It’s not fair: so exam grades in 2021 will need to be based on internal assessment

With covid-related absence from schools and colleges at a high level and some students in years 11 and 13 having being at home for as much as four weeks out of seven in the first half of the autumn term, the time has come to ask whether fair exams can take place at all in 2021 or whether, with more time than in 2020, a better plan of assessment should be used to generate grades that fairly reflect achievement.

The secretary of state said in October: ‘Fairness to pupils is my priority. … Exams are the fairest way of judging a student’s performance so they will go ahead, underpinned by contingency measures developed in partnership with the sector.’ The government and Ofqual undertook to ‘consider measures needed to address any potential disruption’.

Their self-imposed period of six weeks for this deliberation is now at an end, so we can expect an announcement imminently, although it is already extremely late for schools and colleges to prepare for – and help their students prepare for – changes in exams and assessment.

Fairness is the overarching principle on which an exam system should be judged. It is Gavin Williamson’s own declared priority. The proposed delay of three weeks in the summer exams will not create a more level playing field for all students. It will be of little help to students who have missed chunks of their learning during the two years of their courses. It fails the test of fairness. In some respects, it will make the situation less fair between students.

Fair assessment means fairness between students in the same centre; between students in different centres; between students in different years; between institutions that are being held accountable; between different parts of the country; and, this year especially, between disadvantaged students and others, and between students with different amounts of access to technology and time in school or college. (See: ‘Is Assessment Fair?’,Isabel Nisbet and Stuart Shaw, Sage Publications, 2020)

Fair assessment is valid, reliable and free from bias. That is to say, it asks appropriate questions to test knowledge across the whole syllabus; it is consistent from year to year; and does not penalize a student because of gender, race, ethnicity, socio-economic status or religion. (See: ‘Assessment Bias. How to banish it’, W.J. Popham, 2010). 

The ten-point plan I suggested in a blog on 1 September ( represents a fair way forward for 16- and 18-year olds:

  1. Establish an independent inquiry on 2020 results.
  2. Set up a parallel professional group to consider the most appropriate 2021 assessments.
  3. Develop a covid-proof exam that recognises the likelihood of further lockdown interruptions to some students’ schooling and acknowledges that not all candidates will have been able to cover all of the syllabus.
  4. Grading should include elements of both external and internal assessment.
  5. Train key staff in internal assessment at external standards.
  6. Train Lead Assessors in each exam centre (at least one per centre; more in large centres).
  7. Base internal assessment on a range of work across the full gamut of knowledge and skills in each subject – not just on ‘coursework assessments’ or mock exams – to increase validity of assessment.
  8. Lead Assessors should oversee grading in their own institutions and moderate grading in other centres.
  9. There should be no performance tables in 2021.
  10. Establish a consultation on a revised accountability scheme for 2021.

In my last blog at the start of September, it seemed that a combination of external and internal assessment would provide the most valid and reliable – the fairest – assessment. Thirteen weeks later, the large number of students missing time in school or college has changed the picture very considerably.

The arguments for external exams as the most reliable and fairest means of assessment – common tasks done under the same conditions and marked externally to a common mark scheme – cannot apply fairly to all students in 2021. Some may even be isolating at home while the exams are taking place.

Learning lessons from 2020, it is clear that moderated internal assessment – centre-assessed grades (CAGs) – will not only be needed to complement external exams, but may well be the only viable form of assessment that can be carried out with any degree of fairness to level the playing field between those students who have missed chunks of time in school and those who have had no covid-enforced absences, and between those with access to very different IT facilities at home. Ofqual has admitted that applying statistical formulae, such as comparable outcomes, to exam results will not be enough to compensate for learning loss for all students.

These centre-assessed grades will need to be standardised to national standards, which will have been clearly communicated to centres by Ofqual and awarding bodies, and moderated to meet those standards by trained experts. There is more time to do this for 2021 than there was in 2020.

Training a cohort of Lead Assessors – at least one in each exam centre and more in larger centres – will provide public assurance of the quality of the processes and procedures used to standardise and moderate assessment, both within the Lead Assessors’ own centres and in the other institutions where they carry out moderation checks.

The Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors (CIEA) (which I used to chair) has an established suite of qualifications for assessment professionals and Lead Assessors could be accredited using CIEA standards.

As Colin Hughes, the new CEO of exam board AQA, said recently, none of the possible solutions solve the whole problem that covid is causing for exams in 2021. Exams systems, he reasoned, will not be able to compensate for the varied levels of disruption and unfairness suffered this year by different students.

Nor will internal assessment – even when externally moderated by trained assessors – be able to solve all the problems, but it does allow for a broader assessment and can better take into account the amount of time missed and the parts of the syllabus not covered in a way that external exams cannot.

A combination of external and internal assessment may – just about – still be the best route forward, but with a post-Christmas spike in covid infections likely to follow the relaxation of the lockdown rules over the festive period and further uncertainty being the last thing that schools and colleges need at the present time, this may be the time to pull the plug on exams 2021 and turn professional and political attention to the best way in which rigorous, fair centre-assessed grades can be produced.

A 10-point plan for exams and assessment in 2021

The call for a delay of a month in A levels and GCSEs in 2021 is a sticking plaster, not a solution. Merely delaying the exams is a woefully inadequate response to the situation. Giving fair grades to 16- and 18-year olds next year requires deeper and urgent reflection on the events around the awarding of grades in 2020 and more radical measures for 2021 and beyond.
Fairness not only means being fair between students in the same school or college, and between students in different institutions, but importantly between students taking the same exam in different years.
With courses truncated because of lockdown and in covid-affected schools and colleges, and many students not having studied the whole syllabus, there certainly needs to be more choice of questions in all examinations. But this too is an insufficient change in the present situation.
Only a major re-think of assessment at A level and GCSE will produce fairness between students and across years.
The UK has become too reliant on external examinations. If we had a system incorporating both external and internal assessment, we would have been better placed to face the problems of 2020 and will be better prepared to give fair grades to students in 2021.
External exams alone cannot – and never could – produce a reliable and valid grade to reflect students’ knowledge and skills across the whole syllabus. Especially in 2021, exams need to be complemented by centre assessment, moderated to meet agreed national standards, with students producing work that reflects their understanding and achievement in all the parts of the syllabus they have studied.
Lessons need to be learned from the events and policy changes of the summer of 2020 and, at the same time, planning must begin urgently to establish a fair system for 2021, incorporating external and internal assessment and training a large cohort of assessors to provide public assurance of the quality of the processes and procedures used to moderate assessment within their own and other institutions.
Fairness extends to schools and colleges too, which means that accountability measures must also change.
A ten-point plan is urgently needed if the UK is to be ready for a fair covid-affected assessment of 16- and 18-year olds in 2021:
1. Establish an independent inquiry on 2020 results.
2. Set up a parallel professional group to consider the most appropriate 2021 assessments.
3. Develop a covid-proof exam that recognises the likelihood of further lockdown interruptions to some students’ schooling and acknowledges that not all candidates will have been able to cover all of the syllabus.
4. Grading should include elements of both external and internal assessment.
5. Train key staff in internal assessment at external standards.
6. Train Lead Assessors in each exam centre (at least one per centre; more in large centres).
7. Base internal assessment on a range of work across the full gamut of knowledge and skills in each subject – not just on ‘coursework assessments’ or mock exams – to increase validity of assessment.
8. Lead Assessors should oversee grading in their own institutions and moderate grading in other centres.
9. There should be no performance tables in 2021.
10. Establish a consultation on a revised accountability scheme for 2021.

