If you can’t stand the research, get out of the classroom?

April 8, 2014 by · 5 Comments
Filed under: Education Matters 

In Dan Willingham’s superb book ‘why students don’t like school’, one of his provocative conclusions is that ‘the mind is not designed for thinking’. The problematic combination of effort, uncertainty and mental availability leads us to be, in John Hattie’s words, ‘highly selective about what we pay attention to’. Although Willingham is pragmatic and optimistic about solutions to this issue, his Realpolitik starting point is salutary and useful. If, to use Robert Coe’s definition, pupils are learning when they are ‘thinking hard’, their capacity to dislike and avoid learning things should hardly surprise us.

A similar analysis could easily be applied to the question of ‘why teachers don’t like research’. Of course there are structural, system-wide barriers to teachers’ engagement with research, and more could be done to incentivise the profession. However, this doesn’t wholly explain an overall teacher culture whose daily detritus, whether on staffroom walls, classroom desks or ‘to do’ lists, rarely lets the research light in. Time is an enemy of most good intentions, but I don’t think that if all teachers suddenly conjured, say, an extra hour a week to spend on professional learning, they would flock to the altar of research engagement.

With all this in mind, I went to my first researchED conference on Saturday. The beautiful baby of teacher blogger Tom Bennett, researchED is a thriving teacher-led movement. Frustrated by the wavering attempts of both Government and the Academy to connect teachers with research, and the variable quality of the stuff that cuts through, researchED’s curators are doing it for themselves through sell-out conferences and online conversations.

Although the researchED posse is a little dominated by the more traditional end of the teacher spectrum (and I don’t blame the organisers for this), the conference reminded me of Creative Partnerships at its best, when teachers and others engaged deeply with and in grounded research to inform the programmes they were designing.

I was there to discuss the findings and emerging recommendations from our Inquiry with BERA into research and teacher education, but really wanted to ‘learn from the converted’; to gain an understanding of why the teachers gathered on a Saturday in Birmingham were the exception rather than the rule, and whether this mattered. As I asked the teachers at my session: ‘why are you weird?’ One participant tweeted, ‘I feel like the lone nut’, then talked about his isolation as the only person in his secondary school who had heard of John Hattie. Another talked about the fear factor when her senior leadership team were promoting evidence-free interventions (yes, brain gym got another deserved kicking, although I tried to remind people that progressives and constructivists don’t have the monopoly on snake oil).

The BERA/RSA Inquiry’s interim report and follow-up conversations has convinced me that the development of all teachers’ ‘research literacy’ does matter, and made me increasingly optimistic that progress can be made. Research literacy (which does not require all teachers to be researchers) matters because it will give the teaching profession the capacity to create a genuinely self-improving system, and the clout to force governments and their regulators to reduce their intervention roles.

What are my grounds for optimism? When I left teaching fifteen years ago, we were just getting to grips with data, and how attainment data should inform classroom decisions. Now, this is a universally accepted attribute – in virtually every teacher’s job description. The depth of this cultural change struck me at a recent RSA Academies INSET day, when food technology teachers (perhaps not the usual data suspects) were having sophisticated data-led discussions. England is the most data-rich education system in the world. This gives us an incredible foundation to become both data-driven and research-rich during the next decade. Small nudges, whether from the passionate people who are researchED,  the Education Endowment Foundation, or  government rhetoric and requirements, for instance to demonstrate an evidence-informed approach to pupil premium spending, could combine to make a huge, rapid difference. We hope that our Inquiry’s country-specific recommendations and system-wide ‘design principles’ can also contribute when launched next month. I am also aiming to broker a productive partnership between researchED and BERA. A clever alignment could catalyse some common ambitions.

You can find links to an impressive multitude of blogs at #redb on twitter. Here are my thoughts from a fantastic day that might help maintain the researchED momentum.

1) People who can sound shrill and overconfident on twitter and blogs are much more prepared to engage critically with issues when face to face – yes, I mean me too. This means that, for all the social media and clever online engagement solutions emerging, the sometimes-visceral nature of events such as researchED matters deeply to the key task of creating a little more (if never total) long term consensus about schools and learning.

2) Progressive educators need to join the researchED fray. It would also be terrific to bring theory and research into practical learning and arts learning into the Research-Ed conversation.  As part of this process we need to read, and to some extent reclaim, elements of cognitive psychology to inform our thinking.

3) On the other side of a confusing fence, the teachers and researchers who are using cognitive psychology to justify and explore pedagogies should embrace some developmental and behavioural psychology too. Even within the range of cognitive outcomes they focus on, it’s still worth exploring, for example, Robert Kegan, Carol Dweck, and some of the other theories summarised in our recent report into behavioural insights and education.

4) We need a common, cognitive bias-free commitment to nonsense-detection. Andrew Old should be as angry about Toby Young’s recent evidence-lacking Civitas pamphlet as Debra Kidd is. Together, we should be on commentators’ cases.  The Education Endowment Foundation or new Education Media Centre could take on a national rapid-reaction ‘health warning’ role whenever anyone plays fast and loose with evidence.

5) Compared to ‘official’ research conferences, researchED speakers are often prepared to ‘present before they are ready; the ‘mad idea’ of ‘mapping the complexity of concepts’ is a great example of this. Could ResearchED create a light touch, formative alternative to the classic ‘peer review’ process that stimulate an ongoing critical dialogue which aims for ‘just in time’ improvements to research efforts, rather than ‘just too late’ destruction?

From the promotion of girls’ education in the 19th Century to the more recent Start Right early years campaign, the RSA has a wonderful history of supporting important movements for change in education. The researchED phenomenon could be just as crucial, and we’re up for helping it sustain success in any way we can.

Global Education: Do what we say, not what we did

March 20, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Education Matters 

Blair photo cut

I’ve just spent two days at the Global Education and Skills Forum, billed as a ‘Davos for Education’, and organised with rigour and panache by the Varkey Gems Foundation. I participated on a hunch that the RSA might have something to contribute to this agenda.  If William Shipley and other founders came back to the RSA now, they’d be surprised by many things: the still-fantastic condition of our House; the global penetration of our RSA Animates; the price of our coffee. I think they would also be surprised by our lack of engagement around international development generally, and education in particular. The issues being faced by education systems (and the term ‘system’ is a euphemism in many states) around the world can put some of the UK issues we grapple with in their petty, parochial shade.

