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The HE Green Paper: five things we know and five speculations

Blog Editor, IOE Digital9 November 2015

Chris Husbands
Jo Johnson, the minister for higher education, has now published the government’s eagerly awaited Green Paper on the future of universities. It’s a long document, at almost 35,000 words. Most of the immediate press coverage related to the prospects for tuition fees and the new Teaching Excellence Framework, but the document says much else besides. There are some things we know now, and as a result of those, some speculations we can make about the future of universities. (more…)

AHELO, Agoodbye: league tables, power and the market

Blog Editor, IOE Digital1 October 2015

Chris Husbands.
One of the universities I worked in ran an advertising campaign for which the strapline was ‘It’s not the letters after your name that matter: it’s the name after your letters’. At the time, it attracted a good deal of criticism from within the university. This was reducing higher education to a mere positional good, placing value on the degree only in terms of its relative value against other universities. It was the language of competition and league tables, not the language of the intrinsic worth of higher education.
(more…)

Exam boards: ripe for nationalisation?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital12 August 2015

Chris Husbands.
The schools minister is angry with what the press continue to call ‘examination boards’ but which have for over a decade been formally called awarding organisations. They set examination questions that some combination of public, press and government think are too easy, or, less frequently, too hard. Already working against punishingly tight deadlines with narrow margins for error, they run the risk of failing to deliver results on time. The annual festival of exam results is now, it seems, routinely surrounded by complaints about these organisations, and this year is no exception, with the press trailing the prospect that government might want to nationalise awarding bodies. The irony of a Conservative minister complaining that provision is based on “commercial or quasi-commercial organisations that are increasingly revenue-driven” cannot have been lost on many readers. (more…)

Twenty-seven years on from the national curriculum

Blog Editor, IOE Digital22 June 2015

Chris Husbands.

Will the 2015 drive for curriculum entitlement succeed where 1988 and the national curriculum did not?

We’ve been here before. A government re-elected; impatient to press on with education reform; concerned about the way schools respond to change; determined to implement radical curriculum and assessment change.

This time it is the proposal that the EBacc become a requirement for all 16-year-olds. In 1988 it was the then novel national curriculum. It was to be a requirement for all pupils from 5 through to 16, embedding academic subjects as the building blocks for curriculum planning. (more…)

REF results: what’s the spin and what are the real stories?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital18 December 2014

Chris Husbands
In 1993, Shane Warne, the great Australian spin bowler bowled to England’s Mike Gatting. The ball, heading towards the leg stump was played by Mike Gatting, and then, at the last moment, in a twist of pure genius from Warne, the ball turned sharply and took out Mike Gatting’s off-stump. You can see the ‘ball of the century’ on any number of video clips: the most remarkable spin bowling any one can recall.
But as spin, it pales in comparison with the efforts of university communications departments following the publication – at one minute past midnight on December 18th – of the results of the 2014 REF. (more…)

Selection at 11 – a very English debate

Blog Editor, IOE Digital5 December 2014

Chris Husbands
Originally posted on SecEd
It is a persistent undercurrent in English educational debate, but it is peculiarly English: should academic selection at the age of 11 be restored?
Boris Johnson, perhaps in response to perceived UKIP pressure, has declared himself in favour of more grammar schools, and Teresa May, more cautiously, has welcomed plans for a satellite grammar school in her constituency of Maidenhead. In Kent, the Weald of Kent grammar school is preparing a new proposal to establish what is either (depending on your view) a new grammar school in Sevenoaks or a satellite site in Sevenoaks.
The arguments for restoring grammar schools are couched in terms of opportunity and social mobility: Boris Johnson called them mobilisers of opportunity. But the evidence to support this is almost non-existent. (more…)

Setting by ability: what is the evidence?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital4 September 2014