In order to provide public and professional confidence across the education system, Lead Assessors could be accredited by the Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors (CIEA).

With the vast proportion of students remaining in education or training beyond 16, questions are rightly being asked about the usefulness of the GCSE, which could be adapted from an industrial-scale exam operation to a moderated internal check on progress and a gateway assessment to the next stage of education or training. That may be too big a step to take in the short time available before decisions are needed about assessment in 2021, but it should be high on the national agenda.

Covid-19 has caused enormous damage. Following the ten-point plan above and extending its lessons into future years could mean that the virus would have at least one benefit – a more valid and reliable assessment system in the UK that provides fairness to all students.

The future of the exams system: Moving to a more valid and reliable system

Never waste a crisis.
Coronavirus is the biggest crisis ever experienced by the qualifications system in the UK. Short-term measures have been put in place by Ofqual for 2020 and schools and colleges have submitted their estimated grades and rank orders for GCSE and A-level. But what will happen in 2021 if coronavirus prevents a prompt start to the new academic year or if a second spike in covid-19 infections occurs and young people have to miss school for a second prolonged period? Even if we are spared that further disaster, how can results be produced that fairly and equitably reflect the ability and effort of those who will be in year 6, year 11 and year 13 in 2020-21?
This is a crisis that needs to be used to develop a better system of examinations that does not rely entirely on end-assessment and which uses high-quality moderated teacher judgements in ways that increase both the validity and reliability of the grades achieved by the students.
It is time for the profession to take a lead and not just rely on the government to do what is necessary.
In 2020, coronavirus has forced the system to produce results based on teacher judgements. This has had to be devised by Ofqual in a very short time. Contingency planning needs to be carried out for the 2021 examination series. However, the real gain would be to use the current situation to do some major re-thinking. For 2021 onwards, why can’t we start now to plan for a grading system in which teacher judgements play a much larger part?
Then, at least, the coronavirus pandemic could be said to have had at least one positive outcome. The crisis would not have been wasted.
In 2004, when I was general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) (it was the Secondary Heads Association (SHA) then), leaders were horrified that the second biggest budget item for schools and colleges after staffing was examination costs – fees paid to awarding bodies, salaries of exams officers and associated staff, and the cost of invigilation.
According to a report in 2005 from PricewaterhouseCoopers, commissioned by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), the total cost of the English examination system at that time was £610 million per year. (
There had to be a better way, school and college leaders reasoned.
My experience as a comprehensive school maths teacher was that invariably I was able to predict the grades my students would achieve, based on the evidence in my mark book of their work over the two years of the course. So why do we need such an expensive examinations industry to confirm what we, as professionals, already know?
For the answer to that question, I recalled a meeting in 1993 with the then minister of state for education, Eric Forth, whose opinions were as flamboyant as his ties and pocket handkerchiefs. The members of the SHA delegation that met Forth that day were arguing for greater weight to be placed on teacher assessment, but Forth was dismissive. ‘We know that teachers cheat’, he said and sought to move to the next item on the agenda.
In that moment, I realised that, if examination grades were to rely more on teacher assessment, we had to design a system that built in a high degree of professionalism in order to guarantee the accuracy of the grades. The subsequent SHA policy paper proposed a cohort of chartered education assessors, externally accredited to judge students’ in-course work to external standards. The paper proposed that there should be at least one qualified (chartered) education assessor in each secondary school and, subsequently, one for each group of primary schools.
Dr Ken Boston, the CEO of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), quietly took up the idea and established a working group to create what became the Institute of Educational Assessors. The work was well under the radar in order to avoid frightening the ministerial horses, although Jacqui Smith, schools’ minister at the time, was supportive. The notion of chartered assessors was supported in the Tomlinson Report and 14 to 19 exam reforms which took place around 2004 and the Institute was granted its Royal Charter in 2008, becoming independent from the QCA (by then the QCDA) in 2010 when it lost its central government funding.
The CIEA (, of which I was chair from 2011 to 2014, is an independent membership body, providing training for all kinds of organisations that use assessment. Its work is mainly with school and college teachers and lecturers, but it also provides training to companies and professional bodies that want to improve the quality of their assessment work.
So, where might the CIEA fit into a reformed assessment and examinations system? And how can the profession take the initiative in forging a new system?
The Norwood Committee in 1943 recommended that exams should be set and marked by teachers. When A-levels and O-levels were introduced in 1951, it was hoped that they would be phased out, as teachers gained greater experience of assessment at these levels. But this never happened and, as so often happens in education policy, the pendulum has swung way too far in the opposite direction.
True, the coursework element of exams grew for a time and external moderation was introduced to maintain standards. But coursework, eventually affected by plagiarism and inadequately moderated, never reached its potential which, in the hands of good teachers, is the perfect adjunct to good teaching.
The best teacher I ever worked with, Len Rowe, used 100 per cent coursework for English GCSE for many years, maintaining that the students’ folders contained a wider range of evidence of their ability across a range of skills in English than could be exhibited in any written examination. When political trust in coursework disappeared and 100 per cent coursework GCSEs were abolished in the early 1990s, Len retired at the age of 56, wanting to be no part of the new system and writing a searing letter to Lord Griffiths, then the head of the exams quango, SEAC – a sad loss to the profession.
After the Secretary of State announced that the 2020 exam series in England would be cancelled, Ofqual worked fast to consult on, and announce, a process that attempts to recognise as fairly as possible the ability and attainment of students. The Ofqual proposals were broadly welcomed by the profession, with Geoff Barton saying that ASCL supported the grading plans, which ‘make the best out of a difficult situation’.
Schools and colleges were asked to supply awarding bodies with:
– a centre assessment grade for every student in each of their subjects, based on sources of evidence such as classwork, internal assessments, assignments and mock exam results;
– the rank order of students within each grade for each subject;
– a declaration from the Head of Centre.
Awarding bodies will put this information through a statistical standardisation procedure, which will include the prior attainment of the students at cohort level, and the results of the candidate’s school or college in previous years.
The rank order will take priority over the centre’s estimated grades.
This system is a reasonable response to the 2020 crisis, but it is not intended to be – and should not be – a permanent solution. It has, however, demonstrated that teacher assessment can play a central role in determining the grades of candidates.
A considerable weight falls on Heads of Centres to verify the grades and rank orders submitted to awarding bodies. As Mick Walker, an experienced assessment practitioner and now vice-chair of the CIEA, said in a blog in May 2020: ( ‘In schools and colleges that have access to a chartered educational assessor, this process will be enhanced by their knowledge and expertise. Indeed, when the government of the day backed the formation of the CIEA, it was the stated goal that every school should have, or at least have access to, a chartered assessor. If this were the case, we would now have in place a national system of quality assuring this year’s assessments.’
The experience of 2020 tells us that it would be wrong on many levels to return to the previous wholly external exam system. Equally, it would be impossible to move at a stroke to a system based entirely on teacher judgement. It should, however, be possible to devise an examinations system that captures the best of both worlds, with internal and external judgements complementing each other to produce more valid and reliable grades than we have had in recent years.
There is a strong argument for different proportions of internal assessment for different subjects and at different levels. For example, art would have more internal assessment than mathematics; GCSE would have more internal assessment than A-level.
Indeed, GCSE could, and should, be downgraded from a huge examination industry to a progress check for 16-year olds. These issues are for a mature public debate on what an ideal examinations system would look like and, crucially, how it would relate to school and college accountability.
In devising a valid, reliable system for 2021 and beyond, which includes both external and internal assessment, quality assurance of assessments – at centre level – should be the goal of the new system. And this is where the profession can take a lead.
It will require a large cohort of trained and accredited chartered assessors, capable of standardising the grading judgements of teachers, evaluating whether the in-course grade reflects students’ work across the full range of the syllabus. They will ensure that grades fairly represent students’ work and, in particular, that the grades of disadvantaged and BAME students are not under-predicted (as can all too easily happen).
To create this cohort of accredited chartered assessors, the CIEA training programme will need to be scaled up, using sub-contracting and a considerably larger team of trainers. That would not be impossible to plan and implement.
With this training in place, the profession can take the lead in the genesis of a new system by raising the quality of assessment to the level where less reliance needs to be placed on external examinations.
The covid crisis has impacted every part of our lives and has brought pain and loss to so many, but it is too good an opportunity for the education system to waste by returning to the status quo on examinations as soon as provision returns to normal. Change will require a calm debate, focusing on the clear aim of a more valid and reliable system and, as far as possible, free from the political dogma that has been at the root of so much education reform over the last 30 years.