The recent Education for All Global Monitoring Report showed how, despite progress on access over the last decade, 100 million children of primary age are still not in school, and a further 150 million children leave primary school unable to read, write or count. The annual cost of this failure is estimated at £129bn. All six 2015 ‘Education for All’ goals will be missed. If trends continue, it will take until 2086 before universal primary education for girls becomes a reality. Our own Department for International Development last year published an excellent position paper, reaffirming the UK’s commitment to ‘providing global leadership on delivering value for money, developing new partnerships across the public–private spectrum, using new technology and building evidence on new approaches and aid modalities with partner governments.

Because of significant progress on goals around famine relief, malnourishment and broader health crises, the focus on global education goals is growing. The ‘poster children’ for the development world are now less likely to be starving children than pupils in very cramped classrooms, or being taught outside with minimal resources.  However, according to figures released by Gems, businesses and foundations donate approximately sixteen times more to health than to education. The new ‘business backs education’ campaign is calling for all businesses to increase the share of their CSR spend on education to 20%.

In a context which is both changing rapidly and hitting frustrating buffers, a total antipathy to the private sector is almost impossible to sustain. The demand for learning is such that private, ‘pay at the point of use’ options are an inevitable and, when of good quality, welcome part of the ecology. Without such input, the so-called ‘demographic dividend’ is more likely to be a demographic disaster of young people entering the labour market with very limited skills and motivations. At the moment, it’s a blurred and occasionally messy mix between pure private provision (high and low cost), NGO provision and support, and publicly funded and delivered schools. Different actors will inevitably be bumping into each other in the field, although any inefficiencies caused by duplicating effort may be offset by a curiously competitive climate. In many ways, global education in developing countries looks similar to England’s mixed economy of early year provision. As Bill Clinton’s speech highlighted.

 “It is projected that by 2050 that 86 percent of the world’s children will be living in what are now developing countries. There is no way that governments alone or international aid flows alone will be able to provide those children with the quality of education they need to be full participants in global society. This is especially relevant for women and girls.”

To maximise the impact of this mixed economy, it might be wise for governments to move further and faster to a commissioning function, minimising any delivery responsibilities. This would include the commissioning of high quality training and professional development, using the potential of blended learning (including MOOCs for teacher training), as well as being highly informed, evidence-based commissioners of ICT solutions that could improve outcomes whilst reducing costs. Government should also see themselves as ‘champions of parents’,  developing simple and strong accountability systems to empower parents about the quality of choices available, and speaking up for the interests of the most vulnerable families, those ‘high hanging fruit’ that the private sector may never reach out and up to. NGOs, especially the larger global actors, may need to change their attitudes and approaches to working with for-profits, who are sometimes portrayed by NGOs as maybe-necessary and hopefully-temporary evils.

Amidst the justified rush to get as many children in school and learning for as long as possible, it’s worth reflecting on the challenges that education systems such as England’s, with over 150 years’ experience of free universal education, have struggled to solve, and if anything are more entrenched than ever. Here is my cut of five perpetual problems for virtually every developed education system, regardless of PISA league table ranking.

1.       Low equity, high inequality   Despite occasional progress, universal education has largely reinforced rather than broken down existing     social inequalities

2.      An artificial divide between academic and vocational learning, and between school and work   All systems (yes Germany, you too) have struggled to create parity of esteem between academic and vocational education pathways. A rising ‘school leaving age’ may have   inadvertently created new firewalls between the worlds of school and work.

 3.       Low teacher agency and self-efficacy   The overwhelming policy dynamic, whether led by national governments, local authorities or other intermediaries, has cast teachers as victims rather than agents of change.

 4.       Increasing teenage disengagement   OECD data shows that teenagers, including the growing number of students who are ‘successful’ in terms of exam results, are increasingly disengaged from and motivated by the process of schooling.

 5.       Minimal arts provision   In every system across the world, arts and cultural learning appears to be at best permanently vulnerable to reductions in provision, and at worst marginalised from schools’ curricula and childrens’ lives.

If, as a country or state, you are struggling to build enough schools, ensure children learn anything when they are at school, prevent early drop-outs, especially amongst girls, or get teachers better trained or simply turning up to teach more regularly, these five issues may feel like peripheral luxuries. Yet it’s in building the foundations for a universal education system that cultures and norms are established. Developing countries have opportunities to shape new blended delivery structures for education: between private, public and voluntary provision; between teachers, parents pupils and other citizens; between online and face to face teaching and learning; and perhaps above all, between the worlds of school and work. This is less ‘creative destruction’, and more creative commissioning, mixing the most appropriate solutions which might lead to far more effective protection against the holes that we developed nations keep on digging, and far more scope for enabling teachers to lead education change processes.  It’s hard to predict the model which might replace what Ken Robinson famously termed our ‘industrial model’ of schooling, but it may well emerge from the developing world who are less burdened by the baggage of a hundred years of universal education.

Whether anything will ever change any education system’s approach to arts learning is another matter, but that’s for another blog, and a possible RSA project.  For the moment, I’ll give the last word to my favourite speaker from the event, Mary Joy Pigozzi from Educate a Child:

Ultimately, it is a country’s citizens that own its education system’.

Joe Hallgarten is Director of Education at the RSA. Follow him @joehallg

Schools with Soul: defeating the data daleks

March 11, 2014 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Education Matters 

This blog is by David Kerr, Citizenship Foundation and University of Bristol, and one of the co-authors our  RSA Investigate-Ed report on the spiritual, moral, social and cultural education of young people in the UK, published today.

The RSA Investigate-Ed series provides structured spaces for policy makers, practitioners and other stakeholders to diagnose problems and generate solutions to key educational issues. The series strapline ‘inspiring debate, influencing policy, informing practice’ captures the essence.

The first Investigate-Ed is titled Schools with Soul: A new approach to Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural Education (SMSC). It focuses on the ugly duckling of education policy terms SMSC – spiritual, moral, social and cultural education – a phrase that hardly trips off the tongue or gives a clear sense of what it is about.  Indeed, as one of the co-authors of the investigation I freely admit in my brief biog that I have ‘always found it challenging to grasp what SMSC means in practice’: I’m sure I’m not alone.

