Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160
MONDAY 14 JANUARY 2008
Q160 Mrs. Hodgson: Yes. I am very
interested in the move towards personalised learning and then
equally, hopefully, towards specialist teachers, especially with
regard to SEN. I know we are not talking specifically about SEN,
but you might be aware that I have a Private Member's Bill about
SEN statistics and information gathering that will be hitting
the House on 1 February. The crux of what I want to get to is
this. Witnesses have pointed to a contradiction between personalised
learning, which recognises that all children learn in different
ways and have different abilities and needs, and the systematic
targets that assume that children develop at the same rate. The
NUT, for instance, is critical of the current practice of diverting
resources towards teaching children at the margins of the level.
Again, that is to get the best league table results for the school.
I want to talk about what I feel we should be doing in going down
the route of a more personalised learning agenda. The assessment
for learning is the crux of all this; what we need to be getting
to. That is what the test is all about and that would then identify
the gifted child right the way down to the child with a special
educational need. You use that as a tool for a teaching assessment
or assessment for learning. That should be, in my opinion, the
whole basis of these tests. I would imagine from things I have
picked up today that you agree with that, rather than trying to
produce a form of league tables that are then used for all sorts
of other reasons. Is an increased emphasis on personalised learning,
combined with single-level tests, likely to effect real change
in the classroom? In particular, is it likely to lead to pupils
being treated equally, so that each is enabled to achieve to the
best of his or her ability?
Brian Lightman: Personalised learning
will enable each child to be treated equally. However, the issue
is about the targets set, not the personalised learning and single
level testing. For example, if your target focuses on five grades
A* to C, inevitably, the focus will be on those with four and
who are nearly heading towards the fifth. You will concentrate
on giving those children the extra help. If you are talking about
children who have made two levels of progress through the national
curriculum, you will focus on those heading towards that, but
not quite there. The children who you are talking aboutthe
otherswho do not quite fit into those categories, will
be left out. That has been one of the major shortcomings of this
target-setting culture over many years. For example, the focus
of GCSEs has been very heavily on the C-D border line, and not,
for example, on students underachieving by getting a grade A,
but who could hopefully get an A*, or on those getting a B, but
who could be helped to get an A. Genuine personalised learning
does not focus on such perverse indicators that make us concentrate
on those who will help us meet the target, rather than on ensuring
that all children in our schools learn effectively.
Dr Bousted: The question is very
interesting. I return to my previous point: too often, the Government
believe that you can place contradictory things in a policy document
and that they will happen. Personalised learning will not take
root in the current system and is unlikely to do so with single
level testing on the same days. In order for it to take root,
teachers must be confident in their ability to assess where a
child is at. In our system, that is one of the things that they
are weakest at and least confident on. I was at a conference at
which two head teachers said to me, "The teachers in our
schools do not have the confidence in their own assessments, because
the system is so geared towards exams that the professional competence
has not been built up." It needs to be rebuilt, because it
is the essence of personalisationyou know where a child
is at and what you need to do to take them further. We do not
know enough, in anything like enough detail, about where children
are at in the system. Interestingly, we surveyed our members on
assessment recently and got quite a big responsefrom about
400 members. They were asked whether the national system of external
assessments supports a range of things, one of which was personalised
learning. Some 83% of the 400 correspondents either disagreed
or strongly disagreed that the current system provides the bedrock
and foundation in which personalised learning can take place.
The danger for Governments of all persuasions is that, although
a policy document might sound and look wonderful, and be full
of high-minded ideas, it will have no real effect in the system.
That is the danger with personalised learning.
Q161 Chairman: But, Keith, did you
not say earlier that teachers are better at assessments now?
Keith Bartley: No, I said that
teachers are more adept at teaching the curriculum, because of
the way in which it has developed, which means that they are also
trained in assessing within that curriculum. My reservation was
about the narrowness of the elements in the curriculum that are
tested. I was separating testing and assessment. May I respond
more generally to the point about assessment for learning and
personalisation? That is at the heart of the matter. Teachers
and children exploring what they have learned, and what they need
to learn next, is absolutely central to taking forward an examination
system that examines us according to outcomes and productsif
you likeincluding whether we use the OECD and other measures
such as the programme for international student assessment. However,
that requires considerable investment in teachers' continuing
professional development, because of the issue about what they
have been trained to do thus far in their teacher training. Teachers
tell us that they would love to be able to explore more, with
other teachers and their own pupils, ways in which they can better
understand what pupils have learned, to be able to draw down tests
to confirm that, and to help them set targets for what they need
to learn next. On your starting point, about special educational
needs, one of the greatest concerns that we have is that we are
now losing that generation of teachers that were trained as specialists
in special educational needs. We are also concerned that many
of the skills and talents of our teachers who spend most of their
time teaching children with special educational needsthings
like the use of P levels and very fine graduations of understanding
of learningare in danger of being lost to the training
element of the system and being compressed into a narrow population,
when actually they are skills that all teachers need.