Chris Husbands
There is a political consensus about setting by ability: that politicians believe they know what is best for schools. Michael Gove, as opposition spokesman on education, said that “Each pupil should be given the opportunity to learn in accordance with their particular aptitude and ability…we believe that setting by ability is the only solution to achieving this ambition”. David Cameron, as leader of the opposition, said that “I want to see setting in every single school. Parents know it works. Teachers know it works. Tony Blair promised it in 1997. But it still hasn’t happened. We will keep up the pressure till it does.” The Labour White Paper in 2005 was strongly in favour of it and Jacqui Smith, as Schools Minister, said that “Labour has encouraged setting, and there is now more setting than in 1997”.
The issue arose again this week when The Guardian reported that the new Education Secretary was about to mandate setting by ability in secondary schools – a story she quickly denied. It now appears that Nicky Morgan has seen off what would have been a heavy handed centralisation of educational decision-making.
The research evidence is nuanced. As long ago as 1998, my predecessor as Director of the IOE, Peter Mortimore, reported his research conclusion that “setting in mathematics, accompanied by curriculum differentiation, may be a means of raising the attainment of the more able pupils. The effect is not great, however, and there are some costs in terms of the progress of pupils whose attainment is low at the end of primary school. The impact on pupils’ self-concept may be important in the longer term, influencing later attainment in the subject and decisions about choice of subjects after the age of 16. These factors must also be taken into account when formulating policy on ability grouping in schools”. It’s a measured, balanced conclusion – there are benefits, but most especially for higher attaining students.
This conclusion is largely endorsed by the Education Endowment Foundation toolkit, which notes that “ability grouping appears to benefit higher-attaining pupils and be detrimental to the learning of mid-range and lower-attaining learners. On average, ability grouping does not appear to be an effective strategy for raising the attainment of disadvantaged pupils, who are more likely to be assigned to lower groups. Summer-born pupils and students from ethnic minority backgrounds are also likely to be adversely affected by ability grouping.” Like most complex professional issues, there are balances to be struck between the needs of different pupils, between short-term and long-term goals and between different curriculum areas.
The overall picture on practice in schools is complex. Almost all secondary schools use setting in parts of the curriculum: almost all mathematics is taught to groups arranged on the basis of some measure of attainment; analysis of cohort evidence suggests that the practice in widespread in primary schools but the organisational and curricular issues are complex, and that the long-term academic attainment of summer born children may be hampered by their tendency to be allocated to lower sets.
Other evidence suggests schools’ practice in setting is cut across by other issues: the tendency to allocate less experienced teachers to lower sets, despite the American evidence suggesting that the reverse is what is needed; the tendency of teaching in lower sets to lack sufficient challenge; and the observed tendency for pupils from deprived socio-economic backgrounds to be over-represented in lower sets; the often weak and inconsistent nature of the attainment evidence used to allocate pupils to sets; the frequency (or otherwise) at which pupils are moved between sets.   It would be extremely difficult – and very costly of resource – for all but very, very large schools to set in all subjects: block timetabling means compromises have to be made. For both good educational and hard resource reasons, most schools adopt different grouping strategies for different parts of the curriculum at different age stages.
All the politicians quoted at the beginning of this blog post have committed themselves to school autonomy. After extensive critique, Ofsted has abandoned any sense that inspectors should look for particular teaching approaches: schools should be judged on how well they perform, not how they organise themselves. There is good, if complex, research evidence on grouping approaches, and excellent, developing practice on flexible grouping strategies. If schools are to be operationally autonomous, then that’s what they need to be. The spat within government over setting suggests that there will always be politicians who find school autonomy challenging. Morgan’s commitment to work with the profession is, however, encouraging.