Speech to Learn Academies Trust launch conference, 25 August 2016

The launch conference of a new multi-academy trust (MAT) in South Leicestershire was held in Market Harborough on 25 August 2016. Nearly 300 staff from the 7 schools in the MAT were present to hear from each of the trustees and headteachers about their aims for the Trust. They also heard an inspiring address on learning without limits from Dame Alison Peacock. I made the following speech:

It is a huge privilege to be here this morning, at the launch of our own multi-academy trust. For me, this is a positive and exciting step on my journey in education.

Eight years ago, the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), of which I was general secretary, published a book called Achieving more together: adding value through partnership. School partnerships at the time were often informal and could be dropped at the first sign of trouble. Good ones were few and far between.

You don’t need me to tell you that much has happened in education since 2008 – lots of things we haven’t liked, as well as some good things, not least that the government has acknowledged the power of partnership and the benefits of encouraging schools to work together in more formal arrangements.

Thankfully, the system has moved on from the culture of competition that was prevalent when I was a headteacher in the 1980s and 1990s, when the government believed that schools would improve if they competed more. Politicians set school against school and, inevitably, the hierarchy of schools became sharper and the job more difficult for schools that were not at the top of the hierarchy.

Now, some competition between schools remains – after all, we all want our school to give the best possible education to its children. But I am delighted to see that the national policy climate has largely moved from competition to collaboration and partnership working between schools.

As a governor of St Andrew’s in North Kilworth, where I live, for the last 16 years, I have long recognised that the future for small to medium sized primary schools lies in working together with other schools in formal partnerships. Multi-academy trusts, it seems to me, are exactly the right format for schools like ours. Having spent the last three years exploring local possibilities, I was delighted when the opportunity came for St Andrew’s to become a member of the Learn Academies Trust.

The top criterion for successful school partnerships is having a shared set of values. And as I get to know the schools in this partnership, I have absolutely no doubt that we fulfil this criterion. By putting these values into action together, we can achieve so much more for the children in our schools.

There is plenty of research available now on school partnerships. Evidence tells us that successful partnership working between schools in multi-academy trusts is based on nine essential ingredients:
• Shared values
• Shared aims
• A relentless focus on the quality of teaching, learning and assessment – a compelling curriculum, skilful pedagogy and rich assessment
• A strong belief in the value and potential of every child, no matter what their background
• A deep commitment to professional development across the whole Trust
• Commitment to the success of other schools in the Trust as much as to the success of our own school – one for all and all for one
• Quality assurance. That is, rigorous self-evaluation and peer review of the quality of work in all our schools
• Sharing data and using it analytically to improve our performance, and
• Using resources where they are most needed in the Trust

Every one of us – school staff, governors, trustees – must be completely committed to work together in all these areas.

The Trust – and today’s launch – are all about school improvement. The whole point of coming together is nothing to do with jumping through a hoop created by Ofsted or by the government.

It is because we believe that we are stronger together than apart; that we can achieve more for our children as a group of schools than we can on our own.

To build a good school, Ofsted and government guidelines can be followed; to build an outstanding school requires something different. So it is with a group of schools – and that must be our aim together.

Doing this will need us to grab the opportunities of joining forces
– to focus on the quality of teaching, learning and assessment;
– to have high aspirations and expectations – learning without limits
– to be innovative and to encourage responsible risk-taking; and
– to challenge each other continually to improve.

