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Peter Tait Education

Common Entrance

General Posted on Fri, October 05, 2018 09:52:34

The announcement in early October that St Paul’s, Westminster and Wellington College were to abandon Common Entrance signals an end to a long-running battle to remove prep schools from the strait-jacket of the exam. It is some years since I spoke on this subject at conferences at Wellington College (and once to HMC Academic Deputies in Lisbon) and ten years since I wrote the article below – which I thought I should dig out for another airing to explain what the issues were – and not all were to do with education. For a time I was on the Board of ISEB, trying to help change from within before withdrawing my own school from the part of the exam and resigning. At that stage the Chairman of the Board was also the Headmaster of Westminster so pleased that the wheel has turned full circle.


In 1903, the first Common Entrance
examination was established by the Headmasters’ Conference (HMC) in order to
provide a common test for pupils wanting to enter their schools. Initially
testing only Latin and Greek, other subjects were added over time although it
was not until the 1960s that Science became a part of the mix. Conservative by
nature, with a strong emphasis on rote learning and the acquisition of
knowledge, the examination continued under the auspices of a committee of the
Headmasters’ Conference determining and shaping the curriculum of the final two
years or more of preparatory schools.

In the 1980s, the Independent Schools
Examination Board (ISEB) was established, partly in a response to the new
national curriculum, partly one suspects in a spirit of devolution to enable
prep schools to be more involved in shaping their own curriculum. Subject
groups were set up, headed by subject co-ordinators, to develop curricula and
write examination papers. These groups were, in turn, responsible to academic
committees of ISEB, and their work from time to time, subject to curricula
reviews. The new body, however, far from handing any control for their
curriculum to prep schools, ensured that the status quo remained – the Chairman
was to be from an HMC school with the membership of the Board consisting of
equal numbers of members from IAPS and the two senior associations, GSA and
HMC. The Deputy Chair has invariably been a GSA Head. Other associations such
as SHMIS and ISA are not represented on, nor do they benefit from, ISEB
although they continue to use Common Entrance for the purpose of transfer.

Over recent years, the original purpose of
Common Entrance, which was to provide a measure by which public schools could
allocate places to their schools, has become blurred. More pupils entered
public school from state schools or from overseas and were not subject to the
same set of exams. An increasing number of schools were setting up their own
entry criteria and examinations by-passing the common curriculum. More prep
school pupils, likewise, were returning to the maintained sector and for them,
Common Entrance was just a hindrance. None of which would be hugely significant
if Common Entrance provided a well-grounded and well-rounded education not
dominated by teaching to the test.

What has blurred matters more than a little
has been the evolution of the body set up to administer Common Entrance, ISEB
since the 1960s. While its initial brief was to provide a means of transfer
between the sector, through its sale of old papers and, more recently, through
a burgeoning publishing industry, it has become a significant source of income
for the three associations although, of course, the monies are exclusively
derived from the prep school sector.

In the summer of 2005, there appeared an
article in Prep School magazine (ironically, directly following Michael
Spinney’s article questioning aspects of Common Entrance) entitled ‘The Role of
Textbooks’. While reading for all intents and purposes like an advertising
feature, with its one illustration being that of one of their textbooks, this
article by Nick Oulton, Managing Director of Galore Park, a publishing company
founded only six years previously, was a vociferous defence of Common Entrance,
extolling the success of prep schools and stating that ‘CE lies at the very
heart of this success’ It went on to say that ‘It (ie the prep school world)
bravely sticks to all that is best of the old in education, while embracing all
that is new. And it is precisely this that drives the success of Galore Park’s
prep school textbook range
’ – textbooks written, as he wrote in the next
paragraph ‘to support the needs of those preparing for CE’.

Nick Oulton, who is the husband of Claire
Oulton, Headmistress of one of GSA’s flagship schools, Benendon, and an
Executive member of ISEB from 2000-2005, no doubt saw prep schools as a
potentially lucrative market. He would also have been well aware of the changes
in the syllabus and the fact that new texts would be needed – something that
perhaps could have been foreseen by ISEB and its marketing arm. With more than
570 schools with little cohesive voice and who traditionally did the bidding of
HMC and GSA schools, Nick Oulton went ahead and made a formal approach directly
to ISEB, seeking both their business and also, and most crucially, their
endorsement for the increasing number of books they were producing, many of
which were designed specifically to prepare pupils for Common Entrance,
focusing on practice and testing (mirroring the publishing conglomerate spawned
by the SATs tests). As the result of an agreement between ISEB and Galore Park
in late 2006, a deal was agreed to outsource old papers and other publications
to Galore Park in return for an annual payment of £180,000. By mid-2007, they
had more than 140 books pitched at the prep school market, each with the ISEB
imprimatur, for which ISEB are paid 5% by Galore Park. This is expected to be a
significant source of income over the coming years, as Galore Park plays on the
fears of parents and schools in getting pupils through Common Entrance, a fear
often fuelled by prep school heads as a raison d’etre for their own existence.
The sale of old papers alone is an industry realising over £100,000 p.a. with
both schools and parents preparing their pupils for the barrage of exams
(although it is estimated that only 30% of pupils enter public schools via the

In a recent article in The Daily Telegraph
(22 May, 2008), Nick Oulton attributed his success to ‘a crucial endorsement
from an examinations board and a promotional flyer sent to the independent
school sector to get Britain’s top private schools ringing up with orders
Needless to say, no mention was made of his connection with ISEB, the fact that
the publishing rights were not put out to tender and his access to the proposed
syllabus changes. Since 2007, Nick Oulton has not always had a smooth
relationship with ISEB, but the business partnership of his company Galore Park
with the Board is a major impediment to any substantive change of the current

In July 2007, annual profits from ISEB
totalled £154,000, which were distributed three ways, with HMC and GSA
receiving £57,750 each and GSA £38,500. The bulk of the Board’s revenue, some
£555,000 each year comes from examination fees, (£74 per candidate at 13+ and
£60 at 11+), income derived from the prep school sector and shared amongst the
three associations.

Apart from the issue of two-tiered entry
(pupils sitting scholarships or entry tests from the maintained sector pay no
such fee; nor do scholarship candidates, even those using the Common
Scholarship exams – a clear case of educational apartheid), it is arguable that
the costs should be borne by the senior schools (such a move would inevitably
lead to questions about the level of fees set and value derived from the exams)
and not prep schools. A school that takes 150 pupils a year via Common Entrance
on current rates would have to pay a total of £12,000 (the amount prep school
parents currently pay). It is not difficult to surmise that they would find
some other process that was both less expensive and better served their purpose
if they were asked to cover the cost of what is, after all, their own entrance

Not only are prep schools denied the
independence to determine what they teach, therefore, or how they teach, but
they have no control over an exam that is variously used for setting,
selection, streaming, rubber stamping or qualification – or sometimes, I
suspect simply because it is there and costs nothing to access. Prep schools
have to accept that their sector is being used as an increasing source of
revenue, with Common Entrance being the lever to prise open the safe – an
arrangement in which IAPS is complicitous.

ISEB stated recently that it is the ‘servant
of its patrons
’ but not equally so. Prep schools are seen as passive
partners whose expertise in the area of Year 7 and 8 education is constantly
downplayed. In a response to criticism from a group of HMC schools in the
South-East division in 2007, ISEB answered that its papers ‘ . . . are
written by highly professional, highly dedicated subject specialists, the
majority of whom are from HMC schools
. They work in teams led, for the most
part, by heads of department from HMC schools’

This assertion is quite accurate although
whether it should be so is a matter of considerable debate. A review of the
Common Entrance setting teams reveals that the four core subjects are headed by
teachers form senior schools; not only that, but the teams are usually
dominated by senior schools, aided and abetted by some of the most selective
prep schools, There is little doubt that the leaders are strong on knowledge of
their subjects, but arguably less so on what children are learning or capable
of learning at ages 11-13 years.

