouts going as high as an austerity-busting £14,700. This is despite an average annual salary of £109,490 . The average private sector bonus for UK workers last year was just £1,500…

Are other civil servants in other departments across government getting bonuses?  I think  we know the answer to that one.

Schools Week tells us that The Department for Education (DfE) paid out £1.7 million in bonuses last year – with top civil servants pocketing up to £17,500 for good performance. In total, 25.7 per cent of DfE senior civil servants got a bonus, with a median of £11,000. That compared with 23.4 per cent of non-senior civil servants with a median bonus of £1,900. And at Ofsted a quarter of the watchdog’s senior civil servants received bonuses: the largest was £16,500 and the median was £13,500.Question- did productivity in the DFE and Ofsted go up last year? I think we probably know the answer to that one too

Austere times, indeed, in the public sector.

NUDGE ,NUDGE-INSIGHTS INTO BEHAVIOUR SHAPING POLICY

 

Moves to harness insights on behaviour to shape policy and its delivery

Persuading Ministers, and indeed departments, to change policy and do something differently is always a challenge.  But behavioural scientists are beginning to understand what levers they need to  pull to sell new ideas and insights that might  lead to substantial changes in ministers and departmental thinking and ways of doing things, while making savings.

The Behavioural Insights Team or ‘Nudge Unit’ was set up by the Coalition government in 2010 backed  by David Cameron and Nick Clegg .Its mission was , informed by the latest science on behaviour ,  to design policy and delivery mechanisms . Many of the assumptions made by government around how and why people make decisions are simply wrong. The Nudge Unit set out   to transform the approach of at least two major government departments, to inject a new understanding  of human behaviour across government, and to deliver a ten -fold return on its cost, all within two years.  If it failed in these, then it would be wound up. In fact, It succeeded .The Insights Team not only flourishes (within the Cabinet Office) but is even advising foreign governments now on how to implement behaviourally informed policies.

Its main objectives now are;

making public services more cost-effective and easier for citizens to use;

improving outcomes by introducing a more realistic model of human behaviour to policy; and wherever possible, enabling people to make ‘better choices for themselves’

Richard Thaler and  Cass Sunsteins  2007 book’ Nudge’ , originally called  ‘Libertarian Paternalism’ ,a clunkier and altogether  less attractive title, was such a success because it made the world of behavioural science, which had crossed over into economic thinking as well,  more accessible and of  practical  worth to policy makers.

Through small, incremental adjustments in the nuts and  bolts of government informed by  insights into human behaviour, you  can get people to respond more readily,  and to ‘nudge’ them  to make choices that  protect their interests  but also improve the returns for the government and its agents saving time money and adding value.

Whether its encouraging people to pay tax owed, or parking fines, or to insulate their houses, to save energy, to start contributing to personal pension schemes that will benefit them, to filling in applications to college, to re-entering the labour market , to seeking  childcare support –  there are a myriad ways in which simple and nuanced  adjustments can make a huge difference to take up. Even if you only increase take up by, say, 5%, for example, the financial savings can be huge.

Both political and economic theory posits that individuals make rational choices that benefit them. But the reality is that frequently people don’t  make sensible choices, and  for a number of reasons. They don’t have enough time, they have too many choices,   there is too much hassle, or friction involved , the form they have to fill in is confusing etc.  Science has found that If you make it easy  and attractive  for people and show  that others are doing it too, then you stand a greater chance of success  . Computer generated letters that are de-personalised really don’t  often work,  yet they are churned out by government and business, regardless.  Sanctions and threats often don’t work either, in the way you want them to work,  and the same goes  for  financial incentives.  Social pressure, because we are ‘social ‘animals, after all, is often  much more effective. Personalising messages and telling people what others are doing is more likely to work.

Behavioural scientists help  us to understand this esoteric area.

At the most basic level   if you personalise a letter  and make it easy to understand and  adopt the  same approach to  the  forms you send out,  removing the hassle that goes with so many,  you will almost certainly  secure  better returns. Better and more effective communications is  part of the equation of course.  But there is much  more to it than that.

