Is the EEF failing to see the wood for the trees?

For many years the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), which is part funded by the Department for Education, has been evaluating approaches to teaching and learning in English schools.

“The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) is an independent charity dedicated to breaking the link between family income and educational achievement, ensuring that children and young people from all backgrounds can make the most of their talents. We aim to raise the attainment of 3-18 year-olds, particularly those facing disadvantage; develop their essential life skills; and prepare young people for the world of work and further study.

We do this by generating evidence of what works to improve teaching and learning, funding robust trials of high-potential programmes and approaches which have yet to be tested. We then support schools, nurseries and colleges across the country in using evidence so that it has the maximum possible benefit for young people. Founded by the education charity the Sutton Trust, as lead charity in partnership with Impetus Trust, the EEF received a founding grant of £125m from the Department for Education. With investment and fundraising income, the EEF intends to award as much as £200m over the 15-year life of the Foundation.”

I have no reason to doubt the quality of EEF educational research or its potential for raising standards in our schools, but it has a serious problem that is deeply embedded in its founding objective. It is dedicated to “breaking the link between family income and educational achievement.”

This is not surprising given the association with the Sutton Trust, which also bases its work on the same false assumption that such a link exists.

I explained this fallacy in the first article on my website in January 2015. This coincided with the publication of my book, ‘Learning Matters’. This false link continues to be accepted without question by the government, the mainstream education community, the Labour Party, the NUT and the media in general. The truth is that it is cognitive ability (general intelligence) that drives school attainment. For pupils with similar levels of cognitive ability there is no significant link with parental affluence. The illusory causal association is a result of the actual link between cognitive ability and parental affluence.

I discovered this initially through my experience as a Cumbria head from 1989 to 2003, when I was a member of the LEA working group on the use of cognitive ability tests (CATs) for driving additional funding in the Cumbria school funding formula. Many years later, I carried out a case study of Mossbourne Community Academy (and the Hackney Borough Education Service in general)  in relation to the role of  CATs driven banded admissions arrangements in improving GCSE attainment. This is described in detail in Part 4 of my book. If the EEF, Sutton Trust, DfE, the Labour Party, the NUT or anybody else wishes to question this then they should ask ‘The Hackney Learning Trust‘, which is the schools division of Hackney Borough Council.

The Hackney Learning Trust has full and comprehensive CATs, GCSE and FSM data going back many years. It is a fact that, on average, FSM children perform in a similar manner to other children with similar CATs scores. This is true, on average, for all children regardless of parental affluence. The illusion of the ‘affluence attainment gap’ is a result of the well established  pattern of less affluent postcodes having a disproportionate number of lower CATs score children. This too is of course, on average. All schools and admission authorities that have CATs based ‘fair banding’ admission policies have the quantitative data that demonstrates this well established relationship.

This also emerged from my Mossbourne Community Academy study, with the data set out in by book. It can be confirmed by the Hackney Learning Trust. Any experienced comprehensive school head will know that this is true. It is why schools that have the power to set their own admission policies (eg Academies, Free Schools and some religious schools) may seek to deter the children of less affluent parents, which they rightly recognise as less likely to achieve the benchmark DfE and OfSTED aggregated SATs and GCSE results, thus threatening the future of the school and the job of the head.

Before Local Management of schools, Local Education Authorities (LEAs) usually tried to achieve balanced cognitive ability school intakes by manipulating school catchment areas so that all schools admitted their ‘fair share’ of pupils from less affluent postcodes. Some LEAs tried harder than others in this regard, with no clear relationship with the political party that controlled the Education Committee.

To be clear, I am not saying that parental upbringing has no effect on school attainment, just that parental affluence has a minimal effect compared to cognitive ability. Grossly abusive parents clearly disadvantage their children in many ways including school attainment.

As I make clear in all my published work, the importance of cognitive ability/general intelligence does not mean that this is fixed through genes or upbringing. It is plastic and can be substantially developed or inhibited by good or bad schooling, as borne out EEF research.

The problem for the marketised English education system is that ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ schools can be poor when it comes to developing cognitive and other abilities, while schools ‘requiring improvement’ or even ‘failing’ can be much better in this regard. Sadly school ‘performance data’ now always trumps the judgement of the few experienced (former HMI) school inspectors that remain in the system.

The findings of EEF research for specific initiatives (the ‘trees’) form a coherent pattern (‘the wood’), which EEF only hints at, that supports my argument. I first wrote about this here and here.

This is especially clear from the five reports published by EEF in July 2017.

Dialogic Teaching

“Dialogic Teaching aims to improve pupil engagement and attainment by improving the quality of classroom talk. Teachers are trained in strategies that enable pupils to reason, discuss, argue and explain rather than merely respond, in order to develop higher order thinking and articulacy. The programme uses video review, print materials and in-school mentoring to support teachers’ practice across English, maths and science lessons.

This trial found consistent, positive effects in English, science and maths for all children in Year 5, equivalent to about 2 months additional progress.”

This is consistent with other EEF trials focusing on cognitively challenging talk, such as ‘Philosophy for Children’, and ‘Thinking, Doing, Talking Science’. The consistent results across subjects and the lack of any subject specific content in the training suggest that the approach may improve children’s overall thinking and learning skills rather than their knowledge in a given topic.”

This EEF conclusion is important as it recognises that the approach is not based on the learning of factual content but on stimulating and supporting the development of cognitive ability. Put simply, the pupils made more progress because the teaching and learning methods used made them cleverer. It is important to note that pupil’s confidence and performance improved in all subjects, not just the ones directly relevant to what the ‘classroom talk’ was about. This is the claim of the long-standing ‘cognitive acceleration‘ movement led by Michael Shayer and the late Philip Adey, backed by a huge amount of peer reviewed research.

Thinking, Doing, Talking Science

Thinking, Doing, Talking Science (TDTS) is a programme that aims to make science lessons in primary schools more practical, creative and challenging. Teachers are trained in a repertoire of strategies that aim to encourage pupils to use higher order thinking skills. For example, pupils are posed ‘Big Questions’, such as ‘How do you know that the earth is a sphere?’ that are used to stimulate discussion about scientific topics and the principles of scientific enquiry.”

Thinking, Doing, Talking Science appeared to have a positive impact on the attainment of pupils in science. Overall, Year 5 pupils in schools using the approach made approximately three additional months’ progress.”

This too was an initiative based not on ‘telling by the teacher and listening by the pupils’, but on the development of general cognitive ability through metacognition, pupil to pupil and pupil to teacher debate.

Success for All

Success for All (SfA) is a whole-school approach to improving literacy in primary schools. All teachers and senior leaders are involved, with the school receiving a total of 16 training and support days. Teachers receive pedagogical training – for example on effective phonics teaching – and teaching materials such as structured lesson plans. For the school leadership team there is support in areas such as data management, ability grouping and parental engagement.”

 This was completely different in nature to the previous two initiatives. It is all about the transmission of knowledge and information through learning packages ‘delivered’ in a structured manner to children in ability groups, with the whole process overseen by school management  through testing and ‘data management’. No mention of pupil talk or social interaction of any kind. Most primary teachers would recognise the mainstream current orthodoxy promoted by the DfE and enforced through OfSTED.

This trial found that Reception pupils in SFA schools made a small amount of additional progress compared to pupils in other schools after two years. The effect was slightly larger for pupils eligible for free school meals, but in both cases it was smaller than those found in previous evaluations.

EEF has no plans for a further trial of Success for All.

Challenge the gap

Challenge the Gap (CtG) is a school collaboration programme designed by Challenge Partners that aims to break the link between disadvantage and attainment. The main components of CtG are: after-school workshops drawing on published research and evidenced practice; focused in-school interventions with a selected cohort of disadvantaged pupils; cross-school collaboration and practice development; and practical tools and resources for use in schools and additional online materials.  Each school is assigned to a ‘trio’, comprising one ‘Lead’ school, which has demonstrated effective practices for reducing the attainment gap, and two ‘Accelerator’ schools, for which closing the attainment gap is a major priority. The programme lasts for a year, during which expertise is transferred from Lead to Accelerator schools. Schools initially target programme activity at a small group of disadvantaged students (12–15 in each school), with a view to rolling out the best practice more widely across the school and sharing what they have learned with new partner schools in subsequent years. The different approaches in each Lead school mean that practices vary between each trio.

The project found no evidence that Challenge the Gap (CtG) increased average attainment for either primary or secondary school pupils, overall. The security of the primary school results is low to moderate, and the security for the secondary school results is low.

The findings are different for children eligible for free school meals. FSM eligible children in CtG primary schools made 2 months’ additional progress compared to similar children in other schools, while FSM eligible children in CtG secondary schools made 2 months’ fewer progress compared to similar children in other schools. The smaller number of FSM eligible students in the trial means that these results are less secure than the overall findings

“The overall primary school findings, however, are of low to moderate security, meaning that we have limited confidence that they happened as a result of CtG. FSM findings involve fewer pupils and are likely to be less secure than the overall finding. In secondary schools there was no impact on the cohort overall, and a negative impact (also of two months) on the progress of children eligible for free school meals. This indicates that the gap might be widening in secondary schools. The secondary school results are of low security, meaning that we cannot be confident that they happened as a result of the intervention.”

The EEF findings were generally negative, especially given the relatively high cost per pupil of the intervention.

However, if there is no gap, it is hardly surprising that this initiative struggled to close it.

 Achieve Together

 “Achieve Together is an initiative devised and delivered by Teach First, Teaching Leaders and The Future Leaders Trust, to support leadership development and collaboration within schools in disadvantaged areas. Achieve Together offered subsidised leadership development training for teachers in middle and senior leadership roles, and placed graduates into schools. Beyond the programmes, Achieve Together offered a range of support to facilitate collaboration and alignment across these programmes, with participants working together on a school improvement impact initiative.

“The study provides no evidence that pupils’ GCSE outcomes improved in the participating schools, compared with a group of similar schools. While all of the schools used the individual programmes offered by the charities, approaches to the accompanying school improvement collaboration differed. Some schools were positive and teachers felt it improved their reflective practice. In other schools participants considered it resource-intensive and found it difficult to align the individual programme activities into a single project. Overall, the study provides no evidence that this version of Achieve Together is an effective way to improve GCSE results over and above any impact of the individual charity programmes.”

EEF funded this evaluation to test whether schools in disadvantaged areas would benefit from three leading education charities –Teach First, Teaching Leaders and Future Leaders – working together to improve school outcomes.”

The answer was a clear, ‘No’.

What is the reason for this failure?

