According to a Danish psychologist the art of positive thinking is turning us all into depressive psychotics. Professor Svend Brinkmann is the author of Stand Firm: Resisting the Self-Improvement Craze’ He suggests that navel gazing and all that positive thinking should stop and life coaches, nice as they may  be, should be sacked.
We should instead focus as much on negative thinking. Appearing on the BBC  Today programme,  on 20 February,  with Sir Anthony Seldon, Vice Chancellor of the University of Buckingham,  he said “There are negative things in our world and in order to understand them we have to speak concretely about them and not cloud them in positive thoughts or sugar- coating’ He added that there appears to be a new duty of happiness,-we are not allowed to be unhappy, and are constantly required to think positive thoughts because when we are unhappy “we are inefficient as human resources” –but Brinkmann has a problem with this view . We shouldnt change our emotions into positive ones as this distorts our view of reality and puts more pressure on ourselves. .He reminded us  what Nietzsche wrote, in (The Twilight of the Idols), “Mankind does not strive for happiness; only the Englishman does that.” (Actually now, as it happens, they also strive for happiness in Bhutan, where Gross Domestic Happiness is the overarching political goal!) Nietzsche had in his sights the English utilitarian thinkers.(Bentham etc)-Mind you, I am still struggling to identify anything that Hitlers favourite philosopher Nietzsche got right .
People constantly fail in the quest for self-improvement. Its an ideology around personal choice says Brinkmann and this needs to be resisted.
Sir Anthony, responding, agreed that some approaches to positive thinking serve to infantilise the issue and places us in the realm of La la land. But this has nothing to do with positive psychology or its robust evidence base. The appeal of positive psychology its about building capacity and building on our strengths, so we can better cope with and manage adversity.
Sir Anthony rather likes the analogy of a waterfall to illustrate our current approach. As things stand we wait till some fall over the edge of the waterfall ,and its only when they hit the bottom that we take action. Then everyone rushes in to help. Much better surely to prevent people going over the edge in the first place, which is where positive psychology comes in. He subscribes to the approach “ If you want to feel good, do good”
The University of Buckingham has a long tradition of looking after students, he said, preventing them falling over the edge of the waterfall but its positive programme also, importantly, supports staff.
Brinkmann said his main concern is not positive psychology, as a scientific enterprise but the way its researched, and how this is filtered down and interpreted by its practitioners . When pushed for an example of where things are going wrong due to positive psychology he said that  in employee reviews (in Denmark) for example often you are only allowed to talk about your successes and what’s positive in your life but that is what serves to  in effect infantilise people.
Seldon pointed out that the positive psychology approach when applied at  Wellington College where he was the Master for 8 years, students saw a transformation in their A level results- indeed it was one of the most improved schools in the country . Forget  La La land “Mindfulness embraces the real’ he said . With regard to evidence he mentioned specifically Penn State University and the work of Professors Martin Seligman and Angela Duckworth as providing solid evidence as to positive psychology’s impact. Brinkmann claimed though that research on the impact of positive psychology has had very mixed results.



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.


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



Choosing your A-level (or equivalent) subjects carefully is vitally important – especially if you have aspirations to study at a leading university. Universities look for students who not only have good grades, but grades in the right subjects for the course they want to apply for. Ministers frequently stress the importance of social mobility, and the need for the most disadvantaged to access the best universities, yet too many, because of poor,  or no,   guidance in schools, are choosing subjects that limit their opportunities to apply to the top universities and their courses  and  to  ease  their access to  the professions. Guidance remains a post code lottery , and delays in the governments Careers strategy are not helping. Ministers love talking about ladders of opportunity,and creating rungs on this ladder, but what happens too often is that young people start the long climb then  find that the rungs above them  are missing.

The government’s current policy is to promote and incentivise participation in the so called facilitating subjects at A level.  Indeed this is a 16-18 Accountability Measure for 16-18 providers ( that  applies to A level students only) . A student must have achieved three A levels, of which at least two are in facilitating subjects, at grades AAB. The percentage of students achieving this measure is shown for each provider. These subjects are known as ‘facilitating’ because choosing them at advanced level leaves open a wide range of options for university study.