Our aim must be to spread the best practice in each school across the whole Trust – the best work on phonics, the best literacy and mathematics teaching, the most interesting exploration of science and of the world around us, the best in sport and the arts. In short, we must aim to give the best of everything to every child in our schools.

Our approach must be led by our shared values, creating a sense of Trust identity and shared responsibility for what happens in our own school and in all the other schools in the Trust; to unlock the potential of every child, whatever it takes; to feel as responsible for giving children in other Trust schools outstanding educational opportunities as the children in our own school.

Part of our culture must be to listen: listen to the pupil voice, and listen to the voices of parents, so that we improve our practice and the children improve their learning. That is a really important part of the message we have heard this morning from Alison Peacock.

As members of the Trust, we must be evidence-informed and outward-looking, to other schools in the Trust, to our partner schools in the Affinity Teaching School Alliance, and beyond to excellent practice elsewhere and to the best education research available. Learning about local, regional, national and international best practice will become part of the normal professional life for every one of us, whatever our role.

We may not have as many disadvantaged pupils as some other schools and trusts, but Every Child Matters and every disadvantaged pupil deserves our extra support if they are to succeed in life. It must be part of the moral purpose of all of us that we do what extra is needed to level the playing field for these children.

Evidence shows that poor teaching disproportionately holds back disadvantaged children by about half a year, compared with their more fortunate classmates, whereas excellent teaching disproportionately benefits deprived children. This is an important reason why we must continue to strive for excellence.

I have visited many schools that have academy status and many of them are part of trusts. Lots of these schools are using their status to be innovative and to improve their practice, but not all. Some just continue to jog along in the same way, rejoicing in not being part of the local authority, but not much else. They are missing so much. As a group of 7 schools, we will have more opportunities ourselves, as Trust staff, to develop professionally.

We can achieve more together for all our children than we can as individual schools.

Every school in the partnership – and every member of staff – will be able to both give and take from the Trust: to give of your best and share it with others across the 7 schools, and to take from the best practice elsewhere in order to help to provide the best possible education for every child.

In coming together as Learn Academies Trust for the first time, we must all be determined to make the most of the opportunities offered by the Trust to build an outstanding group of schools. Outstanding in the Ofsted sense, yes, but more important than that, outstanding in the way that every member of staff develops professionally; outstanding in the quality of teaching, learning and assessment; and outstanding in the breadth, depth and quality of education that we give to every child.

This is an immensely exciting opportunity and I look forward to being with you on the journey to making the Learn Academies Trust a successful venture for everyone in the partnership. Together, we will achieve amazing things.

The building blocks of success in schools where disadvantaged pupils have high achievement

Bringing together the conclusions from the NFER report on pupil premium of 2015, the Ofsted survey report of 2013 and the August 2015 blog from my two years as national pupil premium champion, (references to these three documents at the end), I have listed the building blocks of success in schools where disadvantaged pupils are doing well.

These provide a good guide on which to base school strategy for raising the attainment of disadvantaged young people and closing the gap. The points could be used as a checklist of current practice.

School culture
– An ethos of attainment for all pupils
– An unerring focus on high quality teaching
– Clear, responsive leadership, with high aspirations and expectations
– 100 per cent buy-in from all staff, with all staff conveying positive and aspirational messages to disadvantaged pupils
– Evidence (especially the EEF Toolkit) is used to decide on which strategies are likely to be most effective in overcoming the barriers to learning of disadvantaged pupils. Particular consideration is given to high-impact, low-cost strategies.
– Able to demonstrate positive impact of all strategies
– In-depth training for all staff on chosen strategies
– Every effort is made to engage parents/ carers in the education and progress of their child

Individual support
– Identification of the main barriers to learning for disadvantaged pupils
– Individualised approach to addressing barriers to learning and emotional support
– Focus on outcomes for all individual pupils
– Frequent monitoring of the progress of every disadvantaged pupil
– When a pupil’s progress slows, interventions are put in place rapidly
– Teachers know which pupils are eligible for pupil premium
– The needs are recognised of disadvantaged children in specific groups, e.g. high ability pupils, looked-after children

School organisation
– Deployment of the best staff to support disadvantaged pupils – developing the skills of existing teachers and TAs
– Excellent collection, analysis and use of data relating to individual pupils and groups
– Performance management is used to reinforce the importance of this agenda
– Effectiveness of teaching assistants is evaluated and, if necessary, improved through training and improved deployment
– Governors are trained on pupil premium
– Pupil premium funding is ring-fenced to spend on the target group
– Effectiveness of interventions is evaluated frequently and adjustments made as necessary
– A senior leader has oversight of how PP funding is being spent


The pupil premium journey: lessons learned during my two years as National PP Champion

As my two-year stint as National Pupil Premium Champion draws to a close, it feels like the right time to take stock. The champion role, as set out by David Laws, has given me the opportunity to act as an independent conduit between the government and schools. On the one hand, I have fed back to the Department for Education the messages that school leaders have given me about issues they are facing in making an impact with the pupil premium (PP); on the other hand, I have spoken to nearly 15,000 school leaders at 150 conferences and meetings about how best to develop a strategy that fits their schools’ specific needs.

What lessons have I learned during this time? What progress has been made by schools with the PP? Should the government change the PP policy? What are the main challenges for the future? Can the gap be substantially narrowed – at age 11, at age 16, and in the life chances of young people?

What lessons have I learned during this time?

Schools that are most successful in their use of the PP adopt a range of strategies, well targeted at the needs of their pupils. I have noted 12 areas of focus for PP policy and practice in these schools:
– Excellent collection, analysis and use of data relating to individual pupils and groups.
– Unerring focus on the quality of teaching.
– Identification of the main barriers to learning for PP-eligible pupils.
– Frequent monitoring of the progress of every PP-eligible pupil.
– When a pupil’s progress slows, interventions are put in place rapidly.
– Every effort is made to engage parents and carers in the education and progress of their child.
– If poor attendance is an issue, this is addressed as a priority.
– Evidence (especially the Education Endowment Foundation Toolkit) is used to decide on which strategies are likely to be most effective in overcoming the barriers to learning.
– Staff (teachers and support staff) are trained in depth on the chosen strategies.
– 100 per cent buy-in from all staff to the importance of the PP agenda is essential, with all staff conveying positive and aspirational messages to PP-eligible pupils. Performance management is used to reinforce the importance of PP effectiveness.
– Effectiveness of teaching assistants is evaluated and, if necessary, increased through training and improved deployment.
– Governors are trained on PP.