Mrs. Hodgson: Mick wanted to speak.
Chairman: I am worried about the time;
I know that some of our witnesses have to leave and I am trying
to get us going.
Mick Brookes: I would like to
say a little about target-setting and how important that is, and
what a precise science it is for an individual child. If you set
targets too high, the child cannot do it, becomes frustrated and
disconnects. If you set that target too low, the child becomes
bored and disconnects; they then leave school as soon as they
can24% of them. So target-setting is a very individual
and personalised event. I would suggest that it cannot be done
from the building just down the road here.
Q162 Mrs. Hodgson: The Government
signalled a formal change in approach, which is what we are discussing
here, such as personal learning and teacher assessment. Without
some form of league table, how can the standards of teaching effectively
be monitored? What, in your opinion, can be done to monitor the
effectiveness? You have already sort of answered that question
because you have said that we cannot do personalised learning
under the current regime with league tables.
Dr Bousted: We have one of the
most monitored systems in the world, but we do not monitor in
very clever ways. Going back to what all of the witnesses said,
we need far more about cohort sampling. If you do enough cohort
sampling in the key subjects, you can test much more of the curriculum
because not every child needs to do the same test. They can do
the tests at the same level, but they can test different items.
If the tests are statistically significant, you can get a much
wider range of test items, which is much more valid. We need to
do much more of that. We have been very poor in doing cohort sampling
which monitors standards over time. In fact, when we moved to
national curriculum tests, we packed up the assessment of performance
unit and cohort monitoring over periods of time. We have lost
a rich vein of data that used to give us really interesting reports,
such as the National Foundation for Educational Research survey
about standards in reading over 20 years and whether they had
risen or not, with really fine, detailed information about in
what types of school standards of reading had risen and in what
types of school they had not. We have lost the ability to make
that fine, detailed monitoring of the system.
Q163 Mrs. Hodgson: My last question
about that matter is, to touch on the stress and demotivation
that Mick mentioned, will the single-level tests address the problems
experienced by pupils under the current regime? To give one exampleI
am terrible for giving personal, real-life examplesmy daughter
has just gone to high school. She got very good SATs and now that
she is in high school she is in all the top sets. She never was
stressed going through her SATs and I kept saying to her every
day, "Are you okay? Are you okay?" Every day now she
comes in stressed because, "I can't cope, MumI'm in
the top set, I don't think I should be in the top sets."
Now she is stressed, and I think that she was obviously hot-housed,
got through the SATs, got really good results and has now been
thrown in the deep end in this high school where she feels that
she cannot cope.
Mick Brookes: That is a good example.
Dr Bousted: Yes.
Q164 Mrs. Hodgson: So, do you think
that level tests will help?
Dr Bousted: Not necessarily, they
might compound the problem. What you would then get at Key Stage
2 is a quadruplingof four times a year going in for your
test again. Because your test is coming up and tests are coming
up so much more often, all the other aspects of the curriculum
may be equally neglected. With single-level tests four times a
year, in the way that they are currently being done in the pilots,
I would be interested to see whether there is a narrowing of the
curriculum and whether it compounds the problem of teaching to
Mr Heppell: Very quickly, are we sticking
to the time?
Chairman: I am trying to, but failing.
This is an inexperienced Chair not managing.
Q165 Mr Heppell: I have a question
about the new approach in schools. Like you, I have been around
a long time, and I was a school governor for nearly 30 yearsindeed,
I was chairman of the school governorsso I feel that I
can walk into a school and see whether it is a good school in
half an hour, and I do that on visits now. Sometimes, schools
will have had good SATs, sometimes Ofsted and others will have
got it wrong and sometimes the SATs will have been wrong. The
real problem, however, is that schools change; schools are not
staticthey can better and they can get worse. I recently
went to a school with bad SATs, and the school next door, with
pupils from the same sort of area, had good SATs, so it is not
about the rich in one area and the poor in another area. When
I questioned the school about its SATs, the answer I got was,
"We're not interested in SATs. We don't really bother with
them at all." In fact, I got so anxious, I actually went
and told local councillors about it. The school also told me,
"We're involved in making sure that we have personalised
learning for everybody and we're assessing everybody's progress
as they go along." That actually sounded like a great idea,
until I asked to see some of the assessments for the children,
but there were none; in fact, I am fairly certain that the bloke
I was talking to was giving me a load of bull. That is my worry.