The facilitating subjects are biology, chemistry, English literature, geography, history, physics, modern and classical languages, maths and further maths and Classical/Modern Languages


The Classical modern languages that  will count towards the AAB in 2016 16-18 Performance Tables indicator are: Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, Dutch, French, German, Greek (Classical), Greek (Modern), Gujarati, Irish (second language), Italian, Japanese, Latin, Modern Hebrew, Panjabi, Persian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Turkish, Urdu, Welsh (second language)


In 2016, 50.6 per cent of A level entries were  in facilitating subjects, a slight drop compared to 50.8 per cent in 2015 shadow data.


Please also see Russell Groups ‘Informed Choices’




And DFE 16-19 Accountability Measures: Technical Guide For measures in 2016 and 2017




Missing from  all the debates over the Higher Education and Research Bill  is the issue of Two Year Degree courses. . The government is keen to encourage the development of two year degree programmes , to respond to demand and to offer more flexibility, innovation  and choice to students. Always popular with mature students, there is growing evidence , not least from a recent consultation, that debt sensitive  young students who want to enter the job market earlier  might find it more attractive to get  a bona fide degree after two years rather than three,  and pay around £18,000 as opposed to £27.000.

But the government needs to incentivise both private and state funded Higher Education Institutions to do this. As things stand the institution that has done more than any other  to put  quality assured, two year degrees on the map is the University of Buckingham but its students can only access £6000 loans each year  (£12,000 in total )although the course fees are much more than that . Now thats not  fair. State funded students can access £9000 loans and obviously the institutions have their fees capped at that (going up to £9250 this year). But why would an HEI be keen to move to two year degrees if its going to lose out on one years tuition fees?  (ie it will get £18,500 as opposed to £27,750 tuition fee income ) The answer is to offer  parity between the private and public sectors and reform the fee structures for two year courses, so that state funded institutions can charge more for two year courses  and students on private courses can access bigger loans, so  that providers in both sectors  are incentivised to deliver these courses. The Competition and Market Authority has recommended “that the Government should examine how degrees structured in an alternative way could be supported by introducing more flexibility into the yearly funding rules. Whilst we note that accelerated degrees would still need to operate within the aggregated funding cap, there may be scope to allow more innovation whilst still maintaining public expenditure controls. Such degrees would still need to meet the baseline level of quality.”

Pam Tatlow, the chief executive of MillionPlus, has added her voice  (Times Higher 9 January 2017) saying that  CMA was right to point out that there was a clear disincentive to expanding accelerated-degree provision. The Higher Education Minister Jo Johnson is also keen , but needs to put incentives in place if its to happen.


As the Times said in a Leader on 4 January ’Lord Pattens claims that the  Higher Education bill threatens universities’ autonomy are overblown . He fears that it would inject the state into research appointments and funding decisions hitherto taken by academics, and would undermine the value of British higher education as an export.’ The main threat to exports has nothing of course  to do with this Bill, but a lot to do . instead, with our visa policy,  the hostile narrative  engineered by some politicians and inclusion of students in migration figures . As for Brexit, yes, it will present significant challenges  and  remove the source of some  funding but it will also incentivise universities to  forge  new  research alliances, seek new  sources of funding  and  to become more global in their outreach.( Big , prestigious   research rich Institutions  such as Imperial College , London ,already get 86% of their research funding from outside the EU)

Opposition to the Bill is coming from vested interests which always seek to protect the status quo, which, in practice  is  producer interests   masquerading  as concern for all the HE sector. Resistance to change has always occurred when any reforms have been mooted. Whether it was during the creation of new ‘Red Brick’ Universities back in the 1960s  or when the old Polytechnics sought university status. This is no different

The new reality is that the consumer is king. Student’s access to high quality information is vital if they are to make informed choices, as is  more accountability of institutions to students . Universities must be more open about the information they give and how much their degrees are worth in the job market, as well as  give more reliable destination measures.Too many students are paying for poor quality degrees that have no currency in the job market and which are not  even rated highly by academics themselves.   Of course universities are not just about gaining qualifications for the job market, but  that is at least  a  significant part of what many students expect from Higher Education .