Apart from noting these common characteristics of PP practice in successful schools, I have resisted the temptation to tell schools how to spend the PP, but instead have set out a process for deciding what policies best suit each school’s individual circumstances. This process is summarised in my blog: “Ten point plan on spending the pupil premium successfully” at
The ten steps in this plan are:
Step 1. Set an ambition for what you want your school to achieve with PP funding.
Step 2. The process of decision-making on PP spending starts with an analysis of the barriers to learning for PP pupils.
Step 3. Decide on the desired outcomes of your PP spending.
Step 4. Against each desired outcome, identify success criteria.
Step 5. Evaluate the effectiveness and impact of your current PP strategies and change them if necessary.
Step 6. Research the evidence of what works best.
Step 7. Decide on the optimum range of strategies to be adopted.
Step 8. Staff training in depth.
Step 9. Monitor the progress of PP-eligible pupils frequently.
Step 10. Put an audit trail on the school website for PP spending.

What progress has been made by schools with pupil premium?

Attainment of PP-eligible young people is rising and the gap between their attainment and that of more advantaged pupils is closing. This is happening more quickly at age 11 than at 16, where many other policy factors come into play. The 2015 National Audit Office report on pupil premium (1) made a fair assessment of progress, noting the autonomy that schools have to spend PP and the increasing use of evidence to inform their PP strategies. (The NAO report also noted the £2.4 billion per annum that is allocated by local authorities as deprivation funding, but without the direct accountability that exists for the £2.5 billion PP funding.)

Schools have become more analytical in their use of PP funding, moving away from spending largely on additional teaching assistants and subsidising school trips that Ofsted noted in its 2012 report on PP (2) and addressing the individual needs of pupils in order to increase their readiness to learn.

Schools have also increasingly used the finding of the 2011 Sutton Trust report on teacher impact being proportionately greater for disadvantaged children to spend PP funding on raising the quality of teaching. (3) “Individual need and classroom rigour” is the excellent mantra for one school that is highly successful in raising the attainment of disadvantaged children.

As National Pupil Premium Champion, I have emphasised the need to put special effort into two categories of PP-eligible pupils – looked-after children and bright disadvantaged young people.

The statistics for looked-after children are a scar on our society. 12% of looked-after children achieved 5+ GCSEs at A*-CEM, compared with 53% of others. 33% of care leavers become NEET, compared with 13% of all young people. 6% of care leavers go to university – which is less than the percentage of care leavers who go to prison – compared with 40% of others.

Too many bright PP-eligible children have low expectations thrust upon them and fall behind their less bright advantaged peers. 15% of highly able pupils who score in the top 10% nationally at age 11 fail to achieve in the top 25% at GCSE. Boys, and particularly PP-eligible boys, are most likely to be in this missing talent group. (4)

Should the government change the PP policy?

My short answer to that is No. Pupil premium is a Heineken policy, reaching the disadvantaged children – particularly in small towns and rural areas – that previous policies, such as Excellence in Cities, did not reach.

The government does not tell schools how to spend the money, but holds them to account for the impact they make with it on the progress and attainment of disadvantaged young people. That is a rare example in education of intelligent accountability.

The 2015 Conservative manifesto said that it would continue PP funding, but whether ministers will want to put a Tory gloss on a coalition policy remains to be seen. The new early years PP will – and should – be a priority area.

What are the main challenges for the future?

Headteachers are rightly worried at the effect of other government policies, such as the bedroom tax and the benefits cap, increasing child poverty and making it tougher for schools to close the gap. Cuts in other local support services for disadvantaged young people have made the task of schools more difficult too. It is as if the Department for Education, through the PP, is trying to increase social mobility, while some other government departments are reducing it.

The increasingly difficult school funding situation represents a further major challenge and the temptation for schools to use pupil premium funding to plug other budget gaps should be resisted if disadvantaged children are to receive the additional support that they need.

Can the gap be substantially narrowed – at age 11, at age 16, and in the life chances of young people?

Schools have shown that, with the extra resources of the PP and a strong determination to improve the life chances of all disadvantaged young people, the gap can be narrowed.

Schools need to evaluate regularly the impact of their PP spending and may benefit from an external review. Both for internal and external reviews, school leaders have found the Teaching Schools Guide useful. (5)

The evidence of what works is there for all to see, but it needs to be disseminated. There will be no National Pupil Premium Champion to do this, as I have tried to do since 2013. The Education Endowment Foundation will continue to fly the pupil premium flag, but Regional School Commissioners, local authorities, multi-academy trusts and teaching school alliances will need to have pupil premium at or near the top of their priorities if individual schools are to be adequately supported in their work with disadvantaged young people.

The social, moral and educational case for giving additional support to children born less fortunate than others remains as strong as ever. Every school needs a Pupil Premium Champion.

John Dunford was National Pupil Premium Champion from September 2013 to August 2015

(1) National Audit Office,, June 2015
(2) Ofsted, The most useful Ofsted report on pupil premium appeared in February 2013 and is at See also the July 2014 report at
(3) Sutton Trust,
(4) Sutton Trust, June 2015,
(5) Teaching Schools Council,