So why has the RSA chosen to focus the first Investigate-Ed on SMSC? What is the key problem with SMSC and what are the suggested solutions? The answer lies in a conversation I had with an experienced teacher in school last week. He was bemoaning the fact that, as he put it, the ‘data Daleks and management geeks’ have increasingly taken over schools and are slowly suffocating the essence or purpose of what schools and education are about. They are replacing concern for students as individuals who require careful nurturing, with a fixation with data that processes them as numbers to be driven across grade boundaries and collectively up league tables. The Investigate-Ed report into SMSC confirms that there is more than an element of truth in my colleague’s concerns.

Schools with Soul highlights how the broader educational context in and beyond the UK is rapidly bringing SMSC up the agenda as a key education issue.

  • SMSC has been a policy imperative in the UK since 1944 and remains part of the Ofsted inspection framework for schools
  • Our competitor countries are increasingly turning to new learning approaches that promote SMSC competencies to enable their young people to live and work with confidence in a global context
  • Many academies and new free schools strongly emphasise SMSC qualities through their ethos and values
  • The new 2014 National Curriculum is reduced to a core canon of knowledge that gives more freedom to schools to decide how they should approach it.

Based on an analysis of a sample of Section 5 Ofsted reports, in-depth discussions with staff and pupils in a number of schools with excellent SMSC provision and outcomes and an underpinning historical analysis of SMSC in the UK, including current policy, Schools with Soul comes up with a series of outcomes that demand careful reading, reflection and considered action by all those who work in and are concerned about schools and education in the UK.

Above all, it concludes that the time has come to reflect anew on the ugly duckling of SMSC and to see it in a new light. That new light is the need to rediscover the purpose of schools and education – ‘the soul’ – which has been buried (or as my colleague put it ‘suffocated’) by the short-term orthodoxy of data goals – exam results, school performance league tables and the like. Unless we reclaim that purpose or ‘soul’ quickly then we will fall behind our competitors and put our young people at a disadvantage globally.

Schools with Soul backs up this conclusion with facts and figures, as well as practical tools and recommendations, to make the new approach to SMSC a reality in UK schools. These include:

  • A mapping exercise outlining how schools can practically break down and conceptualise SMSC provision in their daily practices through the school culture, curriculum and links with the community
  •  A set of design principles for prioritising SMSC going forward based around clarifying and engaging, planning and delivering and evaluating and measuring
  • Key findings and recommendations concerning SMSC across the UK including a call for the year 2015-16 to be designated a ‘year of reflection’ including on the purpose of schooling and also for Ofsted to be more consistent in its definition and inspection of SMSC.

As a result, the ugly duckling of education policy terms – SMSC – may turn out to be a beautiful swan in disguise all along. I shall certainly be drawing the outcomes of the first RSA Investigate-Ed to the attention of the experienced teacher I spoke with last week so that he and his colleagues, including the ‘data Daleks and management geeks’, can debate their approaches to SMSC and reflect on the actions that need to be taken to ensure that their school is a school with soul. Let’s hope it encourages further debate and reflection in schools across the UK.

Read the report and school case studies at www.thersa.org/smsc, and follow debates on twitter using #smsc and #schoolswithsoul


How to compete with the ‘Second Machine Age’? Build an army of human robots

March 4, 2014 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Education Matters 

This blog is by Amelia Peterson FRSA, one of the authors of RSA’s report on the future of spiritual, moral, social and cultural education, which is being published next week.

In a speech to mark National Apprenticeship week, Michael Gove yesterday asserted that to survive in business young people need “not just impressive academic qualifications but attractive personal qualities”. He listed eight or so desirable qualities, including being “responsive and respectful towards others, resourceful under pressure, tenacious and self motivating”. This list is not so far from that featured in the Roy Anderson report last month, or that has previously been produced by the CBI. Clearly, Gove realises he cannot ignore calls from our captains of industry for long.

If we want those outcomes, we have to design for them. The structures, environments and cultures of our schools need to be reshaped to promote the social and personal development of all young people, not treat them as dots in a system, acquiring points and qualifications.

In other systems and schools around the world, this transformation is already underway. At the end of his speech, Gove lists the components with which his government is creating “a long-term plan for all children”. Among them are “changes inspired by what’s happening in the nations with the highest-performing educational institutions” and “changes to make the curriculum more modern”. For anyone who follows education developments internationally, the combination of these statements is confusing. Around the world, leading education jurisdictions are indeed making their national curricula more ‘modern’, but their end products look rather different from what is coming in England in September of this year.

English-speaking jurisdictions like Australia, New Zealand, and Scotland – and even Gove favourites like Singapore – have all re-oriented their curricula in recent years to focus more on the competencies that young people need to thrive in an increasingly complex world. These countries recognize that as inter- and intra- personal skills become ever more vital for success and stability, their development cannot be left to a mish-mash of extra-curricular activities.

Gove would do well to look to British Columbia, the highest performing English-speaking jurisdiction in PISA, which achieves scores close to the Singapores of this world but with a multicultural, socioeconomically diverse population. In B.C., it is taken for granted that education in an intensely personal and emotional process; everyone speaks the language of personalisation and whole children development, and the curriculum is in the process of being comprehensively redesigned to focus on three core competencies labelled thinking, communication, and personal and social.

So what can we in England hold on to? How can we find space in our system to justify the time and resources that we so desperately need to commit to supporting young people’s social and personal development? We have a sentence, at the start of our )old and new) National Curriculum. It reads:

 Every state-funded school must offer a curriculum which is balanced and broadly based, and which:

  • promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils at the school and of society, and
  • prepares pupils at the school for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of later life.

This isn’t much, and the second sentence in particular is too broad and vague to carry much weight. However, the lines do achieve some traction in our National Ofsted framework, where inspectors have to make a judgment as to the extent to which schools are promoting the “spiritual, moral, social, and cultural development” of their pupils. When you dig down into that phrase, it gets to the heart of what schools have always been about – and to the heart of what will really equip people to thrive in what Gove himself yesterday dubbed the “second machine age”.