Also, introducing new flexibility so students can change courses and institutions with the idea of Credit Accumulation and Transfer, will help in the UK’s drive to improve flexibility in higher education courses and ensure that new types of students from diverse education backgrounds are able to access relevant offerings

The balance between the research function and teaching at universities has long been weighted heavily in favour of research , to the detriment of the student offer and teaching quality. The quality of teaching in Higher Education remains, overall, poor and patchy. More competition  in the sector will lever performance and innovation and  force universities to  monitor and respond  more quickly to shifting demand, and the student voice, in a way that too many  HEIs are currently failing to do.  . The Bill gives an opportunity to address this imbalance and places the needs of students not academics first. The TEF will help achieve this.

The Office for Students is to replace the obsolete Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce). It would speed up the process of accrediting new institutions with the right to award degrees while giving the regulator the power to revoke that right from universities that fail to make the grade. The government’s goal which is sound is to widen the access to higher education while maintaining teaching standards through closer scrutiny. This is sound.

A diverse supply side in the sector, opening up competition will improve choice for students, drive innovation, and force institutions to raise the quality of both their academic and pastoral offers  to students. Of course the market needs robust regulation and the Bill makes provision for this. The US Higher Education sector with many private providers is acknowledged to be the best in the world , so we must open our minds to the possibility of more private operators entering the market, both for profit and not for profit

Sir Anthony Seldon said in a Times letter (4 Jan)’ For too long the sector has been dominated by the producer interest in higher education, ie the academics and administrators rather than the students, whose interests lie at the heart of the proposed legislation. The bill introduces long-overdue regulatory reform and highlights the importance of excellent teaching. The bill stimulates innovative thinking that will underpin, not undermine, the success of our university sector.’ He continued ‘If Lord Patten and others wanted to help British universities, they should be campaigning harder in the House of Lords to make visa applications easier for overseas students; they should be fighting to improve the dire mental-health position of students and, above all, they should be working to improve accountability while extending, not restricting, competition. Brexit is a reason not to delay, as Lord Patten argues, but to forge ahead.’

All this said, the Bill must guard against a potential danger of weakening standards, less effective quality control and consequent damage to international reputation and standing.  The government should be absolutely committed to maintaining the highest standards in the sector, both in maintained and private provision, ensuring that the new risk based regulatory system safeguards quality while improving competition and choice.

The sector is overly  keen to turn ifs guns on the private sector, and ‘profit making’  which is largely a distraction , from its own problems, which too often include ,  poor teaching, poor accommodation, poor tutorial support,   poor pastoral care, grossly over paid Vice Chancellors, poor  value added links with businesses and employers, ,  and a failure to acknowledge, or   respond to ,shifting demand and to meet  the aspirations of their students.

Sudents are beginning to look at  how their tuition fees are being spent, and they want value for money.

It is  no accident that its a private, independent , not for profit  University in the form of the University of Buckingham that consistently tops the league table for teaching quality and student satisfaction.

The House of Lords, with no democratic  mandate,  should take note  of all this before it seeks to undermine the very  purpose of a Bill that has  safely navigated  its passage through the Commons.



Daniel Kahneman is the Eugene Higgins Professor of Psychology Emeritus at Princeton University and Emeritus Professor of Public Affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. He was awarded the Nobel prize in Economics in 2002 for his pioneering work with fellow Israeli born Amos Tversky on decision-making and uncertainty. Kahneman is also  the author,  ,of the   best selling “Thinking Fast and Slow” (2011). Both Kahneman and Tversky  advanced the discipline of Behavioural Psychology immeasurably, but  the world has been slow to    work out how their insights   might  be used  to improve  decision making  , particularly in public policy.
Their joint research looked at how we humans make decisions, how we make choices (we are supposed to be rational) and how we rate probabilities, along with our ability to predict outcomes . Using research and extensive sampling from behavioural psychologists and economists they found that although quite often we make the right decisions , in other words they are demonstrably in our interests, it can be for the wrong reasons, and indeed we are all susceptible, in a systematic way, to making mistakes because of the way our brains, or minds, work. Our decision-making is subject to a number of biases ‘cues’ and preconceptions, of which we are mostly unaware. These biases often occur as a result of holding onto one’s preferences and beliefs regardless of contrary information. Social pressures, individual motivations, emotions, the way we tap our short term memories and limits on the mind’s ability to process information can all contribute to these biases.
The motivation of these psychologists was that if we know why we make errors of judgment, then we can try and do something about it. Which could have a profound effect on the way we manage our daily lives and in a broader way how our public services are delivered. In short we could improve decision-making,and might be able to spot where human judgment goes wrong. And maybe if we could figure this out, we might be able to close the gap between the expert and algorithms
Kahneman and Tversky demonstrate the ways in which human minds err systematically when forced to make judgments about uncertain situations, and we are all, of course ,daily presented with uncertain situations.
In such an uncertain world we understandably turn to ‘experts’. But, it transpires,  they are also subject to big errors of judgment.