Ten-point plan for spending the pupil premium successfully

Schools need to adopt effective strategies to raise the attainment of disadvantaged pupils. There is plenty of evidence about what works well, but not all these successful strategies will be appropriate to the particular context in which a school is working.
The methodology described below sets out a process to help schools decide on the optimum strategies and to maintain efficient and effective use of pupil premium (PP) funding over time. With thought and planning on the part of a school, this money really can make a difference to the lives of disadvantaged children.
£2.5 billion of PP funding in 2014-15 is a lot of money to put into schools for a single initiative. We saw these levels of funding for the national strategies in the post-1997 era, but this is different. This isn’t the government telling schools what to do in increasingly mind-numbing detail, as has been the case so often during the last 30 years; this is the government saying to schools: ‘Increasing social mobility is important for the health of our society and you, the schools, have a key role to play. So we are giving you significant extra funding for every deprived pupil on your roll. We will hold you to account for the impact you make with this money, but we won’t tell you how to do it. Over to you.’ Rarely has school autonomy seemed so big, so important or so scary.
Underpinning the process described below, schools should focus on the quality of teaching. There is solid evidence that poor teaching disproportionately disadvantages deprived children. Equally, evidence tells us that excellent teaching disproportionately benefits them. So high quality teaching must be at the core of all pupil premium work. It follows that it is legitimate to spend PP funding on raising the quality of teaching.
Step 1. Set an ambition for what you want your school to achieve with PP funding.
Some of the schools aiming high express this ambition in terms of becoming one of the 17 per cent of schools in which those on free school meals (FSM) do better than the average for all pupils nationally.
Step 2. The process of decision-making on PP spending starts with an analysis of the barriers to learning for PP pupils.
Barriers to learning might include poor parenting, limited access to language, poor literacy levels, poor attendance, low aspirations, low expectations, narrow experience of life outside school. Each school will want to make its own list.
Step 3. Decide on the desired outcomes of your PP spending.
Schools should decide for themselves what outcomes they are aiming for with PP funding, but these might include: raising attainment of PP-eligible pupils; closing the gap between PP pupils and others in the school; closing the gap between the school’s PP pupils and all pupils nationally; improving attendance; reducing exclusions; accelerated progress by all PP pupils; increasing the engagement of parents with their children’s education and with the school; increasing opportunities for PP-eligible pupils and broadening their experience.
Step 4. Against each desired outcome, identify success criteria.
Against each of the desired outcomes which the school decides to pursue, school leaders should set one or more success criteria. This could be expressed as a number – ‘closing the gap between the attainment of PP-eligible pupils and that of all pupils nationally by x per cent this year and by y per cent the following year’. For outcomes such as parental engagement, there are no easy metrics, so schools need to discuss what success looks like for them against these aims.
Step 5. Evaluate your current PP strategies.
Having set out a range of desired outcomes and put success criteria against them, schools can evaluate their current strategies and assess how successful each of the strategies is in pursuit of the stated outcomes.
Consider how much of your PP spending is on year 6 or year 11 pupils and how much on younger pupils. What are the percentages?
Consider how much you are spending on the needs of individual pupils and how much on whole-school strategies. What are the percentages?
There are no ‘right answers’ for the proportion of PP funding spent on different groups, but it will help your evaluation to know these figures.
A lot of PP funding is spent on additional classroom assistants, so schools should use the research report on the deployment and impact of support staff ( ) to help them evaluate the effectiveness of learning assistants and ensure that they are working in the most effective way.
Step 6. Research the evidence of what works best.
Schools need to look outwards for evidence of what works well elsewhere. I recommend three places to look initially.
First, seek out excellent practice in other schools, using and and consider how you might adapt their successful PP strategies to the context of your school.
Second, use the excellent Education Endowment Foundation Toolkit, looking first at the strategies that make the most difference (feedback, metacognition, peer tutoring, etc) and think about how these could best be used in your school.
Third, study the Ofsted report on pupil premium, published in February 2013, where there is a list of successful approaches on page 3: Evaluate PP strategies in your school in the light of the points made in this report.
Step 7. Decide on the optimum range of strategies to be adopted.
Using the evidence gathered from other schools and through your research in the EEF Toolkit and elsewhere, involve the leadership team, staff and governing body in deciding on the best strategies to use in the context of your school.
These should not be seen as separate from your other efforts to raise attainment and accelerate progress. Make sure that the PP strategies are embedded in your overall school improvement plan.
Consider too how you can adapt the curriculum to benefit disadvantaged pupils. The question ‘What curriculum does most for disadvantaged pupils?’ promotes rich discussion among staff and governors about the knowledge and skills that will maximise the life chances of young people from less well-off backgrounds. See the Whole Education website ( to learn about how Whole Education Network schools are developing a fully rounded education for their pupils as part of their ‘closing the gap’ and raising achievement strategies.
Don’t forget the needs of bright PP-eligible pupils. You can spend funding on them to push them further and also to broaden their expectations and opportunities. Oxbridge visits and music tuition are fruitful examples.
Another group that especially needs additional help and support is the group of looked-after children, who have historically generally obtained very poor qualifications. Each school may have few of them, but heads need to work with the local ‘virtual head’ to deploy resources effectively for these children with their varied backgrounds and needs.
And, don’t forget, excellent teaching can be the best strategy of all for raising the attainment of PP-eligible pupils and closing the gap.
Step 8. Staff training.
There are no short cuts to success with the strategies you adopt. If they are to be successful, in-depth training for all staff must take place
Step 9. Monitor the progress of PP-eligible pupils frequently.
Collect, analyse and use your data to maximum effect in monitoring the progress of every PP-eligible pupil. This should be done frequently, so that interventions can be put in place quickly, as soon as a pupil is starting to slip.
Step 10. Put an audit trail on the school website for PP spending.
The school needs to put in a prominent place on the website an account of PP spending. The head and governing body are held to account for the impact that the school is making with PP funding. This can be done in tabular form, listing each strategy, its cost, evaluation reports on its effectiveness, and its impact. In addition, schools can use anonymised case studies of the difference that PP funding is making to the lives of pupils.
This also fulfils the governing body’s legal obligation to report to parents on how the PP is being spent and the impact that is being made with it.

Literacy and disadvantage: my speech to the launch event of the BradfordLiterature Festival, 26 Sept 2014