The BIT is into piloting small projects, across government and using randomised control trials to test the outcomes. Simple ideas. like opting everyone in for pension schemes (ie the default position) but also  giving them the choice of opting out, means that a vast majority will not opt out, because there is  the hassle factor and friction involved. Ie you have to positively make a decision to opt out.   These initiatives not only pay for themselves but generate significant returns on top of it..

The BIT unit have produced a pneumonic checklist to help policy makers   to influence behaviour-EAST. Make it Easy. Attractive. Harness Social Influence. And make it Timely, choosing a time when  people are most likely to be  receptive.

Helping people to make the right decisions through re-framing policies and processes to take into account how they actually behave and make decisions is eminently sensible. David Halpern, who has done so much to persuade Ministers to invest in the idea that behavioural insights really can deliver more efficiencies and savings  puts it thus:

‘We seek to introduce a more realistic, empirically grounded model of what influences human behaviour and decision making’.  Halpern sees behavioural insight approaches as ‘ a tool or lens through which to view all policy interventions  and can be used to subtly refashion conventional policy tools.’

But how might this approach be used in education?

We know that many early childhood interventions can be effective and improve young children’s life opportunities- what about nudges to ensure parents are  more actively engaged in these,  and earlier. How about a nudge to encourage those   with mental health issues, to seek support,   or a nudge to encourage the most disadvantaged students and their parents   to apply to  universities or high quality apprenticeships . Indeed,   there is also surely scope  for  nudging young pupils to make appropriate choices of routes into FE ,HE, training and employment(some useful work has already been done at Jobcentres by BIT)   and  in studying  appropriate qualifications to improve their life opportunities .Or, perhaps,  targeting those in the NEET category to secure engagement in education training or a job. These and other areas surely could be susceptible to nudges that will benefit the individuals concerned, save costs, reduce waste and benefit the economy. What’s not to like?

 

Well, there are some worries that the government will nudge citizens to do things that are not necessarily in their interests, but safeguards are possible here and indeed  so far   appear  to be operating reasonably effectively.

At present most of the insights have produced incremental changes but it is probably only a matter of time before an insight delivers revolutionary change in the policy arena. Arguably recent pension reforms are revolutionary.

BIT has harnessed evidence and delivered results that have cost little to implement and delivered substantial measurable returns. They have also shown a welcome willingness to evaluate what they do, rigorously and ethically,(RCTs) using outside auditing and are prepared to admit mistakes with equanimity, to adapt and to learn.  Above all  they have managed to shift an initially sceptical establishment to a position  where ministers and civil servants are now prepared to engage with the BIT in the early design of policy initiatives.

Watch this space

See Inside the Nudge Unit-How Small Changes can make big differences-David Halpern –WH Allen 2015

 

http://www.behaviouralinsights.co.uk/

SOME PREDICTIONS FOR EDUCATION IN 2016

 

What can we expect in education in 2016?

Professionalisation-The teaching profession will take one more step towards raising is status as the Teaching College advances from the foothills towards its establishment in 2017. Member-driven voluntary , and run by teachers for teachers, much of the heavy lifting on this project will begin in 2016. The government for sure will seek some leverage over its development given that taxpayers seed money will be involved. Interesting that some unions now realize that they can better  shape the education environment and enhance  the professions  status by engaging constructively with the government rather than throwing their toys out of the pram,  from somewhere in the far  distance.

Character Education-whether you can teach character in schools may be a moot point but resilience and other character traits and non-cognitive soft skills will be more heavily promoted in schools

Careers Guidance-Guidance in schools is a mess. Ministers have pretty much admitted as much, as has the regulator Ofsted. The government will deliver a Careers Strategy in the spring .But it’s a big challenge The Lords Social Mobility Committee and a joint Committee (BIS/Education Select Committee) will deliver a report too . Ministers are obsessed with getting more employers into schools, delivering better work experience but are still struggling with the idea that some children , particularly the most disadvantaged, really do need early access to face to face advice from a professional. Talking to a few self-serving employers wont in itself cut the mustard. Big changes are  needed here if the social mobility and access agendas are to take off. .