Nicky Morgan: time to read and reflect, consolidate and build consensus

Blog Editor, IOE Digital17 July 2014

Chris Husbands
There are two sorts of politician. There are those who are so passionate about the obvious rightness of what they are doing that they think that everyone essentially agrees with them, and enthusiastically build a large coalition to get things done. Anyone, believe these politicians, who is not against me is for me. And there are politicians who are so passionate about the obvious rightness of what they believe that they will fight anyone and everyone who disagrees, however insignificantly. Anyone, believe these politicians, who is not for me is against me.
Michael Gove was passionate about education, and looked for enemies who did not share his fundamental beliefs. Over four years, he took on major policy area after major policy area: school governance, school accountability, teacher education and development, curriculum, assessment, school funding, and so on and so on. The complaint of headteacher unions was frequently that he should slow the pace, introduce no more change, allow things to bed down. But this was to miss the point: for Michael Gove, energetic and rapid change was the essence of what he wanted to achieve, and a diminishing band of enthusiastic supporters egged him on.
My guess is that the instruction from the Prime Minister to Nicky Morgan, Michael Gove’s successor, is indeed to calm things down. One in ten female voters – a key demographic for the Conservative party – work in education. News stories of confusion and demoralisation play badly for any workforce and the stakes are too high. So the premium over the next year will be not on policy change but on messaging – on seeking to manage and administer a radically changed education system.
One of the great ironies of Michael Gove’s time as secretary of state is that over substantial tranches of policy he introduced changes for which there was, or could have been, professional support: most teachers have been trained to teach reasonably traditional school subjects; most teachers want to work in classrooms where their own classroom management is unquestioned; most teachers want to take responsibility for innovation and development. But a secretary of state who slimmed down the national curriculum to a more tightly defined academic core, who placed the EBacc at the core of the accountability system, who strengthened guidance on behaviour management and who believed in school autonomy ends as perhaps the most unpopular and derided secretary of state in modern times. Research on system reform is explicit: ultimately, school systems can only be improved by consent, by engaging and supporting teachers in change.
So the key tasks for Nicky Morgan are clear: first, to take the heat out of contentious policy implementation by building bridges to the profession. Of course, Michael Gove was always lavish in his praise of successful school leaders. But the suspicion was always there that these successful school leaders were being singled out because he believed they were the exceptions, not because they were typical of the majority. Ultimately, any chief executive has to believe in the workforce and its capacity to deliver. Nicky Morgan needs to look for allies, not enemies.
Secondly, she will need to use the resources of the Department for Education quietly and inconspicuously to defuse some of the policy confusions that have arisen as (to mix a metaphor) the tectonic plates of education have been tossed into the air. The accountability of free schools; the relationships between academies and local authorities (who retain over two hundred statutory powers in respect of education); the tenuous hold the DfE now has on teacher supply; the difficulties about school place planning in a world where free-school ‘demand’ has replaced local authority supply planning; uncertainties about teaching as a profession given the deregulatory approach of the last four years.
Thirdly, she needs to look outward. The Gove rhetoric was of a failing school system with some bright lights; the OFSTED evidence is of a largely effective school system, in which the great majority of schools are at least good. The big challenges are about the capacity of schools to grapple with huge changes: the long-term impact of technology on education; the role of schools in community and social cohesion; the role of the school in an increasingly unequal society; the challenge of securing both high levels of excellence and high equity; the role of education as a preparation for work at a time of phenomenal change in labour markets; the continuing challenge of literacy and numeracy amongst the lowest attaining 20 per cent of young people.
These challenges are not confined to England – they face education systems across the world. Some are doing better and more effectively in respect of some of the challenges, but none – as any academic or policy researcher will confirm – are meeting all of them.   Almost all of those involved in education think about them, and there are creative contributions from dissenting voices – they can all be listened to.
Nicky Morgan has two huge advantages. The first is that almost whatever the secretary of state does, children arrive at school and teachers teach them: the system goes on working irrespective of government changes. This means that her own interventions can be judicious and thoughtful rather than impulsive. The second is that, curiously enough for someone starting a new job, she has arrived just as most of the workers and clients disappear for their summer break, so she has time to read, talk and think before the new school year.
But then she faces an enormous challenge, because from the first day back in September – everyone will be watching.