The make-up of the teams makes interesting
reading. English is headed by the HOD English at St Paul’s supported by a team
of four, from Radley, St Mary’s Calne and two prep schools, Copthorne and St
Andrew’s Woking

Mathematics is headed by the HOD from
Brighton College supported by a team of two from Headington and Wellesley House

Science is divided into three subjects, each
headed by staff members from HMC schools (Clifton, Cheltenham and Cheltenham)
with teams from Downe House, Harrow, Ampleforth, Malvern and St Paul’s Prep
School, The Elms School, Clifton College Prep School, Tudor Hall, Quainton Hall
School and St Michael’s Devon

French is headed by the HOD French at Eton
supported by St Mary’s Shaftesbury and Dumpton

German is headed by Epsom College, Greek from
Stowe, Religious Studies from Eton, Geography from Wentworth College (GSA)
Spanish from Oundle, History, alone, has a team headed by an IAPS member. In summary, the four core subjects are
headed by HMC schools as are four other subjects. One is headed by a GSA and
one by IAPS

The grip is strong and the chances of
effecting significant change to Common Entrance slight while there are such
significant vested interests at play. There are many questions that still need
answering: What is the original brief of ISEB? Is ISEB meant to be making
considerable sums of money for its umbrella organisations? Why should GSA and
HMC, as sleeping partners, be receiving money from the prep school sector? Who
decides whether they should still have the influence they currently have over
transfer, over curriculum? Why should prep school parents have to pay for
Common Entrance when pupils entering from other sectors or sitting scholarships
– even the Common scholarship – do not? ( a state of affairs that smacks of
intellectual apartheid?) Who else was invited to tender for the business of
ISEB in 2006? How is the future of ISEB (and Galore Park) affected if Common
Entrance undergoes the very significant changes that are needed? And what
avenues are open to effect the changes necessary?

If senior schools had to pay the costs for
Common Entrance it seems inevitable, judging by their criticism of the exams,
that there would soon be changes. A school taking in 125 new pupils each year
would be faced with an annual fee of £10,000 for Common Entrance on current
charges – enough I would argue for a review of the use of the exam and some
decisions being made on what actual information / data was required and whether
the current syllabus was fit for purpose. Because they neither pay for it, nor
supervise it or even have to defend their marking, makes it a very attractive
option for senior school. Nor can the cost of the exam be readily dismissed as
being inexpensive simply because the costs are dispersed and not met by prep
schools themselves – hardly relevant for an exam that is neither moderated or
standardised, has no national standing, has variable pass marks and is simply a
way of sifting, recruiting or confirming the places of potential customers.

The debate over Common Entrance has been
going on for so long now it is hard to see it being properly resolved in the
near future. In seeking a review, I was warned that the entrenched interests
and the financial considerations of the three associations along with the
resistance of schools to protect their brand would make any significant change
unlikely. I was reminded of many efforts made in the past in the past that came
to nought and I can well understand, now, two years on, why so little has
changed. As long as educational considerations are subjugated to other factors,
whether they be financial, ethical or simply matters of expediency, it is
unlikely that significant change will happen in the future – and that, I would
suggest, bodes ill for the independence of prep schools.

Education and Ethics

Curriculum Posted on Mon, August 27, 2018 12:27:12

What sort of
world do we want for our children?

– An introduction to a New Framework

“Strange that the qualities we value in
friends–thoughtfulness, sympathy, intelligence, a sense of humor,
fair-mindedness, civility – seem hardly
to matter in contemporary politics. & children are supposed not to cheat,
steal, plagiarize. How to explain such profound dissonance?”

Joyce Carol Oates

And, you know, there
is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are
families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people
must look to themselves first. It’s our duty to look after ourselves and then,
also to look after our neighbour. People have got the entitlements too much in
mind, without the obligations
.’ – Margaret Thatcher Interview 23 September 1987

Recently a story that has been doing the
rounds in social media of three men who left a restaurant without paying. A few
days later the restaurant owners received a letter containing the money due and
a little extra with an explanation that they had left to find an ATM machine
and then realised the last train was about to leave so were unable to do so.

What is remarkable about this story is
that it is ‘remarkable,’ as if such behaviours, such actions, don’t fit with
what we now perceive to be normal. As such it highlights the place where
society is at, that when ethical behaviour occurs, it is seen as extraordinary.

When looking at writing a new framework
for education, it is evident that this is a good place to start, not with
content, but with values and behaviours. Change, when it happens, needs to
start with the foundations rather than merely adding to or reconfiguring an
already bloated curriculum which has been ravaged by educational change for a decade
or more. We need, instead, to start from
a new vantage point altogether, to establish a philosophy which includes and
embeds different attitudes and behaviours, one that puts ethics at the core of
our learning and teaching. Some of this process
will be in making schools and the curriculum more relevant, accessible and
open-ended; the greater challenge, however, is persuading society of the
importance of seeing education as a part of the whole, a continuum that
involves everyone for their life-times, and grounded in the very ethics and
behaviours we want our children to grow up with and our society to reflect.

The absence of any ethical framework,
and the dearth of societal values, is evident in every walk of life. We can pick
any profession: law, accountancy, the pharmaceutical industry, industrial
farming, property development, sport, the Church – the
list is almost as long as is the list of jobs. Stripped down, we don’t take long to find examples of worker
exploitation, cost fixing, drug taking, sexual abuse or putting profit above
people by ‘using’ tax loopholes. There is no moral imperative at work. We saw
it when the boil was exposed (if not properly lanced), with the behaviour of politicians,
bankers, fund managers and venture capitalists, whose criminal actions and
self-interest were exposed through the expenses scandal and the banking crisis.
The fact that so few were held to account merely reinforces the impression that
we are living in an ethical wild west, a view that hasn’t changed since. Recently,
the founder of the SLC group, the parent company of Cambridge Analytica, Nigel
Oakes called for more regulation admitting that he operated for years ‘without much of an ethical radar’, before
going on to defend his decision by saying ‘It’s
above my pay scale to decide the ethics of this.’
Not so. Ethics are beyond the weight of the purse
and should apply to all of us at every level of society.

But the faultlines
go much deeper than this. The behaviour of the big four accountancy firms who
earlier this year were accused by MPs
of “feasting on what was soon to become a
as it emerged they banked £72m for work linked to collapsed
government contractor Carillion in the years leading up to its financial
the rotten underbelly in which everything was alright as long as it turned a
profit. One time-tested way of doing so is to strip and ravage the environment
and natural resources, preferably off-shore, by over-fishing, by the ruthless
destruction of forests for palm oil industry to shore up UK pension funds, by dumping
of waste, the proliferation of off-shore tax havens and an unelected House, many of whose
members pocket their daily expenses and contribute nothing. When Artemis, (self-titled as The Profit Hunters) boasted
that their ‘global hunters’ spend their lives carving through the atlas for
opportunities for profit, we need to understand that such companies are the
product of our economic model and that any subsiduary interests or concerns,
environmental or moral, are subsumed by the goal to maximize profits.

Self-interest rules and it can come as
no surprise then if you ask children what they want to be when they grow up
that the most popular answer is rich and famous for that is the model they see
every day. And where are ethics in all of this? Worse, where is it leading us?

We need, somehow, to move the Titanic. The
obsession of governments with GDP as a measure of economic well-being is deeply
flawed as is well-known, measuring both good and bad economic activity, from
farming to drugs and gun running, but taking no account of voluntary work or
raising a family, implicitly favouring quantity over quality and having no
truck with such green-tinged schemes as recycling. Having a philosophy that
relies on endless growth with no ethical boundaries continue to undo us unless
we educate the next generation about sustainability and the ethical use of our
planet and each other. Simon Kuznets, Nobel Prize winner who developed the
measure before the war, had quite different aspirations, intending GDP to
measure economic welfare and well-being, (but being ignored in the post-war US-UK plans), mitigating against the
unequal distribution of gains and ensuring
we were not growing at the expense of our environment.

With the spread of fake news,
nanotechnology and artificial intelligence, ethics takes on more importance
than ever before.

