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Institute of Education Blog


Expert opinion from academics at the UCL Institute of Education


‘What does it mean to teach, to learn, to remember the Holocaust?’

Blog Editor, IOE Digital5 June 2018

Andy Pearce
This year, on Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, the New York Times poignantly announced the ‘Holocaust is Fading From Memory’. Referring to a study commissioned by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, the newspaper reported a raft of findings pointing to ‘critical gaps both in awareness of basic facts as well as detailed knowledge of the Holocaust’ amongst a significant proportion of adults in the United States. Particular issues emerged amongst ‘Millennials’, prompting alarm that ‘today’s generation lacks some basic knowledge about these atrocities’ and fear this will worsen as the survivor generation continues to pass away. For its sponsors, the survey highlighted the importance of Holocaust education.
The themes of teaching, learning, and remembering the Holocaust overarching the Claims Conference survey are ones which an international group of experts and myself have explored in my latest book, Remembering the Holocaust in Educational Settings. They are also issues that colleagues and I at the UCL Centre for Holocaust Education shed light on through landmark research in 2009 and 2016.
The latter of these projects saw us publish a study into students’ knowledge and understanding of the Holocaust, drawing on data from (more…)

We need to talk about subjects – and to know what great subject-specific professional development looks like

Blog Editor, IOE Digital19 February 2018

Philippa Cordingley and Toby Greany.

We need to talk about how teachers become expert – not just at teaching, but at teaching across different subjects.

All too often in education we get side-tracked by debates about issues such as high stakes accountability systems, assessment reforms, recruitment and retention, anxiety about the breadth of learning experiences and funding.  Even when we do remember that it is the quality of teaching that matters most, we tend to focus on the challenges, such as teacher recruitment shortages.  Yet, as Professor Dylan Wiliam has argued, the biggest priority should be to ‘love the teachers we have’ by investing in their professional development and learning. (more…)

Lesson study: new evaluation did not do this valuable type of teacher development justice

Blog Editor, IOE Digital18 December 2017

Sarah Seleznyov, with members of the Collaborative Lesson Research Group*.
“If there is no impact on teaching and learning, then that (intervention) is not lesson study”.  (Akihiko Takahashi at a workshop in London, 7 December 2017)
Having looked forward to the Education Endowment Foundation’s evaluation of lesson study for some time, we are disappointed by the outcome. This disappointment is not about the low effect size, but because this narrowly-focused review of just one fairly basic model could discourage schools from using a very valuable approach to teacher development.
We would challenge the EEF study’s methodology and argue that the conclusions (e.g. no evidence of improved maths and reading at KS2) are misleading. Our own conclusion is that the version of lesson study used in the project was a ‘first step’ version, which most teachers and schools new to the practice need to go through, but certainly not (more…)

Research into practice: a 5-point checklist

Blog Editor, IOE Digital12 April 2016

Chris Brown
Last week, delegates to the American Educational Research Association held its enormous annual conference in Washington DC. Engaging with research and evidence as part of effective professional teacher development is an obvious topic for such a gathering of teachers, academics, school leaders and students. It has benefits for teacher practice and pupil outcomes. At the same time school leaders often require help with understanding how to harness these benefits. As I note in Leading the Use of Research and Evidence in Schools, however, school leaders can support evidence-informed practice by addressing the five key checklist items set out below.
CHECKLIST ITEM 1: does your approach to research and evidence use demonstrate your own commitment as well as facilitate the efforts of others?
School leadership must actively and demonstrably buy-in to research and evidence use for it to become part of a school’s ‘way of life’. This means that school leaders must not only promote the vision for and develop the culture of a research engaged school, they must (more…)

London Festival of Education: vibrant, unpredictable, so much more exciting than golf

Blog Editor, IOE Digital10 February 2015

Chris Husbands
I remember an occasion early in my teaching career when I went to try to see my headteacher at the end of a school day. His secretary (there were no PAs in those days) told me that he was ‘on a course’ after school every Wednesday. As a young teacher, I was impressed that senior professionals were still committed to their own learning. It was some time before I discovered he was playing golf.
We used to separate professional development and enjoyment. One of the great things about the London Festival of Education is that it puts them back together. This year’s LFE – here at the IOE on 28 February – is another vibrant, buzzing treasure house of debate to stimulate you, workshops to enhance your practice, entertainment to engage you: great speakers, great sessions, fabulous festival food for the stomach and the mind. No (more…)

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.