The Prevent strategy-efforts to protect children from radicalisation in schools, through a more proactive information campaign across the schools system will be increased.There is now greater awareness of how vulnerable some children are to grooming via the internet so there will be more restrictions on its use in schools.

Mental Health– Ministers have decided that mental health in schools is an issue. Data suggests that in every class of thirty there are around three pupils who have mental health issues. However, whether it’s a greater problem now than ever before is difficult to judge. There is certainly greater awareness of the problem, so more reporting is evident. Natasha Devon is helping to develop a more coherent approach to identifying and supporting children with mental heath issues in schools and alleviating the stigma . The penny seems to have dropped that social media and bullying are major issues that affect mental health. A rigorous and burdensome assessment regime probably doesn’t help much either .And that the problem, is cross cutting, ,in  Primary schools  in Higher Education and in the private sector.

Curriculum-the Government seems less gung-ho now about forcing schools to focus so much  on Ebacc subjects. If you give schools freedom over the curriculum it’s a nonsense to then prescribe to Heads  from the centre what their curriculum should look like. Its fair to say that the government should have a say in ensuring that schools offer a well balanced curriculum but should surely give schools more wriggle room not least so that the arts and creativity are allowed to thrive.,and  that not all teaching is to the test.
Assessment-I don’t think for a second that the government, as it has threatened, will create just one exam board or fiddle too much with the current assessment system. I just cant imagine Ministers, with  a  new found  responsibility for assessment, sitting there accepting the media flak that comes with results day every year . But there will be a closer look at how technology can be better utilized  both for pupils taking tests and in assessment processes to ensure more speed and consistency.
Academisation –the government is pledged to increase the number of academies. But there are problems on the horizon. Many of the big multi academy trusts will tell you that they are over regulated and spend too much time managing their relationship with DFE, RSCs and Ofsted. They complain that they really don’t have any freedoms, find it hard to innovate , and are beginning to wonder why they have taken on demanding schools in poor areas. Because they are given precious little slack in this area. The government wants more MATs in rural and coastal areas but most will see this as too risky and with  insufficient  incentives in place to encourage them to do so. Ministers want academy chains to help deliver transformative changes but  how this is to be achieved when so many chains are not allowed to expand by the government  and the best chains are cautions about expanding further  is anyone’s guess.

Schools Funding-we will have sight next year of the new schools funding formula. My view is that it is bound to be fairer than the current system but will still be controversial and will deliver its own anomalies. Some schools will see significant improvements in their funding , others will see a drop. Local MPS will make their feelings known. All against the background of a significant real drop in funding for schools, in the region of 20% according to some estimates.  Heads and governors will have to do more with less. Watch out for Graham Stuart in this area . He is a man with a mission since stepping down as the Select Committee chair

Regional Schools Commissioners –by the end of next year we will know whether or not the RSC system works. My view is that they are going to find it hard to deliver their (increased) responsibilities with the resources and staff they currently have and will find themselves vulnerable to attack (think Ofsted).

Research-we will see more extensive efforts to ensure that schools access the latest research and use it in the classroom. Ofsted may take an increased interest in how schools and groups of schools are using research tied mainly to the Pupil Premium

Collaboration– Collaboration as a principled approach to school reform and a self-improving schools system is good. Motherhood and Apple pie spring to mind. But there is a growing realisation that we still don’t fully understand what precise collaborative arrangements are best for driving up pupil attainment and schools improvement. More empirical research is needed in this area. What collaborative arrangements, that focus on improving attainment,  are scalable ?

Teacher Shortage- its not absolutely clear whether or not  their is a crisis in teacher  recruitment and retention. Ministers appear sanguine, experts such as Professor John Howson less so.  There does seem to be a shortage in certain areas (try recruiting a specialist maths teacher, for example) . We will know either way next year.  Targets for ITT in the Primary sector have been met but  there has been a shortfall in the Secondary sector. The recent recruitment campaign rather suggests that Ministers  are not quite as laid back on this issue as they might at first seem. And of course we wouldn’t have such recruitment problems if we were able to retain more teachers and ensure that they had clearer career pathways and sound continuous  professional development throughout their careers .