The need to be able to make decisions
that are not rooted in economic or personal self-interest are compelling. Waste,
such as the amount of foodstuffs thrown out by supermarkets (over 200 000
tonnes each year) is simply unacceptable on a planet with so much poverty.
Recently, the big food chains have made an effort to reduce waste, increase
donations of food to foodbanks and cooperatives by building up partnerships
with local charities, but it is the tip of an iceberg that is founded on waste
and obsolescence. Nor should we excuse the fashion label, Burberry who destroyed more than £28m worth of its fashion and
cosmetic products over the past year to guard against counterfeiting. No waste
is acceptable and even planned obsolesence, deemed good for economic activity,
is short-sighted and harmful. We simply cannot afford to treat our
planet and our society in this way any longer or allow government, acting in
our name, to behave unethically (selling
our waste to Thailand, investing in dodgy enrionmental areas, importing
teachers, doctors, nurses and selling arms
to Saudi Arabia which are then used to bomb civilians in the Yemen are current

We need to keep asking the question:
what are our ethics and are we, and those who represent us, acting in
accordance with the principles we believe in?

Nor is education ‘clean.’ Sharp practice
in school recruitment, using overseas students as cash cows, setting up campuses
abroad, to bring money back to the UK (neo-colonialism at work?), stopping
students moving into the 6th form or from sitting exams for fear
that they will negatively affect league tables results, (more than 20% of
teachers were aware of ‘off-rolling’ in schools they had taught in), are all
unethical practices that are not uncommon in schools. Plagarism is at a level
where schools routinely now feel compelled to purchase software to identify it;
while cheating, by students and teachers, has risen fuelled by the drip-down pressure
of league tables. Essay mills, a business reputed to earn billions of pounds
worldwide has resulted in some 50,000 students being caught cheating in the
last three years alone while in the last year, exclusions have increased by
about 15% and now number around 40 per day. The recent de-valuing of academic places even raises
the question as to whether it is be ‘ethical’ to keep students on who will
perform significantly below the level of their conditional offers, but will get
places due to the rapacity of universities fighting for survival (and who themselves
may be acting unethically?) For that
matter, we should ask just how ethical
is selection which takes so little account of readiness and produces winners
and losers with all the consequent baggage and dulled expectations? It should concern us, all of it. For when
schools lose their moral compass and their understanding of what schools are
for, then we are in a moral mire.

But the problem is even deeper than
that. It is embedded in selfies, in the narcissism and insecurity they
engender, in selfishness and loneliness, in the closing down of communities, the
loss of collegiality, the disintegration of a society that prizes acquisition
above welfare, of the yawning gap between haves and have-nots and gaping social
and educational inequality. The reasons are manifold, and any list of reasons
would offer the breakup of the traditional nuclear family and the void left by the
disappearing systems of social cohesion that included the church and the
extended family. The gap is implicit in the debate between the self-esteem and
self-respect, between self-awareness and empathy, between self and community. Too
often we are left with a society that is focused on looking after yourself and taking
what you can get away with, with self-interest and avarice its drivers.

A wee bit colourful? Perhaps. But if we
are to change society, and to equip the next generation to make the ethical
decisions that will be required of us on technology and environmental issues
and to counter the atomisation of society through social media, rising
incidences of loneliness and an epidemic of mental health, we need to act. And
where better than at the very start of our education system?

So how to change? How do we try to instil the importance of
making good ethical decisions from a young age.
How do we make children think of themselves as part of a whole? How do
we embed kindness and empathy, appropiate behaviours, manners and attitudes conducive
to making good citizens?

How do we move away from measurement to the immeasurable? We could start by
delaying collecting the data to put children into boxes, respect readiness and
hold back formal learning until they have an appetite for it and see it as a
joy and a privilege rather than an entitlement and an unwelcome one at that. The
answers start with early education and developing the right attitudes to
learning, about placing children in a larger community and by encouraging them
to look outwards, not inwards and by teaching them to understand and look after
their environment and those who inhabit it, human, animal and plant.

Later, we should re-visit subjects such
as history to stop navel gazing and get our children to look outwards as a
nation that has had a large footprint in the world and needs to live up to it.
Or economics where we should be making changes to incorporate the doughnut of
planetary boundaries, to look at environmental impact, to address such pressing
problems like the 800,000 tonnes of plastic waste generated from our leading
supermarkets each year by putting environmental considerations and
sustainability to the fore – no easy task when big business and government is
determined to marginalise green issues as just an impediment to economic growth
and the endless pursuit of an ever higher GDP. It is teaching children to think
ethically, to make decisions based on values and to change behaviours and
attitudes – that is the challenge.

We need to teach the ethics of career
choices that are not predicated on power and money and give reward to those who
perform the more difficult, mundane and useful jobs in our society such as
nurses and carers. We need a paradigm
shift to understand that society and communities and countries only work well
if there is some common ethos. At present, we are bitterly divided and
rootless; the time is to take heed of the urgency of the situation we find
ourselves in.

All of which is a long winded way of
saying that we need to change our schools and our curriculum at their
foundations, to engage with children in a way that is going to make them think
and act more responsibly. After all, if we don’t teach children to think
differently and act ethically, heaven help us – because the earth will no
longer be able to sustain us.

‘All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when
one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a
better language; and every chapter must be so translated…As therefore the
bell that rings to a sermon, calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the
congregation to come: so this bell calls us all …..No man is an island,
entire of itself…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in
mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for
thee.’ –
John Donne Meditation

Why Intelligence is over-rated

Education Posted on Tue, August 14, 2018 14:31:07

Exams as a measure of Intelligence

With A Level results
coming out this week, just what will they tell us about the intelligence of
those children coming through our schools? The answer – not a lot. They will tell us how hard they’ve worked and
how much they have learnt, but their marks will not define intelligence. Part
of the fault is the exam itself. Criticised by teachers for excessive
prescription and content, by universities for not developing independent and
critical thinking and by industry for failing to nurture initiative, problem
solving and communication skills, students soon learn that to do well, they have to play the long game, and follow
the rules laid down by teachers the best of whom are the skilled at teaching
to the test. And if you are one of those curious souls who wants to go off
piste, be warned, you will be told there is no time for that. After sitting A Levels a former student with
offers to Cambridge and Harvard spoke out in frustration and anger against its focus
on memorisation, ticking boxes and ironing out childrens idiosyncracies.
Arguably her A levels results were one measure of her applied intelligence; her
perceptive comments about their limitations, quite another.

to the criticism of universities and employers, (and A levels should not
necessarily serve either master) there is the deleterious effect
of Ebacc on creative subjects when Artificial Intelligence is already telling
us it is the human related and creative jobs – nurses, carers coders and so on
that we will require in the future. As a means of measuring students, A Levels
leave large numbers of our intelligent students on the outer, including those
who don’t see university as their desired destination. And yet although we shouldn’t
ignore the impact of good schools and bad schools, the effect of tutors for
those who can afford them and money in general, we shouldn’t belittle the efforts of students
and their achievements, for A Levels, IB and, at a
stretch, the Cambridge PreU)are the best measures we’ve got. But let’s avoid talking intelligence which is one of those loaded words, a mere lump
of clay of a word , useless until worked. What is important is applied
intelligence. How do we recognise the intelligent child who is brilliant at a
single talent? coding? Music? Chess? Or the intelligent, but bored, frustrated
child who is completely unmotivated by a curriculum that they cannot engage
with. How do we recognise these other intelligences?

an examination system which predicates university as the final destination what
of the 14% of SEND students who we continue to measure by assessing them
through the very medium they struggle with. Or second language students? Or
students in areas where university is never an aspiration and A Levels an
irrelevancy? One hopes, as AI develops we will have different tools to measure
intelligence, that will grow rather than diminish horizions, but at present our
one size fits all model ignores a diminishing number for whom A Levels are a
distraction as much as a barrier.

are also those who are simply not ready for exams, for readiness applies as
much at eighteen as at five. Or those who are creative, but whose skills and
talents are not easily measurable and there are numerous examples of those who
failed at School and yet excelled afterwards, even in academia. Amanda Foreman
comes to mind as one who failed her A Level English and again at a crammer, had
to go abroad to do her undergraduate degree and ended up with a Doctorate from
Oxford and the Whitbread Prize for literature

course, outstanding examination results come from hard work, organisation, good
teaching and applied intelligence, but as a rule, in education, intelligence is
a word to be avoided, for its bias, its reliance on data, its intellectual
snobbery and what it does to expectations. We should celebrate examination
results, albeit being mindful of their cost in mental health and the influence
of the school experience, but not muddy the waters by telling us that they
define intelligence.

