Gove blames lobby for talking garbage

But lets look at the facts


Michael Gove in the recent Education Select Committee pre-Christmas hearings criticised the supposedly “self-interested” careers lobby who “lack intellectual rigour” and who  talk “garbage” He conjured up the spectre of an all-powerful shadowy careers lobby. Did he mean the CDI or Careers England one wonders ? When pressed by MPs he refused to elaborate. He appeared to question the need for professional careers guidance, while arguing that greater employer involvement in schools is  needed (to inspire pupils).  Greater employer involvement with schools and pupils must be a good thing. But surely   this works best in synch with  pupils accessing sound, independent, professional , face to face  careers advice, along with  up to date information on the job market. (something that is not happening in  too many schools)

Gove neatly sidestepped the compelling fact that criticism of careers guidance in schools has come from a significant number of stakeholders and embarrassingly, too, from the respected conservative Chair of the Select Committee itself, Graham Stuart.  Indeed, not only did the Committee in its report on careers guidance criticise policy on careers guidance but  reviewed much written evidence opposed to current policy from a broad range of experts .  Significantly ,the government ignored advice from Professor Tony Watts, who was commissioned  by them to provide a report on lessons from international evidence. Among the growing band of critics are the CBI, Pearson, the Edge Foundation, the British Chambers of Commerce, Ofsted, the Social Mobility and Poverty Commission, the IPPR, Professor Tony Watts et al .

Katja Hall of the CBI said  late last year “The quality of careers advice in England’s schools remains in severe crisis. For 93 out of 100 young people to not feel in possession of the facts they need to make informed choices about their future is a damning indictment” For the Secretary of State to  imply that criticism is coming solely from self-interested parties in the careers guidance sector,  based on slender evidence, is at best misleading.  Indeed one is hard pressed to find any independent report or research from a third party that backs current government policy in this important area.

Certainly careers advice in the past has been of variable quality. And part of the problem is that some politicians have themselves received poor careers advice during their schooling and so perceive it as a waste of time.  But international evidence clearly tells us just how important good careers advice and guidance is, particularly for the most disadvantaged pupils and is a prerequisite for improving social mobility, which is high on this government’s own  agenda.   The government is finding it increasingly difficult to hold its policy line on careers guidance in schools and this may go some way to explaining Goves apparent tetchiness when pressed on this issue during the  committee hearings.



Interventions from early childhood onwards can improve character according to new research

Character skills rival IQ


We rely an awful lot on achievement tests in our schools. They are used to sift and sort people, to evaluate schools, and to assess the performance of entire nations (PISA etc). But new research from the States finds that school achievement test scores predict only a small fraction of the variance in later-life success.

For example, adolescent achievement test scores only explain about 15% of the variance in later-life earnings.  So its unlikely that measurement error accounts for most of the remaining variance. Something very fundamental is missing.

A new paper ‘Fostering and Measuring Skills-Interventions that Improve Character and Cognition,’  from the National Bureau of Economic Research’posits that achievement tests do not adequately capture character skills such as conscientiousness perseverance, sociability, and curiosity  despite the fact that character skills are clearly valued in the job market and elsewhere.

Employers, while looking for technical and practical skills, value general communication skills, social skills- evidenced ,for example, in  customer handing,-and teamwork skills. But they often complain that evidence of these skills is  in short supply, in school leavers .Indeed, until recently, these skills and support for them in schools, have largely been ignored.

However, economists and psychologists have constructed credible measures of these skills and provide evidence that they are stable across situations and predict meaningful life outcomes.

What is meant specifically by the term character skills? In this study researchers use the term character skills to describe the personal attributes not thought to be measured by IQ tests or achievement tests. These attributes go by many names in the literature, including soft skills, personality traits, non-cognitive skills, non-cognitive abilities, character, and socio-emotional skills.

Psychologists primarily measure character skills by using self-reported surveys or observer reports. They have arrived at a relatively well-accepted taxonomy of character skills called the Big Five, with the acronym OCEAN, which stands for: Openness to Experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism.