Could it be that ‘Teach First’ substitutes ‘on the job training‘ in Academy Schools directed by Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs), for traditional ‘teacher education‘ in an academic  university setting that includes the full study of theories of learning? In other words ‘Teach First’ could be lacking in sufficient academic understanding of how children learn. As for the other charities that have since changed their names, see this Schools Week article from which I quote as follows.

School minister Nick Gibb said the report by Ambition School Leadership “underlines the need” to focus the government’s efforts in the ‘opportunity areas’. He added: “Excellent school leadership will be vital so we welcome the work of Ambition School Leadership in training the next generation of school leaders and their focus on areas with historically low levels of social mobility.” Teaching Leaders and The Future Leaders Trust have more than 18 years’ experience of developing aspiring leaders, and between them, have trained more than 3,500 school leaders. Today’s report found that in order to stop the decline in progress, there must be an increase the number of “high-quality” leaders in the ‘opportunity areas’ and better support for those in post. Toop said his newly merged organisation could now address that need by “offering participants end-to-end development pathways covering all levels of leadership”. He added: “Our professional networks have become stronger and more diverse, delivering more peer-to-peer support.”

The jargon is familiar as is the ‘magic money tree‘ that has funded these failures. The false assumptions are not only that an ‘achievement gap’ exists, but that the problem lies with failures of ‘leadership’, implying that teachers are not being ‘effectively led’ and that the solution is a new model army of leaders without either classroom teaching experience or academic qualifications in education or how children learn, but are well versed in the 21st century business models of corporate leadership of organisations, of which schools are just another example of the failure to apply the neo-liberal principles of market capitalism.

I write about this further here.

In conclusion, I have been a bit hard on EEF. I have no reason to doubt the quality of their work. (I do have doubts about the ‘months of additional progress’ success criterion.) The EEF findings are important, as is their tentative speculation that there might be an important general pattern emerging.

“The consistent results across subjects suggest that the approach may improve children’s overall thinking and learning skills rather than subject knowledge alone. This is backed up by evidence summarised in our Teaching and Learning Toolkit that advises metacognition approaches – strategies that encourage pupils to plan, monitor and evaluate their learning – are a particularly effective way of improving results.”

Many more examples of this approach are given in Part 5 of ‘Learning Matters‘.

The EEF conclusions are all very true, and in need of stronger expression,  but no sign whatever of a change of course on the part of our Conservative government or the Trump-led education ‘reforms’ in the US, where the current behaviourist takeover of the school systems on both sides of the Atlantic, that is so damaging, had its origins.

The EEF and the Sutton Trust could have an important role in changing the ruling pedagogy of the English school system for the better, but they first need a rethink about the true nature of the ‘achievement gap’

The same applies to Jeremy Corbyn, Angela Rayner and the NUT.

I welcome comment, challenge and debate about the content and conclusions of this and my other linked articles.

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Democracy, education and plastic intelligence

This is a long article with many links to supporting evidence. It may be better for a first read to ignore the links so as to absorb the gist before a second read that takes in the linked material.

Politics and education are inseparable and always have been. This is clear from the history of education in the UK. The expert is Derek Gillard.

A very good example, with many modern parallels, can be found in the work of the nineteenth century educationalist Richard Dawes, which is described in this article.

Universal state funded education began in the nineteenth century and its advance was vigorously opposed at every stage by conservative politicians. The reason is clear and was summarised by Jeremy Corbyn’s quotation from Shelley during his speech to thousands of young supporters and admirers at the Glastonbury Festival of June 2017.

 Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number,
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you-
Ye are many – they are few.

 It is mass education, or rather ‘education of the masses’ that has driven the advance of democracy and the relentless extension of the right to vote, but I argue that three events in 2016 and 2017 have now focussed attention onto the nature and purpose of state education and how the subversion of democracy is being facilitated in the US and in the UK through the corruption and degradation of national education systems resulting from the ideology of neo-liberalism and marketisation. The three events in question are the EU Referendum in the UK (June 2016), The US Presidential Election (November 2016) and the UK General Election (June 2017). In all three, the forces of conservatism reduced their election campaigns to popular, repetitive, one dimensional sloganising in an attempt to exploit the lack of higher cognitive function (Kahneman’s System 2 thinking) in a large proportion of the voting population. The evidence for this is clear in the differential voting patterns related to levels of education.


A breakdown of the EU referendum data has shown that  those with lower educational levels were much more likely to vote for Brexit. Almost half of the local authorities which counted votes provided demographic information to the BBC. Analysis showed that how people voted was ‘strongly associated’ with how far they went with formal education.

This link was higher than any other measure from the census, including age and ethnicity. I wrote about the educational implications of this pattern here.

I argue in my articles and in my book, ‘Learning Matters’  that school pedagogy should be focussed onto helping the maximum proportion of students to progress through the Piagetian concrete/formal barrier, because then they will not only be able to understand say, Newton’s Laws of Motion, and other hard stuff in other subjects, but crucially the rational arguments and principles that increasingly underpin all aspects of life in an increasingly  complex, technological society. This includes economics, which, like the scientific concepts of weight and inertia, make cognitive demands at the formal operation level.

There were two main ‘dimensions’ in the EU leave/remain election campaign.

The first was ‘immigration’, with less immigration assumed to be good, more immigration assumed to bad. This is not only easy to understand, it resonates with very deep evolutionary fears. For all but our most recent hominid history the greatest threat to survival and that of our children was from the ‘tribe over the hill’ that has a tendency to attack your tribe, kill the men and boys, carry off the women and girls into sexual slavery and plunder your assets. Racists have always played on such primitive fears, often with great success.

The contrary argument; more immigration good, less immigration bad, can also be made, but it is much more complex. It involves Piaget’s formal operational thinking, which can also be characterised as the dominance of the rational (Kahneman System 2) over the instinctive/reactive (Kahneman System 1) mind.

Then there is the second dimension: trade with Europe good, trade barriers with Europe bad. This involves complex economics and is clearly in the formal operational thinking/ Kahneman System 2 category.

Even if this is a sound argument, it has to be balanced in the mind against the immigration dimension. Immigration is like the weight of an object in your hand. It can be directly sensed. It is ‘concrete’. The economic argument is like the inertia of the object. It cannot be sensed without deeper conceptual understanding. Its existence must be reasoned by means of a formal cognitive process by applying Newtonian scientific principles. So for concrete operational thinkers ‘immigration’ will always trump ‘economics’, while for formal operational thinkers the economic arguments are likely to prevail. Hence the higher the level of education, the more likely ‘leave’ was supported over ‘remain’.

The US Presidential Election

In the US presidential election it appears that educational levels were the critical factor in the shift in the vote between 2012 and 2016.

I discuss the educational implications of this result here.

The Canadian, ‘Globe and Mail’ published an analysis of the characteristics of Trump and Clinton Voters.

They conclude as follows.

The vote laid bare a sharp divide on education. Ms. Clinton fared better among the more highly educated, winning among college graduates and holding a substantial lead among those who had done postgraduate study. Those with high school or less, as well as those with only some college, preferred Mr. Trump by large margins.

 According to Pew Research, Mr. Trump’s margin among whites without a college degree, 67 per cent to 28 per cent, is the largest since the presidential election of 1980.

The UK General Election

Before the UK General Election of June 2017, the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, had been systematically undermined by most of his own MPs and misrepresented, ridiculed and demonised by the UK media. This is from a research report by the respected London School of Economics.

The results of this study show that Jeremy Corbyn was represented unfairly by the British press through a process of vilification that went well beyond the normal limits of fair debate and disagreement in a democracy. Corbyn was often denied his own voice in the reporting on him and sources that were anti-Corbyn tended to outweigh those that support him and his positions. He was also systematically treated with scorn and ridicule in both the broadsheet and tabloid press in a way that no other political leader is or has been. Even more problematic, the British press has repeatedly associated Corbyn with terrorism and positioned him as a friend of the enemies of the UK. The result has been a failure to give the newspaper reading public a fair opportunity to form their own judgements about the leader of the country’s main opposition.

It was not just the overwhelmingly Conservative supporting print media. The UK state BBC TV was also guilty as pointed out in this Guardian article.

So when Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May announced a snap General Election for 8 June 2017 it was widely assumed by the entire UK commentariat that Labour would be defeated in a landslide that would massively increase her majority and authority in the House of Commons. In the event Labour gained rather than lost seats from the Conservatives and Theresa May lost her majority in a devastating shock reversal of expectations.

The broadly accepted explanation is that Jeremy Corbyn managed to motivate a high proportion of young voters and especially university students and graduates. The age and social class profiles of the Labour voters are set out in this Guardian article.

Voters crossed party lines, challenging traditional class-party loyalties. Middle-class votes swung to Labour, which increased its share of ABC1 voters by 12 points compared with the previous general election. However more working-class voters came out for the Conservatives and the party increased its share of the C2DE voters by 12 points.

 The educational attainment profile follows the social class groups with the Conservatives attracting most of the lowest social class groups (with the lowest educational attainment).

The only thing that went wrong with the crude, populist Conservative strategy that had worked so well for the Brexiteers and for Donald Trump was that Jeremy Corbyn achieved a much higher turnout of young, better educated voters than has happened in the past.

So what have these elections to do with national education systems? I write about this here.

There are many clichés in ‘edu-speak’. A very common one is that schools should enable students to ‘reach their potential’. It implies the notion of fixed intelligence, whether conferred through genetic inheritance at birth, and/or determined by the quality of early years parenting. It is a ‘let off’ for secondary schools, enabling them to opt out of any responsibility for raising the intelligence of their pupils as they progress through the school, on the basis that this is either ‘not possible’, or not the main business of schools, which is a combination of filling heads with knowledge and providing discipline and training so as to maximise their employability.

This leads to a tacit assumption about the process of teaching and learning in schools, that conforms with that promoted by theGlobal Education Reform Movement’ (GERM) that is increasingly finding its expression in Charter Schools in the US, and in England in the Academies and Free School movement.

The converse of this notion, ‘Plastic Intelligence’, opens a door into a quite different educational paradigm that can and should empower and inspire both students and their teachers. It is increasingly being described as a ‘growth mindset.

‘Plastic Intelligence’ is explained and promoted in my book, ‘Learning Matters’, and its manifestations, in the form of a synthesis from a number of different ‘real world’ learning contexts, are described and explained here.

Plastic Intelligence really is a very big deal in the world of education because it provides the ultimate refutation of GERM.

The underlying evidence for plastic intelligence has long been recognised in the ‘Flynn Effect’, which is the well established and proven tendency for national IQs to increase in response to national education systems and the growth in complexity of modern societies.

