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Expert opinion from IOE, UCL's Faculty of Education and Society


Will Covid-19 vaccines be enough to get the economy back on track, curb youth unemployment, and mitigate mental health effects?.

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 12 January 2021

Golo Henseke.

With the country in the third national lookdown, a Covid-19 free future can sometimes be hard to imagine. But the roll out of first vaccines, albeit slow, does fuel hopes that we can put the health crisis behind us before too long. But how swiftly will the economic recovery follow, and what will this mean for our nation’s young people?

Our new project examining the Covid-19 pandemic’s impacts on youth employment, learning and well-being has received funding from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). We will provide robust evidence on the pandemic’s consequences for young people’s employment, learning, and well-being.

A swift economic recovery seems essential to keep people in work or help them return to paid employment. Despite the successful furlough scheme which protected workers from the worst, young people have been hit (more…)

‘Too many tests for no good reason’: what do parents really think about primary assessment?

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 30 January 2020

Alice Bradbury.

The debate about testing in primary schools is usually dominated by teachers and unions – who decry the pressures associated with statutory test – and the government – who argue testing is necessary to hold schools to account.

The voices of one group – parents – are often overlooked. New research explores parents’ views in detail, however, with some interesting findings, which can be summed up by the phrase ‘Too many tests for no good reason’. 

This phrase provides the title for the research, which was commissioned by the More than a Score coalition of education and parent groups.  Their report is based on a survey of over 2,000 parents of children aged 3-13, conducted by YouGov. The results raise some serious questions for those who see the current testing regime in primary schools as fit for purpose. 


Hidden sins of economic crisis: the problem of unhappiness at work

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 26 March 2015

Francis Green
When the financial crisis and recession hit Britain more than six years ago, many feared for the loss of jobs. Respectable forecasters expected unemployment to reach three million, as it had in the 1980s era of high Thatcherism.
That fate was avoided, but another serious problem has been lurking in the shadows: enhanced fears and anxieties at work, and reduced well-being.
Such fears are not presented in official statistics, so how do we know this? As social scientists here at the Centre for Research on Learning and Life Chances (LLAKES) we can’t go on what we hear from anecdotes about this or that employer, or group of employees. Instead we use properly conducted surveys. We talked to a nationally representative sample of people in their own (more…)

Parents' fortunes matter for cognitive development of 11-year-olds

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 3 December 2014

Lucinda Platt, Visiting Professor at UCL Institute of Education and Professor of Social Policy and Sociology at London School of Economics and Political Science
Originally posted on The Conversation
As they reach the end of primary school, the UK’s children face persistent inequalities in their cognitive development. New findings from the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS), a survey of children born between 2000 and 2002 across the UK, show that the level of parents’ education and family income both remain clearly associated with children’s verbal skills at the age of 11 – even when taking into account other differences in family background.
The MCS, based at the UCL Institute of Education, London, has followed around 19,000 children since they were nine months old, visiting them and their families again at ages three, five and seven and then most recently at the age of 11.
On each occasion from age three onwards, tests of cognitive skills have been carried out by specially trained interviewers (more…)

Can well-being be measured?

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 26 June 2013

John White
Well-being has shot up the Institute’s research agenda in recent years. It has figured in work on health policy and childhood, as well as the workplace, the aims of education, music education and the lives of older people.
While – as a participant myself – I welcome this, I do have one unresolved question.
How far is well-being measurable? You can understand why policy makers would like it to be. If national data can show that people’s well-being has been increasing or decreasing in this respect or that, it can be used to justify government policies or to call for improvements. Richard Layard built his 2005 book Happiness around the now well-known claim that ‘as Western societies have got richer, their people have become no happier’ (p3).
We have good reason to be wary of measurability claims about personal qualities. Look at intelligence. Human beings, like some other animals, but in language-dependent ways, have the ability flexibly to adjust the ways they go about pursuing their goals according to changing conditions and beliefs. It is a quality we rely on in all our activities, academic, practical, personal. What has been measured in traditional intelligence tests is something far less central to our existence: the scores we get in answers to various largely logical and linguistic questions.
It is doubtful whether the notion of measuring the deeper sense of intelligence makes sense. How could we put a whole population on a scale, given the complexity of human goals and variations in circumstances and beliefs? Yet it has suited some policy-makers in the past – those looking for a rationale for selective education – to simplify reality by redefining the inner attribute in terms of something that can easily produce a rank order.
There are also problems with measuring another inner quality: understanding. Our former IoE colleague Ray Elliott has written wonderfully about the virtues it comprises, about how it has at its best to be ‘true, comprehensive, profound, synoptic, sensitive, fertile, critical, firm and justly appreciative’ [1]. ‘A’ level and other exam boards claim to be able to rank candidates’ understanding in different areas. But, especially outside the exact disciplines, how can they deal with such apparently incommensurable qualities? The temptation is, once again, to resort to simplifications – methods designed to increase consensus among examiners, extending in some cases even to the use of multiple choice questions. Again, it suits politicians and others to rely on perversions of the real thing – often, again, for purposes of selection, but also as a sign of how well their policies are working or need changing.
Like intelligence and understanding, well-being is now in danger of measurement blight. It may indeed be possible to measure some of its necessary conditions –adequate shelter, food and drink, income etc – that is, what social scientists working in the area call ‘objective well-being’. But problems multiply when you go beyond this to well-being as such. What counts as a flourishing life has exercised philosophers since before Plato. Is it an endless succession of pleasurable feelings? If so, would this mean that a doctor working in stressful conditions cannot be leading a flourishing life? Is it, as some economists claim, a life in which you broadly succeed in reaching the goals you’ve set for yourself? But what if you reach them and are bitterly disappointed? And would it matter if your main goal were to get blinding drunk twice a day? And can I lead a flourishing life if I my goals are immoral?
In a fuller treatment, I try to answer these questions, and argue that to lead a flourishing life, at least in a society like our own, you need to be wholeheartedly involved in self-chosen pursuits of a worthwhile sort – from loving, intimate relationships to activities like teaching, gardening, reading poetry, or ethical banking [2]. Wellbeing is a notion full of complexity, touching the deepest layers of our lives. Its components give every impression of being incommensurable.
Psychologists and social scientists claim to have quantified what they call ‘subjective well-being’ (to supplement the ‘objective’ variety described above). They do this by rating people’s reports of how satisfied they are with their lives, or of how happy or distressing their experience has been over a period. But is satisfaction or feeling happy necessarily a sign of well-being? The questions raised two paragraphs back come back in full force. And is a slave (or a wage slave) living a life of well-being if she has been manipulated to believe her life could not be happier?
I am not claiming that there could never be any value in work on subjective well-being. If Layard is right that increased wealth does not go with an increase in self-reports of feeling happy, this calls for empirical explanation. But I am concerned that politicians and other policy makers might use the data to argue, for instance, that people are leading more flourishing lives under their régime or worse ones under others. We have been misled enough over the years by intelligence testers, and examination boards claiming insight into the quality of students’ understanding. We don’t want to go down the same road with well-being.
[1] In Brown, S.C. (ed) (1975) Philosophers Discuss Education London: Macmillan pp. 47-8
[2] White, J. (2011) Exploring Well-being in Schools London: Routledge, Chapter 11
John White is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy of Education at the Institute of Education.