I start with the words of Somerset Maugham: “To acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life.”
And, more positively, the remarkable Native American writer, Sherman Alexie, from his personal experience of surviving his childhood ailments: “If one reads enough books one has a fighting chance. Or better, one’s chances of survival increase with each book one reads.”
I am delighted that one of five aims of the Bradford Literature Festival is: “To raise aspirations and literacy attainment levels in a sustainable and measurable manner.” This will be my focus this evening.
You are aiming for (I quote): “a stimulating pageant of words, debates and ideas” and “an enriching literary and cultural experience.”
Indeed, no less than the cultural and economic regeneration of Bradford is your dream.
The Festival will be a dialogue between different parts of the Bradford community, seeing its diversity – rightly, in my view – as a strength.
With these aims for the community, and improving aspirations and literacy in particular, this means reaching out to all, especially the disadvantaged.
In my role as National Pupil Premium Champion, I work with school leaders and teachers on the most effective ways of using pupil premium funding to raise the attainment of disadvantaged children.
Bradford statistics for the achievement of disadvantaged pupils are right on the national average. This is slightly better than Leeds, but well behind London, Manchester, Birmingham, Oldham, Rochdale and nearly all places with a diverse community.
Statistics show that the achievement gap is smallest in ethnically diverse communities of all sorts, and largest among the white British community. So Bradford should be doing better. Being average nationally is actually being below average for a community like this.
Improving literacy, especially among younger children, is the key to improving their future life chances and it’s great that this Festival aims to do this. The task is closing the gap and raising achievement: helping everyone up the hill of learning, but helping those lower down the hill through no fault of their own to climb the hill that bit faster.
In the words of Andreas Schleicher of the OECD: “Our data shows it doesn’t matter if you go to a school in Britain, Finland or Japan, students from a privileged background tend to do well everywhere. What really distinguishes education systems is their capacity to deploy resources where they can make the most difference. [The] effect [of] a teacher anywhere in the world is a lot bigger for a student who doesn’t have a privileged background than for a student who has lots of educational resources [at home].”
Interestingly, children on free school meals (FSM), on average, do best in schools where there are very few of them or in schools where there are lots of them.
In these successful schools, there is clear recognition of
– the benefits of early intervention;
– the need to improve literacy and maths, so children can fully engage with all subjects;
– the benefits of improving the engagement of parents in their children’s education;
– the importance of raising aspirations and, just as importantly, expectations, among children and their parents;
– and, above all, having an excellent quality of teaching, which evidence shows is disproportionately beneficial to disadvantaged children – who are hit particularly badly by poor teaching, with no private tutors to compensate for a school’s shortcomings.
Like most headteachers, I am an optimist and, in my National Pupil Premium Champion role, I encourage heads to raise their ambition for their schools to be one of the 17 per cent of schools where the children on FSM do better than the average of all children across the country – so it is possible to close the gap;
Schools have complete autonomy to decide what to spend the money on and what will have the greatest impact in their context. This provides great opportunities for arts organisations.
As well as raising attainment and narrowing the gap, they might decide that their school needs to spend money on improving the attendance of children on FSM; or improving engagement with families; or developing these young people’s skills; or broadening their experiences; or ensuring that they do not leave school and join the NEETs (not in education, employment or training).
I encourage them to “stop looking up and start looking out”: to move away from the 25 years that the teaching profession has spent waiting for the next government announcement of what, or, heaven help us, how to teach.
Look out to the excellent practice in other schools, including the schools that have won pupil premium awards.
And become curriculum planners again, as my generation of teachers and school leaders used to be.
My definition of the school curriculum is everything that happens to a child in school – not just in lessons. And that creates huge opportunities for schools to think not only about what knowledge they want their pupils to acquire, but also what skills and personal qualities they want their young people to develop and what additional experiences they want their pupils to have.
I have the privilege of being chair of a wonderful organisation called Whole Education, which believes that every child has a right to a fully-rounded education, way beyond the narrow confines of test and examination syllabuses.
And a planned curriculum can do just that; not teaching knowledge and skills separately, but as warp and weft of the same learning process.
In the words of Andreas Schleicher again, on the basis of what he has seen happening in schools in the tiger economies of the Far East:
“Today schooling needs to be much more about ways of thinking, involving creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving and decision-making.” Not just a limited range of knowledge, but wider knowledge, the arts and these broader attributes too.
Singapore has cut its national curriculum by 30 per cent to make way for such things.
As Professor Guy Claxton has said: Too often, the pressures of accountability on schools mean that “children are prepared for a life of tests, but not for the tests of life.”
This is made worse by the inspection model to which schools are subjected, which encourages tactical game-playing.
I love the story of the inspector who was on his way to a school and his car broke down. Two children nearby, both very knowledgeable about cars, offered to help. The inspector was most grateful, but asked them why they weren’t in school. “We’re the slow ones,” they said, “the head told us that an inspector was coming today and that we had to stay off school.” These children had knowledge and they had skills, but not in conventional ways that are judged by our narrow inspection criteria.
A whole education is not either knowledge or skills; it is a both/and education that educates the whole child in the examination curriculum and the arts and broader ways.
And its basis is the need for a high degree of literacy, from which all else flows – which is why I am so glad that schools are working with, and spending their pupil premium funding on, the many literacy charities that exist, nationally and locally across the UK.
– The National Literacy Trust (I have to mention this first – one of my former pupils, Abigail Moss, is the NLT’s deputy director) with its “reading with parents” scheme, the vitally important Read On Get On campaign, and is launching the Bradford Literacy Campaign next week.
– Reading Matters, a Yorkshire-based network of 100 volunteer reading mentors, also training older pupils as reading leaders.
– The Tutor Trust, which operates in Manchester, but will spread elsewhere, I hope, under which university students are trained and paid to provide extra tuition to children whose parents cannot afford it.
– Beanstalk, which recruits volunteers to read with children in school.
– The Book Trust, encouraging people of all ages to enjoy books.
All these organisations, and more, help children to develop the skill of reading and, of equal importance, the love of reading and of books.
Or Kindles, of course.
In my house Kindles are a marmite issue. One of us loves his Kindle; the other is a great books person.
As Stephen Fry has said: “Books are no more threatened by Kindles, than are stairs by elevators.”
I like my Kindle, but I like the feel of a good book in my hands too.
At a time when one in 3 children live in households that do not own a book, we have to use every tool we can to get people reading, to nourish their imaginations and build their self-confidence and self-esteem, as reading does.
That is why it is so important to work with parents and families in disadvantaged communities, where most of these bookless families are.
And with children whose daily experience of family life is that shopping is more important than learning.
Reflecting on more serious cases, Roy Blatchford of the National Education Trust asked the question: “Have you ever met a mugger who’s read Middlemarch?”
As the National Literacy Trust has reported, the UK has a big challenge to face, with the youngest generation having literacy scores no better than the eldest generation. And NLT reminds us that poor literacy is positively correlated with lower earnings, poverty, poorer health and crime, with 48 per cent of offenders in custody having a reading age below the expected level of an 11 year old.
We all know about the importance of mothers in developing children’s literacy and learning. A recent study has found the education of fathers is the most important factor in a child’s success at school.
Studies show that reading a variety of literature independently by the age of 15 is the single biggest indicator of future success, outweighing negative factors such as socio-economic background or family situation.
Indeed an Oxford University study of 17,000 people born in 1970 found that teenagers who read books are significantly more likely to end up in a professional job than those who don’t.
With its community focus, reaching out across the diversity of Bradford, this Festival will have much to contribute to the lives of these children and their families. As you start on your journey, what better place to begin than literacy, the foundation stone of learning?
Literacy changes lives and we need to move away from the arid debate about phonics or real books, with government ministers pronouncing in favour of phonics, when it is well known that the best way into literacy is through both phonics and real books.
Not just in school, but in the home and in the community too.
National education politics can be so frustrating, as so many teachers will tell you. All Westminster politicians had an education, so that makes them experts and they think that allows them to make pronouncements on education in ways that health ministers wouldn’t dream of doing. And so the winds of change in education policy blow hither and thither, and the policy pendulum swings back and forth, obeying Randolph Churchill’s famous recipe for political action – “If at first you don’t succeed, shuffle the cards and try again.”
Or, as a taxi driver said to me once, “The government ought to find answers to these solutions.”
I have long noted that the relationship between government and teachers has been based on trust and understanding. We don’t trust them and they don’t understand us!
Education is too important to be constantly interfered with by secretaries of state whose average length of office since 1944 is 2.2 years. That is why it is so good to see such a broad range of organisations supporting the Festival and determining to move it forward in a non-political way.
In the words of your website: “The Festival will take literacy out of the classroom and embed it in everyday living by inspiring parents and children.”
As a relatively recent convert to the joys of the Hay Festival, with its big programme for children (always the first events to be fully booked), I have seen how parents and children can develop a shared love of reading at events such as these. Where Hay has grown over its 25-year history, I am sure that the Bradford Festival will grow too, with your support.
The cultural life of the whole community can, and must, be nourished by your efforts in ways that would have made that chronicler of northern culture, Richard Hoggart, proud.
It is 57 years since the publication of The Uses of Literacy, in which Hoggart wrote: “We are moving towards the creation of a mass culture; that the remnants of what was at least in part an urban culture ‘of the people’ are being destroyed; and that the new mass culture is in some important respects less healthy than the often crude culture it is replacing.”
Hoggart would surely have been even more concerned about the culture of our country today than he was then.
I am delighted that an important part of the Festival’s work will be in schools and with children. As the more recent Yorkshire author, Gervase Phinn, whom I have come to know well over many years, has said: “Schools should be for the disadvantaged what the home is for the advantaged.”
To take just one example, I heard Derek Jacobi speak several years ago. He told us that he wouldn’t have been a professional actor if it hadn’t been for the drama at his school in the East End of London. “Inspirational teachers took us”, he said, “on endless trips to London theatres.” Or, in the sporting field, think of the influence that a PE teacher had on the life of Mo Farah. Or the influence that a teacher had on the lives of each of us here this evening.
I have always believed that the experience that children have of the arts in school stays with them all their lives, much more than what they learn in technology, for example.
That is why, as a headteacher, I started a termly artist-in-residence scheme in my school, bringing painters, sculptors, potters, poets, authors, playwrights, drama producers, composers, musical performers, and more, from the wider region into school.
I knew it would have a profound impact on the young people with whom they worked. What I didn’t realise when I started the scheme was the impact that it would have on the teachers too, broadening and deepening their expertise, and thus passing on the benefits to future generations of pupils.
As I heard the late, great Professor Ted Wragg say, and as I have often heard Sir Ken Robinson say: all children are born with their ‘learning switch’ set to ON. Some regrettably have it switched to OFF during their school years, saying things like “I’m no good at maths” or “I don’t like reading books.” The teacher’s job is to keep all those learning switches in the ON position and you, the Festival and community leaders here in Bradford, can hugely help teachers to do that in this great city.
So reflecting on the importance of literature in the lives of young people, let me end with Professor Brian Cox, not the famous young physicist but the former professor of English at Manchester, and his poem about his English teacher:
English Teacher