The proposition here is that ‘Skills are not set in stone at birth. They can be improved. Cognitive and character skills change with age and with instruction. Interventions to improve skills are effective to different degrees for different skills at different ages. Importantly, character skills are more malleable at later ages.’  So, the clear message is, on the development of character skills- interventions really can and do help . Character skills also predict later-life outcomes with the same, or greater, strength as measures of cognition.

This paper reviews the recent evidence on the predictive power of cognition and character and, crucially the best available evidence on how to foster them. A growing body of empirical research shows that character skills rival IQ in predicting educational attainment, labour market success, health, and criminality.

The paper says ‘Character is a skill not a trait. It can be enhanced, and there are proven and effective ways to do so. Character is shaped by families and social environments. At any age, character skills are stable across different tasks, but performance on any task depends on multiple skills as well as the effort expended on it. Effort, in turn, depends on the incentives offered to perform the task. Since all measures of character and cognition are measures of performance on some task, it is necessary to standardize for incentives, effort, and other skills in measuring any particular character or cognitive skill. Despite these difficulties, reliable measures of character have been developed, although there is always room for improvement.’

‘Though stable at any age, skills are not set in stone over the life cycle. Both cognitive and character skills can change. Parents, schools, and social environments shape them, although there are important genetic in influences. Skill development is a dynamic process. The early years are important in laying the foundation for successful investment in the later years.’

While there is hard evidence on the importance of the early years in shaping all skills, some character skills are more malleable than cognitive skills at later ages.

‘Fostering and Measuring Skills-Interventions that Improve Character and Cognition-   from the National Bureau of Economic Research’  James J. Heckman, Tim Kautz Working Paper 19656 Cambridge Massachusetts

November 2013


The accountability framework and gaming

Focus on C grade distorts the system


League tables measure what proportion of pupils are awarded at least a C grade in English, maths and three other subjects at GCSE level. The resulting dividing line separates what the FT describes in a Leader as ‘ the pedagogical sheep from the goats’. Schools therefore have an incentive to focus teaching time and resources on pupils  who are judged by their school to be on the borderline C/D grade at GCSE. This has long been the case. Ofqual (not Ofsted) has discovered, unsurprisingly perhaps,  that thousands of teenagers are being put in for multiple GCSE maths exams in the hope they will get crucial C grade passes in at least one of them. As much as 15 per cent of candidates sitting GCSEs  – around 90,000 candidates – were last year submitted for maths exams with more than one board. Ofqual officials believe there will be a repeat this year because the pressures that drove schools to do it – including boosting performances in league tables – are still there.

This distorts teaching incentives with real consequences for what children learn. Schools self-evidently have few incentives to push more able and gifted students to achieve high grades – or indeed  to help weaker pupils who  are rated  as having a slender chance of reaching a C grade. Too much of the effort goes into heaving borderline candidates over the dividing line . This serves to work against the interests of a majority of pupils.

Ironically, given successive governments very public commitments to increasing social mobility, the pupils most likely to have the  potential to be  socially mobile are the most able, who are not being given the support they deserve to realise their potential  under the current accountability regime. It is also clearly the case that raising the attainment of disadvantaged pupils (on Free School Meals)  and closing the achievement gap between them and their peers is going to be made infinitely harder if the focus remains on the C/D boundary as FSM pupils   tend to be at the bottom of the attainment spectrum.

Professor Chris Husbands, of London university’s Institute of Education  got straight to the point when he said “Multiple entries have generally been driven by the impact of the school accountability framework rather than the best interests of young people.”The interests of  young people should always be paramount.

There is also a rather fundamental question that needs to be answered in these austere times. Exams cost  the taxpayer a lot of money. Is  entering  a  pupil  for two exams in the same subject,   with  different boards,  a responsible  use  of taxpayers money ?

The good news is that the government appears to be moving away from the C to D borderline. A consultation is under way about switching to a points-based measure that would address some of the problems associated with the current system.