Because of this, the RSA has spent the last few months investigating how schools and society could better support the spiritual, moral, social and cultural (SMSC) development of all children. The report – following an international and historical literature review; a systematic review of Ofsted data; a series of case studies of schools; and convenings of an expert group – will be published next week.

This investigation is needed more than ever to counteract the seductive but simplistic idea that ‘SMSC’ and character development are all about behaviour. The prioritisation of behaviour in Ofsted measures has made it a key focus for schools, and Gove did nothing to remedy that yesterday when he stated the “The first step to ensuring students have … character virtues is enforcing effective discipline and behaviour policies in all our schools”.

Aligning discipline with the development of good character wipes out in a stroke fifty years of progress in research, taking us back to the ideas of behaviourists who saw correct action as the result of repeated enforcement and reinforcement. Behaviourism is now largely defunct in the field of psychology. In its place, thanks to the work of generations of Nobel Prize winners like Daniel Kahneman, is a much more complex picture of what determines our actions: how we are effected by our environment; how we develop and act on biases; and the interaction of emotion and cognition in influencing our choices.

In a connected world, where young people are faced constantly with examples of adult duplicity and contradictory behaviour, we cannot expect our schools to be enclosed islands that can set and manage behaviour according to their own rules. It is important that young people have the opportunity to develop a vocabulary and the reasoning skills to reflect on their own and others behaviour; to make sense of choices; and to develop a positive identity and strong moral self (one of the most significant factors in determining moral behaviour).

We also have to think about what personal qualities pupils are learning from the way schools are currently set up. Rather than self-responsibility and care for others, the dominant forces in our system teach children to use fear as a means of control; to focus on the end rather than the means; and that what is expected of you is based on your prior performance. Ours is not a system that really believes in self-management or the capacity for change.

Unlike Singapore, we cannot ordain a new focus on Character from the centre, but we can learn something from them – that character is worth prioritising, and that it takes real commitment from both the centre and schools, that translates into careful thought, time and resources.

We already benefit from a richer conception of character in this country held in the concepts of spiritual, moral, social and cultural development. But the phrase has also been a stumbling block in that some of the terms are too opaque and seem too far from the ‘everyday’ business of schools. As we will detail in the report next week, schools need real time to think about what these terms means for their context and their pupils. For our new curriculum to approach something ‘modern’ schools must be given serious space to integrate and see through its guiding principles.

Amelia Peterson is a researcher at the Innovation Unit.

Ofsted: Is the new orthodoxy really that there is no orthodoxy?

January 31, 2014 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Education Matters 

There is so much to say about Ofsted right now that this blog may just be my starter. I am increasingly convinced that my idea for our education system to take a gap year from inspection, academisation, and new policies is worth considering for 2015. Before that happens (as if?), time to deal with the changing current realities of school inspections.

 Bruised by various mutterings from think tanks (to which the best response might be the old playground comeback ‘don’t give it unless you can take it’), Sir Michael Wilshaw last  week wrote to all inspectors to reinforce the fact that ‘Ofsted is not prescriptive about the way that teaching is delivered and does not recommend a suite of preferred teaching styles.’

The letter is a helpful guide to what inspectors should no longer look for and comment on. However, it also gives examples of “what could be said about teaching without infringing the professional judgement of teachers to decide the most appropriate style of teaching to get the best out of their students.”

Teacher bloggers Andrew Old and @cazzypot have both analysed all these examples in detail. Most seem uncontroversial, if a little vague (I’ve listed these at the bottom of this blog).  But here are my thoughts from beyond the chalkface of those worthy of further analysis.

  • Are low expectations resulting in worksheets being used rather than textbooks?

This assumes that worksheets lower expectations, and textbooks raise them. I could find plenty of textbooks to counter this view. Is there evidence to justify this opinion?

  • Are children expected to take books home to do their homework and return them the following day?

Leaving aside the mixed evidence on the impact of homework, why is Ofsted stipulating that homework needs to be returned ‘the following day’?

  • Do lessons start promptly?

 What does ‘start’ mean? When I was teaching in primary schools, I abandoned the time-wasting tradition of morning registration, and simply expected pupils to come in and finish uncompleted work for 10 minutes. It is of course crucial that no time is wasted dealing with behaviour issues at the start of a lesson, and that one hour’s lesson is one hour’s learning. But there are many routes to this goal.   Will Ofsted now take against the idea of more fluid ways to start lessons, or will “start” mean something more traditional?

  • Is the structure of the lesson promoting good learning and are children given sufficient time to practise and reinforce what is being taught?

This seems to be at odds with Ofsted’s new guidance to inspectors published in December, that “inspectors should not focus on lesson structure at the expense of its content or the wide range of other evidence about how well children are learning in the school.” Practice and reinforcement clearly needs to happen during any unit of work, but why does every single lesson need to give children sufficient time to do this?

  • Does the school have a robust professional development programme which is improving the quality of teaching by disseminating good practice across the school or college?

The hypothesis here is that robust professional development programmes are built upon ‘disseminating good practice across the school’. The evidence, brilliantly synthesised by the Teacher Development Trust,  consistently counters this traditional ‘cascade model.  Shouldn’t Ofsted judge the quality of a school’s CPD approach in terms of outcomes, rather than methods?

As the SSAT’s Bill Watkin argued in his blog, Ofsted’s position is that “the new orthodoxy at Ofsted is that there is no orthodoxy.” Reading this letter, it feels like one orthodoxy might just be replacing another. But let’s keep optimistic, and, regardless of our differing views about pedagogy, hold Ofsted to account on Sir Michael’s final plea:

 “Please, please, please think carefully before criticising a lesson because it doesn’t conform to a particular view of how children should be taught.”

Joe Hallgarten  Director of Education  @joehallg

Other examples in the letter:

  • Are children focused and attentive because the teaching is stimulating?
  • Is the pace of the lesson good because the teacher is proactive and dynamic in the classroom?
  • Is homework regularly given?
  • Is literacy a key component of lessons across the curriculum?
  • Do teachers use display and technology to support teaching?
  • Are the most able children provided with work which stretches them and allows them to fulfil their true potential?
  • Does marking give a clear indication of what the children have to do to improve and are clear targets being set?
  • Do teachers have sufficient expertise to be able to impart to students the necessary knowledge and skills to succeed?
  • Are teaching assistants supporting teaching effectively or are they simply ‘floating about’?