Crucially this is no longer happening in England (and probably also in the US) as a result of the degradation of their national education systems as a result of GERM.

The internationally respected IQ specialist James Flynn, from whose work the ‘Flynn Effect’ is named, has recently written a book that discusses ‘Plastic Intelligence’. My review of his book can be found here.

The ‘Anti-Flynn’ effect is the halting, and indeed in England, the reversing of the year on year rise is national cognitive ability levels. Put crudely, the population is getting dimmer and therefore more susceptible to the simplistic  popularism of right wing election campaigns. This is discussed in my review.

Flynn himself writes as follows about the potential of plastic intelligence at all levels of education systems and for people of all ages.

“My analysis gives human autonomy a potent role. Here we must distinguish between internal and external environment. You can join the book club but it is more important to fall in love with reading; you can fill your mind with trash or ponder over a chess problem or any other problem that provokes wonder.

How wonderful it is that adults enjoy autonomy throughout their lives!

 University students come to me and say,” I know I am not as quick as the very best but I want to improve my mind and solve problems that captivate me; is that possible?” To this the answer is “yes”.

I did not do well at school; will I be able to handle your introductory course in moral philosophy?” To this the answer is that you may do very well indeed: some of my best students are mature students because they work out of genuine interest. Note my assumption: that current [cognitive] environment is the key and they need not worry too much about the past environments that have handicapped them since school.”

 Flynn’s book has a very useful summary of current theories of intelligence. In it he admits to being very influenced by Oesterdiekhoff, who he describes as, ‘the most original thinker among the continental Piagetians’.

Oesterdiekhoff links Piagetian stages to anthropology, He notes that the ‘formal operational’ stage develops only in modern societies, usually sometime between the ages of 15 and 20 and is associated with high IQ test scores. Flynn explains the Flynn effect (large gains in population IQ) mainly in terms of individuals having to come to terms with the cognitive demands of modern societies, which have steadily increased throughout industrialisation and ‘taken off’ in the last two decades of the digital revolution. The consequence is that school students and adults still at the ‘concrete operational’ (or pre-operational) level at 16 will increasingly struggle with the cognitive demands of modern life, demands of employers and with recognising rational weaknesses and ‘fake news’ in election campaigns. A ‘cognitive underclass’ is therefore in the making, all too easily taken in by the very carefully designed simplistic, populist messages of the ‘thought manipulators’ that lay behind the successful election campaigns of Brexit and Donald Trump.

The final element of my argument concerns the nature of the marketised model of education that is increasingly being inflicted onto our children by Academisation in the UK and the parallel ideological forces that spawned and exported it from the US.

Good relationships are central to deep learning and cognitive growth

Approaches  to teaching and learning that develop cognition and so improve plastic intelligence require pupils to be confronted with cognitive problems above the level at which they can solve them without assistance using their existing mental models. Teachers are now often taught never to allow children to fail to solve problems because this reinforces failure (the behaviourist model), whereas for cognitive growth children need to learn in a culture that supports and encourages learning from mistakes.

Vygotsky asserts that understanding first appears in the social space that learners share. Only then does it become internalised by individuals. The key point is that in a school the resolution of cognitive conflict in individual learners works best as a social process. The participants assist each other in grappling with the shared cognitive conflict. This is called peer to peer learning. It requires high quality social relationships in the classroom.

I was lucky enough early in my career (in the 1970s/80s) to work in a comprehensive school where such high quality relationships existed and it became a career goal to eventually achieve it in the 1990s in my headship school. Pupils have to trust each other and not fear humiliation by the teacher if they are to risk revealing the true depth of their misunderstandings.

A school culture of behaviourist authoritarianism will not provide sufficient personal psychological security for the teacher or the pupils for the necessary social interactions to ignite. Obviously nothing can be achieved where informality degenerates into anarchy and chaos reigns. Great demands are placed on the teacher, who needs the skills to be able to promote positive self-sustaining, reasoned discussion between pupils. This is very difficult to achieve and the hallmark of a good teacher, supported by like minded professional colleagues working in a school that supports such a culture.

There are regrettably a growing number of schools, led by the Academy and Free School movement, many feted by the Department for Education, where relationships between school managers and teachers, teachers and pupils and pupils with their peers are so limited in depth and quality that this type of high level learning will be impossible. If cramming and repetition, reinforced by rewards and the shame of failure, have any effect at all on individual cognition then it is cognitive depression, leading to rejection of challenging concepts, consequent alienation and the ‘Anti-Flynn’ effect.

Academy schools in England have increasingly moved away from a developmental approach focussed onto improving analytical powers of cognition, to a knowledge-based approach whereby teaching is defined as ‘telling by the teacher’ and learning is ‘listening by the student’.

 Unsurprisingly, many students react badly when, despite listening as hard as they can, they still don’t ‘get’ what the teacher is ‘on about’. See the cover of my bookThey become bored, distracted and eventually rebellious, so a regime of strict discipline backed up by sanctions is needed to maintain order.

 According to an article in the Guardian of 19 November 2013, ‘It’s around noon at a popular and successful Academy School’.

Through the glass walls of the classrooms children can be seen with their heads down over their work. Open a door and they will all jump to attention and stand silently, shirts buttoned to the top, ties neatly pulled up under pinstripe blazers. Tight discipline is something of a feature in many of the sponsored academies of north London.

 Strict dress codes, daily uniform checks and long lists of rules about the different types of detention have won praise from some parents, but others believe it has gone too far.

 At another nearby academy the behaviour policy says students are not allowed to go to the toilet between lessons or visit a local shop on the way home.

 In another London Academy there is a five-stage ‘behaviour improvement path that begins with 20-minute detentions for minor matters such as not filling in a year planner properly, or bringing the wrong equipment, and escalates to exclusion for persistent rule-breaking or more serious offences.”

 A parent is quoted, “They are all Academies around here or are run on similar lines. There’s only one school that isn’t, and it’s hugely oversubscribed. We’re being given no choice about how our children are educated. Why is it only in poor areas that children are being made to do this?”

But worse is on the way from the US in the form of replacing teachers with computers and forcing students to comply with ‘programmed learning’. It is being described euphemistically as ‘Personalised Learning‘. See this article by Matthew Bennett, and the comments to this article by Janet Downs.

These debased and degraded teaching methods are being assessed in England by a similarly debased and degraded GCSE system run by privatised exam boards that have co-evolved to make their exams ‘accessible’ to students taught this way, but lacking deep understanding or development of their general levels of cognition. So the methods may work in the short term for GCSE results for the schools that are forced to compete with each other in the English marketised education system. However, such students are likely to be ill prepared for progression to academic university studies.

The national education systems of England and the US continue to fare badly in the international PISA assessments. My analysis of the results of the latest (2015) PISA round and its update can be found here and here. I use a fresh approach validated by international academics of the highest standing. The articles need to be studied in order to grasp their scope and significance.

There is clearly very little to be positive about that is for sure. Even more depressing is that the frantic pace of ‘reform’ is to be stepped up with more testing, more Academies and Free Schools and with more selective grammar schools in England only belatedly abandoned after the Conservative’s disastrous 2017 General Election result. It would be hard to come up with proposals to make the English national education system worse.

The most important implication for the UK and US education systems is the key role of cognitive ability in driving higher attainment. This needs more of the well-proven developmental pedagogy that the ideology of marketisation is replacing with knowledge-focussed rote learning and behaviourism implemented by computer-based instruction and testing, all enforced by ever more draconian and abusive systems of harsh discipline.

 More importantly in the context of this article we are increasingly not equipping our school leavers and future adults with the cognitive abilities needed to resist the efforts of populist conservative politicians to manipulate our democracy. The Labour Party is proposing a new, ‘National Education Service’. This needs to support the potential of ‘plastic intelligence’ throughout life and will require the recognition and abandonment of the ‘Educational Lysenkoism’ that has afflicted the UK since the 1988 Education Reform Act and New Labour’s creation of independent Academy schools.

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The failure of science education in English Schools

I was prompted to write this article by a recent telephone conversation with the complaints section of my Electricity Supply company. I won’t bore readers with the details, but if I indicate that it concerned estimated meter readings and the unilateral raising of my monthly direct debit on the basis of flawed projections of annual energy use, then it may strike a chord with many.

The issue concerned the relative significance of my actual meter readings compared with the company’s estimated ones. I finally lost all confidence when the person on the other end of the phone started referring to our electrical energy use in ‘kilowatts per hour’. When I tried to correct her it was clear she did not have a clue about the difference between ‘kilowatts’ and ‘kilowatt-hours’ (the proper unit), let alone that ‘kilowatts per hour’ is just nonsense.

This ignorance of basic science in relation to electrical energy is now widespread throughout all sections of society including in broadsheet newspapers and on the BBC. It emerges whenever electrical power generation is being discussed. For example, it is common for the ‘power’ of a new wind turbine installation to be described in ‘kilowatts per year’ in the same paragraph as a statement of the number of households whose energy needs were being met. The correct unit in each case is ‘kilowatts’ (or more likely megawatts). The error is like stating the speed of a ship in ‘knots per hour’ (1 knot = 1 nautical mile per hour).

The distinction is between ‘energy’ (what the householder pays for) and ‘power’ (the rate of production of the energy). The latter rises with the number of customers and the power demands of their households/businesses.

I will return to this later, but not before registering my horror at the same misunderstanding being perpetuated and transmitted to millions of school student watchers of the 2016 Royal Institution Christmas Lectures when the presenter compared the electrical power needs of the TV studio with the number of AA batteries needed to provide it. Despite a short statement that ‘energy’ and ‘power’ were different quantities, the programme went on to seriously confuse the two in a series of further comments and energy transfer demonstrations.

Does this matter except to science ‘nerds’ like me? Of course it does. We would not tolerate being lectured on literature by an illiterate who could not string together a grammatically coherent sentence and who misspelled common words like ‘there’, their’, ‘to’, ‘too’, ‘your’, ‘you’re’ etc.

Science and maths differ from many other subjects in that they get very complicated, very quickly. Despite the assertions of popularisers like ‘Carol Vorderman’, none of it is ‘common sense’. Unlike other science popularisers,  Brian Cox to his credit gets this.

That is probably why it has fallen to science teachers like Michael Shayer and the late ‘Philip’ Adey to assert the validity of the work of Piaget and so lead the way in establishing the essential pedagogic distinction between knowledge and understanding.  Despite the necessity of the former, no amount of it guarantees the latter. As with most of my articles we are back in the territory of both Piaget and Vygotsky, whose pithy statement of the distinction between knowledge and understanding cannot be improved upon.

