Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Out with Ofsted inspections.

May 8, 2013


  Ofsted  inspections should be abandoned in favour of a broader approach that takes into account the views of teachers, pupils and parents, the Demos think-tank has argued.

The report, Detoxifying School Accountability , says that  the current system is forcing heads and teachers to prioritise achieving targets above students’ education.

An annual ‘multi-perspective’ inspection, informed by data collected from those who work at and use a school, would be a more rigorous and effective means of assessing its performance than a short visit from an external inspection team.

The author of the report  James Park said: ‘For too long, teachers and school leaders have been labouring in a toxic system, striving to meet targets at the expense of a good quality education for their students. International evidence shows that an education system which trusts professionals is more likely to succeed, yet policy over the past 20 years has systematically undermined trust.

 ‘A system where all interested parties – leaders, teachers, students, parents and inspectors – have a say would be a step in the right direction. It would represent a crucial move away from a target-obsessed culture to a more balanced, trusting and effective education system.’ 

Anything that gets us away from the target-obsessions we are lumbered with at the moment has should be given serious consideration, say I.


Michael, let’s talk about Singapore.

April 23, 2013

The Education Secretary Mr Gove has  said recently that research in Hong Kong, Singapore and other East Asian nations showed that expectations of mathematical knowledge and scientific knowledge were “at every stage” more demanding than in Britain.

“In order to reach those levels of achievement a higher level of effort is expected on behalf of students, parents and teachers,” he said.

“School days are longer, school holidays are shorter. The expectation is that to succeed, hard work is at the heart of everything.”

Polly Toynbee in a piece for today’ edition of The Guardian reminds Mr. Gove that he  that it’s not just expectations that are different.

Gove, calling for payment by results, cited Singapore’s high-achieving school system, “where expectations are higher”. What he didn’t say is that Singapore, like top performer Finland, is one of the most equal of developed nations. As his government drives up inequality, his schools face an ever tougher task compensating for the society they inhabit.

Mr Gove, are you listening?

March 25, 2013

In a letter published in today’ edition of The Guardian Professor Andrew Pollard (Universities of London and Bristol) makes the case that there is a pressing need for cross-party talks on the national curriculum, and by implication cross-party agreement, on how it should be shaped.

 Subject knowledge is vital to education and a national curriculum should represent the knowledge which is accepted as being important in our society (Report, 18 March). Additionally, children, young people and other learners have developmental needs (including cognitive, emotional, social and physical) which change as they grow older. Successful learning occurs when teachers, parents and others exercise judgement in bridging knowledge and development appropriately. In this way, one generation helps another. There are two main problems with the proposals for a new national curriculum in England. First, there has been no authentic attempt to achieve agreement on overall intentions and on the balance of knowledge, concepts, skills and attitudes which should form the curriculum content. The proposals for subject knowledge thus lack legitimacy in far too many areas.

Second, the proposals are imbalanced. Over-specification, implausible expectations and high-stakes control in relation to English and mathematics are combined with laissez-faire variability in relation to other subjects and issues. This produces a significant risk that many children will not feel motivated or engaged by the new curriculum. Teachers will do their best, as they invariably do. Cramming often does raise short-term performance, but it is doubtful if understanding and long-term capability will be achieved by provision of this type.

Within our democracy, the secretary of state has responsibility for this process and for making evidence-informed judgments about these issues on behalf of us all. His selective use and misuse of evidence and advice cannot be justified. In December 2011, the Labour party offered cross-party talks on the national curriculum following publication of the report of the expert panel, of which I was a member. School education needs stability if it is to provide appropriately for children’s learning. Mr Gove should call a halt and do the job properly.
Professor Andrew Pollard
Universities of London and Bristol

Sounds sensible to me.

Evidence-based practice in schools.

March 19, 2013

 The physician, academic and science writer, Ben Goldacre, posted this welcome news on his blog last Friday

Here’s my paper on evidence and teaching for the education minister.

March 15th, 2013 by Ben Goldacre in evidence based policy |

I was asked by Michael Gove (Secretary of State for Education) and the Department for Education to look at how to improve the use of evidence in schools. I think there are huge, positive opportunities for teachers here, that go way beyond just doing a few more trials. Pasted below is the briefing note from DfE press office, and then the text of a paper I wrote for them, which came out this week. You can also download a PDF from the DfE website here.

If you’re interested, there’s more on evidence based policy in this BBC Radio 4 documentary I did here, and in this Cabinet Office paper on trials in government that I co-authored here, as well as zillions more posts.

There’s a response to my DfE paper from the Education Endowment Foundation here (they’re running over 50 trials in 1400 schools), and a blog post from the Institute of Education here, I’ll post up more when I get a chance.

Hope you like it!