Déjà vu all over again: the endless loop of education policy

Blog Editor, IOE Digital9 July 2014

Chris Husbands
Labour’s shadow secretary of state for education, Tristram Hunt, has begun to flesh out details of policy implementation should Labour win the next election. Speaking to Andrew Marr last weekend, he outlined a plan for ‘super teachers’, a new grade of ‘master teacher’.
This would be a new career pathway because, he said, “at the moment too many good teachers are moving out of the classroom and becoming heads”. It’s likely that the next Labour government will “create a new grade of teachers to recognise the best”. The difficulty, however, is that the second quotation is not from Mr Hunt but from the 1997 Labour manifesto, and that the manifesto proposal did, indeed, bear fruit: advanced skills teachers (ASTs) were introduced in 1998.
Advanced skills teachers were intended to support other teachers who were struggling in the classroom, to provide advice on pedagogy, to teach model lessons and to lead the professional development of new and existing teachers in both their own and other schools. Twenty per cent of AST time was meant to be spent on outreach.
As with the Hunt proposal, the intention was to open a career – and reward – route which did not make excellent teachers leave the classroom in order to get ahead. Over the next 13 years, some 4,000 ASTs were designated across the school system – or about one for every five schools.
In 2010, Andy Goodwin and a team from Reading University surveyed their impact. They found that ASTs were “highly motivated” and “talented” teachers, but the “definition and expectation of the role [was]… clearly highly variable and dependent, in large part, on school… priorities as well as the attitudes of the headteacher”.
AST designation fell with the last government in 2010, but in 2011, Dame Sally Coates’s review of teacher standards proposed the development of a new ’master teacher’ designation, again based on outstanding classroom teaching. But this time – and this reflected a finding in the Goodwin review – with a stronger and more explicit focus on subject knowledge. At the time, the proposals were not widely welcomed, since (unlike the AST proposals) they did not come with any dedicated funding, and certainly for some unions, the designation ’master teacher’ was felt to be anachronistic in a largely feminised profession.
There is a debate to be had about how, and how successfully government can introduce a new career grade in a devolved and largely autonomous school system. It has been done – apparently successfully – in Singapore, as Hunt pointed out. But that’s not the main point of this blog post. The point is that we have been here before – twice – in 1998 and 2011. On each occasion, there have been proposals, more or less carefully worked through, to introduce a career grade for highly accomplished teachers.
It would be good to think that policy development might draw on recent experience. And if this blog has some fun at the expense of Tristram Hunt, the same applies to his political opponent. Just a fortnight ago, the Secretary of State began a move towards a more explicit curriculum focus on ‘British values’ without appearing to draw at all on the experiences of either the John Major government or the Blair government in developing a civic focus in the school curriculum.
It would be good to have better informed politicians. It would also be good, however, to have a better education policy process. One of the most engaging reads of this year has been Ivor Crewe and Anthony King’s study The Blunders of Our Governments in which they analyse in careful detail major, expensive and, normally, unnecessary policy errors. In every case, there was an implied cry somewhere in the policy that “this time it’s different”. It rarely is.
 