What is the problem for which MOOCs are the solution?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital14 May 2014

Diana Laurillard, London Knowledge Lab
MOOCs – Massive Open Online Courses – have been grabbing headlines and conference time for a year or two now. It’s the very large numbers that attract attention. But are MOOCs solving any real, global education problems? They are certainly not solving the problem of providing the 100,000,000 university places now needed by young people in emerging economies desperate for HE. This will double by 2025. They are not the people taking MOOCs.
They are not solving the problem that in the US student loan debt is now higher than credit card debt; nor the problem that in the UK 40% of student loans will not be repaid. University fees remain high while graduate pay is still low.
Massive sums have been invested in these courses by universities and venture capitalists, but right now the main beneficiaries are those who need it least. The most popular MOOCs are in computer science, finance and psychology. They do attract large numbers – sometimes hundreds of thousands to one course. But the people most likely to stay the course and gain a free qualification are well-educated men in their 30s working in professional jobs. Research by MOOC provider Coursera shows that 85% of MOOC participants already have university degrees.
So the problem MOOCs succeed in solving is: to provide free university teaching for highly qualified professionals.
Consider another problem: achieving the Millennium Development Goal of universal primary education by 2015. UNESCO data show (PDF) that by 2015 there will still be 53m children out of school.
When attempting to address our most ambitious educational goals, it should be a professional habit always to ask “how can technology help?” – especially when they are large-scale.
How do we reach these children? The answer is that we don’t, not directly. We focus first on developing the teachers. UNESCO estimates that we need 1,600,000 teachers to achieve universal primary education by 2015 (PDF page 223). Suppose we could use MOOC-style courses to provide teacher development for 10,000 teacher educators in the cities of developing countries? And each of those could use the same MOOC materials to train 10 teachers in the local towns? And each of those could train 16 local teachers in their villages? And they in turn could reach the children who would not otherwise have had any primary schooling…?
Here at the IOE, we are making a start. Supported by the UNESCO Institute for IT in Education we are pioneering a MOOC on ICT in Primary Education. It’s due to begin on 27 May, and we have already enrolled over 4000 teachers, school leaders, policy-makers and other educationists from more than 50 countries. It will run for 6 weeks, and is built around case studies of good practice from around the world.
This is a professional development course for which the teaching methods currently used in MOOCs – videos, forums and quizzes* – are appropriate, because teachers are professionals who know how to learn, and can learn a lot from each other. These methods are not sophisticated enough for teaching children or even undergraduates in the developing world, which is why the beneficiaries are still the rich. But they may help to train the professionals who can begin to make the difference.
The demand for education will continue to rise; we cannot afford to scale up at the current per student cost, in any sector, in any country. And even at the modest cost of $49, our CPD MOOC is a stretch for teachers from developing countries**.
If we are to have any hope of reaching our most ambitious educational goal of universal primary education, we have to find innovative ways of teaching. MOOCs could be part of the solution, but only if we start focusing on the problems we have.
Free university education for highly qualified professionals is not one of them.
* However, the UK’s FutureLearn does have more ambitious plans for the pedagogy it will support.
**Recently we asked Coursera for differential pricing by country, and I was delighted to see in their latest roadmap that they are responding to pressure on this, and will introduce it soon.

What are students ‘remembering’ on Holocaust Memorial Day?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital27 January 2014

