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Whiteboard jungle: how can we help teenagers navigate adolescence?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital11 February 2020

IOE Events.

The debates are back for 2020 and this time we took a look at the teenage years, asking What if… the world really did revolve around teenagers?

As far back as Socrates, adolescents were marked out and criticized by their elders for having bad manners, and ever since ‘the teenager’ rose to prominence in the 1950s the difficulty of adolescence has been a common trope, not to mention a source of amusement in popular culture.

That’s not the whole story, of course, and Greta Thunberg provides just one prominent, contemporary example of teens as a force for social awareness and change (we celebrated some others here).

Nevertheless, adolescence is a distinctive time that brings its own challenges. We wanted to examine what lies behind that and what could/should be done to ameliorate it.

(more…)

Our longitudinal future – providing robust evidence for policy across the life course, from newborns right through to older age

Blog Editor, IOE Digital19 May 2018

Is research evidence informing government policy in education?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital10 December 2014

David Gough
Recently there has been increased interest in the use of evidence from research studies to inform policy making by government. This research evidence can be of many types. It can include empirical findings on things such as educational attainment, and evidence of effectiveness (‘what works’) of different strategies (such as how to teach phonics). It can also include explanations of how things work and how the world can be understood. Research is of course not the only thing that can influence policy (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.

20 years on and departments of education are 'next in line for the treatment' again

Blog Editor, IOE Digital3 April 2013

Geoff Whitty
Michael Gove recently wrote an article in the Daily Mail attacking so-called Marxist teachers and teacher educators, who he characterises as “the enemies of promise”.  Reading this no holds barred critique may well have given many who work in education a strong sense of déjà vu. I sought out a copy of my inaugural lecture at Goldsmiths College in May 1991 – “Next in line for the treatment: Education Reform and Teacher Education in the 1990”. As I noted back then:
“A recurring theme in the pamphlets of the New Right pressure groups is the need to rid the system of the liberal or left educational establishment, which is seen to have been behind the ‘progressive collapse’ of the English educational system and which ‘prey to ideology and self-interest, is no longer in touch with the public’.”  
The answer prescribed by the pressure groups: schools free to recruit whoever they wanted as teachers and any training deemed necessary done on the job. At one level the pressure groups were making a general argument about producer interests, but it was also a more specific attack on the alleged ideological bias of teacher educators. The fundamental problem for this line of argument was that, if the critique of teacher training was right, schools surely needed to be purged of teachers who had “suffered” from teacher training before they could themselves be entrusted with teacher training.
Much has changed in education in the intervening 20 years, and it’s a shame that the contemporary debate does not acknowledge that. Most importantly, the more legitimate criticisms of university-led teacher training of the 1980s and ‘90s have long since been addressed through constructive engagement between government, universities and schools. In that same 1991 lecture, I argued that higher education institutions should actively embrace school-based training and partnership working, and the sector has subsequently welcomed multiple training routes and worked ever more closely with schools. It’s also the case that some of us in university departments of education were involved right from the start in the development of Teach First, one of the teacher training routes consistently praised by government ministers.
All this, according to Ofsted under its previous HMCI and a report last year by the House of Commons Education Committee, has had positive effects on the quality of new teachers entering the profession. It has helped to shape the schools that Michael Gove himself singles out for praise. Current policies, however, are being rolled out in a manner that risks eroding some of the best practice that has developed in recent years and the infrastructure that supports it. Only a couple of weeks ago at the launch of the Ben Goldacre report Building Evidence into Education (pdf) the DfE was promoting an evidence-informed approach to education policy and practice. We need that in initial teacher training policy, too.
Key to an evidence-informed approach, of course, is the responsible and considered use of the evidence. On that basis it was disappointing to see the way in which the first inspection results under the new inspection framework for teacher training were described in an Ofsted press release last week. It included spurious interpretations of limited data and at least one factual error, and it omitted to mention anything that reflected well on HEIs or badly on school-led teacher training schemes.
It was also disappointing to see a report in The Times suggesting connections were being made between the allegedly inferior teacher training inspection results from HEIs and the letter from 100 education academics voicing doubts about the government’s National Curriculum proposals (which had prompted Michael Gove’s article in the Daily Mail) – not least because very few of the signatories to that letter are actually involved in the design or delivery of initial teacher training.
What the evidence does show is that teacher training in the best performing education systems worldwide is based in close collaboration between universities and schools. It would be political folly to disregard the contribution that HEIs are making to teacher supply and quality in England in order to pursue an agenda based on outdated caricatures.
Geoff Whitty, former IOE Director, is currently Professor of Public Sector Policy and Management at the University of Bath and a non-Executive member of the Board of Ofsted. His comments on Ben Goldacre’s recent paper on the use of evidence in education can be found here