Licenced to create: five thoughts on a teacher licence scheme

January 15, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Education Matters 

Despite no formal announcement of Tristram Hunt’s ‘licenced to teach’ idea, the concept has already been constructed and deconstructed by the edurati, with especially useful contributions from David Weston, our own Louise Bamfield, and Charlotte Leslie MP, who argues with the easy conviction of a backbencher  that:

“Any relicencing scheme that is the brainchild of a politician and born out of Whitehall is doomed to fail, and become just another stick with which to beat a demoralised, worn-out workforce.”

Given that almost everyone who has commented on licencing has used the ‘devil in the detail’ cliché, I’ll say that the angel could be in the bigger picture. Although I blogged in this week’s New Statesman that our school system should in 2015 have a ‘gap year’ from any new policies, I still believe that the licencing idea deserves air, time and hopefully support from the wide range of people who could together guarantee success. Here are five thoughts that might help.


1) Licencing is an ineffective way to remove bad teachers

If my child is being taught by anybody who is not up to it, I want him or her given immediate support to improve, with rapid removal if this fails to happen. Waiting five or even seven years is too long, and may create a further disincentive to do the right thing at the right time. Putting teachers into Capability, and finally removing them, is difficult, and always will be, but brave, assertive school leaders are finding ways through, and recent chagnes to regulations have made the process easier. This may be one area where academies and chains have been more effective and ruthless than local authorities, often if not always with positive outcomes. Setting up licencing as the magic bullet to remove poor teachers is setting it up for failure.


2) Licencing could reduce teacher bureaucracy

Of course, the process to gain and regain a licence is just that, a process,  so will therefore come with some bureaucratic burdens. However, any licence worth the paper its written on should be a licence to be trusted – that your professional judgement is valued, and professional autonomy revered. Armed with a licence, most teachers should be able to resist some of the more mindless soul-numbing paperwork that senior management teams, often falsely in the name of Ofsted, request of their teachers: The over-detailed lesson and termly planning documents; the written justification for every individual assessment decision; the word-hungry performance management papers. “Back off and trust me, my licence is up to date’ could be a useful bulwark against the creeping growth of petty paperwork demands.


3) A licencing system should be carefully created by a new Royal College of Teaching

Tristram Hunt has suggested that the College enforces and administers the licence. I think that the College needs to design and create the thing. This means that we would need to create a college in advance of the introduction of any licencing scheme. If this slows down progress, then that might be beneficial. Despite Hunt’s rush to announce the idea, any follow-through should be slow and cautious, understanding the impact on teacher retention and the teacher labour market.

I’ll declare a potential interest here in that, although the Prince’s Teaching Institute and others have done some fantastic development of the idea over the past few months, I think that RSA could be perfectly placed to make the College happen. We have a good history of incubating new ideas and institutions, are prepared to bash the heads that need bashing, and would also work to learn from the mistakes of the General Teaching Council of England. The GTCE was an example of New Labour policy implementation at its worst – a kind of half-hearted, ADHD-riven dirigisme which built the weakest of institutions. I am sure that the RSA could build an alliance that could do this better, and not just because we have a ‘Royal’ in our name too. Pitch over.


4) Licencing should be built around the concept of ‘clinical practice’

This builds usefully on the BERA/RSA Inquiry into teacher education and research. We launched our interim report this week. Here, we defined clinical practice in education as  

 “the need to bring together knowledge and evidence from different sources through a carefully sequenced programme which is deliberately designed to integrate teachers’ experiential learning at the ‘chalk face’ with research-based knowledge and insights from academic study and scholarship. Inspired by the medical model, the goal is to refine particular skills and deepen practitioners’ knowledge and understanding, by integrating practical and academic (or research-based) knowledge, and to interrogate each in light of the other.”

 This is more complex, nuanced and developmental than any crude aim to ensure that teachers’ practices more ‘evidence-based’. But the idea of clinical practice, also powerfully articulated by the US National Council for Accreditation in Education’s  ‘ten design principles for clinically-based preparation’  could  provide a powerful foundation from which to build a licencing scheme which would improve, engage and motivate teachers.


5) Licencing should offer teachers the ‘power to create’

I haven’t  joined the fray of my colleagues’ blogs about creativity, although I love RSA’s confidence to have these discussions in the open. I’m not yet ready to give my view on RSA’s possible overall approach to creativity in education – my five years of leading Creative Partnerships has rendered me cautious, if far from speechless. However, there is a genuine linkage between the philosophy emerging from the non-ivory second floor of John Adam Street and the teacher licensing scheme. David Weston’s blog neatly sums up teacher effectiveness as a combination of “subject knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, behavioural knowledge and interpersonal skills”. This isn’t enough. Teachers need the motivation, skills, and sense of self-efficacy to develop their own pedagogies and practices that can lead to the best possible outcomes for their pupils. Of course, innovation should be built on evidence, and all teachers need to adopt and adapt existing successful practices as well as develop their own. Although only a few teachers may ever create genuinely new knowledge, ‘little C’ creativity, the ability to generate and develop ideas that are original to you, and valuable in your context, should be at the heart of any licence – not just a right but a duty for all teachers.

Joe Hallgarten    Director of Education  @joehallg

What might work? Making the case for a Cultural Endowment Foundation

November 5, 2013 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Arts and Society, Education Matters 

Today the RSA and Arts Council England will launch Towards Plan A: A New Political Economy for Arts and Culture. This series of four papers which examine how the arts sector might play a full role in the UK’s economic and social renewal In the papers:

  • Martin Smith asks for a new industrial strategy for the arts, to make the most of ‘ the prickly, sometimes antagonistic but always necessary relationship between art and commerce’;
  • Alex Jones asks for cities to be more honest about their capacity to be so-called creative hubs – not all cities can be – and more intelligent about the way they understand the impact of cultural spending on regeneration;
  • Mandy Barnett and Daniel Fujiwara argue that ‘the cultural sector needs to agree a single framework within which to talk about value, whilst disentangling the social from the cultural in the process’; and
  • Sue Horner (chair of RSA Academies), in calling for a ‘grand partnership’ between education and cultural sectors, suggests how both sectors need to step up to harder-edged collaborations.