(An extended transcript of an ITV article / vlog, 16 August, 2018)

Intelligence is a word often misused – especially in schools.

Education Posted on Mon, August 13, 2018 19:02:01

Intelligence cannot be defined by exams

highly intelligent people are poor thinkers. Many people of average
intelligence are skilled thinkers. The power of a car is separate from the way
the car is driven.
” – Edward de Bono

Each year at
this time, the pressure cranks up in the race for school and university places,
as SATS and A-levels prepare to feed another raft of league tables. As these
help determine our standing on the world stage, through the Programme for
International Student Assessment (PISA), our obsession with measuring children
takes centre stage.

Confident in
our system of public examinations, that is broadly designed to separate those
more ‘intelligent’ from the less ‘intelligent’, we can feel content that we are
filtering out our most able for higher education and all the opportunities that
entails. Sounds simple enough, if it was really that easy.

The problem
lies with the word intelligence. The common definition, that of possessing ‘a
quickness of understanding and an ability to apply knowledge and skills to a
high level’ – should give us pause to ask how well equipped our current
examination system is to deliver?

‘intelligent’ students, so identified by the data emanating from various
intelligence tests (which incidentally too often reinforce teacher
expectations), are frustrated by papers that trot out the same questions in a
different garb. These allow for little or no original thought and even actively
discourage creative thinking and intelligent responses.

stated, measuring intelligence through examination is, inevitably, as limited
as the examination itself. Whilst it might prove a reasonable sieve – perhaps
even the best we can provide – it will not identify many of those we
instinctively know to be intelligent.

There are
simple reasons for this, apart from the failure of examinations to measure
divergent thinking and creativity (due in part to the need to keep marking as
objective and, therefore, as inflexible as possible to remove any room for
subjective judgment).

The problem
of measuring intelligence per se is that it is an inadequate guide to human
capability, and that many of the ways we use to measure working intelligence
are woefully inadequate. Surely those we should be seeking to identify and
nurture are students with the capacity of effective or applied intelligence,
those who can do something with what knowledge and skills they acquire?

Too many
‘intelligent’ children, often bored by conventional learning, slip through the
net. Others just think differently to the straitjacket dictated by ‘one size
fits all’ exams. For instance, the list of those luminaries with learning
difficulties who found it difficult to express themselves in conventional
examinations makes for sober reading.

This poses
the question as to just how many are badly served by traditional examinations,
despite all the assistance offered through extra time, reader-writers and the
use of technology. We only have to reflect on some of our leading public
figures who dropped out of school and have ended up in prominent positions in
public life to know that the traditional system of assessment was not capable
of measuring their particular abilities, their sense of purpose, work ethic and

There are
also many ‘intelligent’ people, as measured by our schools, who have the
historic indicators of intelligence, viz. a quickness of understanding and the
ability to perform cognitively at a higher level but are painfully deficient in
other aspects.

These people
can lack initiative, the ability to ask difficult questions (and solve them),
EQ, cooperative and communication skills and the organisational discipline
crucial to make intelligence an active, rather than a passive, trait.

Because our
perceived definition of intelligence is so closely linked in with an ability to
be measured by exams, many intelligent people are disfranchised.

Our measure
of who is intelligent depends more on giving expected and appropriate answers
rather than showing any initiative or creative spark, this is probably the
reason for the clutch of third class degrees accumulated by such luminaries as
Michael Morpurgo, W. H. Auden and Carol Vorderman.

By measuring
intelligence this way, we get some of the crop, but not all, and those that
fall by the wayside can be the most important of all. Hence while
neurosurgeons, judges and nanotechnologists emerge from the current system, one
only has to look at the vast numbers of highly successful – and intelligent –
people who failed to shine at school to see how random our measure is. As
Winston Churchill aptly demonstrated, it is possible to win the Nobel Prize for
Literature despite a mediocre school career and no tertiary qualifications.

Part of the
problem may be how we value and reward intelligence, as identified through
traditional testing. The word ’intelligent’ has a cache that other words, like
‘industrious’ do not. For instance, we richly reward those whose appointments
are based on their academic qualifications; judges, diplomats, bankers and
brokers, financiers, consultants, senior bureaucrats and the like. However,
those people who make create, who tinker and take intellectual risks, are
scantily rewarded in comparison.

We might well
ask, are our schools guilty of promoting a passive form of intelligence, asking
‘what do you know’ rather than ‘what can you do’ simply because of the
limitations of assessment? We might also pause to recognise that many
‘intelligent’ people may lack the very qualities we need from our leaders, be
it emotional intelligence, wisdom or even common sense. Ability, talent,
intelligence on their own are lumps of coal – they need setting alight to have
any value.

Of course we
need our most able to fly; we need an intelligentsia to keep challenging us and
leading us forward. And they will probably still come from the traditional
route until we widen our criteria and improve our tools for identifying talent,
although when I read that 7 per cent of Oxford’s student population are receiving
counseling along with 728 postgraduate students, I wonder how too much focus on
academia can stunt emotional and social development. As a society, we benefit most
from those with effective intelligence, who are able to channel their
intelligence and use it, rather than merely parade it in the safety of
institutions and selected professions.

We lose too
many talented and intelligent people by defining intelligence through tests
that are wholly inadequate and constricting. We need to look wider and
encourage the entrepreneur, the inquisitive, the creative and the downright
cussed in our schools to make the most of who we are and to bring out the
richness and diversity of thought and ideas in our society.

Why we need a new curriculum – a discussion with those in the know

Curriculum Posted on Sun, August 05, 2018 09:12:52


‘The test of a successful
education is not the amount of knowledge that a pupil takes away from a school,
but his appetite to know and his capacity to learn. If the school sends out
children with the desire for knowledge and some idea of how to acquire and use
it, it will have done its work. Too many leave school with the appetite killed
and the mind loaded with undigested lumps of information.’

The Future in Education, 1941 Sir Richard Livingstone

The new curriculum framework
will need to be open-ended and multi-headed to allow for either traditional
subject areas or for new subject bands – or both – as well as the increasingly
diverse ways of delivering curriculum. Testing and exams of knowledge and
skills will have their place in the future, but with new technologies
available, notably the use of AI for assessment, resourcing and teaching, the
emphasis will be on making best use of new technologies, creating ethical
approaches to the idea of community, business and politics and the environment;
and establishing new pathways at 6th form and tertiary level. There
is an argument that we need to fix school structures first (one put forward
again recently by Laura McInerney), and there is sense in that, but the two
can, and probably should, go hand in hand in a review of the whole education

is a discussion thread interspersed with commentary which covers a wide range
of topical opinions from a number of leading educationists and a variety of different
sources to try to tease out what should be considered in writing new
curriculum. The quotations and extracts are loosely aligned in a narrative that
drives the discussion.

‘The word
“curriculum” has no generally agreed meaning’
Dylan Wiliam

great place to start – looks like an open book then?

‘Curriculum is a
timetable; an aggregation of learning objectives (knowledge, skills and
understanding); programme of planned activities’

– agreed, but already worried about the
jargon creeping in. Perhaps we

should produce the draft
curriculum, then define it.

We can ask whether our
curriculum should be a ‘present’ to our children in the form of nice package of
prescribed knowledge and skills or merely the means for them to find them for

‘We can’t introduce children to the best that has been thought and said.
We can, however, introduce them to the conversation in which they can join with
others, living and dead, to decide what ‘the best’ might be. A good curriculum
serves as an invitation into this conversation.’

If we want a breakdown on how the
curriculum could be discussed, how about Steve Chalk’s four part definition:

Explicit Curriculum: Subjects that will be taught, the
identified “mission” of the school and the knowledge and skills that the school
expects successful students to acquire.

Implicit Curriculum: Lessons that arise form the culture of
the school and the behaviour, attitudes and expectations that characterise
their culture.