As we know from investigations of concept formation, a concept is more than the sum of certain associative bonds formed by memory, more than a mere mental habit; it is a genuine and complex act of thought that cannot be taught by drilling, but can only be accomplished when the child’s mental development has itself reached the requisite level.

The English education system is been consumed and corrupted by the marketisation paradigm. This has allowed the ‘behaviourist’ philosophy of the business world to infect and corrupt the ruling pedagogy of our school system.

Nothing can better illustrate the dangers than this article on Local Schools Network, together with my reply to it.

But has our education system got worse in these regards? Ask any science teacher with experience from before the marketisation-enabling 1988 Education Reform Act and they will agree with me that it has. This is what I wrote in this article.

On 21 November 2013 OfSTED published a report entitled, Maintaining curiosity: a survey into science education in schools. They found that dull teaching – accompanied by a lack of practical work in the subject – was putting pupils off the science subjects. In some schools, not enough time had been set aside in the timetable for pupils to do practical work. Girls, in particular, were likely to ditch physics – with only 11,390 going on to do it in the sixth-form in 2011 despite 159,745 getting two good GCSE passes in science. In addition, a minority of secondary schools were ‘pre-occupied with tests and examination results as ends in themselves’ rather than aiming to improve pupils’ deeper knowledge of the subject. The report points out that getting good grades in science is not necessarily the same as “getting” science.

All this is true but the principles are general and relate to all learning. Practical work is not just necessary for developing ‘practical skills’ but for promoting cognitive development that spills over into all subjects and all learning.

Have things improved since 2013? I maintain that they have not. Not only has the decline in practical work continued, but crucially the exam system has been further degraded to make higher grades ‘more accessible’ to students that lack the cognitive development necessary for deep learning and understanding.

There are also increasing problems in recruiting qualified science teachers trained/experienced in devising, planning and managing practical activities and experiments in science, along with doubts that schools may not still possess the extensive range of cleverly designed  equipment that was provided by LEAs to all schools in the 1970s following the widespread adoption of ‘Nuffield Science’, along with the ‘lab technician’ posts needed to maintain it. The consequent science education crisis is being exacerbated by allowing Academy chains to accredit qualified teacher status, when they may have little interest in encouraging science practical work. This is a serious concern given the lack of effective regulation of Academies and Academy Chains. 

This is not an argument  for special pedagogic treatment on the part of science and maths. Didactic ‘instruction’ and ‘knowledge’ dissemination on the Hirsch model, backed by the harsh discipline needed to keep students ‘on task’ while being literally bored stupid, have elbowed out interactive enquiry and peer with peer debate across the curriculum. I comment here on how Education Endowment Foundation research into effective approaches to teaching and learning is ignored by the DfE that funds the research and by the Academy and Free School Chains that the DfE promote for ideological reasons.

I started my teaching career in 1971. In 1975 I was running a science department at The Bosworth College in Leicestershire. This was then a 14-18 comprehensive Community College whose ‘progressive’ teaching methods would today be widely scorned. Students were on first name terms with teachers including the headteacher and there was no school uniform. A surge of blue denim was disgorged every day from the large number of busses that converged on the village of Desford from its huge, mainly rural catchment area. The boys’ fashion was denim jeans and denim jackets and the girls similar, but sometimes with the substitution of denim skirts. Is the scornful dismissal of the ‘progressiveness’ of the time justified? ‘Discovery’ and ‘project-based’ learning were indeed frequently shallow and insufficiently challenging. And while there were many excellent and inspirational teachers, some were undoubtedly lazy and overly politicised.

But none of this was true of the Bosworth Science Department where we ran a ‘General Science’ CSE Mode 3 course (syllabus and schemes of work designed and assessed by teachers) based on ‘Nuffield Secondary Science’. This was a practically-based course that had nothing in common with the shallow GNVQ ‘vocational scam’ introduced by the Blair government in the late 1990s that was rightly seen off by Michael Gove.

Like the other Nuffield GCE and A Level Science courses taught in the school, Bosworth College General Science adopted a scientifically rigorous approach designed to establish sound foundations and bring about the cognitive development needed to secure deep understanding of the most significant principles of science. There was no setting in the science department, but with year groups of 400+, it was mainly lower ability students that chose General Science rather than GCE courses in Biology, Chemistry and Physics. General Science was not intended as a preparation for further studies in science, but to equip students with sound levels of basic understanding and scientific literacy. The CSE was graded on a scale of 1 to 5. Grade 1 corresponded to a C grade or above at GCE and grade 5 to a GCE grade G. The CSE system defined grade 4 (GCE F) as that ‘to be expected from a student of average ability following a competently taught course of study’.

I analyse the devastating history of the inflation of GCSE grades, largely for political reasons, and in response to ‘market pressure’ in Section 1.10 of my book, ‘Learning Matters

When Bosworth College was subject to a full HMI Inspection in the late 1970s, the General Science course was described by the lead inspector as, ‘The best he had ever seen’.

In conclusion, I had better rehearse how electrical energy and power are measured.

All energy is measured in joules.

1 joule is the energy needed to lift a weight of 1 newton (eg a 100g apple) a height of 1 metre.

Power is the rate of expending/providing energy. It is measured in watts.

A power of 1 watt is when energy is expended/provided at a rate of 1 joule per second.

So watts (power) = joules/seconds and so joules(energy) = watts x seconds

These units are too small to be practical in terms of household electrical energy needs, so kilowatts are used in homes (and megawatts in power stations).

1 kilowatt = 1 kilojoule per second

So the practical unit of electrical energy that you are billed for by your energy supply company is the kilowatt-hour (kWh). This is equivalent to a 1 kW electrical appliance switched on for one hour.

Therefore 1 kilowatt hour = 3,600,000 joules (1000 watts x 3,600 seconds)

So the power of a wind turbine installation is expressed in kilowatts (or more likely megawatts).

The units of energy that your energy company bills you for are in kilowatt-hours (kWhs).

The cost of using an electrical appliances in your home can thus be worked out.

Electricity cost = (power of appliance in kW) x (hours used) x (the unit cost per kWh).

This was just a small part of our students’ comprehensive study of the principles and safe use of electrical energy in the home. Students also learned how to read the electricity meters of the time, with their small counter-rotating dials, calculate the energy use and running costs of various appliances,  wire 3-pin mains plugs (new appliances never came with plugs attached in those days) and calculate the fuse ratings needed for appliances of different power and much else besides.

If the lower ability students of a comprehensive school in the 1970s could learn all this, and delight in the practical and experimental aspects of their studies, then why are so many current school leavers and adults, not to mention the public agents of the energy supply companies, along with journalists at all levels of their profession, so woefully ignorant?

We have to assume that this criticism does not also apply to Secretaries of State for Education.

I welcome comments to my articles especially from those that disagree with me.

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Poorer pupils less likely to get into grammars than richer classmates

This Guardian article reports research arguing for the existence of a class-based conspiracy to prevent the children of poor families getting into grammar schools. There are many very good reasons for opposing the re-introduction and expansion of grammar schools, but this is not one of them.

“High-achieving children from disadvantaged backgrounds who perform well at primary school have less chance of getting into a grammar school than their more affluent classmates who perform less well, according to new research. The study, by a team from Bristol University, Warwick University and University College London, says access to grammar schools is “highly skewed” by a child’s socio-economic background.”

The ‘Socio-Economic Status’ (SES) analysis is very thorough, but the conclusions of the study are flawed because of the assumption that KS2 SATs data provide a valid measurement of academic ability.

“Let’s look at two children – one from the poorest SES quintile and one from the least deprived SES quintile – both performing at the 80th percentile of the Key Stage 2 distribution. Despite the same level of academic attainment, our analysis shows that the most deprived pupil has only a 25% chance of attending a grammar compared to a 70% chance for the least deprived pupil.”

But children are not admitted to grammar schools on the basis of ‘academic attainment’ measured by KS2 SATs. The 11+ is an IQ test. It is designed to be a snapshot of general intelligence, which is a far better predictor of ultimate academic attainment than curriculum-specific attainment tests, of which SATs are an example.  Grammar schools have always done this because within the educationally flawed ‘fixed intelligence at birth’ paradigm, it works for them.

The 11 plus is not the only IQ test widely used in the English education system. There are also Cognitive Ability Tests (CATs). These are currently provided by GL Assessment, a commercial company that doesn’t like the CAT being described as an intelligence test. CATs are used on a large scale by many Academies and Multi-Academy Trusts as the basis of ‘Fair Banding’ admissions systems, which successfully ensure that comprehensive schools really are comprehensive in that they contain a balanced mix of pupil abilities. CATs test data produce the same social pattern as the 11 plus results, in that the lower bands are dominated by pupils from poor SES families inviting the same false conclusion that the schools that use the tests are somehow discriminating against children from ‘disadvantaged’ backgrounds.

The fact is that poor SES postcodes are characterised by a significant excess of children with lower average IQ test scores. The 11 plus and Y6 CATs are simply the evidence that this is the case.

Despite the objective truth of this relationship and its profound implications for the national education system, rarely is it admitted, let alone taken into account, even in research carried out by prestigious university institutions like Bristol, Warwick and UCL.

It is why ‘competition’ for pupils in our marketised education system has morphed under commercial institutional pressures to become competition for the most intelligent pupils, in which schools located in posh areas with higher concentrations of more intelligent pupils have an inherent league table advantage over schools in the middle of poor SES council estates, even though the quality of teaching and learning in the ‘posher’ schools may well be poorer.

These facts and their implications are discussed in Part 4 of my book, ‘Learning Matters’, which is about the success of Mossbourne Academy and the Hackney Borough secondary education system and in this article.

There are three types of relationships that secondary schools have with IQ-based admission tests.

Grammar schools – Where the tests are used to ensure that the pupils they admit are intelligent enough to succeed despite often mediocre standards of teaching and learning. There is an important secondary advantage of ‘keeping the riff-raff out’ and so re-assuring snobby parents that their children will not suffer from too close contact with lower class children. This is the real reason for expensive uniforms and rituals that have little beneficial effect on learning.

Fair-banded comprehensive schools – Where the tests are used for the opposite and educationally desirable purpose of achieving mixed ability, diverse social class/ethnicity intakes.

Neighbourhood comprehensive and secondary modern schools – Where there are no admission tests, resulting in the well established pattern that the schools in ‘posh’ areas become successfully established at the top of local school league tables and the schools in poorer areas become labelled as ‘failing’ and drift towards the bottom, in constant fear of OfSTED and academisation. If they have already been academised and fail to ‘improve’, as is likely if they fail to address the low mean cognitive ability of their pupils, they face being ‘transferred’ to whichever MAT can be persuaded and/or bribed by the DfE to take them on. Curiously in our marketised education system ideologically designed to support parental choice of schools, parents have no say in this process whatever.