John Knell’s excellent introduction also offers recommendations to inform future policy and practice. This includes the idea that: “ACE should commission, in partnership with DCMS, DfE, AHRC, key trusts and foundations, and the sector learning network, at least one ‘high burden of proof’ study – involving if appropriate randomised controlled trials – which would explore the impact of particular arts interventions in a key impact area (for instance health and well-being, education or community cohesion).”

Having spent several years leading probably the largest ever ‘high burden of proof’ study ever undertaken in the arts, the Creative Partnerships learning programme in thousands of schools across England, it would be tempting to show John my wounds and medals. As, over the years,the quality of our research, evaluation and outcomes improved, it actually became more difficult to make the case for continued investment. However, I think John is onto something, and his proposal could be even more ambitious.

Could the cultural sector create something similar to the Education Endowment Foundation – a body dedicated not just to commissioning rigorously evaluated projects, but also to improving the way that evidence is built and used across the education system? Importantly, the EEF exists and is funded through an endowment – from the DfE – which secures both its independence and its long term stability. Although it is too early to judge the impact of individual projects (and my prediction is that only a few will show statistically significant impacts on closing the attainment gap), the Foundation’s processes and toolkits are already informing school decisions. Many schools are finally moving from a culture of data use to a culture of evidence use.

A Cultural Endowment Foundation, perhaps funded through a small percentage from the recent 4G auction, should be entirely independent from Government and Arts Council England. ACE is too invested in demonstrating rather than understanding the impact of its spending. It should support programmes to be externally evaluated against cultural as well as social or economic outcomes, possibly using Mandy and Daniel’s single framework, so that the arts are not just the servants of other public policy masters. Finally, it should be prepared to go public when the cultural sector engages in poor quality, advocacy-heavy evaluation processes – I’ve got a few favourite worst evaluations, which I won’t name and shame here. Understanding value should not be a compulsory activity for all in the arts sector – some will just want to get on with making great art for everyone, to use ACE’s mission statement. A Cultural Endowment Foundation could help cultural organisations make the choice between either doing evaluation properly or not doing evaluation at all.

Joe Hallgarten   Director of Education     @joehallg

Cultural organisations and education: how have things really changed?

October 14, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Education Matters 

In last week’s inaugural lecture as chair of the RSA, Vikki Heywood called on the arts to take on a deeper, broader, more ambitious engagement with society. Building on Matthew Taylor’s ideas around place-based commissioning, Vikki proposed a fundamental shift to the arts’ relationship to society.

Interestingly, Vikki took cultural organisations’  recent shifts in their relationship with education as an inspiration for how things could change. To help move our thinking forward, I’d encourage people to read the section below from Vikki’s speech, and answer these questions:

1) Do you agree with this analysis of how cultural organisations’ overall attitudes to education have changed over the last thirty years?

2) If so, what do you think caused this shift?

3) If not, where and why has this not happened?

If you have too much to say for a meager comment box below, email me and we might be able to sort you out with a guest blog.

“So how do we make it happen – well we have done it before.  Art practice has changed – it can change again.

‘We know that such a change of orientation and ambition  can be achieved. Over the last thirty years our larger cultural organisations have moved from basic audience development (bums on seats) – to far more sophisticated forms of audience engagement and participation – especially through their education programmes. Many smaller organisations led the way built, as many of them were, on principles around socially engaged practice.

 ’If the ghost of first NT director Laurence Olivier visited the National Theatre today, his biggest surprise might not be the levels of technology involved in current productions, or even the incredible NT Live.

‘It would probably be the shock of an education department that employs twenty people and many more freelancers, is nationally broad and locally deep, with its own programme to nurture young talent. A commitment of this scale would thirty years ago have been unthinkable, unrealistic, and frankly undesired.

It’s now time for a shift that is just as fundamental to the arts and its relationship to society.”

Vikki also mentioned our emerging project to develop “a GCSE in the Arts in order to develop young people’s cultural knowledge and practice across at least two art forms. It takes Michael Gove’s passion for ‘cultural literacy’ as necessary but not sufficient to develop young people’s cultural identities and capacities to the full.”  Thoughts how we approach this idea, possibly connected to my latest TES article on how schools need to occupy their curriculum.  would also be really welcomed.

Joe Hallgarten, Director of Education @joehallg

Time for a Swiss-style cantonisation of education?

October 11, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Education Matters 

Yesterday I spoke at the SOLACE conference for Local Authority Chief Executives in York. I was asked to speak on what role remains for councils in education?  with DfE’s Director General for infrastructure and funding Andrew McCully and Stephen Adamson from the National Governors Association. It was a chance for me to consolidate my thinking from a number of recent related projects we’ve been involved with. The conversation with Chief Executives was far more lively, challenging and optimistic than I had feared it might be, partly thanks to a refreshingly open approach from Andrew and enthusiastic chairing from Mark Rogers, Chief Executive of Solihull MBC. They were especially taken with my ‘cantonisation of education’ idea. So, although I am guessing that ‘just blogging a speech’ is one of the seven deadly blogging sins, that’s what I am going to do.


‘First, a quick observation from this week. You’ll have seen the OECD league tables on skills for 16-24 year olds. England did very poorly in literacy and maths, prompting varying analyses of who was to blame. The skills minister Matthew Hancock called these young people ‘New Labour’s babies’, putting the blame firmly at door of the last government’s dumbing down processes. Finnish expert Pasi Sahlberg put England and the US’ poor performance down to the GERM –   the Global Education Reform Movement. Some blamed the top down approach of the old National Strategies, others trendy teachers and their compliant, reactionary unions. However, so far I haven’t heard anybody blame local authorities. There is almost an acceptance that, over the last 20 years, local authorities have been irrelevant to the performance of young people. I’d question this in two ways. First, I firmly believe that our schools are  better than ever, and outcomes for young people have genuinely improved in the last two decades, although it is clear that other nations have improved far faster. And second, although heroic improvements from single heroic schools are part of this success, in any part of England, from London to Gloucestershire to Greater Manchester, where areas- wide performance has improved, Local Authorities have been part of the story.