Looking to the medical profession, Professor Paul J Hoffman, in his research as  far back as 1960 (The Paramorphic Representation of Clinical Judgment), looked at the way medical experts, in this case radiologists, diagnosed whether patients had stomach cancer from X- rays. In some  walks of human life there is a lack of sufficient data to build algorithms that might replace the human judge, but medicine is not necessarily one of them . Hoffman wanted to find out how radiologists reached their judgments. He set out to create a model of what these experts were doing when they formed their judgments. So, Hoffman identified the various inputs that experts used to make their decisions. The radiologists said there were seven major signs that they looked for to identify whether a stomach ulcer was cancerous. For example, its size, the shape of its borders, the depth of the crater etc. A simple algorithm was created looking at the seven factors equally weighted.. The researchers then asked the doctors to judge the probability of cancer on a seven point scale from ‘definitely malignant’ to ‘definitely benign’. Unbeknownst to the doctors, they presented  the 92 x rays of different ulcers  ,in random order, with  each x ray presented  twice.

The results were, in a certain sense, terrifying.

Although doctors thought the processes they followed to make their judgments were complex and, of course ,informed by experience this simple model captured them well. Their diagnoses were in fact all over the shop. When presented with duplicates of the same ulcer every doctor contradicted himself and rendered more than one diagnosis. The doctors apparently could not even agree with themselves. A similar experiment with clinical psychologists and psychiatrists asking them to predict whether it was safe to release a patient from a psychiatric hospital found that those with the least training who had just graduated were just as accurate as the fully trained experienced practitioners.
The lesson drawn from the x- ray test was that a simple algorithm had outperformed not merely the group of doctors but it had outperformed even the best individual doctor. So you could beat the doctor by replacing him with an equation created by people who knew nothing about medicine and had simply asked a few questions of doctors.(remember this was 1960!)

There is now quite a lot of research out there that tells us about how often we make misjudgments, although given good information, on the effectiveness of algorithms (man, versus man made model) and the growing impact, and potential impact of Artificial Intelligence (which is rapidly rising up the political agenda) but we seem to have been remarkably slow at putting this knowledge to good use , particularly in the field of Education and Learning. Hopefully, this will change soon.

It is pretty clear that psychological issues are relevant to policy formulation and implementation  and in the design of  ‘choice ‘architecture . You cannot assume that all individuals, acting for themselves or as economic agents, are completely rational. Most of the time, as Kahneman points out, we can trust intuition, and indeed we do. He draws the distinction between fast thinking and slow thinking, and our lives are mostly run on fast thinking, which normally does us very well. But , there are situations where people would do better by slowing down and where they need more than a little help. And experts judgment can be fatally wrong. Don’t just think of medicine here , think of the financial crash of 2007/8 and other sectors .-one might also look at a few flawed experiments in education policy as education ministers  are as subject to biases (and cherry picking evidence) as the next  person.

. Kahneman says “ We haven’t yet found the right model to look at decision-making under fear, how people react when the world feels dangerous and uncertain.” So the work is on-going but there is infinite scope for making better use of man-made models and exploiting Artificial Intelligence within a secure regulatory framework.