TALIS: A complex and realistic picture of teachers and teaching around the world

Blog Editor, IOE Digital25 June 2014

Chris Husbands 
What do we really know about teaching and teachers in England’s schools? What is teaching in England really like by comparison with other jurisdictions? Too often, discussions about teacher effectiveness, teacher appraisal, professional development and job satisfaction appear to be based on a sample of about one: massive over-generalisation from the specific instance.
So the publication of the OECD TALIS (Teaching and Learning International Survey) 2013 data for England is important. This is not the first TALIS – that was in 2008 – but the first to include England. TALIS covers lower secondary teachers in 34 countries, and the OECD reports its findings over 440 pages of dense text and charts. The English report, itself 200 pages long, was written by an IOE team led by John Micklewright and provides the most extensive data we have on teachers and teaching. The sample is still not enormous – 154 schools and 2,496 lower secondary teachers – but the response rate was very high (75% compared to just 17% in the DFE Teachers’ Workload Diary) and, importantly, this is the first survey to cover both state and independent schools.
Micklewright and his team deliberately do not come to an overall conclusion on what TALIS tells us about the state of secondary teaching in England. They try to tease out what the data say about different issues, framed as a set of questions – but it is for the reader to draw conclusions.
The result is fascinating: a treasure trove of data and graphs, which allow us to make informed comparisons across the OECD. Politicians and the press always ransack reports like this for the simple answer which tells us that “if only” we were more like [fill in name of organization or country] then everything would be different. But the TALIS report is more complex and realistic. There are differences between countries, but they evade easy generalization.
Take teacher workload: TALIS confirms that teachers in England work hard: a working week of 46 hours, one of the highest in TALIS and 9 hours more than the average. In only three of the sub-sample of high performing jurisdictions is the figure higher: Alberta (48 hours), Singapore (48 hours) and Japan (54 hours). But teaching time in England, at 20 hours, is close to the international average. This gap between working hours and teaching is a puzzle because English schools have significantly more teaching assistants and administrative staff than across the OECD. But it may be a result of high levels of autonomy enjoyed by English schools; examination of the TALIS data bears this out, suggesting that the difference is because English teachers spend slightly more time on each aspect of their work: planning, marking, and administration.
Or take classroom management. Across all OECD countries, a quarter of teachers report losing a third or more of time to classroom disruption. But in most respects England is at or better than the TALIS average. 21% of teachers in England say they have to wait for students to quieten down at the start of lessons, but this is below the median for all countries (27%) and below all high performing jurisdictions except Japan. Teachers in independent schools report better behavior than teachers in maintained schools or academies, but of course independent schools teach a more socially selective population.
Micklewright’s team look carefully at variations between schools, and conclude that classroom climate is correlated with the make-up of the school intake, and, more, of individual classes. And, there is evidence that disciplinary environment improves in smaller classes – of course, smaller classes are preponderantly found in independent schools. Even so, two thirds of teachers report a positive classroom climate. It’s in these classes that teachers are likely to use a variety of approaches including group work, extended investigation and information technologies. Teachers are more likely to teach like this if they participate in professional development involving individual and collaborative research, visits to other schools or teacher networks. Or consider findings on continuing professional development. Overall, there is exceptionally high engagement with CPD in England: 92% report some CPD in the last twelve months, but the number of hours spent on training is relatively low: high participation, low volume. And for all the rhetoric that continuing professional development is not simply about ‘going on a course’, courses and workshops account for the vast majority of CPD; just 45% of English teachers reported CPD involving ‘working with a group of colleagues’.
There are some insights into CPD quality, which tell us that CPD on the most challenging aspects of teaching is the least effective. Across TALIS, just 13% reported that training on teaching in multi-cultural or multi-lingual settings had an impact on their teaching; the figure was 8% in England. Figures on SEN training are similar.
But there are reasons to be positive about what CPD can do: across the OECD as a whole 66% of teachers thought that subject-focused CPD had an impact, and 50% thought that  CPD focused on pedagogy had an impact. The figures varied between countries. Both were lower in England, and higher in the nine highest performing jurisdictions – but before that becomes a policy line, we note that 73% of teachers in the eight lowest performing jurisdictions also reported a positive impact from CPD in their subject! Teachers in schools with higher levels of deprivation were more positive about the impact of CPD. Taken as whole, the OECD claim a correlation between regular collaborative professional learning activities and teachers feeling more confident about their capabilities.
TALIS suggests that England has a near universal system of teacher appraisal. Compared to the OECD as a whole, Micklewright’s team characterizes England as a “high feedback country”: 99% of teachers report receiving feedback. But schools are not making the most of it. Only about half of teachers (and this is a consistent figure across the OECD) felt that feedback enhanced efficacy.
It’s on self-efficacy – teachers’ beliefs about their ability to influence learning – that the English report concludes. There are variations between teachers’ sense of their effectiveness. But variation within schools is much greater than that between schools. Teams and departments matter. There is no difference between independent and state-funded schools, nor between affluent and deprived schools. Instead, the IOE team conclude that self-efficacy is highest when teachers report strong professional relationships, but they conclude that causality is unclear: it may be that teachers with high self-efficacy build good relationships, or, by working in teams with good relationships teachers become more confident.
It’s this puzzle, like so many others, which the report for England is so good at illuminating. It offers immense detail, but never at the expense of the underlying key questions. It challenges practice and policy on the basis of rigorous analysis, which is what really good research should do. It is balanced between strengths and weaknesses and clear-headed about international comparisons. It will be reduced, and perhaps traduced, in press headlines, but deserves serious research and policy attention on how we can best shape the teaching profession.