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

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

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



robot holding ipad

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

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

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

1. Easing administrative workload

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

2. Personalised learning

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

3. Remote/virtual learning

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

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

4. Tutoring

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

5. Formative assessment

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

6. Summative assessment

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

7. Improve flipped learning

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

8. Physical and mental health

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

9. Highlighting research and resources

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

10. Flexibility in the curriculum

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

11. Presentation of information

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

12. Guidance

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

13. Inclusion and special educational needs (SEN)

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

14. Impact on teachers

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

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

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

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

Further Reading

A beginner’s guide to… Professor Rose Luckin

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

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


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

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

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



Artificial Intelligence and Education

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

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

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

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



Informed opinion suggests that the cerebral ,reformist former HE Minister Jo Johnson was sacked because he was unwilling to undertake the  full scale review of tuition fees that the Prime Minister wanted  . He  saw the  obvious pitfalls.  Johnson is a canny political operator . Damian Hinds has no such reservations, which explains why he replaced Justine Greening, who largely shared Johnsons’ viewpoint .  May has a habit of making up her mind, then looking around for evidence to back her view. The pattern is there, witness the last education Green paper. Both May and Hinds have already ruled out some possible ‘outcomes’ from this  ‘independent’ Review.

So what about the Review?

First , the Prime Minister has basically said that our Higher Education system is one of the most expensive in the world and doesn’t provide value for money. Meanwhile, her Ministers are telling us how successful it is and how important it is to attract international students and to remain globally competitive. This is what’s called mixed messaging!

Secondly,  this is a Review of not just HE tuition fees but all post 18 student funding, which has got lost in translation, partly because of the government’s own presentation.

Thirdly,  the Review will take a year, and whatever it recommends is unlikely to  happen in this  Parliament  with the next election in 2022. So expectations seem to have been raised , but they  cant probably  be met.

Fourthly, the government, though ostensibly not second guessing the Reviews conclusions, will not abolish  tuition fees, and will be hard pressed to reduce them. The Prime Minister wishes to  ensure that the students and public finances share the burden of the costs in some shape or form .  Damian Hinds made it clear in interviews trailing the announcement, that  the government continues to support the idea of graduates, as the main beneficiaries of higher education, contributing significantly to the cost of providing their degrees

Hinds also  says the cost of degrees could be determined by three things: the cost to deliver, the return to the student and the economic value to the country means that that those degrees which are  of most value to the individual and the  economy will cost more-which could act as a disincentive and deter disadvantaged students from taking them . Few in the sector think that differentiated fees are a good idea. Many STEM  subjects are expensive to teach ,but who wants them to  become the preserve of more affluent students who feel confident they can afford them?

If students should be making more sophisticated economic choices by predicted salary return, then student demand for these “low-value” courses will surely drop, and in most cases become economically unviable for universities to offer, so you then have less choice of courses. It is also the case that  current trends,  whether its in Artificial Intelligence  or the sciences ,more generally,  is for a more joined up multi-disciplinary approach to meeting challenges and in driving  innovation. Valuing courses anyway, through the lens of  economic and employment returns , using some new  metric would be a nightmare to design and administer  and  is  unlikely to be backed by the sector.     And, anyway, since when has a university education been just about studying an academic course?

As for the option of reducing the level of fees, London Economics estimates that if fees are reduced from £9,250 to £6,000 a year  it  would leave a £3 billion black hole in universities’ finances. In post -Brexit Britain would this really be feasible?


So what steps might help?

Introduce maintenance grants for poorer students, who currently have to take out bigger loans to cope with living costs would make sense.

Take a look at excessive interest rates. They are causing resentment. Because interest starts accruing on the £9,250-per-year ticket price during the course of study, the IFS estimates that students in England have added an additional £5,000 to their debt even before graduating

And what about part-time study?  The main casualty of the current regime. Part-time undergraduate numbers have crashed since fees were trebled in the Cameron administration. . There has been a 56 per cent fall in part-time student enrolments to universities since 2010. This is bad for the economy and the  skills gap. A flexible form of degree finance that could cover study of both academic and work-related subjects across a lifetime might answer this problem.



On 6 February  Professor Becky Francis of IOE chaired a debate on   ‘What if… we really wanted to support schools facing the greatest challenge? with panellists including Lucy Heller of Ark and Sam Freedman of Teach First.

Lucy proposed a National Teacher Service, a bit like national service.  Basically  a   ‘ swat team ‘of experienced teachers and leaders  to go into deprived areas and schools armed  with a  Teach First like  missionary zeal ,a bit like national service,  signing , maybe,  fixed term 5 year contracts.   They would get support including with Housing. Some other financial support and incentives may also be needed.  Their service would be career enhancing rather than career limiting. Too often , she said , going into challenging schools is risky for teachers  (and Heads)careers.  . She also suggested that access to Oxbridge and Russell group universities  should be  guaranteed  for all  top ranked pupils in  every school in country  It’s a proposal that has been mooted  before by the likes of David Lammy, the Tottenham  MP and former minister.