 In an article in today’s edition of Education Guardian Goldacre argues that if  teachers want politicians to base policy on evidence, they need to accept that randomised trials –very much much like those which used when evaluating various treatments in Medicine – are the way to show what works.

Medicine, in just a few decades, has leapt forward with evidence-based practice. By conducting “randomised trials” – fair tests, comparing one treatment against another – we’ve been able to find out what works best. Outcomes for patients have improved, through thousands of tiny steps.

There are many differences between medicine and teaching, but they have much in common. Both involve craft and personal expertise, learned through experience; but both can be informed by the experience of others. Every child is different, and every patient, too; but we’re all similar enough that good-quality research can show which interventions work best.

It seems to me that this approach might yeild better results than we have seen from other approaches. 

Another view of Michael Gove’s reforms

February 13, 2013

Seumas Milne, writing about education secretary Michael Gove,  in today’s issue of The Guardian , argues the education secretary’s attempts to reform education may well be the work of a destructive ideologue. When on very bright columnist atttacks a man who, when he was a Times columnist Michael Gove, was thought of as one of Britain’s leading writers and thinkers – admittedly Gove’s  expertise was terrorism and foreign affairs – then one’s ears prick up.

,…. Gove is considered a Conservative success, despite his multiple failures. The education secretary is an ideologue in a government whose Tory base chafes at the constraints of coalition, a neoconservative who believes the Iraq war was a “proper British foreign policy success” and a Thatcherite traditionalist itching to give for-profit companies the right to take over state schools.

Which is why Gove is lionised by the Tory right and Conservative press as a true believer, prepared to transform English education in their own image. While Gove is courteous, a praetorian guard of apparatchiks does his dirty work, seeing off educationalists’ resistance to their permanent counter-revolution and running web campaigns against recalcitrant critics.

Milne has notes that setbacks, such as his being compelled to drop his twin plans to replace GCSEs with an English baccalaureate and introduce a single exam board for each subject, can be portrayed as a “tactical setback” by The Times and can be glossed over as his having  “lost a skirmish, but….still winning the war“.

They’re mainly right. Gove has had to drop his baccalaureate scheme but he’s forging ahead with plans to ditch modules and controlled assessment in favour of more traditional exams and 1950s-theme park rote learning. And his new draft national curriculum is a Daily Mail dream.

Milne rightly says that there is no evidence any of the so-called reforms that Gove’s proposing is going to make actual improvements in education itself.

…..Gove and his supporters are convinced that marketisation and privatisation are the route to transforming English schools for the better, though it must help that a whole “educational services industry” is also gagging to benefit.

In the long run, as Miline persuasively sees it,  the education secretary is morphing into being the right man to lead the Tories when his time comes.

But most of all, championing traditional teaching and the breakup of the country’s education system offer a powerful boost for Gove’s career. When David Cameron is finally unseated, the battle for the Tory succession could yet come to a fight between the incompetent Gove and Johnson . It’s a chilling prospect.

A “solidly old-fashioned” syllabus?

February 12, 2013

In the comment is free section today’s Education Guardian, a number of subject experts have taken a critical look at education secretary Michael Gove’s national curriculum plans.

 Sometimes their findings and conclusions run contrary to expectations. I had rather expected that most experts on the teaching of English would be in all in favour of extending the number of contemporary writers that are set. They would be more relevant and be more easily understood by students of all levels, or so the well-rehearsed argument in their favour would have it.    

 However, Dr Margaret Reynolds, Queen Mary, University of London, does not seem to want too much truck with the relevancy argument. She confounds that expectation by proposing what she calls a “solidly old-fashioned” set of texts may in the long run be better than what comes out of the “current fashion for setting so-called “contemporary texts”.

 At university level, my colleagues are, for the most part, happy with the way students spell and, for all the scaremongering in the press about apostrophes, are not distressed by their grammar and punctuation. What bothers us most is that students going on to higher education don’t have enough background. They don’t know the Greek myths. They are terrible on the folk tales of any land. They have not read the Bible or other sacred texts. Ask them about fairy stories, and the best they can produce is a Disney version. How can they begin to read Angela Carter or Carol Ann Duffy?

 There is a current fashion for setting so-called “contemporary texts” – that is works published recently – because they are deemed more “relevant” to the lives of the young people taking the exam. I love the writings of Susan Hill and Sebastian Faulkes as much as the next woman. But even those luminaries – I hazard – would like their readers to have read Jane Eyre and To the Lighthouse.

So let’s be brave in our schools with language, and yes – solidly old-fashioned with literature.

A few minutes consideration is enough to make you realise although there is much merit in what she as to say, her what she recomments may be more useful to young people who will study literature at at third-level than it is to those whose studies will end at second level.

Gove second good decision?

February 7, 2013

This morning’s edition of The Guardian is reporting that the Education secretary, Michael Gove, is planning to announce the abandonment of his some of the plans he had for secondary education.