It is the middle group; comprehensive schools with all ability, mixed social class/ethnicity intakes, that are best placed to successfully confront the flawed ‘fixed intelligence at birth’ paradigm and so transform the life chances of all of their pupils including those from poor communities with low intake IQ scores. This is something that the former Chief Inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, well understood even if he was wrong about so much else, including his obsessions with academisation, school uniforms and obsessive discipline.

Grammar schools recruit pupils of IQ 115+ (more than 1 SD above the mean) so there is little need for them to further develop the intelligence of their pupils in order to retain their league table superiority and social class differentiation compared to neighbouring non-selective schools. While some of the best grammar schools may be challenging their already able pupils to further develop their general cognitive levels, the popularity of selection with the parents of 11 plus successes provides no incentive to change traditions of complacently poor practice in many of these schools.

Comprehensive schools/secondary moderns in poor areas are always fighting against the market pressure of league tables and the ever present threat from OfSTED regimes driven by ‘floor targets’ and dodgy performance measures.

What is the educational solution for schools located within low SES communities?

Urban schools can move into the second category by adopting the Hackney solution of CATs driven banded admissions systems. This does not prevent the operation of the market competition, but it does place limits on the numbers of pupils that can be admitted to each ability band. For example Mossbourne Academy has four admission bands based the quartile-defining CATs scores: Band A 110+, Band B, 100 – 109, Band C 90 – 99 and Band D 89 and below. At Mossbourne there are 50 places in each band in each new Y7 intake.

The poor SES Mossbourne local community results in a large excess of applicants for Band D, while Band A can be ‘topped up’ with pupils from more affluent areas further from the school or in neighbouring Boroughs. The unsuccessful Band D applicants will find places in nearby schools operating the same LA managed system. In the absence of banded admissions Mossbourne would fill up with low SES Band D pupils that live closest to the school, with no spaces left for the more able pupils that live further away. This is what sunk Mossbourne’s predecessor, Hackney Downs School.

Under the Hackney banded admissions system all of the schools are protected from becoming low ability sink schools. Within the Borough the more popular schools can still attract a higher mean IQ admission cohort and so, other things being equal, secure ‘better’ GCSE results, but not by much, which is probably the best that that can be achieved in a marketised system.

The result has been the huge improvement in outcomes for all pupils in the Hackney secondary system. It is only possible because the Hackney Academies are far sighted enough to recognise the advantages to all of the schools of ceding their Academy-based admissions powers to the Local Authority. This is regrettably, so far a unique development.

More rural areas have schools with large natural catchments that are inherently reasonably mixed in terms of the ability/social class profile. Banded admissions would bring few advantages to such schools with the major disadvantage of unsuccessful applicants being faced with having to attend schools many miles from their homes.

Inner urban comprehensives still have to work hard to combat cultural challenges to the establishment of a mutually supportive and vibrant learning community of co-operatively assertive pupils. This article explains how this was achieved in my inner-urban headship school from 1989 until my retirement in 2003.

What is the explanation for the Bristol/Warwick/UCL study conflating KS2 SATs driven ‘academic attainment’ with IQ/cognitive ability?

Poor SES communities characterised by low average IQ children are served by primary schools that are permanently threatened with closure (and the sacking of the head) for failing to meet floor targets. Such schools can fall victim to educational snake oil salespersons that promote behaviourist, knowledge-based, abusive discipline approaches, that the Conservative Party, the DfE and Donald Trump all love.

These methods do not develop cognitive ability or much else besides Gradgrindian conformity and obedience. They may actually make children dimmer and therefore less likely to do well on IQ tests used for secondary school admissions including grammar schools. Their methods work with SATs but not CATs or other IQ tests. Hence the illusion of ‘high academic attainment’ that does not translate into passing the 11 plus. Worse still, there are now secondary Academy Chains and individual schools that use these behaviourist methods to cram pupils for GCSE, with the same claims for success. See this article and my comments to it.

In our primary and secondary schools the DfE seems determined to make the quality of teaching and learning worse and the experience of our children and their teachers even more dismal.

In summary, grammar schools do not discriminate against children from poor backgrounds. They just insist on an IQ test threshold for admissions. It has long been established that the children of well-educated parents do better at school. The CATs data show that, whether by nature, nurture or both, such parents tend to produce higher IQ children. The higher the level of parental education, the less likely are the families to live in areas characterised by poor SES. They can afford to move ‘up the housing ladder’, so they do. Therefore high IQ children will be scarcer on the ground in low SES areas resulting in the pattern observed in the research.

It was not the case in the 1960s where I grew up.

It is worth pointing out that this pattern was hugely intensified by Margaret Thatcher’s disastrous policy of selling council houses at a huge discount to tenants. Fifty years later a high proportion of these well built and roomy homes with front and rear gardens are now owned by private landlords resulting in a historically low level of home ownership. Increasingly poor and aging children are still living with their parents. We children of the 60s were launched into a high degree of independence in our late teens/early 20s to enjoy swinging Britain, free university education supported by maintenance grants (not loans) and full employment in proper pensionable jobs.

There is therefore no class-based discrimination in admissions to grammar schools, just ongoing market based corruption and degradation of the primary school curriculum combined with costly, ideologically driven fragmentation of the secondary school system that damages the opportunities of all pupils to attend inspirational schools  that prioritise the development of individual cognitive and other abilities through co-operative endeavour.

Academisation, Free Schools and now this proposed reintroduction of grammar school selection to those parts of England that are well rid of it, will just waste £millions when per-pupil funding of established and successful comprehensive schools is being drastically cut for the first time in many decades.

I set out a step by step plan to really raise both educational attainment and the mean IQ of our school leavers here. The latter is the essential prerequisite for the former and is essential if our democracy is to reject the wave of economic and political populism that is threatening all of our precious public services.

I welcome comments to all my articles including from those that disagree with me.

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Good relationships are central to deep learning and cognitive growth

Once again, Henry Stewart has posted an important article on Local Schools Network. Henry reproduces a speech by a former head, which he introduces as follows.

Two years ago Sir Alasdair Macdonald gave this speech at the Happy Schools conference, organised by the Guardian and my own company, Happy Ltd. Reading it again I believe it deserves a wider audience. Sir Alasdair focuses on values, relationships and trusting your people as the keys to a great school.

Henry is right that the points made by Sir Alasdair, which lie at the heart of Henry’s own core values, are not just important for schools and school leaders, but for also for other organisations. Lego is one of the world’s most successful companies. Like good schools, it is absolutely dependent on innovation, co-operation and high workforce morale. This is what Lego states about it’s core values.

As we continue to experience global growth, we are joined by many new employees each year. It is important to us that everyone at the LEGO Group experiences their workplace as a highly motivating and engaging place to be. For us to live up to employees’ expectations and to continue being a desirable workplace, we annually measure our employees’ level of motivation and satisfaction. This gives management a better understanding of how our employees experience working for us and to get crucial input for making improvements.

Sir Alasdair’s speech needs to be read in full, but here are some excerpts.

I think there is a tendency with the media in particular, and the politicians and so on, to think that ‘Happy Schools’ is somehow a soft option. That somehow it’s going back to the 80s where we put our arms round children and didn’t have high expectations.”I don’t think it is that at all and certainly wasn’t the perspective of the school where I was Headteacher  We had outstanding Ofsteds, we had very good exam performance, we had very little gaps in terms of pupils. So it is about still having incredibly high expectations.

I think relationships are at the core of good schools. I think headteachers are key within that. However I also think for me personally, perhaps even more important than that, is the idea that everyone in the school – adult, teacher, sports staff, pupil – has potential and is capable of doing whatever they are currently doing better.

I know of no schools where the majority of staff can’t be trusted and yet we base our model on the minority, and often it’s a tiny minority, who can’t. One of the great things to do is to keep a little bit of money, have a slush fund. When people come to you with a great idea you can actually support it.

I think in schools when you get that really strong core value mindset about relationships and about belief in people, you are going to get consistency. By that I mean the way the headteacher interacts with the staff, and that has got to be the way in which the staff interact with the pupils.

This last point crucially also applies to the way that pupils interact with each other. The direct link with learning is made clear in this article.

Lessons that develop cognition and so raise intelligence require pupils to be confronted with cognitive problems above the level at which they can solve them without assistance using their existing mental models. Teachers are now often taught never to allow children to fail to solve problems because this reinforces failure (the behaviourist model), whereas for cognitive growth children need to learn in a culture that supports and encourages learning from mistakes.

 Vygotsky asserts that understanding first appears in the social space that learners share. Only then does it become internalised by individuals. The key point is that in a school the resolution of cognitive conflict in individual learners works best as a social process. The participants assist each other in grappling with the shared cognitive conflict. This is called peer to peer learning. It requires high quality social relationships in the classroom. I was lucky enough early in my career to work in a comprehensive school where such high quality relationships existed and it became a career goal to eventually achieve it in my headship school. Pupils have to trust each other and not fear humiliation by the teacher if they are to risk revealing the true depth of their misunderstandings.

A school culture of behaviourist authoritarianism will not provide sufficient personal psychological security for the teacher or the pupils for the necessary social interactions to ignite. Obviously nothing can be achieved where informality degenerates into anarchy and chaos reigns. Great demands are placed on the teacher, who needs the skills to be able to promote positive self-sustaining, reasoned discussion between pupils. This is very difficult to achieve and the hallmark of a good teacher, supported by like minded professional colleagues working in a school that supports such a culture.

There are regrettably a growing number of schools, led by the Academy and Free School movement, many feted by the DfE, where relationships between school managers and teachers, teachers and pupils and pupils with their peers are so limited in depth and quality that this type of high level learning will be impossible. If cramming and repetition, reinforced by rewards and the shame of failure, have any effect at all on individual cognition then it is cognitive depression, leading to rejection of challenging concepts and consequent alienation.

In this article I explain at length how such good pupil-teacher and pupil-pupil relationships were built in my headship school, which was closed in 2009, six years after I retired, along with two other successful comprehensives, to be replaced by a single Academy that has struggled from its opening and has now been taken over by Trident submarine manufacturer BAE Systems.

As in many such inner urban schools, when I took up my headship classroom relationships involved a considerable degree of disputatious pupil feuding and bullying that significantly disrupted learning. However, much inherent goodness, kindness, humour, charm and co-operation came with it. This typically applied to parents as well as pupils. I had previously served in some excellent comprehensive schools with some outstanding heads that had a deep understanding of education.