If there is no outside testing, how do I know whether things are
going wrong, as they clearly were in that school? How do I know
that there is not a problem that has not been identified?
Mick Brookes: That is why, in
response to David, I said that there needs to be accreditation
and moderation, but not what we have at the minute, so that there
is some external view of how accurate assessments are. It is a
question of adjusting the system, not throwing it out.
Keith Bartley: There are two aspects
to that for us. One is that what we measure needs to be more validin
other words, we need to measure things that tell us something
about what children are doingand the way in which we measure
things has to illustrate the progress that they have made. We
are not in any sense saying that there should be no form of public
accountability; it is just that the measures used need to be much
more informed than the ones we have at the moment.
Q166 Mr Heppell: Okay. What progress
have schools made already in terms of personalised learning? Who
is actually doing things now, unlike the school that I mentioned?
How far have people got in terms of assessment for learning? Can
we point to excellence or good examples in schools?
Dr Bousted: We ran our fringes
on the curriculum at the party conferences last year and we got
in head teachers who were adopting innovative approaches to the
curriculum. We have just done a book on the curriculum and we
have clear examples of schools that are starting to integrate
subjects, to use literacy and numeracy across the curriculum,
and to integrate curriculum development and assessment. There
is beginning to be more confidence in schools that that is a legitimate
thing for them to do. We went through a period when the national
strategy was so rigidyou teach reading like this and numeracy
like thatthat schools lost the confidence to think that
they had any professional expertise to bring to the party. The
Government have moved from the idea that everything can be done
from Whitehall, and that is a significant shift. They have a lot
further to go, but my experience is that schools are beginning
to re-engage with the issues of what is an appropriate curriculum,
what decisions should be made at school level, how they can more
effectively assess their pupils, how they offer curriculum that
meets pupil needs, and what forms of pedagogy are most suitable
for pupils. However, the profession needs more support in that,
and that is really key. Over the past 10 years, nearly all the
CPD has been offered through the strategies. Subject-specific
CPD has virtually withered on the vine, and teachers regularly
report that the CPD they are offered is not suitable for them
or for what they want. Teachers are moving down the long road
towards regaining control of those aspects of the learning and
teaching process that they should be in control of, but we need
to go a lot further and we need support to do so.
Q167 Chairman: By CPD, you mean Continuous
Dr Bousted: Yes.
Brian Lightman: Our association
has been doing a great deal of work with the Specialist Schools
and Academies Trust on this, and we have seen an enormous amount
of good practice developing over the country. It is not embedded
yet and it is not everywhere, because it is in a stage of development.
We are seeing real enthusiasm because people are seeing the benefits
of these approaches in the classroom. We need to continue to support
and motivate people and encourage them to develop it further.
There is a vast amount of good practice going on around the country.
We need to build on that and encourage it to develop further.
Mick Brookes: It goes back to
this: people will do what they are expected to do. If they are
told what they shortly will do with Fischer Family Trust and other
measures, why will they do it themselves? We need to remove that,
encourage schools to develop their own systems within the national
framework, and acknowledge that the vast majority of head teachers,
teachers and all the people who turn up to school have a passion
for children's learning. We need to harness that passion, rather
than dumbing it down.
Q168 Mr Heppell: You have already
described some of your reservations about the single-level test.
You might have some more. We were talking about staggering them
even more than having a situation of individuals being able to
take individual tests. Does that then start to create a problem
with resources because you are not doing one test a year, but
are having to organise various tests?
Dr Bousted: That is the system
in Scotland at the moment, and it works.
Keith Bartley: When that kind
of testing, which is about confirming teachers' assessments, and
those assessments, which are more and more being built around
assessment for learning practices, become more mainstream, we
get very much back to the kind of situation that was described
earlier. Testing was a regular part of my primary and secondary
schooling, on a daily and weekly basis. It is about putting those
tests back in a functional, useful way into schools. The level
of resource would be different. The amount of money that is spent
nationally on the external administration and validation of our
current testing system nowhere near justifies some of the benefits
and disbenefits that it generates.