See also, The Undoing Project –A Friendship that Changed the World, Allen- Lane 2017 ;by Michael Lewis (which describes the context of behavioural psychology research, and the relationship between Kahneman and Tversky) 


The recent Green Paper, sets out proposals to increase selection in the maintained sector. It aims, through increasing selection, to make more good school places available, improving choice , driving up attainment which in turn will improve social mobility. It proposes that those independent schools with charity status, either set up, or sponsor, a state school. But that’s not all. Ministers want an increase in the number of bursaries available and, also, suggest other measures, which are listed, that schools ought   to be undertaking   more of, to deliver public benefit.  (One wonders how much time they will have left for their core business.)  If schools don’t jump through the hoops, they may have to forfeit their charitable status. While acknowledging that many independent schools are small, and that most members of the ISC are currently involved in some form of partnership arrangement or activity, (87% of ISC schools are ‘in mutually beneficial partnerships with state schools and local communities, sharing expertise, best practice and facilities to the benefit of children in all the schools involved’) the government insists that while this is good, as far as it goes, it is simply  not enough.

The assumption, on the government’s part, is that that because most of these selective  schools achieve good results then they can help non-selective  state schools achieve better results driving up attainment which will have a transformative effect across the maintained sector, delivering more good places. Maybe they can. But evidence suggests that this assumption is, at the very least, debateable. It does not necessarily follow that a good selective school will  ensure that any non-selective school it runs will be good or  outstanding particularly if they take on schools in the most disadvantaged areas, which are often the most challenging .  Rather obviously it’s a different context, and a different challenge.

There is also  a belief in the sector that the government has an unnecessarily narrow and overly prescriptive view of what public benefit looks like.

Unsurprisingly, the government’s threats, combined with the accompanying possible sanctions, have not gone down well with the independent sector. If you want transformative outcomes, from any institution, as a rule, it’s probably not a good opening gambit to threaten them. Incentivise them, yes. Threaten them, no. This Green paper is heavy on sticks, light on carrots.

The Independent sector is used to being a whipping boy for Labour governments. But for a Conservative government to attack them in this way, well, it’s almost unprecedented (mind you it’s also attacking the business community so the sector shouldn’t feel totally alone on that score) and arguably counter-productive. The sector argues that both in scale and scope there are many on-going, effective partnership   arrangements that help deliver public benefit between the sectors, although rarely are these given publicity by the media, or indeed historically at least  by the DFE.  The sector also complains that many of its attempts to forge relationships with the maintained sector are rebuffed.

It does accept, though, that more could be done by some schools, with the requisite capacity, to work more closely with the maintained sector to bridge the divide and to improve outcomes, crucially, through partnership working and active collaboration.

A new organisation has been formed, with the support of the ISC and DFE- ‘The Schools Together Group’ chaired by Christina Astin (Kings School Canterbury) It  held its inaugural meeting last week in Westminster. Lord Nash, the education Minister was among the speakers.  The Groups mission statement is’ Harnessing the power of partnerships for the benefit of children’

It has three aims:

to highlight the projects and partnerships which currently exist between independent schools and maintained schools or community groups

to provide a selection of case studies and best practice guides which add more detail about specific types of existing projects and partnerships so that others interested in setting up similar activities have the support they need

to encourage and enable more collaboration between schools and within local communities by putting people in touch

The official launch was timely. With the Green Paper pushing the sector to do more, here   was proof positive that the sector had got this message, without any prompting,  some time ago, with over 1400 projects and cross sector partnerships, already up and running.(see web site)

The audience, from the outset, was reminded of Frederick Douglass’ dictum  ‘ It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men’.

It seems to be accepted, at least at one level, by the government, that the basis of a good, self-improving school system is effective partnership working, although that message is all but lost in the Green paper.  Lord Nash, however, for his part, understands the value of collaboration and partnership working based on his own  experience with Multi Academy Trusts. At this meeting he accepted that there were many good partnerships between the sectors but reminded the audience that social mobility was not improving and much more needed to be done.

Social mobility is a difficult, stubborn issue, of course, which won’t go away. Sadly, it seems to be getting worse, at least if you look at the latest Social Mobility Commission report.  That concludes that, if anything, the rungs of the mobility ladder are getting further apart.  Intractable problems, though, rarely have simple solutions. And the Green paper proposals, which are designed apparently to ease social mobility, look very unlikely in the view of the Social Mobility Commission at least, to do any such thing. (Indeed, they might make matters worse) The Minister, while understanding concerns being expressed about the Green Paper, said that the government wants more from the sector, but added that it genuinely welcomes feedback on its proposals and is in listening mode. We shall see. (the autumn statements allocation of  capital funding for grammar schools expansion suggests to some   that the governments mind is made up, before the consultation has closed)

Deborah Leek Bailey, who chaired the launch, claimed that there was a massive appetite in the independent sector for more engagement with the state sector. There is much scope for working across the sectors, in particular, in Primary schools where much subject specific work is  already being done to enrich the curriculum-in science, languages, maths, technology Latin and in particular  the minority subjects. This all looks promising.