Petite, white-haired Miss Cartwright
Knew Shakespeare off by heart,
Or so we pupils thought.
Once in the stalls at the Old Vic
She prompted Lear when he forgot his part.
Ignorant of Scrutiny and Leavis,
She taught Romantic poetry,
Dreamt of gossip with dead poets.
To an amazed sixth form once said:
‘How good to spend a night with Shelley.’
In long war years she fed us plays,
Sophocles to Shaw’s St Joan.
Her reading nights we named our Courting Club,
Yet always through the blacked-out streets
One boy left the girls and saw her home.
When she closed her eyes and chanted
‘Ode to a Nightingale’
We laughed yet honoured her devotion.
We knew the man she should have married
Was killed at Passchendaele.

If the Bradford Literature Festival can make that kind of impression on the minds and lives of your young people, it will have achieved much.
I pay tribute to the way in which the Festival organisers, Syima and Irna, have turned their dream into the wonderful diverse programme of the Festival.
I pay tribute to all those of you who have helped them to realise that dream.
I wish you luck in your exciting and important adventure.

Put PISA in a broader context

The political noise around the 2013 PISA results was much as expected but, as the heat dies down, it is to be hoped that more light will emerge. Sam Freedman’s blog at is a good start.
First, a cultural contrast. Far East countries do much better in PISA than countries in the West. Cultural factors are clearly coming into play here. The BBC News on 2 December followed a teenage Korean girl through a school day and into crammer school in the evening, ending with the chilling line that she went to bed at 2 a.m. and will get up at 6.30 for another long day of study the next day.
I have visited several Japanese secondary schools and was unimpressed by the quality of teaching or the way in which children were learning during the school day. Generally, the teacher was standing at the front addressing a large class, many of whom were not listening, knowing that they would be doing the real work at the juku in the evening.
I have met nobody in the UK that believes that we should adopt such long hours of work for young people. I know of no research that provides evidence to demonstrate that the quality or quantity of learning is proportional to the time spent in front of the teacher. It is surely far better to have shorter learning hours and concentrate on providing high quality teaching and learning so that the benefit of those hours is maximised and children can have a life outside school.
Second, a curriculum point. Education is about far more that what is tested by PISA. Good independent and state schools in this country have long recognised that the school curriculum is much bigger than the national curriculum and, whatever instructions come down from the government, they want to provide every young person with a fully rounded education that makes them work-ready, life-ready and ready for further learning, as was widely recognised at the recent Whole Education annual conference by John Cridland of the CBI, David Puttnam and many other speakers.
And, whisper it to your colleagues – or shout it from the rooftops – Singapore and other countries at the top of the PISA tables have recognised that PISA only tells part of the story. So they are putting in place national curriculum ideas that promote creativity and other personal qualities and skills that no longer get a mention in the national curriculum in England. As Andreas Schleicher of the OECD – the holder of the PISA flame – wrote in the Times Educational Supplement on 16 November 2012: “Today schooling needs to be much more about ways of thinking, involving creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving and decision-making.” Young people need to develop their skills as much as their knowledge, not in isolation, but as the warp and the weft of a fully rounded education.
UK countries need to do better at the subjects that PISA tests, but that is only part of the story. We must not forget that education is part of national culture and that every child deserves a broad and balanced education, as the law of England requires.