Sam Freedman  of Teach First offered two main    radical proposals.  First a   genuinely comprehensive education system , so  abolishing all  grammar schools for good. .A Punitive tax  he said should be raised  on private education to force  the middle classes to engage with the maintained sector  . Also he suggested a clampdown on  illegal exclusions from schools  and said   we must take better care of and support young people particularly those threatened with exclusion.  Here newly energised and engaged  local authorities should have a co-coordinating   support role in ensuring those threatened with exclusion are looked  after and have access to good education. . He also wants the social mobility issue to be approached differently. Change the mindset around  social mobility so its  about communities rather than  individuals. Rescuing pupils from communities mean its even harder for those that are  left behind. Higher Education institutions, rather than opening up campuses in Chinaand abroad , should look much  closer to home and  open them instead  in Grimsby ,Doncaster   and other deprived areas  . Sam Freedman’s leftward journey,  it seems , continues. Not all that long ago he was  a researcher for the Independent Schools Council.

Puett and the Path-Are We too Eurocentric?

An Antidote to Euro-Centric Philosophy?

Professor Michael Puett of Harvard University says  that we are collection of emotions and conditioned responses, with no guiding inner core. We think we are self-determined, and make rational choices for ourselves, but in reality we are so set in our patterns of behaviour that Google exploits our predictability to sell us stuff without us noticing much. In short. we have a tendency to fall into  routine patterns and ruts in our lives .(modern day cognitive scientists exploring cognitive biases,  and how we  actually make choices, which has little to do with reason, might agree)

Puett teaches Eastern Philosophy at Harvard .His  book,   co -written with Christine Gross-Loh. ‘ The Path,’  is suggesting  that we have much to learn from eastern philosophers such as Confucius, Mencius, Zhuangzi, and Buddha. Western Philosophers tend to focus on the big overarching themes-the meaning of life, what is objective truth, what is a morality  etc . So , whereas  Aristotle,  Plato,  Thomas Aquinas  et al  were reflecting on these big issues,  the eastern philosophers on the other hand,  had a  rather different approach,  at pretty much the same time. How do we ,as individuals, change our daily lives for the better, they asked. It’s a bottom up approach.

By small adjustments and greater self-awareness we can change our lives ,for the better. The smallest actions have the most profound ramifications.  Puett urges his students to become more self-aware, to notice how even the most quotidian acts—holding open the door for someone, smiling at the cashier —change the course of the day, by affecting how we feel. It amounts to a message of hope for those struggling with Platos ‘Theory of Forms’. The message, Think small rather than big. What strikes one about the Path is how little your average student here  knows about Eastern philosophers and few are given in HE curricula the opportunity to study them . This rather reinforces the perception that the courses on offer in our top  universities, whether in History or Philosophy, are. well,  far too euro-centric.

The Confucian strategy for disrupting the patterns of behaviour and interaction was the judicious observance of ritual – coded behaviours that force people to operate outside their normal roles. This has often been misunderstood though,  as a call for conformity and a slavish adherence to tradition, but, according to Puett, Confucius meant no such thing. “For Confucius,” he writes, “the ritual was essential because of what it did for the people performing it.”  It should be remembered that Confucius developed his ideas against a backdrop of political upheaval – the last great bronze-age dynasty, the Zhou, was in decline, and old certainties had dissolved. The world was falling apart and the outlook grim. People had lost faith in the ruling dynasties (sounds familiar?) which  were  amoral  and self interested with no conception of the common good  Confucius decided to concentrate on teaching the next generation, in the hope that they could make a better world.  So Puetts lectures use Chinese thought in the context of contemporary American life to help 18- and 19-year-olds who are struggling to find their place in the world figure out how to be good human beings; how to create a good society; how to have a flourishing life.

We ,in the contemporary west ,tend to believe that, as rational beings, we know what is best for ourselves, and that that “self” is coherent and stable.  Dream on! The ancient Chinese, however, understood that we are instead fragmented and malleable, our actions driven more by emotion, dispositions,  custom and ‘messy stuff’ as Puett describes it .  Our emotional selves are extremely important. We therefore do not become the best we can be by seeking some illusory “true self”, but instead by “honing our instincts, training our emotions, and “engaging in a constant process of self-cultivation”.  So, we should concentrate more, day in day out , on our many interactions with other people and our emotional responses. This, Confucius believed, we achieve through daily rituals ranging from saying thank you, to focusing on how we eat , how we communicate with others and  to ancestor worship.

It does seem that some of  the teachings of eastern philosophers  might have more relevance to our daily living and the way we interact with others and within our communities ,  (excepting, perhaps, the ancestor worship bit) than some of the more esoteric western philosophers.  Puett makes a compelling case that we have much to learn from thinkers of 2,000 years ago on how to live the good life.

The Path: A New Way to Think About Everything by Michael Puett and Christine Gross-Loh

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