Know Your Limits!

. This extended post challenges the argument that all learners can be high attainers. It sets out the various strands of this argument, highlighting the weaker links and illustrating them with the assistance of two case studies, both branded school improvement strategies. It uses PISA 2015 data to demonstrate that none of the world's leading … Continue reading Know Your Limits!

Eight types of ambiguity

. This short post outlines problems with ‘most able education’ – and what needs to change to bring about national improvement. The broad premiss is that, following a period in which comparatively prescriptive, centralised, top-down programmes were de rigeur, the English education sector has become wedded to a market-driven philosophy and ‘school-led system-wide improvement’. But … Continue reading Eight types of ambiguity

Pupil premium grammar schools

. …Or ‘An exercise in policy design’. . This post considers proposals emerging for new selective schools that would select on the basis of ability or attainment and socio-economic disadvantage. It covers the following ground: The context provided by the selection green paper and the Opportunity Areas policy. Recent Advocacy for ‘pupil premium grammar schools’ … Continue reading Pupil premium grammar schools

Rounding-up: Killer stats and 10-point plan

. This post compiles some of the most recent and telling statistics about the state of high attainment in England. It includes a brief summary of the policy position as it stands ahead of the government’s response to the selection green paper. Finally it outlines a ten point improvement plan which does not involve building … Continue reading Rounding-up: Killer stats and 10-point plan

The Politics of Setting

This post was first published on my old Gifted Phoenix Blog back in November 2014.

Much of it is still relevant – parts are even somewhat prophetic.


Gifted Phoenix

I had been intending never to revisit the difficult topic of setting, secure in the knowledge that I could not improve on my earlier treatment of the pros and cons.

P1010978 Irrelevant picture of Norway by Gifted Phoenix

But recent developments have caused me to reconsider, led me to address the issue from a different perspective.

My previous post attempted an objective and balanced statement of the educational arguments for and against, drawing on the research evidence and taking account of all learners, regardless of their attainment.

This one explores how setting – just one option within the far wider range of so-called ‘ability grouping’ strategies –…

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Troubling TIMSS trends

. This post reassesses Progress against the government’s national performance targets and The comparative performance of England’s high attaining pupils following publication of  the TIMSS 2015 international comparisons study. . About TIMSS The results of the 2015 Trends in Maths and Science Study (TIMSS) were published at the end of November 2016. TIMSS is a … Continue reading Troubling TIMSS trends

Advancing by slow degrees

. This post reports five-year trends in the admission of disadvantaged students to selective universities, as revealed by the government’s key stage 5 destinations data. This half decade coincided almost exactly with the lifetime of a government that was strongly committed to social mobility through higher education. What does the destinations data reveal about the … Continue reading Advancing by slow degrees

Do grammar schools close attainment gaps?

.  This experimental post revisits the question whether all grammar schools are effective in closing attainment gaps between disadvantaged students and their peers. Ministers have asserted as much in recent speeches, but they are relying on a single piece of research, now more than a decade old. The Education Policy Institute has countered with qualified … Continue reading Do grammar schools close attainment gaps?

How best to educate ‘poor, bright kids’?

. I included in my last post, on the selection green paper, a set of seven draft principles to inform national policy on educating high-attaining learners from disadvantaged backgrounds. I wanted to lay out a framework that would challenge the thinking of proponents and opponents of selective education alike, to show how it might be possible … Continue reading How best to educate ‘poor, bright kids’?

Be careful what you wish for

. This extended post is about the selection green paper and the prime ministerial speech preceding it. I come at this issue from a different position to most. It is of course essential to ensure that the government’s proposals do not unduly disadvantage the majority of learners. But it is equally important to consider their … Continue reading Be careful what you wish for

Only 5% of primary pupils achieve at a higher standard

. This post is about the new ‘achieving at a higher standard’ headline measure that will now feature in the primary performance tables. Provisional statistics indicate that only 5% of the 2016 end of KS2 cohort achieved this standard. That is disappointing, even allowing for the substantial impact of curriculum reform and new assessment arrangements. … Continue reading Only 5% of primary pupils achieve at a higher standard

The Politics of Selection: Grammar Schools and Disadvantage

Reblogging this post published in November 2014 on my Gifted Phoenix Blog.

Gifted Phoenix

This post considers how England’s selective schools are addressing socio-economic disadvantage.

Another irrelevant Norwegian vista by Gifted Phoenix Another irrelevant Norwegian vista by Gifted Phoenix

It is intended as an evidence base against which to judge various political statements about the potential value of selective education as an engine of social mobility.