Many schools are  not disaggregating pupil premium funding from other funding targeted at the disadvantaged 

The latest independent evaluation of the Pupil Premium, out this week ,makes interesting reading. We  know that schools will be held accountable for how they use the Pupil Premium  and for closing the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers.Ofsted keeps reiterating this, as does David Laws, the schools minister. But schools are making  two things clear that serve to muddy the waters. First the Pupil  Premium alone is  not enough to fund the support they offer  for disadvantaged  pupils,  which includes  a wider group of pupils than those  technically eligible for Pupil Premium  funding . Secondly ,schools often combine funding from the Pupil Premium with funding from other sources in order to sustain provision targeted at  this  wide range of disadvantaged pupils.This   may make it difficult for the government (and Ofsted) to easily evaluate and assess the way the pupil premium is used in schools as they may not be able easily to disaggregate Pupil Premium funding from other funding used to target disadvantaged pupils  . Some schools, of course,  might be able  to show  directly  what they had spent the Pupil Premium on but in other cases, the specific items  funded by the Pupil Premium would not necessarily be defined separately in schools’ financial data and so would be difficult or impossible  to provide.In short, schools spend more on disadvantage (as they define it) than  they receive in Pupil Premium funding, and in many cases  that funding is not the principal driver of  their provision.

So, self -evidently, this  may provide a significant challenge for Ofsted inspectors trying to establish whether or not the Pupil Premium has been spent effectively.

Evaluation of Pupil Premium Research Report; July 2013;Hannah Carpenter, Ivy Papps, Jo Bragg, Alan  Dyson, Diane Harris & Kirstin Kerr, Liz Todd &  Karen Laing TNS BMRB, TECIS, Centre for Equity in  Education, University of Manchester &  Newcastle University


The Pupil Premium takes the form of additional funding allocated to schools on the basis of the numbers of children entitled to and registered for free school meals (FSM) and children who have been looked after continuously for more than six months. Schools received £488 per eligible pupil – approximately 18% of the pupil population – in 2011-12 and £623 per eligible pupil in 2012-13. Eligibility was widened to cover approximately 27% of the  ,population in 2012-13 with the inclusion of those recorded as eligible for FSM at any  point in the last six years.John Dunford is  the new Pupil Premium Champion. (Thank goodness he doesnt have the title Czar-we  already have more Czars than the Romanovs’  ever did) .John Dunford is the Chair of Whole Education and the Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors, and former General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders.

Note 2

From September 2013, Ofsted will introduce a sharper focus to the performance and progress of pupil premium pupils in their inspections. It is unlikely that a school will be judged ‘outstanding’ if its disadvantaged pupils are not making good progress.

Schools will now be held to account for:

the attainment of their disadvantaged pupils

the progress made by their disadvantaged pupils

the in-school gap in attainment between disadvantaged pupils and their peers



Professor Stephen Gorard suggests cash incentives might help improve performance

Others are not so sure


Incentivising children from poor homes with cash rewards to attend school, do their homework and read books is the most effective way to improve their exam results, a major research project has concluded.  The lure of money is a far more effective way to boost the attainment of disadvantaged students than other large-scale initiatives to raise aspirations, according to a review of more than 165,000 research studies and journal articles. But offering money in direct exchange for final results has little impact, because children from poor backgrounds do not know what steps to take to succeed, according to the research. Instead, children should be rewarded for the small steps they need to take to achieve good grades.  The conclusions, from Professor Stephen Gorard of the UK’s University of Birmingham, were presented recently at the American Educational Research Association conference in San Francisco. They draw on research completed in Australia, Britain and the US. Stephen Gorard is Professor of Education Research at the University of Birmingham, Principal Methods Expert for the US government Institute of Education Science, a member of the ESRC Grants awarding Panel, and Academician of the Academy of Social Sciences. His work concerns ‘ the robust evaluation of education as a process from “cradle to grave”, focused on issues of equity and effectiveness.’  Professor Gorard recommends that schools put aside up to US$200 (£130) a year for poor students, a portion of which is taken away each time a student fails to meet set goals on attendance and work. (ie incentives framed as losses-which some advocate for teachers too) .In the UK, the money could be aimed at students who are eligible for free school meals, (FSM is a measure of deprivation) although other countries have tried a tiered approach, Professor Gorard said.  His research, according to  the TES, may call into question government investment in schemes that attempt to raise student aspiration on the basis that aspiration alone will improve results. Looking at the evidence in the various research reports, which collectively involved more than a million students, he found that neither parental expectations of educational success nor students’ own aspirations made any difference to their actual grades.  “Aspiration could be an indication of success, not its cause,” Professor Gorard said. “Anyone with a sole concern to improve educational outcomes for those most at risk would be advised to seek an intervention elsewhere.”