Paul Salmons
In classrooms, assemblies and public events across the country today young people have been gathering at events to commemorate the Holocaust. Candles are being lit, poems read, pledges made.
For many, particularly those privileged to hear from Holocaust survivors or, increasingly, survivors of other genocides, it will be an intensely moving experience. But what are students remembering, exactly? What do they know and understand about the Holocaust, and what meanings do they make?
Despite years of educational work in teaching and learning about the Holocaust, the intensive activity of many specialist institutions and the dedication of thousands of teachers, the simple (but somewhat troubling) answer is that we don’t really know what young people think about this complex and emotive subject.
Of course, we have the essays, artwork, musical and theatrical performances that many school students produce for these occasions. The messages inscribed into memorial books. The comments made to teachers, guest speakers and the organisers of these events. All of this certainly tells us something. But we also know that young people learn very early on how to “get by” in school: the importance of saying what your teacher wants to hear, what kinds of comments and behaviour gain praise and which are out of bounds, and what will gain acceptance among your peers. Different settings can produce different kinds of responses; different ideas may be expressed in the classroom to a teacher, at a podium to an audience, in the playground to friends, or at home to family members.
And a wide range of sources inform and shape the views and attitudes of our students. There is no reason to assume that the voice of the teacher or the narrative of a textbook holds sway over the opinions of friends and family, or the popular representations of the past encountered in film and television, museums and novels.
So what do our young people know about why and how the Holocaust happened? What does this mean to them – what is the relevance and meaning for their lives, and are there common misconceptions or areas of confusion?
This picture is about to become a lot clearer.
A new research project launched by the IOE’s Centre for Holocaust Education will explore the knowledge, attitudes and understanding of up to 10,000 secondary school pupils from across England. Unprecedented in scope and scale, this ground breaking study will provide the fullest picture yet of what the Holocaust actually means to young people by listening to students themselves, through large-scale and in-depth research into their thinking.
The findings of the research, funded by the Department for Education together with the Pears Foundation, will be of importance both in the UK and internationally. It will reveal patterns in students’ knowledge, as well as common preconceptions, myths, or areas of confusion and inaccuracy. It will help identify issues and challenges that need to be tackled in the classroom. And it will clarify the meaning and significance attached to the Holocaust by the next generation.
The research into students’ understandings is part of our commitment to working with teachers to transform teaching and learning about the Holocaust. It follows our 2009 national research into teachers’ attitudes to teaching about the Holocaust, the foundation of all our current work, and the basis of a research-informed approach that makes our programmes uniquely responsive to classroom needs.
The student research will allow the IOE’s Centre for Holocaust Education to further improve its CPD programmes (already offered free of charge to teachers across the country), and to develop even more effective resources and approaches to teaching about the Holocaust.
As a result, it is to be hoped that in future years, as students across the country again mark our national Holocaust Memorial Day, they will do so with ever more sophisticated and nuanced understandings and that the meanings they form as they join in collective acts of memory will be even deeper, more personal and more profound.

It takes a community of practice to educate a teacher

Blog Editor, IOE Digital24 January 2014

 Vanessa Ogden

“My dad says that if you can’t teach me what I need to know between the hours of 9 and 3, then you ain’t doing your job properly” … proclaimed “Ryan” in front of the rest of his Year 9 class when I tried to enforce his detention for non-completion of homework. As a new teacher just out of the Institute of Education’s PGCE programme, I had a repertoire of appropriate responses for such situations but I recall, on this occasion I was stumped in that moment. A million possibilities occurred to me all at once – which to choose to get the best out of the situation for everyone? There was a pause while a cavern opened in the floor in front of me and everyone held their breath, waiting to see if I would fall in.
I thus realised very early on that learning the craft of teaching is career-long. My PGCE tutor once described teaching as a “generative art”.  It is situated in deep knowledge about subject and pedagogy – and for those who choose to teach in challenging urban, rural and coastal environments, the relationship between education and “place” brings with it a multitude of other professional learning that needs to be embraced. The complexity of learning your craft as a teacher requires on-going, professional support from within schools and from the rich human and intellectual capital in “Outstanding” university providers like the Institute.
I was delighted therefore to hear news of the Institute of Education’s recent Ofsted inspection judgement of ‘Outstanding’ and its glowing report – a fitting accolade for one of the key architects involved in London’s success over the past ten years. Of course, for over a century the Institute has led the international field in education research and development as well as in the initial training of teachers. The Institute has been responsive to changing times, adapting to new policy environments taking on innovation.
In 1993, provision for early professional development following initial teacher training was limited and leadership training was sparse in London. For many, London schools were not the schools of choice in which to teach and teacher shortage was becoming a real problem. There was no national framework for teachers’ development. I relied heavily on the Institute’s resources for further professional learning.
Twenty years on, the picture  in London for both early and career-long professional learning is widely different – and the Institute has led the way. London teachers and leaders have benefitted enormously from the wide range of opportunities it has provided for further learning during this period – especially through the establishment of innovative practice-based masters and doctoral programmes and the foundation of the ‘London Centre for Leadership in Learning’. In particular, strong mutually beneficial partnerships with schools, collaboration between academics and practitioners on research and writing in education and the embracement of initiatives like Teach First are just a few of those to name.
Becoming “at least good” as a teacher or school leader takes a wealth of high quality support and development from others. And whilst “Ryan” (and other pupils) have extended my learning and calibrated my practice – which, although not always easy, has been an important part of my own journey – and whilst I have learned so much from the cutting edge work of many school colleagues, the Institute has also been fundamental.
They say it takes a community to educate a child – it takes a community of practice to educate a teacher. The Institute is central to that community in London and practitioners in the Capital are proud to have it.
Dr Vanessa Ogden is head teacher of Mulberry School in Tower Hamlets, which works in partnership with the IOE, and received her Doctorate at the Institute
The pupil’s name has been changed.