Null Curriculum: Topics
or perspectives that are specifically excluded from the curriculum

Extra Curriculum: School-sponsored programmes that are
intended to supplement the academic
aspect of the school experience

Mind you we are
starting with a national curriculum that is thirty years old and has been
subject to endless tinkering and is now, for all intents and purposes,
done for:

it is that, on its 30th birthday, the bloated corpse of the national curriculum
came to be found at the bottom of a river of teacher sweat, questionable
statistics, political counter-accusations, entrepreneurial snake oil and
thinktank dark money. The river burst its banks and, weighted down by
accountability, the curriculum was unable to swim to safety.’

as J L Dutaut warms to his task and is at pains to point out, what we have been
left with is

Frankenstein curriculum of parts pilfered from high-performing systems
according to Pisa (Programme for International Student Assessment) rankings,
stapled together with teachers’ self-purchased stationery supplies, and
electrified by political rhetoric. A zombie curriculum. A monster.’

that compelling denunciation of the National Curriculum, we can move on. The
question now is what to put in its place. What are the rules for building a new
curriculum – or is the argument that there should be no rules, no boundaries.
But start replacing it we must, even if what is produced is a loose
confederation of ideas. As ever, it is important that reform starts from the bottom up and
is not dictated from above. After all as Jill Berry points out

“The best
qualification & curriculum reforms start at the level of those most
directly affected: teachers in schools & colleges, working in tandem with
exam boards; higher education and employers, shaping a vision for a new
approach that is based on first-hand experience.”

How to achieve this? There are plenty of suggestions out there to consider,
some drawing on history

should start with a conversation, one which begins at the level of those most affected.
Look at the really successful curriculum innovations and a pattern emerges:
change begins from below, when a group coalesces around a new idea about the
curriculum. This group will involve teachers, academics, employers; it will be
open to input from students, too. Out of such a group grows a body of
practitioners who share an educational vision. This group drives forward the
innovation. The specification comes later, and later still, the qualification
and assessment matrix.
John Taylor

sounds pretty straight forward, but perhaps our education vision needs to
address the question of a whole new paradigm, not just innovations to the same
curriculum we have been using for the past thirty years. Let’s start looking at what we identify as
needing change and some of the philosophical and practical reasons for it. Possibly, Helen Clark is getting
close to what I believe should be a starting place:

‘In designing a
curriculum, start with human values + a common moral code. Stress the importance
of ethics, empathy + dangers of self-interest. If we look at what’s wrong with
our society, it’s in our failure to replace traditional codes of family /
church with anything meaningful.’

And, of course ….

“When educating the
minds of our youths, we must not forget to educate their hearts”
Dhali Lama

-so easily dismissed, but the moral vacuum and disintegration of
communities and families lies at the heart of the unease in our society. If
only we could instill the third world hunger for education into our satiated
first world schools.

Then there is the wider question of what education should
include at a time when teachers have become primary care givers out of class
and schools have taken on more and more responsibility for feeding and
providing all-day care for children. It is a problem not so apparent in other
European countries, as Professor Geraint Johnes points out:

“Here in the UK, if
any difference is to be made to school performance, it is clear that social
policy rather than educational policy needs the most attention.”

have got to measure education by ALL its outcomes, not just by grades, as
Akala points out when he states that

‘24% of all people in the UK prisons were in care as
children. 47% were expelled from schools’

statistics reflect our education system as much as do examination grades with our
schools are the frontline where such battles have to be fought and won. The
American economist, Bryan Caplan goes one step further in his book ‘The Case
against Education’, asking

. . . why we need to stop wasting public funds on
education. Despite being immensely popular–and immensely lucrative – education
is grossly overrated. . . . The primary function of education is not to enhance
students’ skill but to certify their intelligence, work ethic, and
conformity-in other words, to signal the qualities of a good employee.

Surely there’s more point to it than that – help! Perhaps an English educationalist can extol the real
value of education?

“What is education
for?’ My honest answer: ‘storage for children’ with a follow up answer ‘and
while they are there we may as well give them a bunch of experiences that we
hope will be helpful for them now and in the future”

Wow! Education is a time filler! But how do we ascertain what
are the best experiences?

curriculum defines “standards and curricula as coherent if they are articulated
as a sequence of topics and performances that are logical and reflect the sequential
or hierarchical nature of the content’
Professor Bill Schmidt in A Coherent Curriculum, 2002

I think I’m heading towards a largely incoherent model

‘Curriculum matters
for without common educational objectives, there is no measure of educational
outcomes, no educational research, no pooling of resources to address provision
at the systematic level.’

– sensible enough except I wonder
if commonality is going to be one of the casualties of change? Thirty years on,
are we going to just accept the national curriculum is immutable, too big to
tangle with except in a piecemeal fashion.
Not if JL Dutaut has anything to do with it:

‘Imagine the education system giving
birth to fraternal twins. One we will name after their departed sibling:
national curriculum. The other, we will name community curriculum. We will
raise them both in a loving, caring environment, and give them both the same
opportunity to flourish according to their own distinct personalities. And we
will raise them with faith in each other, in the spirit of all “Great
Debates” (and all great marriages) – preferring consensus over a sense of
victory, legacy over immediacy, and empowerment over accountability. It’s a beautiful dream, isn’t it? JL

trouble with it – you’ve spotted it? –
is that it’s a dream. Dreams aren’t much good where we are going. Education has
to have relevance to children, but also to parents and communities and the idea
of having a community curriculum may be the adoption of common values,
aspirations and a sense of being on an educational journey together. At the
same time we are beset with difficulties staffing our schools and are off
exporting from countries with similar shortages and much greater need. But
meanwhile we neither value our teacher properly, in status, support or in
monetary terms, nor properly recognise the influence of a teacher. We should
listen to Henry Adams who wrote

teacher affects eternity
; he can never tell
where his influence stops’

Or Terry

“They looked like tinkers, but there wasn’t
one amongst them who could mend a kettle. What they did was sell invisible
things. And after they sold what they had, they still had it. They sold what
everyone needed, but didn’t often want. They sold the key to the universe to
people who didn’t know it was locked.’
Terry Patchett’s description of teachers

but Terry, we’ve been told if we can’t measure it, it has no worth, that it has
to be tangible. And how long will they allow us to peddle things they don’t
want if they don’t understand their value? But I’m with you!

‘Someday, in the
distant future, our grandchildren’s grandchildren will develop a new equivalent
of our classrooms. They will spend many hours in front of boxes with fires
glowing within. May they have the wisdom to know the difference between light
and knowledge.’

– I recognise my apple mac as a box with a fire glowing within. Will it know
the difference?

‘Our education
system is cracked and broken. We need to let some light in
’ (anon)

who said this?

‘There is a crack
in everything / that’s how the light gets in’

the muse!

‘Education is not
the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire’
Yeats (attrib)

bet Yeats wished he’d said it because it makes sense even if it has been
hi-jacked by educationalists who do the opposite

‘Give us a light,


bridge too far? Well, it’s clear that what we have isn’t working. On this
subject, two of my former students wrote the following, describing the
secondary school experience as a world removed from what they had experienced:

‘I have vivid
memories of beginning secondary school; I was shocked at how my new peers did
not seem to have the same independence as me, both inside and outside the
classroom. Not only did I ask more questions than them, but if I were to
respond to a teacher’s request or statement asking “why?” I was perceived to be
both troublesome and a disturbance to the class. This continued until the end
of my time at secondary school.’

‘I did not get on
with the British Education system. It’s focus on memorization, ticking boxes
and ironing out children’s idiosyncracies has left me deeply frustrated and
(A* student / Cambridge)

(nb this followed her primary years which she described as ‘the
brightest example of how I believe learning should be. It was the happiest
experience I had whilst in school, allowing me to develop both creatively and
academically in a pressure-free environment.’

Pretty damning, albeit from a rather small sample. But it is
clear that too much front-loading of information without space for discussion
just doesn’t work anymore than does shutting out the light of enquiry and

Worse, there are long-term dangers in all of this that we often
see in some very well-educated people whose learning has actually stunted them.