By contrast, when students were offered financial rewards for academic performance, there was a noticeable difference. Several studies, involving more than 40,000 students in total, considered the effects of ‘educational bribery’. When students from state schools in four US cities – Chicago, Dallas, New York and Washington, DC – were offered financial rewards in exchange for good test results, it did not have a significant effect.  Professor Gorard said that this was because students wanted the cash but did not know how to go about earning it. “Interviews with the students suggest that, although they may be excited about the incentives, they do not actually know how to improve their grades,” he said.  Professor Gorard said that while investment in initiatives to raise aspiration might not improve results, it could have other benefits. “Attainment is important but it is only one possible educational outcome,” he said. “Others – such as future participation, well-being, preparation for citizenship, resilience and happiness – could be just as important.  This looks suspiciously like marketization of student performance, which some believe is simply a step too far. Professor Michael Sandel of Harvard, one of the most influential  thinkers globally, opposes marketization, (though not always) as  he says, it  can degrade and corrupts social values. “Certain goods have value in ways that go beyond the utility they give individual buyers and sellers,” he writes. “How a good is allocated may be part of what makes it the kind of good it is.”  Writing for Prospect magazine recently in an article titled ‘If I ruled the world’ he said  that the notion that economics offers a value-neutral science of human behaviour is implausible but increasingly influential. He writes ‘Consider the growing use of cash incentives to solve social problems. The NHS is experimenting with what some have called “health bribes”—cash rewards to people for losing weight, quitting smoking, or taking their prescribed medications. In the United States, some school districts have tried to improve academic achievement among disadvantaged students by offering them cash rewards for good grades, high test scores, or reading books. A charity that operates in the US and the UK offers drug-addicted women £200 to be sterilised, or to accept long-term birth control devices. As ruler of the world, I would not necessarily abolish these schemes. But I would insist that we ask, in each case, whether the cash incentive might degrade the goods at stake, or drive out non-market attitudes worth caring about. For example, if we pay kids to read books, do we simply add an additional incentive to whatever motivations may already exist? Or, do we teach them that reading is a chore, and so run the risk of corrupting or crowding out the intrinsic love of learning?’


The TES pointed out last week that Schools in the UK have experimented with various types of reward schemes to motivate children, to varying degrees of success, including the widely used Vivo Miles system, in which students collect credits towards prizes including iPods.But David Day, principal of the Isle of Sheppey Academy in Kent, South East England, told TES that he had dropped the scheme because the results did not justify the cost. He has now turned to the cheaper alternative of writing postcards and letters to students when they perform well or show a good attitude or attendance.  “We felt that the power of words could be more influential than the power of monetary rewards,” he said. “Children like to be praised. Ultimately, students have to have it in their hearts and minds; the ambition for success cannot be bought. It’s self-motivation that we must engender.”  The fact is that although cash incentives are used in all walks of life, they are rarely used with students, even in US school districts.  A recent randomised study of three school districts in Chicago found that incentives do in fact affect student performance, although there is substantial variation across settings. Incentives framed as losses have consistently large effects relative to other educational interventions (0:12 0:22 standard deviations). The researchers found, though, mixed evidence on the impact of incentives framed as gains with large effects in two school districts (0:2 0:4 Standard deviations) and no  effects  in the third. They also found  that that while older students are more responsive to financial incentives younger students are not and respond better to non-financial incentives.  The conclusion of this study is that both financial and non-financial incentives are useful tools  to help increase student motivation and effort, but  that there are important factors that will impact on whether or not these incentives are effective, or not.

The Impact of Short-term Incentives on Student Performance Steven D. Levitt, John A. List, Susanne Neckermann and Sally Sado -September, 2011


Too early to say?


The new duty on schools to secure access to independent and impartial careers guidance only began in September 2012 . The government believes that  it  important that sufficient time is allowed  for the duty to bed in before any firm conclusions  are drawn about the effectiveness of the new arrangements. Lord Nash recently indicated in the Lords (22 April) that ‘We are evaluating the impact of the new duty in a range of formal and informal ways.’