‘ So, who am I to tell you what your role should be? I guess I bring a number of perspectives to this, partly from my professional history, as a teacher who started my career in a Local Authority pool, and ended it in a Grant Maintained school. Then, when I worked at the IPPR, I remember Andrew Adonis being repeatedly shocked to visit schools in small Local Authorities which the (normally long-standing) directors of education had never visited. I worked for a national creativity project where I saw how many authorities, despite being told to ‘commission, not deliver’, were clinging on to delivery roles and often petty power relationships with schools. But I was also inspired during this time by the historic work of Alec Clegg and the way he had wielded his local power to provide incredible arts opportunities for young people, and other more modern examples, such as in Gateshead.

‘At the RSA, We’ve recently published three relevant reports: on the middle tier, our academies commission, and our report on education in Suffolk, which is leading to further work with local authorities. This week, I’ve been helping our new Chairman Vikki Heywood to write a speech, and have been delving into RSA’s history. As well as finding out that the RSA was the place where a new chimney sweep was invented so that kids didn’t have to go up them, and that we were one of the first advocates for education for girls, we also, a couple of hundred years ago, recommended that England needed a Department of Education.

Two good ideas out of three isn’t bad! And I am not going to now recommend the abolition of the DfE. But, in asking questions about the role of local government, I think we need to return to fundamental questions about the role of national government in education and what role the DfE itself should play going forward.

‘I am not trying to criticise the performance of the DfE. I think that Andrew and others do fantastic work, often in the face of meandering ministerial whims. We deal with academy brokers, and over the last few years the quality of their thinking and depth of local knowledge has improved significantly. But even when they do their job well, we can still ask whether this is an appropriate role to hold nationally. In some conversations, the old cliché about ‘hearing a bedpan falling in Whitehall’ springs to mind.

‘If we generally go with the principle of subsidiarity, or what the Learning Trust in Hackney calls ‘maximum delegation’, the burden of proof lies nationally, for the DfE to justify the power they retain, whether for intrinsic reasons of democracy, or instrumental reasons of performance. For instance, there is an intrinsic rationale for a small national curriculum which determines some of what our children learn at a national level. Similarly, I think it is crucial that there is a national admissions code, created and monitored and partly enforced centrally, but made effective through local relationship-building. Our report on in year admissions highlighted some excellent local authority-led responses to the new code.

‘ However, at the same time, there are good intrinsic reasons why some power should be held locally, mediated by local politicians. And in terms of instrumentalism, I think that the international evidence on systemic school improvement, whether from Finland, Singapore or Alberta, tells us 3 things – first that successful systems tend to be small. England is too big a unit. Second, the successful systems tend to stick with long term strategies. Our national level is too politicised and media-hungry to stick to long term plans. And third, that devolution to schools is not the answer to everything. For instance, I think that delegation of Information Advice and Guidance to schools from Local Authorities is potentially disastrous, especially for our most confused and vulnerable young people.

‘ So I wonder whether in the longer term we should look to a full Swiss-style cantonisation of education, where DfE transfers significant current powers to regions, sub regions, city-regions or individual local authorities.

‘Going back to the shorter term, what might be the first step to this?  I have one specific proposal, relating to academies, which now takes up so much DfE time and resource.

Our Academies Commission was very clear on the role of Local Authorities.

Local authorities should also embrace a stronger role in education– not as providers of school improvement services but as guardians and champions of the needs and interests of all children in the area. The Commission believes that over a period of three years, local authorities should phase out all their own provision of school improvement services and devolve them to school-led partnerships.

‘The commission was also clear that they meant traded services too, as this compromises their capacity for neutral intervention. I agree with the commission, but would add the following recommendation, partly building on Robert Hill’s RSA paper on the ‘Middle Tier’.

‘Once any LA genuinely does no school improvement work itself, whether for maintained schools or academies, and also sees all schools in its patch, whether academies or not, as self-governing, then it can play a central role in the academisation process itself.

‘So the second part of my proposal is for the DfE to give up most of the powers the secretary of state has around academisation to any local authority, or group of Local Authorities, who has fully withdrawn from school improvement. At that point, they can become an effective neutral broker and should be rewarded with the power to determine which schools require the sponsored academy route, and which schools have the quality and collaborative capacity to take on a convertor status. It should be Local Authorities, or possibly sub regions, who should hold the funding agreements with Academy Trusts, and who should hold the power to replace them where justified. Such refranchising processes would come under national rules, but be determined locally.

‘ I don’t think this is going to happen soon. Generally the rule of politics is that all politicians are localists until they get into power.

‘ So finally, and in the much shorter term, I’ll turn to what might Local Authorities do around school improvement now. In our work with Suffolk we developed a framework to support discussions. We looked at the three local authority functions as described by ISOS, and combined them with  the key features of school improvement identified in the London Challenge Evaluation. We then tried to plot the possible future roles of the Local Authority, and of our recommended new external trust, the  ’Suffolk Partnership for Excellence in Learning’ , against this grid. See page 30 of our Suffolk Report.

‘Lots of ideas here, but if I had to summarise this all  in one sentence, I’d say that  the most important future role for local councils in education is to build the capacity for challenging collaborations.

‘Finally, and returning partly to the philosophical rather than the pragmatic. People talk a lot about ‘false dichotomies’ in education, for instance between knowledge and skills, collaboration and competition. I agree, but I also think real dichotomies will remain in the eternally contested space of education, and that these should be embraced rather than disguised. Looking at education in England, despite the coherence of much of what this government is doing, I feel that there are three outstanding tensions which need recognition if not resolution:

‘First, is autonomy for schools a route to or a reward for success?

‘Second, should isolation, however ‘splendid’, ever be an acceptable attitude for any school or other publicly funded institution?

‘Finally, who, if anyone, should care about broader non-attainment outcomes for young people?’

“What About Tomorrow?” Launching the RSA Academies student podcasts

September 27, 2013 by · 3 Comments
Filed under: Education Matters 

This is a Guest blog from Fran Plowright FRSA, media and youth engagement producer, who has worked with students from RSA Academies to create a series of podcasts.