It does not deal with recent research reports about the historical record of grammar schools in this respect. These show that – contrary to received wisdom – selective education has had a very limited impact on social mobility.

Politicians of all parties would do well to acknowledge this, rather than attempting (as some do) to perpetuate the myth in defiance of the evidence.

This post concentrates instead on the current record of these schools, recent efforts to strengthen their capacity to support the Government’s gap closing strategy and prospects for the future.

It encourages advocates of increased selection to consider the wider question of how…

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Rescue Plan (or how to get from where we are to where we ought to be)

.  This post: Reviews progress to date on white paper policies to improve the education of higher attaining learners Considers some wider implications of the white paper’s commitment to equality of educational opportunity, regardless of background and prior attainment, and Proposes a dedicated national centre, based in a leading university, to specialise in the education … Continue reading Rescue Plan (or how to get from where we are to where we ought to be)

What’s amiss with the ITT core content framework?

. This post discusses the gap between what the schools white paper said would be in the ITT core content framework and what was actually published. . Background In a previous post – Differentiation in the ITT core content framework (March 2016) – I described the origins of the framework and its intended focus on … Continue reading What’s amiss with the ITT core content framework?

Sir Michael on the most able

.  HMCI Sir Michael Wilshaw devoted his monthly commentary for June 2016 to the education of our most able learners. He has consistently championed the education of the most able in non-selective secondary schools, having instigated two Ofsted survey reports on this topic, published in June 2013 and March 2015 respectively. This new commentary is … Continue reading Sir Michael on the most able

Exposing the implications of ‘educational excellence everywhere’

. Several of my recent educational posts have mentioned the new-found commitment to ‘educational excellence everywhere’. This was the title selected for the March 2016 white paper, but it is also the strategic goal at the heart of this government’s education policy. It should influence every part of the white paper, informing every educational decision … Continue reading Exposing the implications of ‘educational excellence everywhere’

Ofqual’s W-turn on GCSE grade 9

. Ofqual is attempting a double-U-turn on how to define grade 9 in the new GCSE scale. This will affect the highest attaining learners in all our schools, all staff who teach them and all those who rely on GCSE grades to select high-attaining students, including university admissions staff. It also has implications for the performance … Continue reading Ofqual’s W-turn on GCSE grade 9

Differentiation in the ITT core content framework

. This short post anticipates the coverage of top-end differentiation in the imminent framework of core content for initial teacher training (ITT). . Background The Carter review of initial teacher training (ITT) (January 2015) dates from the last months of the Coalition Government. The first recommendation is that DfE should commission a sector body to … Continue reading Differentiation in the ITT core content framework

Education Excellence Everywhere for the most able

. This brief post offers a preliminary assessment of provision for the most able in the 2016 schools white paper. . Background There was a little-noticed commitment in the Conservative Election Manifesto: ‘We will make sure that all students are pushed to achieve their potential and create more opportunities to stretch the most able.’ The statement … Continue reading Education Excellence Everywhere for the most able

Why isn’t pupil premium closing excellence gaps?

. This post:   Reviews the most recent statistical evidence of attainment gaps between disadvantaged high attainers and their peers. Questions why pupil premium is having no impact on these excellence gaps and Proposes action to close the gaps by raising attainment, so improving the life chances of these learners. .   Introduction I have … Continue reading Why isn’t pupil premium closing excellence gaps?

Policy Exchange to the Rescue?

. This post is mainly about Policy Exchange’s plans for ‘super-selective schools’, as proposed on Total Politics and reprised in Schools Week  . Digression It’s been a strange six months. Last July I officially retired the Gifted Phoenix Blog and the @GiftedPhoenix Twitter feed, leaving the former open access and converting the latter into a … Continue reading Policy Exchange to the Rescue?

New Transition Matrices Reveal Worrying Excellence Gaps

. Having spent several years bewailing the limited availability of national data on excellence gaps, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that RAISEOnline has just published transition matrices showing the progress made by disadvantaged learners from KS2 to KS4. It is regrettable that this data has been released only at the point when an entirely … Continue reading New Transition Matrices Reveal Worrying Excellence Gaps

More About Mastery, Depth and High Attainers

  I am increasingly concerned about NCETM’s notion that 'stretch and challenge' should always involve studying the same material in greater depth. This is becoming increasingly pervasive and resulting in widespread confusion, amongst teachers as well as parents. For example see this Mumsnet thread and this sample of recent Tweets . reading More About Mastery, Depth and High Attainers