Michael Gove will announce on Thursday that he has abandoned his plans to replace GCSEs with a new English Baccalaureate certificate (EBC) after mounting concern within the coalition and from education groups.

In what will be seen as a humiliating reverse for the education secretary, for whom the shakeup of exams for 16-year–olds was a major chunk of his agenda, Gove will make a statement to the Commons on Thursday announcing the decision.

One wishes that quality newspapers like The Guardian would forget all mention “humiliating reverses” when reporting these things. Such colourful embellishing is both unhelpful and unnecessary, especially when reporting something that demands our serious consideration.  Most readers not to work out just how Mr Gove’s latest decision will be viewed without help from a reporter.

A good reporter should know that the opposition to Mr Gove’s original plans can be relied on to do grab at the hyperbole without his help.

The U-turn was seized on by Labour, who described it as “a humiliating climbdown” for Gove. Stephen Twigg, the shadow education secretary, said: “It shows why he should have listened to business leaders, headteachers and experts in the first place and not come up with a plan on the back of an envelope.”

Naturally, Labour can be relied on the grab at the stock phrase when describing what’s happened. Why could it not possibly be described as an example of Gove’s “belatedly coming to his senses” or of his willingness to “listen to reason in the end”?

Want a (long-term) career in Academia?

February 5, 2013

Do you want to be an academic? Do you want to make have a career as an academic? It may be your cherished ambition, or it may be something, your  studies have fitted you for. Well, according to today’s edition of The Guardian ,  there are fewer and fewer full time posts in academia.

When Vicky Blake embarked on her PhD at Durham University eight years ago, she believed it was the beginning of an exciting research career. Now, as part of the silently growing army of teaching staff paid by the hour in British universities, she is beginning to wonder at what stage she should walk away.

“I feel I owe it to myself to try, because I’ve invested so much in this. But I am 30 years old and I can’t keep existing on a month-to-month basis,” she says. “I have to put a time limit on how long I can hold out for a proper research job, and I think that’s really sad.”

Blake may spend her life juggling, with no ability to plan ahead, let alone apply for a mortgage, but in some respects she is one of the fortunate ones. When she came to the end of an eight-month, part-time research assistant post at Leeds University last year, instead of letting her fall off the academic cliff, it put her on a special redeployment register. This led her to a part-time, one-year assistant post on an academic journal at the university. She has a second part-time clerical post at Leeds, a commitment-free, “zero-hours” clerical job at Durham, and an hourly paid teaching job at Leeds, for which she has to secure a new contract each term.

“If a student asked me whether they should do a PhD, sadly, I’d say take a very careful look at the other options. “”(Dr Eric Silverman).  Sensible advice, I’d say.

Student loans (USA style) in crisis?.

February 5, 2013

Bearing in mind that we are drifting  towards a crisis in the funding of education in the UK, I suggest that this Salon report is worth reading in full.

 Student loans: The next housing bubble

The American system of higher education is increasingly becoming a fiscal disaster for ever-larger numbers of students who move through it.  That disaster is being caused by a combination of terrible incentives, institutional greed — and the pervasive myth that more education is the cure for economic inequality.

The extent of this myth is highlighted by a new report from the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, which indicates that nearly half of all employed college graduates have jobs that require less than a four-year college education. Despite such sobering statistics, the higher-education complex remains remarkably successful at ensuring that American taxpayers fund the acquisition of educational credentials that, in many cases, leave the people who obtain them worse off than they were before they enrolled.

This  sugggests to me that the UK may not in the long run  be doing itself many fiscal favours by moving the student l0an sytem of funding further education.

A Good Gove Decision.

February 3, 2013

It’s not often nowadays that we can hear somebody unreservedly praising something that Michael Gove has done just that.

However in this morning’s Observer column John Naughton does just that.

Michael Gove is possibly the most unpopular minister in the government, but on Wednesday he made a courageous and enlightened decision. On that day, the Department for Education announced that computer science will be included in the science options for the Ebacc (English baccalaureate), which is one of Mr Gove’s keystone reforms of the school curriculum. Given the amount of hostility there is to these reforms, this development attracted little attention, but in the long run it could turn out to be a really big deal.

Why? Because it signals a determination to undo an educational disaster that’s been running for decades in British schools – the ICT (information and communications technology) curriculum. This was based on the idea that most of what the young needed to be taught about computing was how to use software. In practice, this turned out to be learning how to use Microsoft Office. For both the schoolchildren who had to endure this, and the teachers who had to instruct them, this was a demoralising and dysfunctional experience. Kids would come home from school complaining (as my children did): “Dad, you’ll never guess what we had to do today – PowerPoint!” The result was that ICT became the educational world’s equivalent of a toxic brand.