Martin Robinson whose book the Trivium has influenced approaches in the state and independent sectors, particularly in promoting the liberal arts,  believes that the independent sector can offer support in two main areas -Culture and Curriculum. He added though that this has to be two way, and involve reciprocity mutual support and respect. In many areas, the curriculum is being narrowed. He singled out Art History, Classics and Latin as areas where support could be given. On the Cultural side independent schools are often strong in Sports, Arts, Drama and Music, Debates, Cadets, Conferences and so on. He mentioned the idea of ‘Uber’ teachers (not to be confused with taxis or Nietzsche for that matter), excellent specialist  teachers who can move  between sectors  and give support where required . There is much more scope for bringing together staff from both sectors, professional voices to start conversations, to bridge the sector divide, on a sustained basis.

The work of Newhams London Academy of Excellence was mentioned several times as a very successful model for cross sector partnerships (Sixth Form) which has a   higher success rate at getting pupils into Oxbridge than many independent schools.

Jonathan Taylor mentioned mutual learning and respect as important and geography(ie location) could be too, it was  certainly important  in  the York partnership,  He said that there has to be an operational steering group and don’t forget a  paid co-ordinator for partnerships if you are serious about wanting results.

Alex Galvin, senior education lead SSAT, outlined her organisations approach (the largest state school network) and gave some pointers on partnership working and collaboration. SSAT is experienced at helping to facilitate partnership working, of putting potential partners in touch with each other, acting as a facilitator ensuring that partnerships become   a community of shared practice and research. For partnerships to be successful there is a role for brokerage.  You can’t impose partnerships on schools. They must be based on trust. There is scope too for introducing schools to new partners they don’t   already know. Partnerships must have a clear aim and purpose, of course. And the right partner has got to be chosen for the right purpose. And, the same message repeated time and again at this meeting, the   benefits must be seen be going both ways. Good partnerships mean   you are raising attainment together, with dignity.

The Headteacher of Kingsland Community School, Newham, Joan Deslandes has worked closely with Richard Cairns of Brighton College, following their chance meeting in China.  Big things can come from these small conversations, between professionals. She said that partnerships must be integral to the school development plan. Her partnership with Brighton College has resulted, amongst other things, she says, in her school in a disadvantaged area, having some of the best science teaching and results in London,


What are the key messages from this meeting?

Take a look at the web site – there is an awful lot happening that you don’t know about on partnerships with information/case studies that could help you forge your own partnerships.

The state sector is quite often reluctant to engage and may need incentives

Professional to professional contact and engagement, can break down barriers. From small beginnings, good partnerships can grow

Effective partnerships must be organised professionally and have a clear purpose and objectives, but also depth. It’s not just about the Heads.  At their core often is a community of shared good practice   and research.

To be sustainable the relationship must be reciprocal, with a clear understanding of the mutual benefits that can be gained, by all parties, based on trust and respect.

These partnerships, if well-structured and run, can offer a diversity of shared activities and outcomes which can significantly enrich the curriculum offer, particularly but not exclusively at Primary schools, as well as offering potentially big cultural dividends.

The Green paper is a deep worry to many in  the sector, partly because of its tone-based  seemingly on threats and potential sanctions but also its apparent  lack of acknowledgement for the importance of partnerships (rather than simply bi-lateral relationships) and specifically for the real progress being made in partnership development between the sectors .(surely if you are involved in a partnership this  could be as  good as running or sponsoring a school in terms of delivering  public  benefit )

Those attending were urged to contribute to the Green Paper Consultation

Schools Together is supported and maintained by the Independent Schools Council (ISC) in collaboration with the Department for Education and the Independent/State Schools Partnership (ISSP). It is chaired by Christina Astin with a Steering Committee Tom Arbuthnott (Eton College) Sarah Butterworth(Highgate School) Harry Chapman (Kings College Wimbledon) http://www.schoolstogether.org/