The Government have also commissioned Ofsted to carry out a thematic review of careers guidance, which will report this summer.

In addition, according to Lord Nash,  the government is ‘publishing education destination measures to show the percentage of students progressing to further education or training in a school, further education or sixth form college, apprenticeship, employment or higher education institution. The measures provide us with evidence of how effective schools are in supporting pupils to move successfully into the next phase or their education or into sustainable work, including through the provision of independent careers guidance.’

Ministers and officials meet and correspond regularly with a range of stakeholders on issues relating to the delivery of careers provision in schools, says Lord Nash, which is true, but Ministers are not taking on board what stakeholders and the experts are telling them. No independent report from a reputable source on government reforms to careers advice and guidance in schools has endorsed government policy in this area and international evidence suggests that school based advice  is the least effective (see the research from  Professor Tony Watts and OECD). There are grave concerns  too that  only limited access to face to face advice  is being offered to pupils which may have a negative effect on  the social mobility, access, skills and inclusion agendas. Evidence suggests that the most appropriate form of  advice for  disadvantaged pupils is face to face advice from an independent fully qualified  professional.

The government defends its policy by saying that it trusts in school autonomy. Schools themselves must make these decisions. But schools are not as autonomous as the government would have us believe. The government through its individual funding agreements with academies, for example, prescribes what schools have to do in certain areas . And if schools believe that they are autonomous when it comes to the way they use their extra funding for disadvantaged pupils, through the pupil premium, then they ought to look  very carefully at recent speeches from the schools minister,  David Laws and  Sir Michael Wilshaw of Ofsted.

Lord Nash  is confident that the government has  detailed enough  evidence ‘relating to the effectiveness of school-based careers guidance to  inform future improvements in the quality of provision,’ while concurrently telling us that there is not yet enough evidence  to gauge  whether the new school- based  service has bedded in. You dont need to be a rocket scientist to work out that schools, under budgetary pressure, will go for, the most part, for  the cheapest option, and that is not face to face advice.

It will be particularly interesting to see what Ofsted has to say in its thematic review. However, there are no plans to make a specific graded judgement on the quality of careers guidance in respect of the school inspection framework and the common inspection framework.



Schools meet the costs of careers guidance from their overall budgets. Information on the amount spent by schools on careers guidance is not collected centrally




A range of  policies, for example  the introduction of the Pupil Premium, SEN reforms, and the expansion of the academies  programme have a particular focus on those pupils left behind currently. The well-known attainment gap at GCSE level is between those who receive free school meals and those who do not—36% of pupils in receipt of free school meals achieved five or more A* to C grades at GCSE, compared with 63% of all other pupils.

The pupil premium is allocated for pupils who are currently eligible or who have been eligible in the past six years for free school meals, children who have been continuously looked after for at least six months, and children whose parents are serving in the Armed Forces. In the financial year 2012-13, the pupil premium was allocated at a rate of £623 per pupil and the service child premium was allocated at a rate of £250 per pupil. The pupil premium will increase to £900 per pupil and the service child premium will increase to £300 per pupil in the 2013-14 financial year.  That said there are still significant numbers of children living in poverty who are simply not picked up by the free school meals measure, and therefore they and their schools lose out on the valuable support that the pupil premium could give to them.

But what about what about Special schools and PRU pupils?

Lord Nash, replying to a PQ on 10 April, said ‘Pupil premium grant is allocated to each local authority in respect of eligible pupils in maintained special schools, pupil referral units (PRUs) and alternative provision (ie attending schools not maintained by the authority for which the authority is paying full tuition fees, plus all pupils educated otherwise than in schools under arrangements made by the authority).Pupil premium grant in respect of pupils in these settings can be allocated to the setting where the child is being educated or held by the local authority to spend specifically on additional education support to raise the pupil’s standard of attainment.’



In its report “Fair and Square,” the Children’s Society found that some 700,000 children living in poverty are not entitled to receive free school meals, in the majority of cases simply because their parents are working. As six in 10 children in poverty live in working families, some believe there is an urgent need to address the situation of those children who do not happen to qualify for free school meals yet grow up in circumstances just as grim as many who do.