‘Your mind, my dear
Mansfield,’ he told her once, ‘is uncluttered. There’s not the usual lumber –
religious, political, social.’ They were having lunch together in a restaurant
not far from the British Museum.
‘This is the nicest possible way of telling me I’m empty-headed.’
‘I would say unspoiled.’
‘An empty vessel into which you can pour . . . .’
‘No. A rational creature, to whom I can offer . . .’
‘Well . . .’ She smiled her gratitude for a compliment gracefully delivered.
‘I’m not sure it’s true, but if it is, it’s because I’m a citizen of nowhere. I
learned very little in New Zealand; but because that’s where I began, what I’m
taught here I don’t always accept or believe. Nothing ever seems gospel, you
‘The social imprint is thin.’ His eyes were bright, eager. ‘People of my
sort – Ottoline, Brett, Huxley – we have a lot to unlearn. Too much was laid on
us too early. We grow up fettered.’
(Katherine Mansfield and
Bertrand Russell in conversation from C K Stead’s novel, ‘Mansfield.)

– My underlining. I firmly believe this, that you can learn too
much and grow up fettered and lose the ability to think for yourself. It takes
a writer of fiction to deliver the truth.

‘What content we
teach (& how we teach it) in forward-thinking schools is radically
changing, but human kindness & empathy are subjects that will stand the
test of time as we look to the curriculum of the future.’

with this, but hard to teach and harder to measure – this is why we need to
teach morals and ethics (NB Get rid of measurement as the measure of
everything) –

‘How can we condone
a system that focuses on only two types of intelligence and then tells 40% of
our kids (mostly from disadvantaged backgrounds) that after eleven years of
study that they are the ones that failed?

un-condonable! A neologism delivered with force!

“model” of individual teachers doing a million different things all
sub-optimally & with systemic inefficiency is a 19th century “cottage
industry” approach to a mass product (school education). How many hours
are wasted on unnecessary duplication of lessons, worksheets, etc.’

– the role of teachers has changed, but in the wrong way, taking
them away from children, instead of in the other direction. They need to get
back to having more time with children and less time doing bookwork and

“The top three
skills needed in 2020 are complex problem solving, critical thinking and
Carl Robert TES IBCP in
an article from the Education Policy Institute (EPI) ‘Educating the Economic
Future’ The World Economic Forum

all should be an implicit (nb not explicit) part of any curriculum

“New technologies
seem to be moving towards a smaller proportion of very well paid jobs, and a
long tail of less well-paid and precarious jobs.”

This is a societal problem, but one that has to be considered in any new

“Technology will
provide the essential tools of the trade that will support teachers, allow them
to manage logistical challenges of (inter alia) personalisation at scale &
enhance their professional status.”

– This I need to know more about. Clearly with quantum computers
mechanical learning and AI will increase the pace of change.

“There will be as
many changes between 2016 and 2022 due to exponential technology growth as
between 1900 and 2000.”
Peter Diamandis

-how education reacts to this (or chooses not to) is an issue in

We don’t live in
the age of standardization, we live in the age of customization.”
Guatam Khetrapai

we have to counter this

must we throw out the baby with the bath water – so much of what we do, in our
schools and curriculum, is there because it works. Hard work and high
(realistic) expectations should be encouraged.

328 studies over 50 years show that direct
instruction (structured guidance for teachers, teaching discrete skills before
application, daily checks on learning, regular testing for mastery) has
consistent, large positive effects on student achievement’

– Dylan Wiliam quoting Jean Stockard, Timothy W. Wood,
Cristy Coughlin et al The Effectiveness
of Direct Instruction Curricula: A Meta-Analysis of a Half Century of Research


“…in 2018, there is still a
fundamental duty to teach students content: concepts, facts and principles.
Taught by teachers trained as experts in that content, with all the status and
resources and professional development that we would demand in any other expert
Alan Finkel Australia’s Chief

we mustn’t flog students whose lives are already overfilled. In this I would
disagree with Barnaby lenon, Chairman of ISC who advised students studying for
GCSE and A Levels to

“Plan to work seven
hours a day most of the Easter break”.

why we call it a break, right? Whatever we do, don’t give students time to
think or relax! And let’s keep focus on the subjects that are going to provide
employment because that’s what education is about – so they say.

“We don’t read
and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are
members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And
medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to
sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive
John Keating (Robin Williams)
“Dead Poets Society”, 1989

but a reminder of the importance of the humanities, of music and art that
should sit at the heart of education. Yet beware the liberal progressive who
has wrought such damage and still holds sway over large tracts of the UK
education industry:

“The saddest thing about the progressive movement is that it
hurts the very people it wants to help,”
Katharine Birbalsingh

we should not be afraid of change – it just needs to be measured and pertinent.
For we must always look forward:

We’re worried that many
young learners are being educated for the past instead of the future. We must
not risk them being failed by obsolete education systems, leaving them
dependent and poor
Dr Mmantsetsa Marope, director of
UNESCO’s International Bureau of Education

One of the prompts from above – so we need to take it seriously!

‘Timely and
continuous learning will determine who wins and who loses from the 21century’s
industrial revolution.’
Dr Mmantsetsa Marope

-Don’t say we weren’t warned!

‘We must develop
people who know how to learn. That’s the most important competency, underpinning
a person’s ability and agility to adapt to fast changing contexts of the 21st century.’
Mmantsetsa Marope, director of UNESCO’s International Bureau of Education

-Learning is no longer the preserve of schools and universities.
It has to become a life-long habit and we have to teach that habit

‘Change will be
mainly fuelled by human innovation and ingenuity.’
Dr Mmantsetsa
Marope, director of UNESCO’s International Bureau of Education

– is our system allowing for the identification and nurturing of
innovation and ingenuity? Or does this happen outside of / despite the

‘Start designing
your own education you can courses from the best universities in the world for
free. Start educating yourself. Find your tribe. Deep immersion. Connect with
people like us.’
Guatam Khetrapai

This is now; blended education is already making inroads into traditional
schooling and changing the role and function of teachers.

‘It is only when you
have determined your objectives (curriculum) that one can start to establish
what is the most effective means of achieving them (pedagogy).’
Crispin Weston

– Sensible – we do need to know were we want to end up and
prepare for a journey not some destination (to counter that A Levels, degree,
now we’ve arrived! But where are we and why can’t we even light a fire?)

Maybe part of our formal education should be training
in empathy. Imagine how different the world would be if, in fact, that were
reading writing, arithmetic, empathy.’
Neil deGrasse Tyson

– I think empathy, attitude, purpose, values should underpin any
new curriculum, but should be implicit in good teaching, not bespoke

‘We need a
different kind of education, one that combines deep thinking (head); growth,
character and dialogue (heart); and an ability to solve problems, generate
ideas and engage in the world (hand). School should be, above all else, a place
of learning in all its expansive complexity: learning how to think, learning
how to live, learning how to create.’
Peter Hyman School21 RSA

and this was some years ago and still resonates. As a rule we should not
jettison anything until we are sure we can improve on it and must hold on to
aspects of ‘traditional’ teaching, especially process and procedure that are
still relevant and work. For all the talk of new schools there are some who

all my meetings with people actually hiring graduates, no-one has ever said to
me: “gosh, we don’t have enough people who know how to collaborate”.

what they say to me is: we don’t have enough specialists in software
engineering. We can’t find graduates who are fluent in maths. We have meetings
where three quarters of the people in the room can’t critique a set of numbers
without pulling out a calculator and slowing us down.”

– Alan Finkel Australia’s
Chief Scientist

all the significant issues facing us all, the subject of sustainability of
resources, species, habitats, is at the front of the queue for inclusion in a
new curriculum. From the start of
informal learning, we need to underpin our curriculum in line with Rockstrom’s Planetary
boundaries (and Kate Raworth’s doughnut of social and planetary boundaries) the
world having having moved on from Rostow’s Stages
of Economic Growth model used to
describe and measure the stages of economic growth. No longer should we teach subjects
like Economics and Geography in isolation without consideration of their global
impact. So far, we are not doing very well:

education has failed because it is not keeping pace with environmental
Charles Saylan, Marine Conservationist

– an awareness of environmental and conservation is crucial from
a very young age and must be central to any curriculum.

The question of ethics pervades every part of our life from when
venture capitalists get going finding new projects to maximise profits for
shareholders to politicians abusing expenses. After all,

‘Selling our waste to Thailand and arms to the Middle east,
investing as a country in dodgy political and environmental areas and promoting
a programme of importing doctors, teachers and nurses, often from 3rd
world countries that can ill-afford to lose them, is just not right.’