I understood from playing my own part in such good practice that a simplistic, harsh discipline-based response to pupil disruption was counter productive in terms of the quality of classroom relationships needed for deep learning.

If our school was to be successful, given its very unpromising intake ability profile, we would have to aim far higher than mere compliance on the part of our pupils. My university experiences had led me believe in the ideas of ‘plastic intelligence‘ promoted by Michael Shayer and Philip Adey. Like me, they had both been science teachers who had grappled with the problem of ‘difficulty’. How can school students be developed so as to understand ‘hard stuff’, such that the cognitive gains that results from the learning process also boosts their transferable general intelligence?

Once formed, the School Council decided its own agenda for change and school improvement. The first and most important project was to construct an ‘Anti-bullying policy’ and a structure for resolving bullying and relationship problems in accordance with the principles of the ‘Equal Opportunities Policy’. This was seen as the key to eliminating disruption to learning and laying the foundations for the metacognitive and collaborative learning approaches needed for the developmental pedagogy of the school.

The School Council needed education and training. This was arranged in after-school sessions by the Deputy Head, who initially recruited some local professional counsellor experts to assist. These were paid for by the school. This later became an entirely in-house operation as expertise was developed.

Great importance was given to ‘Assertiveness Training’. The ‘passive/assertive/aggressive’ spectrum was explained and explored through role play and discussion. Our pupils were taught and trained in the skills needed to be assertive in all aspects of their lives. This empowered and enriched their relationships with peers, teachers and any out of school authority figures they may meet. It directly supported the developmental learning strategies of the school that involved ‘metacognition’, peer to peer and collaborative learning approaches like those now recognised as especially effective by the Education Endowment Foundation as explained here and here.

A very important effect on school culture related to how our more and less able students were perceived by their peers. Comprehensive schools are often accused of not protecting able, hard working students from bullying and attacks on their confidence and esteem from less able peers. Our most able School Council members and officers readily gained respect and esteem from peers through being able to independently demonstrate their accomplishments in public speaking, managing meetings, conflict resolution intervention and general wisdom and good sense.

The School Council was absolutely mixed ability in nature. Many students that received support in our SEN department, including a number with SEN Statements, were heavily involved. This gave our less academically  developed  pupils the confidence to become engaged resulting in some astonishing transformations as it was perceived that mature good sense and wisdom could be developed and demonstrated by everybody.

When I look back on my teaching career, which began in 1971, I recognise three stages in my professional development.

The first stage essentially comprised learning how to survive in the job.

The second involved mastering the skills of class control which, looking back, relied heavily on keeping pupils busy. This was largely based on worksheets (differentiated of course). This approach undoubtedly resulted in calm purposeful lessons and some significant learning, but it took my full time secondment to the Leicester University ‘Master of Education Studies’ course in 1981/82 for me to realise the vital importance of teacher education, especially in relation to theories of learning.

This led to the third stage of my development, in which I came to recognise that ‘compliant busy pupils’, which may be close to Nirvana for NQTs in challenging schools, was not enough. In order to maximise cognitive development, which should be the foundation purpose of all schooling, it was necessary to loosen the rigidities of the traditional classroom and risk the challenging pedagogy of introducing cognitive dissonance and the ‘Growth Mindset’ approach.

Which brings me back to Henry Stewart and Sir Alasdair’s speech.

“The more power you give away, the stronger you become”

And the higher will be the achievement of the pupils at all attainment levels, the greater the commitment of the staff and the happier all concerned will be, including parents and employers.

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The Growth Mindset misunderstood

The width and depth of this misunderstanding is demonstrated in this Guardian headline.

New test for ‘growth mindset’, the theory that anyone who tries can succeed – Researchers are going to examine the theory from American psychology that has taken UK schools by storm. Can it improve Sats results?

It would be hard to get more misunderstandings into a headline.

First, it is not the theory ‘that anyone who tries can succeed’.

This is an especially dangerous misunderstanding as it implies that anybody of any age who does not understand something has just not been trying hard enough. This false notion feeds much of the behaviourist disciplinarianism  that is currently corrupting the English and US education systems and is being used to justify restrictive, rule-driven regimes for school pupils, especially in schools that have adopted the Hirsch knowledge based approach which is explained in this BBC News story.

Hirsch misdiagnoses the difficulty some of his students have in understanding his lessons.

“It wasn’t that they lacked reading ability. It wasn’t even that their vocabularies were excessively small – it was just basic factual information they lacked, which would enable them to understand what they read.”.

The Hirsch solution to understanding hard stuff is to first learn by heart the basic knowledge. According to Hirsch, failure to understand derives from failure to learn the basic facts. Who would argue with that? It appeals to common sense, but when it comes to how learning actually takes place, common sense is frequently wrong, as it is here.

A digression on the general common sense fallacy is needed. It cannot be easily summarised except to state that the laws of nature and the nature of reality are frequently contrary to common sense. This is especially true in relation to learning and the acquisition of knowledge and understanding. Here are some suggested references.

The Unnatural Nature of Science, Lewis Wolpert (1993, new edition 2000)

Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman (2011)

See also this article

Learning Matters, Roger Titcombe (2015)

The clearest statement of why Hirsch is wrong is perhaps this from Vygotsky, who is the main historic learning theorist whose work underpins ‘The Growth Mindset’.

As we know from investigations of concept formation, a concept is more than the sum of certain associative bonds formed by memory, more than a mere mental habit; it is a genuine and complex act of thought that cannot be taught by drilling, but can only be accomplished when the child’s mental development has itself reached the requisite level.

 As a retired science teacher I know from more than thirty years of classroom and laboratory experience that  Vygotsky is right. Take, for example, Newton’s Second Law of Motion.

Force = Rate of Change of Momentum

Understand it? No? Perhaps this is because although force is not too hard to understand (a push or a pull), what about momentum?

Well, momentum = mass x velocity

 Does that help? Thought not. Is this just because you don’t remember what mass and velocity are, or because you confuse mass with weight? Then there is, rate of change. What does that mean?

If I gave you a list of all the scientific terms involved in Newton’s Second Law of Motion and forced you to learn their definitions by rote so you could chant them on demand, would you then be guaranteed to understand Newton’s Laws of Motion? The answer is no and the reason is that given by Vygotsky. Piaget’s life work also helps a lot. In order to understand Newton’s Laws of Motion a student must have attained a sufficient level of cognitive sophistication. Piaget describes this level as ‘formal operational thinking‘. Kahneman calls it ‘System 2 Thinking‘.

‘Alice’ a hypothetical student whose cognition is at the formal operational level, who understands Newton’s Laws of Motion, will also be able to apply her System 2 thinking ability to all concepts that are similarly hard to understand. ‘James’, a student whose cognition has not developed to that level will not only be unable to understand Newton’s Second Law of Motion, he will have the same difficulty with any other concept with the same level of cognitive demand, including those outside maths and science, no matter how hard he tries or how much ‘basic knowledge’ he learns by heart.

Crucially if you give Alice and James a cognitive ability or  IQ test at the stage in their education where Alice understands, but James does not, Alice will come out with a higher score than James. ‘The Growth Mindset’ insists that this is not a fixed difference between them. It is possible that James can be taught to develop the same level of cognition as Alice, but not by memorising facts.

 All teachers know that ‘clever’ students can understand harder stuff than ‘duller’ students, so schools put them in higher streams or sets and leave the duller students in lower streams or sets where they will not face constant failure. How can Hirsch be sure that his students that fail to understand his lessons do not ‘lack ability‘? Has he tested their general cognitive ability levels?

The ‘Growth Mindset’ is not about forcing James to ‘work harder’, it is about teaching James how to learn in such a way that his cognition develops to the level where he can understand harder concepts. The ‘Growth Mindset’ demands the rejection of ‘fixed intelligence’ combined with the recognition of the essential role of failure in the acquisition of understanding.

Forcing pupils to learn things by heart in the absence of understanding makes them not cleverer but dimmer, by denying them a transformative experience of failure and mistakes. For failure to be constructive the learner must be able to consider and evaluate possible reasons for the lack of success, then have another try. This requires the second essential element of ‘The Growth Mindset’, which is called ‘metacognition‘. The pedagogy of ‘The Growth Mindset’ is designed to develop the process of personal individual metacognition by testing it against the metacognitive suggestions and ideas of other students through peer to peer discussion assisted by interventions from the teacher in the form of, ‘what if‘ questions.

Talking and discussing with peers is therefore a key feature of ‘Growth Mindset’ teaching and learning.

 It is not, therefore, going to take root in a school culture that discourages talking where the assumption is that teaching is ‘telling by the teacher’ and learning is ‘listening by the learner, followed by silent rote learning reinforced by regular testing. Of course teachers must impart facts and provide explanations and students must listen to their teachers and to each other, but this is not enough without personal engagement with the essential concepts.

This explains why the ‘Growth Mindset’ does not mean than anyone can understand anything if they try hard enough, and also why English Academies and Free Schools that restrict pupil conversation and have coercive, punishment driven behaviour policies will not succeed with this approach.

To move on to what the ‘Growth Mindset’ actually involves requires consideration of the second major fallacy in the Guardian headline. The theory is not originally from ‘American psychology’. Although much recent excellent work has been published by Carol Dweck in America, the core principles were established by Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky.

The concept of ‘plastic intelligence’ and the development of a practical pedagogy based on its principles are largely down to the lifetime work of Michael Shayer and Philip Adey. You can read about this here.

A very good easy read guide to ‘The Growth Mindset’ is, ‘The Growth Mindset Pocketbook‘, Barry Hymer & Mike Gershon (2014)

Here are some quotes. My comments are in square brackets.

For those with fixed mindsets, challenges carry with them the prospect of ‘failure’ and the consequent ‘exposure’ of a limited intelligence.

 When children learn that sticking at tough, challenging tasks leads to changes to their brains [I prefer minds – I am suspicious of neuro-babble] that make them smarter [cleverer], we have a way of disrupting fixed mindsets and reinforcing growth mindsets.

Shayer and Adey’s ‘Cognitive Acceleration through Science Education’ (CASE) predates ‘The Growth Mindset’, which draws on the same principles. ‘Learning Intelligence‘ (2002) is a collection of articles from various authors that demonstrate applications of the Cognitive Acceleration approach in a variety of subjects for pupils of all ages.

Section 5.2 of ‘Learning Matters‘ addresses principles of ‘The Growth Mindset’ through the work of Shayer and Adey. Here are some quotations.