RSATiptonNeveandMorganrecordingscript (2)


What About Tomorrow? is a series of four short audio podcasts, brainstormed, researched and voiced by students from the RSA Family of Academies around the theme of uncertainty and what it means to be a young person growing up today.

As an RSA Fellow with a background in radio production, youth engagement and mentoring, I was delighted to be asked to combine my skills and experience to give a platform to some of the younger members of the RSA community to express their opinions about the world they are growing up in and to encourage them to talk about what they really think about their education, aspirations and values. What opportunities do they really think await them? How do they think they can better equip themselves to achieve successful, independent and happy futures in these rapidly changing times?

The brief was to allow their authentic voices, opinions, wishes, hopes, fears and dreams to come across, as well as give them the opportunity to be involved in the production process, learn some presenting and editing skills and gain confidence in interviewing people. Interviewees ranged from fellow students and teachers to a series of experts and professionals in the fields of education, technology, youth engagement, gaming and psychotherapy.

Leading on this project was Whitley Academy in Coventry, where I spent a morning back in March with a small group of Year 10 and Year 12 students, brainstorming how we might best create something that would allow each Academy to explore the umbrella theme of uncertainty and form a series of linked programmes.

Whitley students settled on the umbrella title What About Tomorrow? They decided that they would focus their podcast on education, creativity and identity, looking at how you encourage young people to develop high self-esteem and inner confidence, gain a good set of qualifications from school or college and simultaneously develop a wide ranging skill set that equips you to go out into the fast paced, 21st century world with a good chance of ‘success’ and ‘happiness’. Along their journey they met and interviewed Sir Ken Robinson, as well as Ian Livingstone, Life president Eidos and inventor of Lara Croft, plus Sam Conniff and Michelle Clothier, CEO and MD respectively of youth marketing and engagement agency Livity.

Whitley also came up with a brief which they sent round to all the pupils at the other schools who had been chosen to participate in this project, suggesting that under this umbrella theme of uncertainty, they consider a few of the headings that came from their brainstorm as possible themes for their podcast: work, aspirations, opportunities, education, technology, confidence and appearance. It quickly became evident that students at the other schools were equally as enthusiastic as Whitley about their brief and very keen to have their voices heard.

Interesting and sometimes heated conversations followed as I toured the Midlands and travelled the Victoria Line from Finsbury Park to Vauxhall to kick start the process in each Academy so that all schools would be working simultaneously on a shared goal.

RSA Academy Tipton  decided to focus on work and aspirations. In an area where unemployment is quite high, and traditionally people left school at 16 and went to work in local industries, coal mines until the pit closures in the 1960′s and then the factories and more recently trade and retail industries or hand to mouth work, the students wanted to explore if and how things have changed over the generations and decided to interview three generations of a family, the youngest of these -a year 10 pupil at RSA Tipton – Alex Beddall being the first in his family to be planning to go to University. They also visited their local steel factory Carparo and interviewed Loic Menzies, Director of LKMco  on whether he thinks it is lack of aspiration, or in fact just lack of opportunity that is preventing children from less privileged backgrounds from being encouraged to aim high and do well at school and beyond. They called their Podcast ‘The Big Unknown’

The pupils at Arrow Vale RSA Academy and its sister school Ipsley CE RSA Academy called their podcast ‘Technology, Friend or Foe?’ Pupils ranging from Years 5 up to Year 12 from both schools joined forces to examine the pros and cons of growing up in an age of rapid technological change. Is technology making teenagers lazy and producing a generation of couch potatoes bereft of the capacity for original thought, relying on Google and social media to tell them how the world is rather than experience it first hand? Is it dangerous and uncontrollable and leaving young people much more vulnerable and strangely unsupervised?, is it detracting from a healthy more active life or do the benefits by far outweigh the possible cons, allowing for greater knowledge, access to information, education, more sophisticated ways of communication and does it intact lend itself much better to creative freedom of ideas and expression? After the initial discussions and brain storm, a couple of year 10 students from the Arrow Vale radio group, took on the challenge of creating the podcast, interviewing fellow students and staff. They also sought the expert advice via Skype of Cisco Systems’ technology and educational advisor Dr Michelle Selinger, as well as blogger, educator and teacher Ewan Mcintosh.

Back in south London, a group of Year 9 students from  Lilian Baylis Technology School decided to take a closer look at whether teenagers these days have bowed to increasing pressure from the media, magazines, fashion and music industries plus non stop images of each other on social networking sites like Facebook to look a certain way and conform to stereotypes of what is deemed attractive and therefore acceptable. Do young people in particular worry about this more than they worry about their school work or their futures? As well as interviewing their fellow teachers and students they also visited the charity Kids Company in Kennington, to meet up with Director and psychotherapist Camilla Batmanghelidjh. They called their podcast ‘Individually Beautiful’.

These podcasts came together over a five month period, during which time the students really did go on a journey of discovery, watching how an idea can change and morph and take on a life of its own.  They also got to understand the highs and lows of the production process. Appointments had to be re-made, timetables shuffled and re-organised, many hours were spent editing and re-recording things that had fallen foul of technical hitches or simply needed to be re-recorded as things progressed. Staff in each school- to whom I am very grateful – worked hard to ensure that interviews took place as planned. For me, an essential and rewarding part of this process is not only the satisfaction of hearing the finished result, but also when working with young people in this way. It is essential that they get a glimpse of what it’s like to have to deliver a high quality product on schedule to a deadline as if in a real work situation.

Overall, the project has been a very exciting one and many of the staff and the students who have been involved are very keen to follow up the podcast series with a debate or panel discussion bringing together the pupils and some of the experts involved to discuss some of the themes and main ideas raised during the enquiry. Watch this space!

I will leave the last words to RSA Whitley Head Boy, 17 year old Prince Chivaka who presents and signs off the series.

“Whilst we are left with more questions than definite answers, we hope that having heard these podcasts, you can form your own opinions. And more than this, we hope we have created a platform for young people to communicate how we feel about some of the issues that matter most to us to a large adult audience. Finally, we hope you enjoy listening to the podcasts as much as we have enjoyed making them.” 

For more information about the podcasts and to hear the series in full please visit thersa.org/frontline-voices.

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