The most important messages we need to embed in the young is an
understanding of what is ethical behaviour, of the concept of cause and
consequence, of being part of a global community, of looking outwards

kills empathy, let alone compassion. When we focus on ourselves, our world
contracts as our problems & preoccupations loom large. But when we focus on
others, our world expands.’

Dr Michelle Borba

-completely agree. Children need encouragement, to be taught, to
think out of themselves, less narcissistic and self-absorbed and develop the idea
of community, charity etc. On that, I
agree with Theodore Dalrymple’s distinction between self-esteem which can lead
to narcissism and self-respect.

The question of who owns your education is key. It certainly
works better when the child is the primary stakeholder:

‘Something really
great about my upbringing was that my parents were very much of the attitude
that you can learn anything better than anyone can teach it to you. In other
words, any curriculum that you design is going to be ten times better than what
someone will design for you. You don’t have to do that rote, prescriptive

Westover, who never attended school until 17 years old now with a PhD from

– I love the quote that you can learn anything better on your
own than anyone can teach it to you (whether that is always true . . . .) It is
at the heart of learning, the love of learning, the desire to learn.

Of course in changing the paradigm of education we need to look
at how the workings of the adolescent brain and the changes that are happening
and the way techology is changing social interaction

“Today’s students are more social and like to
learn in a more unstructured way’

Simon Noakes

At the same time we need to
look at assessment critically and see how it impedes, as well as drives,

‘Schools could have
more opportunity to focus on useful assessment if there were fewer formal
assessment points.
’ Daisy Christodoulou

Hear, hear to that, although there will still be too many for most. Of
course, Artificial Intelligence might just deal to us all. Jess Staufenberg
tells us that

‘AI will soon beat pupils
taught knowledge-based curriculum’

and Ruth Luckin, Professor of Learner-Centred
Design at UCL warns proponents of a
knowledge rich curriculum, (and there are plenty) that

‘Pupils will be unable to
compete with advanced artificial intelligence systems if they are taught a
knowledge-based curriculum.’

While summing up the fuss about examinations
with the categorical statement that

‘AI will be the death of

After all, despite being told that
AI will never capture the child as well as our obsession with test data, we are
already past that point:

A wide range of AI-driven
teaching technologies are already in schools. These include various ‘autonomous interactive robots’ developed
across East Asia. Elsewhere, millions of students now interact with
‘pedagogical agents’ – software designed to provide bespoke advice, support and
guidance about an individual’s learning. Also popular are ‘recommender’
platforms, intelligent tutoring systems and other AI-driven adaptive tutoring –
all designed to provide students with personalised planning, tracking, feedback
and ‘nudges’. Capturing over one million data-points per user, vendors of the
Knewton ‘adaptive learning system’ can claim to
know more about any student’s learning than their ‘real-life’ teacher ever

And a warning from Professor Neil Selwyn of Monash
University that

the obvious sense in preparing for an increasingly automated future, education
continues to be one of the least future-focussed
sectors there is

we need to take apart everything we do and ask ‘why’ and accept that with new
and more intrusive algorithms, assessment and measurement will change. In turn,
education – schools – will need to become more flexible and work out ways to
engage students rather than turning education into an endurance test with no worthwhile

“The problem with a one size fits all school model from a
very early age it effectively tells people they are worthless if they cannot
conform or do things in a very specific way.”


“Nobody doesn’t want
to learn. They just don’t necessarily want to learn what you want to teach.”
Will Shone

I can hear some teachers muttering, but an admirable sentiment. So where have
we got to so far. What little nutmeg of inspiration, what polished crystal of
enlightenment can sum up just what a new paradigm might represent and what its
primary goal might be

‘Helping other
people or a sense of purpose – those are the only things I have personally
found that can give me any kind of sustenance’
Russell Brand to John Bishop

yes, it takes Russell Brand to get to the very point of existence

Unconditional Offers

Education Posted on Thu, July 26, 2018 11:31:05

Of Course it’s the Money, Stupid!

The increase
in the number of unconditional places being awarded at universities from 2985
in 2013 to 67,195, an increase of more than 2100% threatens, in the words of Sam
Gyimah, the universities minister to ‘undermine
the credibility of higher education’
. While he is right to feel concerned, perhaps
he might also take time to reflect on the causes of such an implosion: the
fault, after all, doesn’t lie just at the
doors of the universities, but is symptomatic of a system that has long
predicated university as the culmination of an school system based on a
competitive business model governed by supply and demand.

was always thus, no doubt, but in recent years, with the decentralisation of
schools and funding cuts, all education institutions have been compelled to exercise
much tighter control over the supply of money and seeing their business as,
first and foremost, results driven.

schools, historic charities but more often these days hard–nosed, business
operations with boards packed with
influential alumni and successful businessmen who have been running their
schools with this mind-set for ages, riding out the storms, working on
efficiencies and replacing a slightly flagging Old Boy network with facilities
superior to any competitor. Their very existence depends on getting students
through the door in an increasingly hostile climate. But state education was never a business, depending on academic
results alone. Trying to replicate the independent sector, with the
growth of free schools and academies, but without the wherewithal and freedom
to do so effectively does not work, especially when real-term funding is under
constant pressure. Yet the measures applied are much the same: academic success,
schools are told, depends upon results and consequent roll growth. Between 2000
and 2010, the education budget doubled without producing a commensurate
improvement in results. Since that time, we have entered a time, epitomised by
league tables that has embraced results as the be-all and end-all without
sufficient focus on what the system provided for those not suited, by aptitude,
ability or inclination, by such an economic
model. Instead, the drive for results has led to a burgeoning education
industry that has responded to the pressure placed on staff and schools to get
the best results for students, whether the subjects chosen, or the pressure
applied, is in the best interests of the children or not. The results have
been growing incidences of cheating and
malpractice and examination boards, all of which are profit driven (not just
Edexel which is owned by the publishers, Pearsons), persuading schools to shop
with them; or by any of a growing number of panacea that schools are tempted to
buy into. As a result, the number of
students being tutored has skyrocketed, as have exclusions, while the incidence
of stress and depression in the young has also continued to increase under the
threat of league tables which continue to persuade schools to make decisions
that are at best expedient, yet more often than not working against the best
interests of children. Academic performance and the accumulation of data from
Key Stage One onwards is directed unwaveringly at A Levels and university
entrance. It may have made schools lean and more business like, but at a huge

part of education is now full of bindweed, of contrary advice, of
administrative overload. Teachers and parents are assailed by an educational
publishing industry (‘here’s ten must-read books for your summer holidays’) or
examination boards, driven by profit and loss; whether it is heads, ignoring
experienced and well-qualified teachers because they add too much to their
staffing costs or worse, driving out older teachers on trumped up capability
charges, the purpose is the same, to drive down costs, even if the salaries of
some ‘super heads’ makes a mockery of
such intentions. Or else it is the effects of a burgeoning advisory and
conference industry, set up to improve staff by offering courses in
professional development, but run by independent providers and consultancies,
each squeezing their piece out of the education grant.

is fine, but not when it is driven by the need to produce grades required for university
admission rather than a wider, more balanced curriculum; nor when it is to do
with universities simply trying to stay afloat and maximise their income; nor,
even more pointedly, when it compels schools to act against the best interests
of children. It is sad when it is the creative subjects that are squeezed out
by the demands of an avaricious exam system that needs data to graze on.

universities are responding in their own way to an education system that has
been made excessively competitive, excessively market-driven, with all the good
and bad that that involves by looking after their own interests rather than
those of the sector – or the students; perhaps that is the real issue that needs

Key article on Curriculum

Curriculum Posted on Wed, July 04, 2018 18:06:15

Creating a New
Curriculum – Answers on a Postcard

‘All major systems in
the world are experiencing disequilibrium. The challenge of the times we live
in is being felt everywhere; but education seems to be faring worse than most,
and is responding very slowly to the challenges.’
Dr Lesley Murrihy

‘The emergence of the
digital age, the growth of artificial intelligence, and the huge social
disruption that these entail have had fundamental effects both on our
relationship with knowledge and on the world of work. Yet school-based
education has hardly acknowledged this disruptive change.’