Exposing pupils to cognitive conflict is central to all teaching for cognitive development. It essentially comprises presenting pupils with factual evidence that doesn’t consciously or unconsciously make initial sense to them, so creating a state of discomforting mental tension. In order for the conflict to be resolved within the mind of the individual learner a personal conceptual breakthrough is necessary. Cognitive development arises from the accumulation of such conceptual breakthroughs.

 It is in this context that ‘The Growth Mindset’ defines the learning resilience needed to persevere with the struggle to make sense of facts, phenomena and evidence with the expectation of failures along the way. ‘Hard work’ is indeed required on the part of learners, but to be useful it has to be directed towards achieving understanding, not ’empty toil’ through repetition, rote learning, revision and testing.

 Metacognition means being aware of your own thinking process. It implies that language provides the tools for thought and that learners benefit by consciously ‘talking to themselves’ as well as talking to peers and the teacher. The idea is that as learners experience cognitive development they also develop a general metacognitive ability that can be characterised as a higher level thinking skill in itself. Einstein described such thinking as ‘thought experiments’, but everybody can be taught to do it.

Lessons that develop cognition and so raise intelligence require pupils to be confronted with cognitive problems above the level at which they can solve them without assistance using their existing mental models. Teachers are now often taught never to allow children to fail to solve problems because this reinforces failure (the behaviourist model), whereas for cognitive growth children need to learn in a culture that supports and encourages learning from mistakes.

 Vygotsky asserts that understanding first appears in the social space that learners share. Only then does it become internalised by individuals. The key point is that in a school the resolution of cognitive conflict in individual learners works best as a social process. The participants assist each other in grappling with the shared cognitive conflict. This is called peer to peer learning. It requires high quality social relationships in the classroom. I was lucky enough early in my career to work in a comprehensive school where such high quality relationships existed and it became a career goal to eventually achieve it in my headship school. Pupils have to trust each other and not fear humiliation by the teacher if they are to risk revealing the true depth of their misunderstandings.

 A school culture of behaviourist authoritarianism will not provide sufficient personal psychological security for the teacher or the pupils for the necessary social interactions to ignite. Obviously nothing can be achieved where informality degenerates into anarchy and chaos reigns. Great demands are placed on the teacher, who needs the skills to be able to promote positive self-sustaining, reasoned discussion between pupils. This is very difficult to achieve and the hallmark of a good teacher, supported by like minded professional colleagues working in a school that supports such a culture.

 There are regrettably a growing number of schools, led by the Academy and Free School movement, many feted by the DfE, where relationships between school managers and teachers, teachers and pupils and pupils with their peers are so limited in depth and quality that this type of high level learning will be impossible. If cramming and repetition, reinforced by rewards and the shame of failure, have any effect at all on individual cognition then it is cognitive depression, leading to rejection of challenging concepts and consequent alienation.

 Not only is ‘The Growth Mindset’ approach not an American innovation, but many of the learning interventions involved, which I have described, have been researched by the DfE funded ‘Education Endowment Foundation’ (EEF). The results of their work and the fact that the conclusions have been largely ignored by the Academy and Free School movement, which is ideologically obsessed with ‘fixed mindset’ approaches, is discussed here.

The thoughtful teacher and education blogger Debra Kidd comes to similar conclusions with regard to the corruption and misunderstanding of ‘The Growth Mindset’ movement. She writes about this here.

The international PISA research into the effectiveness of national education systems comes to similar conclusions as the EEF. My analysis of the results from the latest (2015) round of testing reveals the key relationship between mean national intelligence and the mean national scores on the PISA tests. I go on to show that when student cognitive ability is taken into account the international league table of school system effectiveness is completely changed.

I also speculate on the nature of national cultures that gives rise to differences in mean national intelligences here.

The ‘Growth Mindset’ approach, when not misunderstood and corrupted to justify ‘fixed mindset’ school cultures, allows optimism that the considerable scope for improving the level of intelligence of the general population may lead to population-wide improvements in the quality of knowledge and understanding of the many complex issues confronting UK society and the world as a whole as well as enabling our school leavers to play a full part in our national life and economy.

However the national education systems of the UK and the US are currently following ideologies that lead in the opposite direction and there is little indication that this going to change any time soon.

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National IQs and PISA: update

Since I published this article I have received a lot of email correspondence from internationally respected academics. The general thrust of this has been to confirm the general validity of my approach. However Professor Richard Lynn informed me that my national IQ data were out of date and provided me with the update published in the appendix of his book, ‘ Lynn & Vanhaned Intelligence: A Unifying construct for the Social Sciences,’…

I have to emphasise that I am using these IQ data for the purpose of interpreting the 2015 international PISA test results. Others may use the data for other purposes and come to conclusions that I do not support. However, Lynn’s IQ data now come fully referenced as to sources and include updates resulting from the Flynn effect, along with confirmation that the Flynn increase in IQs over time has ceased for pupils in the UK, as noted in Section 5.10 of, ‘Learning Matters’ where I explain this in terms of the degradation of the English education system caused by marketisation.

Most usefully the updated IQ data are given for various ages. In my corrections I either use the median values or those not above but as close to age 15 as possible. This removes the weakness in my previous analysis of using adult IQs as a proxy for the average national IQs of the students taking the PISA tests.

I fully understand that the details of my analysis depend on the quality of the IQ data. This is not uniform, as Lynn makes clear that the evidence base for some countries is much more limited than for others. I note that Lynn has been criticised for underestimating black African IQs. I can easily see why many educationists find the whole IQ field such dangerous territory that they keep well clear. However in relation to my analysis it should be noted that for all countries if IQs are revised upwards then the effectiveness of the education system is revised downwards.

Lynn’s IQ data comes with this foreword.

These IQ have been obtained from the administration of tests of intelligence and the IQs have been calculated in relation to a British mean of 100 and standard deviation of 15. All IQs have been adjusted for Flynn effects, i.e. secular increases in IQ. Flynn effect adjustments up to the year 1980 are 3 IQ points per decade (Flynn, 1987) for all tests except the Progressive Matrices, for which they are 2 IQ points per decade reported for Britain by Lynn and Hampson (1986). The same adjustments are made for children from 1980 onwards, but for those aged 14 years and above no adjustments have been made because for these, IQ ceased to increase in Britain (Lynn, 2009).

Where data for more than one study in a country have been reported, the mean of the two studies is given, while where there are three or more studies, median IQs are given in the last row for each nation as the best estimates of the national IQs derived from intelligence tests. IQs of multi-racial societies are calculated by weighting the IQs of the races by their proportion in the population given in Philips (1996). Descriptions of many of the studies and how the IQs are calculated are given in Lynn (2006). 

Not everyone may be familiar with scatter charts and their interpretation, so in this update I am presenting the conclusions in the form of a list of the top 30 countries in 2015 PISA maths on the basis of my national IQ mediated outcomes. I also produce the data for the East Asian countries that top the PISA ‘raw results’ table, but this time in order of the raw results, but also including the place in my  IQ mediated league table. Finally I give the IQ mediated UK and USA data as these are of obvious interest.

The scatter chart in my earlier article has been updated using Lynn’s latest IQ data and can be viewed alongside my ‘league table’ list for those (like me) that like scatter charts. As will be noted from what follows, the top country is Poland, closely followed by Ireland.

How I obtained my national IQ mediated list.

The first step was to rework the scatter chart using the corrected IQ data provided by Professor Lynn to produce the updated regression line. This produced a correlation between national IQ and PISA maths scores of 89 percent (compared to 88 percent previously). This shows a very strong link (remarkable even) between IQ and performance in the PISA maths test. Note that as in my previous article I have used IQ percentiles rather than standard IQ scores (mean = 100, SD = 15). The IQ percentile is the proportion of the population with that IQ score or less, so an IQ score of 100 represents the 50th  percentile. IQ Percentiles can be found from IQ scores by consulting published tables. This link  also contains a good explanation of IQ.

However correlation is not causation. This is very important. For example, there is a strong inverse correlation between pupil attainment in GCSE and socio-economic measures like Free School Meals (FSM). This has led virtually the entire UK educational establishment and the media to the conclusion that social deprivation causes low school attainment. This has led a whole industry from the Sutton Trust to Alan Milburn’s ‘Social Mobility Commission’ to create a class discrimination/parental skill deficit construct of an ‘Attainment Gap’, that is wholly false.

So more than correlation is needed. There has to be a credible mechanism, backed by evidence, that it is primarily high IQs that drive high attainment in school exams and in particular the PISA tests that are designed to test deep learning and sound reasoning where there is no specified knowledge content.

What does IQ measure? It is the ability to come to valid conclusions about the meaning of observations/evidence/patterns and logical propositions. In short it is general reasoning power. So is it credible that a student with well developed ‘reasoning power’ will do well  on the PISA maths test? Of course it is.

If you think I am making a meal of something obvious, it has been suggested that my method lacks validity because students in East Asia that become good at maths acquire a high IQ in the process and it is this that explains the high IQ of East Asian students, rather than a high IQ makes it easier to become good at maths. Since I am a strong believer in plastic intelligence, this notion cannot be dismissed out of hand. Indeed it seems likely that the national education systems at the top of my league table do promote cognitive/IQ development. The problem is that the East Asian teaching methods, being based on rote learning from direct instruction are not effective in promoting cognitive development  however much they may appeal to Daily Mail readers and the educationally illiterate politicians in charge at the DfE. This is being increasingly recognised by educationalists in those countries.

We must be clear about what a national IQ means. It does not mean that all East Asian students are cleverer than English students. The results of IQ tests produce the classic Gaussian Normal Distribution of continuous variation, as do the measurements of all individual human traits (eg weight, height) and competences.

Having established the validity of the regression line as a description of how success in the PISA maths tests varies with IQ, we can move on to what to do with it.

If you have studied GCSE maths you will know the general formula for a straight line graph:

y = mx + c

m is the gradient/slope of the line and c is the value where the line crosses the axis. Excel works out this value for you and it is displayed on my updated scatter chart. In terms of the quantities on my scatter chart the formula becomes:

predicted score = 3.1293 x (IQ percentile) + 344.95

Note that the numbers for m and c arise entirely from the data in the chart. When I updated the chart with the revised data these numbers changed, but only slightly.

By substituting the national IQ data into the formula I obtained the predicted average PISA maths score of countries whose students have that average IQ. However the correlation is not 100 percent. Assuming that some national education systems are more effective than others the actual PISA scores are above (more effective education system) or below (less effective system) the predicted score. The underlying assumption is that had all the national education systems been equally effective then the actual PISA scores would have been the same as the predicted scores and would therefore lie on the regression line. For this to be true a large sample size is needed to allow for individual students being ill on the day/being distracted by a personal crisis, etc. The PISA system claims to provide appropriately large samples of students that are representative of the full national student population.