Higher Education- so, switching sectors -Jo Johnson’s  modest efforts to shift Higher Education from  being supply to demand driven are to be welcomed. As are his efforts, expressed in the recent Green paper, to improve the quality of teaching in universities which is far too variable,    and to give students a greater voice . A focus on better accountability  with easier access to information , including on employability , are aimed at ensuring  students can  make  better informed choices.Steps to open up the market perhaps lack ambition, but are heading in the right direction. Inevitably, entrenched interests   claim  there is no need for change. I simply dont  buy it .And I find it very hard  indeed to believe the findings of the National Students Survey, where student satisfaction rates are always  (unbelievably ) sky high (think North Korea).  Never has there been such a dis-junction between anecdotal evidence  (try talking to recent graduates across  degrees and institutions  from Russell group Unis) and official  survey data. I predict that closer attention will be paid to   ensuring we mine better data  from students and closer attention is paid to pastoral support . But  I predict modest changes in the sector, partly because of resistance from within the sector  ,but also because radical change could require Primary legislation, which is not on the cards.Other issues on the horizon include how Higher Education can,  or indeed are willing to adapt   to the Prevent anti-terrorism strategy, and how Vice Chancellors react to the threats to freedom of speech on campuses, as the claimed  right  not  to be offended by the views of others,  seems to  be trumping the right to freedom of speech and expression. This is arguably one of the greatest current threats to our universities.

Apprenticeships and Skills  The government has a  target of 3m apprenticeship starts by 2020.From April 2017, employers will have to pay 0.5 per cent of their pay roll costs towards an Apprenticeship  levy — offset by a £15,000 allowance meaning that most employers would not have to pay. The levy will fund £900m of apprenticeship spending and comes with a new employer-led Institute for Apprenticeships, which will set standards and quality. It is encouraging that the government is tackling the shortage of high quality  Apprenticeships. For too long inadequate training programmes  have sought to be passed off as bona fide  ‘ Apprenticeships’   when they are no such thing, so the focus on quality and  protecting the Apprenticeship brand  along with  new funding has to be welcomed . But there will be in 2016 some  increased tensions between employers  and the government  as greater clarity is provided  on the detail. FE colleges will be expected to improve  their Apprenticeships offers, and there will be much more pressure  in the Further Education sector to rationalise  and cut costs-so expect more strategic alliances between Colleges , and  a few, perhaps as many as 10-15 colleges , will close or merge.

Above are some initial predictions (to be added to, in due course ) for 2016

A NEW GOVERNMENT-ALL CHANGE IN EDUCATION-NOT QUITE

New government -all change in education. Well, not really. Of course, some things will change. Whoever heard of an education secretary taking office  saying that “my agenda is to do nothing for a while and oversee a period of  consolidation,  bedding in  previous  policies.” Dream on.   But there is a continuum operating.   Believe it or not , there is much more that unites political parties in education than divides them .  So, there are certain issues that we know will  continue on the education agenda. and would have continued , regardless of the party in power. At the most basic level all want to see attainment rise, and for the gap between the most disadvantaged and their peers to close, so the Pupil Premium is still in. As for the rest..

Academies – will continue to dominate the structural landscape.  The status of Free Schools that exist, or are due to open shortly, will be protected, and Morgan is committed to the  expansion of Free Schools -500–  but the big question,  given the crisis in primary places (see below)  is will they be restricted  to areas where there is a shortage of capacity?  Or will groups still be able to establish schools in areas where there are surplus places? There is also the vexed question of rural and coastal areas- where there are too few good schools, and where academy chains seldom venture. What to do about these deprived areas?   The debate over autonomy and what it means, will continue and local authorities will seek more influence over education. Though they wont get more control over schools, there is still a role for LAs in education , for example as  champions of fair admissions and vulnerable pupils and those who fall between the gaps.

Collaboration – There will be a greater focus on what good collaboration looks like and the need for schools and groups of schools to become more engaged in meaningful collaboration to improve student outcomes.  There will be pressure on successful schools and chains of schools to expand and to help others that are perceived as less successful.  There is a correlation between collaboration and academic success, but networking is not, in itself, sufficient and needs to be rooted in a substantive body of evidence.  It is also the case (whisper it softly) that some high performing  chains operate effectively, more through top down prescription than meaningful  collaboration.