Chairman: I see nodding heads from your
colleagues, so I will not go to them, if that is all right. I
will invite Annette to ask the last group of questions.
Q169 Annette Brooke: I shall be very
brief. You mentioned bringing back passion into teaching. Is it
impossible to do that within the present system? Is it inevitable
that there will be teaching to the test and narrowing on the national
curriculum unless we scrap the current system?
Mick Brookes: Yes, I believe that
that is absolutely true. I do not want to overstate the case,
but a system of fear has been inculcated throughout education,
particularly if you are a young head, or a young deputy, with
a young family and a mortgage. You do not want to go to headship
because you know that you will carry the can. Unfair and unfounded
decisions are made on the performance of schools because Ofsted
is now relying far too heavily on the data that we have discredited
during this presentation. It is having a profound effect not only
on the curriculum, but on the recruitment and retention of head
teachers, in particular, who carry this can and do not survive
being put into a category, on many occasions quite unfairly.
Q170 Annette Brooke: Can I follow
up on the personalised learning test? Personalised learning seems
to equate with goodness, but under the current system will it
just be booster classes and personal intervention plans? Will
it be centrally directed, almost?
Dr Bousted: It is likely to be
highly bureaucratic and it should be very simple. The issue about
personalised learning should be at the heart of good teaching.
What is it that I know a child can do? What is it with which they
need my help, or the help of other pupils in the classtheir
more able peers? What help can I use from another pedagogue that
will enable them to learn? The danger is that at the moment something
that should be right at the heart of teachers' instinctive professional
practice is being formalised into a whole range of other structures.
Mick Brookes: The other problem
is that we need to move from norm-referencing to criterion-referencing
pupils' progress, and that makes it individual. It is not necessarily
how Sally compares with Fred, but the progress that Sally has
made, and has made despite the fact that she might have quite
severe special educational needs.
Q171 Annette Brooke: Could that be
introduced alongside the present system, or do we really need
to scrap that totally? Obviously, it is of great importance to
value every child's achievement, which we are not doing at the
Mick Brookes: Our clear view is
that the current system is not helpful to children or to the curriculum,
and it is certainly not helpful to my colleagues in schools.
Annette Brooke: May I just run through
Chairman: Keith is desperate to answer
these questions, and I want to give him a chance to do so.
Annette Brooke: I am sorry.
Keith Bartley: I want to come
back to your original question. You asked whether it was impossible.
I do not think that it is impossible; I just think that teachers
have to be absolutely exceptional to be able to flourish in our
current system. There can be an effect on motivation and retention.
However, equally, I want to be clear that we see, through our
teacher learning academy, some amazingly innovative examples of
teachers innovating in their own classrooms and feeling that they
have permission to do so. That is not impossible; it is just very
Q172 Annette Brooke: Finally, throughout
this sitting, we have had the impression that the current system
is demotivating for children, teachers and, as we have just heard,
head teachers. Could each person give me what to them is an important
factor around the demotivation of children and teachersjust
Dr Bousted: For children it is
if they do not get their Level 4. That is hugely demotivating
if you are going into secondary school. You feel yourself a failure.
It is interesting to note that that is particularly a problem
for boys. Boys react very badly, gentlemen. It happens to you
throughout lifeyou react very badly to failure.
Adam Afriyie: How dare you say that?
Mick Brookes: I would say it is
the idea that we will continue having meetings until morale improves.
If we continue doing things the way we are doing, we will not
improve the morale of our children or teaching staff in schools,
so we have to do things differently. We have to broaden the curriculum
and give children those experiences of delight in other areas.
We can teach English and literacy through other curriculum areas.
Schools need to be encouraged and empowered to do so.
Brian Lightman: I think that the
biggest thing is the fear of failure, coupled with not knowing
what to do about it. We know that there are things that students
will find difficultthat is part of learning. It is an important
part of the learning process that we get things wrong and have
to correct them, but it is not being able to do anything about
it that causes problems. Students think, "Oh dear, I am going
to take this test and I am going to fail and be labelled a failure,"
at the age of 11, 14 or whatever, and then we wonder why we have
problems with motivation.
Keith Bartley: We need to give
our schools and our teachers permission to innovate and permission
to fail. They need to be confident about giving children permission
to explore by learning.
Chairman: As we have overrun our time,
that was a good line to end on. You have all had your opportunity
to summarise what you feel about the matter. I am sorry that I
did not manage the time as well as I had hoped. Next time, if
I am ever in this Chair again, I will. Thank you very much for