It is also important to recognise that a given high national PISA score could be as much down to high performance of the less cognitively able students in the sample as by the average or the most able. In other words it is not possible to conclude from the national PISA scores that high/low attainers are more/less effectively taught in one country rather than another, although deeper digging into the data does reveal such patterns, which is another reason why the PISA tests and their analysis are such a rich resource for educationalists.

To compare the effectiveness of national education systems all that is left is to subtract the predicted score from the actual score to produce a residual.

Residual = Actual Score – Predicted Score

The formula can be entered into the Excel worksheet, which then then does the calculations.

So here is my IQ mediated PISA maths national education system league table in reverse order of the residuals.

The numbers after the country are IQ, actual score, predicted score, residual

 1. Poland, 92, 504, 437.9, 66.1

2. Ireland, 93, 504, 445.1, 58.9

3. Vietnam, 94, 495, 452.9, 42.1

4. UAE, 83, 427, 385.3, 41.7

5. Portugal, 95, 502, 460.4, 41.6

6. Slovenia, 96, 510, 468.6, 41.4

7. Lithuania, 92, 478, 437.9, 40.1

8. Finland, 97, 511, 476.7, 34.3

9. Estonia, 99, 520, 493.0, 27.0

10. Denmark, 98, 511, 484.8, 26.2

11. Russia, 97, 494, 476.7, 17.3

12. Qatar, 83, 402, 385.3, 16.7

13. Greece, 92, 454, 437.9, 16.1

14. Lebanon, 82, 396, 380.9, 15.1

15. Canada, 100, 516, 501.4, 14.6

16. Belgium, 99, 507, 493, 14.0

17= Romania, 91, 444, 430.7, 13.3

17= Italy, 97, 490, 476.7, 13.3

19. Germany, 99, 506, 493.0,13.0

20. Montenegro, 87*, 418, 405.3, 12.7

21. Trinidad & Tobago, 87, 417, 405.3, 11.7

22. Switzerland, 101, 521, 509.9, 11.1

23. Netherlands, 100, 512, 501.4, 10.6

24, Israel, 95, 470, 460.4, 9.6

25. Spain, 97, 486, 476.7, 9.3

26. Australia, 98, 494, 484.8, 9.2

27. France, 98, 493, 484.8, 8.2

28. Czech Republic, 98, 492, 484.8, 7.2

29. Cyprus (Greek), 91, 437, 430.7, 6.3

30. Thailand, 88, 415, 411, 3.3

* estimated IQ

The next 10 countries are in order of their actual maths score

48. Singapore, 109, 564, 572.1, -8.1

39. Hong Kong (China), 106, 548, 549.9, -1.9

45. Macau (China), 1o6, 544, 544.9, -5.9

47. Tapei (China), 106, 542, 549.9, -7.9

62. South Korea, 106, 524, 549.9, -25.9

9. Estonia, 99, 520, 493.0, 27.0

15. Canada, 100, 516, 501.4, 14.6

8. Finland, 97, 511, 476.7, 34.3

6. Slovenia, 96, 510, 468.6, 41.4

19. Germany, 99, 506, 493.0,13.0

As noted in my earlier article, there is an issue in China in relation to the average IQ levels in each area of this vast and diverse country. The Lynn data do not provide regional breakdowns. In this update the IQ figure has been revised upwards from 100 to 106, which explains why China comes out worse in my IQ mediated table.

The Global Education Reform Movement (GERM) countries.

49. UK, 100, 492, 501.4, -9.4

53. USA, 98, 470, 484.8, -14.8

Regional IQ variations probably apply in most countries and almost certainly in the UK. In England, school attainment is much lower in the former industrial northern towns that have suffered economically from de-industrialisation following globalisation. For example I have CATs data for Barrow-in-Furness that produce a mean CATs score for the town of 92. Other northern towns will be similar. In the London Borough of Hackney, the subject of my study reported in Part 4 of, ‘Learning Matters’, I give a figure of 97 for the mean CATs score.

Scotland and Wales have even higher proportions of de-industrialised, poverty blighted towns than England. It is therefore highly likely that the UK average IQ of 100 is made up of a higher figure for England balanced by lower figures for Scotland and Wales. This being the case the Scottish and Welsh governments would be very foolish not to take this into account in evaluating the PISA scores for those countries compared to England. There is no indication that the devolved governments are doing this. My advice to the Scottish and Welsh governments would be to introduce universal Y6 CATs testing in all schools. It would certainly be a great mistake to believe that the English SATs regime is a good model to be copied.

The IQ mediated league table differs massively from that published by PISA based on the raw test scores. This is to be expected. Consider a school that has Cognitive Ability Test scores (CATs) for all it pupils. Assume this school teaches maths in four ability sets. Set one contains the CATs top quartile (score of 110 or greater). Set four contains the bottom quartile (score of 90 or less). The Head of Maths wants to rate the effectiveness of the teachers of each set. Quite obviously he could not do this on the basis of the average GCSE grades obtained in each set. He/she would have to take account of the average CATs scores by using a method like that described in this article.

The current grammar school debate in England is degraded by the often deliberate failure to recognise this statistical fact.

So what do the the most effective national education systems based on my analysis have in common? PISA published a very thorough analysis of the 2012 tests. A huge range of different approaches to pedagogy were evaluated. A similar analysis of the 2015 results will doubtless soon follow. In England the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) is funded by the government to evaluate pedagogic interventions and initiatives. The problem is that the government largely ignores its findings in favour of its free market dogma.

All of the education systems towards the top of my list are therefore worthy of study. This is not a job for me, but here is some information about the top four.

In top position is Poland. After the 2012 PISA round the Daily Telegraph published an article extolling the Polish education system quoting Education Secretary  Nicky Morgan as claiming that the English education reforms were based on the Polish success. Nothing could be further from the truth as noted by PISA education guru Andreas Schleicher in the same article.

Andreas Schleicher, the OECD director of education and skills, stated: “The UK has pretty much been flat in terms of learning outcomes at least until 2012, despite a very significant increase in spending.

He said that the UK should be doing much more to check what difference education reforms make to children’s lives.

The OECD’s research also warns that the UK has some policies such as grouping pupils by ability in class, and giving families choice over schools, that could “hinder equity” – meaning they may not help to create an equal school system for all pupils.

The Polish education system has been completely reformed in recent years. The new system is described in detail here. Does it follow the English model of the creation of an artificial market in schools driven by large scale statutory testing of pupils primarily to drive league table competition between schools? It does not.

Second comes Ireland. I described the Irish education system  in my earlier article. Again there is almost nothing in common with the English marketised model.

Third we have Vietnam. This may come as a surprise, but not to Andreas Schleicher, according to this BBC article.

Not just rote learning

These students are expected to leave education not just able to recite what they have learned in class, but to apply those concepts and practices in unfamiliar contexts.

In Vietnamese classrooms there is an impressive level of rigour, with teachers challenging students with demanding questions. The teachers focus on teaching a few things well and with a great sense of coherence that helps students to progress. Teachers in Vietnam are highly respected, both in society as well as in their classrooms. That may be a cultural trait, but it also reflects the role that teachers are given in the education system, which extends well beyond delivering lessons in school and embraces many dimensions of student well-being and support.

Teachers are expected to invest in their own professional development and that of their colleagues, and they work with a high degree of professional autonomy.

Respect, autonomy and high pay for teachers. No mention of testing driving marketisation. Time for a visit to Hanoi, Justine Greening. Why not take Michael Gove with you to learn where he went so wrong? The educational performance of Vietnam is especially impressive given the comparatively low level of public spending by the communist government and lack of infrastructure investment, which must be linked to the lack of an efficient tax system and the highly entrepreneurial nature of its informal and largely unregulated economy. The school system makes do with cramped buildings and at least in primary education, a two shift system in which the school week of six days is made up of half day shifts, so doubling the number of pupils that can be enrolled in each school. Education, however, has a very high priority.

Fourth is UAE. This really is a surprise. Once again we have a country that has recently reformed its entire education system and certainly not on the UK or East Asian model. UAE school students have an average IQ of 83 (13th percentile). Compare this with Singapore (73rd percentile). Yet the UAE students achieved a PISA maths score of  427. What PISA score was being achieved by the very low proportion of Singaporean students with an IQ of 83? What would be their chances of passing the high very high stakes national exams in the Singapore and Chinese systems? All students in these East Asian countries appear to have desperately pressured school lives. This is not good for cognitive development.

This is from a publication of the Embassy of UAE in the USA

Education reform focuses on better preparation, greater accountability, higher standards and improved professionalism. In addition, rote instruction is being replaced with more interactive forms of learning [my bold], and English language education is being integrated into other subjects, such as math and science. The Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC), the Dubai Education Council (DEC) and the UAE Ministry of Education (MOE) are each tasked with education reform, while preserving local traditions, principles and the cultural identity of the UAE.

Education at primary and secondary levels is universal and compulsory up to the ninth grade. This takes place in a four-tier process over 14 years:

  1. 4 to 5 year-olds attend kindergarten
  2. 6 to 11 year-olds attend primary schools
  3. the preparatory stage caters for children aged between 12 and 14 and
  4. 15 to 17 year-olds attend secondary schools.

A note of caution is needed here. The fourth place of UAE  is very much down to the very low IQ score of 83. This is from a single study.

So what can we say about the UK (49th) and USA (53rd) systems?

There is clearly very little to be positive about that is for sure. Even more depressing is that the frantic pace of reform is to be stepped up with more testing, more Academies and Free Schools, more faith schools with their own enhanced sectarian admissions rules and now the imposition of selective grammar schools. It would be hard to come up with proposals to make the national education system worse.

The most important message to the DfE is the key role of cognitive ability in driving higher attainment. This needs more of the well-proven developmental pedagogy that the ideology of marketisation is replacing with knowledge-focussed rote learning and behaviourism, enforced by ever more draconian and abusive systems of harsh discipline.

The potential for raising standards through exploiting the potential of ‘plastic intelligence’ is explained here, and the dire consequences of further attempts to ‘close the gap’ are set out here.

This article describes how cognitive developed can be enhance through fundamental changes to school culture.

And finally if we are looking to the long term,  this article explains how Chinese and other East Asian countries came to have such high national IQs.

I am very happy to discuss any issues related to the validity of the arguments/data in this article either through ‘Comments’ or privately at:



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