Last October, Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman, wrote a
paper which discussed findings from recent research on the curriculum. In it,
she provided her own definition viz ‘at the very heart of education sits the
vast accumulated wealth of human knowledge and what we choose to impart to the
next generation: the curriculum.’ Later, she alluded to a number of related
issues – vocational education; teaching to the test; the narrowing of the
curriculum, especially in Key Stage 3; and the importance of the Ebacc before
ending with the observation that ‘expertise in and focus on the curriculum had

The response was not slow in coming and debate has waxed ever
since. Initially, her attack on the culture of teaching to the test and
encouraging schools to show initiative by interpreting the curriculum was
welcomed, but there were soon rumbles. It was noted, for instance, that her
definition of the curriculum was not consistent with that given by her deputy,
Sean Harford last year with its three stages of intent, implementation and
impact / achievement. Crispin

Weston joined the debate with a paper entitled ‘Why Curriculum
Matters’ (sub-titled a response to Tim Oates, Dylan William and Daisy
Christodoulou) in which he criticised their views of the curriculum while
offering his own, a process being undertaken in three articles under the
heading of ‘Untangling the Curriculum.’ Apart from wrestling with the
definition, Weston was sceptical of the call for teachers to be more involved
in helping shape the curriculum stating ‘If the experts cannot sort out what
curriculum means, there is not a cat-in-hell’s chance that thousands of
isolated schools will be able to succeed.’

All of which is a long-winded way of suggesting that it may be
time to introduce some fresh thinking on the curriculum without the risk of
being drawn into debates over data and definition in some naval-gazing twitter
feed. Perhaps it is time to approach the curriculum anew, even if it involves
dismantling and rebuilding the education paradigm we are comfortable with. We
have waited long enough for experts to sort out a workable model moving
forward, but too much research and data has been focused on improving the
current paradigm, rather than looking at ways of reinventing it in a form that
may better meet the needs of children here and now. Dr Lesley Murrihy, in
advocating such a change, recently wrote ‘It is time for those of us in
education to stop simply commenting and to start creating proposals, to test
models and to look to hybrid solutions that take account of the complex nature
of the 21st century and of education and create positive sum outcomes’ asking
the question ‘If we, ourselves, cannot demonstrate this very same creativity by
creating solutions, how can we model this for our students?

How indeed? When we follow the education debate on social media,
it is hard to escape the view that a great deal of energy is being wasted along
the binary spectrum of skills vs. knowledge, growth mindset vs. fixed mindset,
STEM subjects vs. the arts or numerous similar debates, or by mining down into
cognitive bias, the place of technology in assessment, parenting and so on,
each thesis invariably accompanied by a new book for the exhausted teacher to read
at their leisure. Perhaps, just perhaps, it is time to stop dealing in the
finer points of interpretation, with nuances of meaning, shifting stances and
arguments about what is research and what is opinion sidestep the jargon and
hyperbole with such clichés as ‘smashing glass ceilings’ or ‘levelled playing
fields’ inhabited by helicopter parents and the snowflake generation. Perhaps
it is time for a more imaginative vision.

Does much of the current education debate we find in social media
help? In filling in the detail, yes, but in the larger sense, not so much. I am
not alone in hearing the fingernails on the chalkboards as teachers scream for
something more than endless analysis and proselytising? Something that
recognises why our curriculum is not working for too many of our children, why
its obsession with data and grades is distorting our teaching and why the
numbers of teachers leaving the profession keep increasing for reasons that
seem obvious, but for elucidation include ever-expanding workloads; more
bureaucracy; more pressure for results and assessment targets; greater social
and pastoral roles; the failure of successive governments to offer sufficient
separation between education and the
state; and the lack of support and status accorded to the profession.

So what am I suggesting? Not another curriculum review, or more
think tanks and debate over definition and degree, but a return to the
essential question, ‘what is the best education we can give our children’. It
should not be an exercise in semantics where we get hung up on debating what is
‘best’ (or ideal), in the first instance, but it should challenge us to risk
suspending, even abandoning our views on whether our curriculum works or not.
It may be that we need to establish some fresh foundations, thereby embedding a
different attitude towards education, towards the environment, towards
community, perhaps a whole new ethical framework or paradigm, that identifies
the impediments to change (which includes funding, inevitably, as well as vested
interests of the sector, inertia and uncertainty brought about by the advances
in nanotechology, brain research and technology; social stratification (as
pernicious as ever); and political will). We need to address the inequality of
opportunity, the shortcomings in teacher training and the adversarial nature
and irrelevance of education to too many children. What is needed is not merely
a bank of ideas to dip in and out of, but the answer to the question, ‘what
values, knowledge, understanding, and skills do we want for our children? ‘
Putting our prejudices about selection and what constitues a good education to
one side and uncoupling the carriages of curriculum and assessment may help us
see just what works and what doesn’t.

At the risk of sounding philodoxical, in looking for answers to
some very elemental questions, it is always better to put something down for
others to flay. There are too many raised voices for us to do otherwise. We
should rightly be concerned about the decline in the influence of the family
and church and commensurate lack of values and ethics exhibited by many of our
‘well-educated’ leaders (it is shameful they can still talk about ‘good schools
and bad schools’ without blushing). We should recognise the needs of the
increasing number of children for whom school is a holding bay because it isn’t
giving them the courses, the skills and knowledge or the future they need.
Citizenship, values, attitudes, environmental awareness – what we would broadly
see as constituting ethical behaviour should be an implicit part of learning
from the first day of school, so that they come to the more formal part of
learning better prepared. Instead of the push for longer schools days, we could
look at shorter and more targeted teaching time (I often wonder at those who
advocate longer school days when so little classroom time we have is used
effectively). We need discipline in our classrooms and schools, preferably
greater self-discipline and higher expectations, but conversely less pressure
and fewer parents and adults over-complicating their world by too much
information. Children don’t eschew hard work, but they tend to avoid it when
they see it has little relevance to their lives or is done at the behest of the
teacher and school rather than in their evident best-interests.

We all accept technology will play an ever greater part in
teaching and assessment, and that all courses will soon be available to
students on-line and that with more blended education, teaching may be shared
between teachers and facilitators or specialist tutors. We

should examine what we mean by a knowledge rich curriculum in
subjects such as History where the selection of what history we choose to teach
is hugely significant. We should even question the value in dividing learning
into subjects at all levels of schooling. We should push for the end of
academic selection (nothing is more irritating than those who equate selection
with academic rigour) and provide for more opportunities for SEND children by
recognising and meeting their specific needs. We should recognise such
attributes as a sense of purpose, manners, good communication skills and a good
work ethic as trumping the data that sometimes sits on children like a
straightjacket. And we should focus on the cause of issues such as the current
mental health epidemic and address them at their roots rather than just
offering aftercare.

Six years ago, Laura McInerney suggested a rolling curriculum
review, an idea which might be worth revisiting, but before we even get that far
we need to ensure we have in place a new philosophy of education that can sweep
children up and inspire them, that will help them see education as useful and
relevant and help make better citizens. We have dumped so much on our children
– stress, ambition, guilt, pressure. Now, we need to change the goals which
centre around money, jobs and individual achievement to recognise the diversity
of human types, qualities and abilities and extol the value of living well in a
new world in which ‘every person matters.’

Why Fundamental Change is Needed

General Posted on Sun, June 24, 2018 09:43:01

“Indeed, when did we just roll over and accept that there is nothing to be done about the way things are? Why do we fret over a Progress 8 score that will always put certain demographics to the back of the table? Why is it now commonplace for some schools to refuse to admit children with SEND (especially the more difficult types) because of the cost implications and the impact on outcomes? Why have some schools steadfastly refused to consider that flexible working may be one solution for the recruitment and retention crisis, or that going part-time is something you can do as an effective leader?

There is a hegemonic dialogue that too many have bought into. It suggests that school leadership is more about winning battles rather than considering what the battle is about.”

Important questions asked by Keziah Featherstone and more reason for a new paradigm of education, to looking anew rather than playing toy soldiers.

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