Great teachers or great teaching? Why McKinsey got it wrong

Blog Editor, IOE Digital10 October 2013

Chris Husbands
It’s a fabulous quotation: “The quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers.” It has the sense of an underlying educational law, as compelling as Newton’s laws of motion. It’s routinely attributed to the 2007 McKinsey Report, How the world’s best performing education systems come out on top.
But if you dig into that report, you’ll find a footnote acknowledging that the quotation came from a senior government official in South Korea: yet another illustration of the old adage that a management consultant is someone who steals your watch and then tells you the time. But as an aphorism it has done its job, and is now routinely quoted by government ministers, education reformers and academics  the world over. A Google search yields over 180,000 uses of the  quotation since 2007. It crops up again, in disguised form, in Andrew Adonis’s contribution to last week’s Varkey Gems study on the status of teachers worldwide: “No education system can be better than its teachers”.
It’s a great quote. And it’s wrong. It took me a long while to work out what was wrong with it, until a line from Bob Schwartz, professor of practice in the Harvard Graduate School of Education, triggered my thinking. “What”, asked Schwartz in an OECD essay, “is the most important school-related factor in pupil learning: the answer is teaching”.  And that captures the difference.  It’s just as good a quotation, but it is different in three important letters: it’s teaching, not teachers.
A moment’s thought tells you that Schwartz has to be right and McKinsey have to be wrong. We can all teach well and we can all teach badly.  Even good teachers teach some lessons and some groups less well; even the struggling teacher can teach a successful lesson on occasion. More generally, we can all teach better: teaching changes and develops. Skills improve. Ideas change. Practice alters. It’s teaching, not teachers.
The three letters also have important policy implications. If you pursue the line that the important thing is teachers, you focus on people. You need to sack the weakest teachers and you need to design a system which guarantees that you can replace them quickly with better ones. Of course, performance managing very poor teachers out of the profession is important, and it is important that we recruit the brightest and the best. But these turn out to be very, very slow routes to improving the quality of an education system.
The English figures bear this out. There are 400,000 teachers in schools in England. About 30,000 new ones are trained each year. Assume the weakest 5,000 recruited each year can be replaced with 5000 who are definitely going to be better than the remaining 25,000 (there are some heroic assumptions here), and it will be many years before a visible impact is secured on the profession. It took Finland more than 30 years for recruitment practices to re-shape the profession. Changing teaching by changing teachers is a long, slow slog. And in some of those high performing countries, including South Korea and China, recruitment is – as the Varkey Gems report makes plain – helped by the extraordinary status enjoyed by teaching there. In fact, the status of teaching is a stronger attraction for committed candidates than relative salary levels. The status of teaching determines the extent to which policy can reshape teachers.
If you pursue the line that it is teaching that matters, you get a different set of policies. It’s still important to recruit and train those who can develop as excellent teachers, but you need to work continuously to improve the quality of teaching across schools: every teacher, in every classroom, in every school, getting better at teaching. This involves focusing on what drives really good teaching – committed teachers and high quality instruction, which itself depends on rigorous subject knowledge and knowledge of effective pedagogy, both leavened by imagination.
I’ve called it – with tongue partly in cheek – a formula for quality teaching: Q = C + E [K(s+ t)] + I. That is, quality depends on committed teachers (C),  plus effective pedagogy (E), based on subject knowledge (Ks ) plus knowledge of effective teaching (Kt), supplemented by imagination (I).
Forty years ago, policy assumed that schools made little difference to pupil outcomes:  outcomes were principally determined by social factors. School effectiveness research told us that that was not the case. Schools made a difference. Then we understood that school effects were the sum of classroom effects: teachers make a difference. But the key lesson is that it’s teaching, not teachers, which matters. Every teacher can teach better. That’s an equally great line.