Evidence informed practice- is high on the agenda. Its accepted that if you want better teachers and teaching  to drive up attainment and narrow the achievement gap, you have got to ensure that the best practice is identified and shared  widely across the system. You also need to ensure that   high quality  research on what interventions work best in the classroom is identified , or indeed commissioned,  managed,  and can then  be utilized effectively at the chalk face. There are challenges here, of course,  in identifying what good research looks like ,and in ensuring that the full  context is taken into account and teachers can still apply their professional judgement, but these challenges are not insurmountable. More schools look likely to engage in action research.This allows a pragmatic, iterative approach of trying things out, evaluating their effects and adjusting interventions in response to data.

Professional Development – there will a greater focus on support for identifying and supporting high quality continuous professional development in the teaching workforce, raising the quality of classroom teaching, while seeking to raise the status of the profession.  The way you improve outcomes is to improve instruction and the key to this is identifying good CPD and using interventions that are known to work.(see above). Also watch out for the College of Teaching to help raise the status of the Profession. That will happen.

Accountability – there will be efforts to improve the accountability of schools and establish an effective middle tier of accountability, to seek to identify early, schools that are failing or ‘coasting’. Schools will be obliged to provide more data to feed greater accountability.  Chains may be allowed to expand – but, as now, there will be a focus on the quality and added value delivered by chains, and there will be restrictions on expansion which will need to meet certain defined thresholds.  There will be a debate about the limits of autonomy, the restrictions and limits placed on chains and the way they can invest resources, to improve pupil outcomes.

Ofsted – at the centre of the accountability regime, it is highly likely that it will be reformed to ensure that it wins back the trust of the profession.  Significantly, it looks likely that a reformed Ofsted will inspect chains for the value added they are providing.  However, the system needs to be tightened up to ensure greater consistency, predictability and fairness, whether inspecting chains or individual schools.  There will be increased focus on the governance by and of chains too.

Careers – In the last few months Morgan conjured up  some cash  for  an independent company-£20m-  that will broker among stakeholders  careers advice in schools.  Its supposed to promote both  careers and enterprise.  The government will also be keen to get more direct inputs and engagement from employers and better quality  work experience (although employers can never be a substitute for professional careers advisers).The worry is  that start up and staff costs will eat up quite a lot of this pump primed funding and there wont be much to replace it, when its gone ,which may be sooner rather than later. Doubts remain in the sector about how effective this new company can be and lobbying by stakeholders  for a more holistic, strategic approach rather than the patchy, fragmented one we have now,   is inevitable-  to ensure greater  access and equity to careers education and guidance for all ages. This  could also  help the government deliver on   some of its broader  educational, social, skills  and economic objectives.   How do you improve social mobility, for example, if young people are making poorly informed  decisions and choices at an early age that will act as a barrier to their upward  mobility? And how do you encourage young people to look at high quality apprenticeships as a serious option if there is nobody to highlight this and guide them through the options.?

There will be other issues on the agenda , of course.  A greater focus on character education and non-cognitive skills (Morgan is  particularly keen on this). More priority given to mental health issues and safeguarding children’s welfare, and filling teacher vacancies in shortage subjects,  And . addressing  teachers workload is seen as a priority for Morgan  , but much of this  workload is down to politicians previous decisions and interventions. It will be interesting to see how  she copes with this and whether she reduces the regulations that spawn much of the extra work.

And the elephant in the room-  we are still in living in  austere times and there will be less money around. The squeeze on funding means that schools will have less funding to play with perhaps  as much as 12% less. That will lead to problems and  hard decisions  for Heads and governors . And then there  is the capacity shortage (another elephant has crept in almost unnoticed) .By 2020 there will be 650,000 more pupils in the school system than there are today.   The Government has not made sufficient  capital provision to address the chronic shortage in primary places in many areas of the country.The scale of this problem  will  shortly  become evident.

So,  arguably, Morgan  has  more than enough to be getting on with. Will this  mean  fewer  initiatives?   Unlikely.