PISA 2012 Creative Problem Solving: International Comparison of High Achievers’ Performance

This post compares the performance of high achievers from selected jurisdictions on the PISA 2012 creative problem solving test.

It draws principally on the material in the OECD Report ‘PISA 2012 Results: Creative Problem Solving’ published on 1 April 2014.

Pisa ps cover CaptureThe sample of jurisdictions includes England, other English-speaking countries (Australia, Canada, Ireland and the USA) and those that typically top the PISA rankings (Finland, Hong Kong, South Korea, Shanghai, Singapore and Taiwan).

With the exception of New Zealand, which did not take part in the problem solving assessment, this is deliberately identical to the sample I selected for a parallel post reviewing comparable results in the PISA 2012 assessments of reading, mathematics and science: ‘PISA 2012: International Comparisons of High Achievers’ Performance’ (December 2013)

These eleven jurisdictions account for nine of the top twelve performers ranked by mean overall performance in the problem solving assessment. (The USA and Ireland lie outside the top twelve, while Japan, Macao and Estonia are the three jurisdictions that are in the top twelve but outside my sample.)

The post is divided into seven sections:

  • Background to the problem solving assessment: How PISA defines problem solving competence; how it defines performance at each of the six levels of proficiency; how it defines high achievement; the nature of the assessment and who undertook it.
  • Average performance, the performance of high achievers and the performance of low achievers (proficiency level 1) on the problem solving assessment. This comparison includes my own sample and all the other jurisdictions that score above the OECD average on the first of these measures.
  • Gender and socio-economic differences amongst high achievers on the problem solving assessment  in my sample of eleven jurisdictions.
  • The relative strengths and weaknesses of jurisdictions in this sample on different aspects of the problem solving assessment. (This treatment is generic rather than specific to high achievers.)
  • What proportion of high achievers on the problem-solving assessment in my sample of jurisdictions are also high achievers in reading, maths and science respectively.
  • What proportion of students in my sample of jurisdictions achieves highly in one or more of the four PISA 2012 assessments – and against the ‘all-rounder’ measure, which is based on high achievement in all of reading, maths and science (but not problem solving).
  • Implications for education policy makers seeking to improve problem solving performance in each of the sample jurisdictions.

Background to the Problem Solving Assessment

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Definition of problem solving

PISA’s definition of problem-solving competence is:

‘…an individual’s capacity to engage in cognitive processing to understand and resolve problem situations where a method of solution is not immediately obvious. It includes the willingness to engage with such situations in order to achieve one’s potential as a constructive and reflective citizen.’

The commentary on this definition points out that:

  • Problem solving requires identification of the problem(s) to be solved, planning and applying a solution, and monitoring and evaluating progress.
  • A problem is ‘a situation in which the goal cannot be achieved by merely applying learned procedures’, so the problems encountered must be non-routine for 15 year-olds, although ‘knowledge of general strategies’ may be useful in solving them.
  • Motivational and affective factors are also in play.

The Report is rather coy about the role of creativity in problem solving, and hence the justification for the inclusion of this term in its title.

Perhaps the nearest it gets to an exposition is when commenting on the implications of its findings:

‘In some countries and economies, such as Finland, Shanghai-China and Sweden, students master the skills needed to solve static, analytical problems similar to those that textbooks and exam sheets typically contain as well or better than 15-year-olds, on average, across OECD countries. But the same 15-year-olds are less successful when not all information that is needed to solve the problem is disclosed, and the information provided must be completed by interacting with the problem situation. A specific difficulty with items that require students to be open to novelty, tolerate doubt and uncertainty, and dare to use intuitions (“hunches and feelings”) to initiate a solution suggests that opportunities to develop and exercise these traits, which are related to curiosity, perseverance and creativity, need to be prioritised.’

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Assessment framework

PISA’s framework for assessing problem solving competence is set out in the following diagram

 

PISA problem solving framework Capture

 

In solving a particular problem it may not be necessary to apply all these steps, or to apply them in this order.

Proficiency levels

The proficiency scale was designed to have a mean score across OECD countries of 500. The six levels of proficiency applied in the assessment each have their own profile.

The lowest, level 1 proficiency is described thus:

‘At Level 1, students can explore a problem scenario only in a limited way, but tend to do so only when they have encountered very similar situations before. Based on their observations of familiar scenarios, these students are able only to partially describe the behaviour of a simple, everyday device. In general, students at Level 1 can solve straightforward problems provided there is a simple condition to be satisfied and there are only one or two steps to be performed to reach the goal. Level 1 students tend not to be able to plan ahead or set sub-goals.’

This level equates to a range of scores from 358 to 423. Across the OECD sample, 91.8% of participants are able to perform tasks at this level.

By comparison, level 5 proficiency is described in this manner:

‘At Level 5, students can systematically explore a complex problem scenario to gain an understanding of how relevant information is structured. When faced with unfamiliar, moderately complex devices, such as vending machines or home appliances, they respond quickly to feedback in order to control the device. In order to reach a solution, Level 5 problem solvers think ahead to find the best strategy that addresses all the given constraints. They can immediately adjust their plans or backtrack when they detect unexpected difficulties or when they make mistakes that take them off course.’

The associated range of scores is from 618 to 683 and 11.4% of all OECD students achieve at this level.

Finally, level 6 proficiency is described in this way:

‘At Level 6, students can develop complete, coherent mental models of diverse problem scenarios, enabling them to solve complex problems efficiently. They can explore a scenario in a highly strategic manner to understand all information pertaining to the problem. The information may be presented in different formats, requiring interpretation and integration of related parts. When confronted with very complex devices, such as home appliances that work in an unusual or unexpected manner, they quickly learn how to control the devices to achieve a goal in an optimal way. Level 6 problem solvers can set up general hypotheses about a system and thoroughly test them. They can follow a premise through to a logical conclusion or recognise when there is not enough information available to reach one. In order to reach a solution, these highly proficient problem solvers can create complex, flexible, multi-step plans that they continually monitor during execution. Where necessary, they modify their strategies, taking all constraints into account, both explicit and implicit.’

The range of level 6 scores is from 683 points upwards and 2.5% of all OECD participants score at this level.

PISA defines high achieving students as those securing proficiency level 5 or higher, so proficiency levels 5 and 6 together. The bulk of the analysis it supplies relates to this cohort, while relatively little attention is paid to the more exclusive group achieving proficiency level 6, even though almost 10% of students in Singapore reach this standard in problem solving.

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The sample

Sixty-five jurisdictions took part in PISA 2012, including all 34 OECD countries and 31 partners. But only 44 jurisdictions took part in the problem solving assessment, including 28 OECD countries and 16 partners. As noted above, that included all my original sample of twelve jurisdictions, with the exception of New Zealand.

I could find no stated reason why New Zealand chose not to take part. Press reports initially suggested that England would do likewise, but it was subsequently reported that this decision had been reversed.

The assessment was computer-based and comprised 16 units divided into 42 items. The units were organised into four clusters, each designed to take 20 minutes to complete. Participants completed one or two clusters, depending on whether they were also undertaking computer-based assessments of reading and maths.

In each jurisdiction a random sample of those who took part in the paper-based maths assessment was selected to undertake the problem solving assessment. About 85,000 students took part in all. The unweighted sample sizes in my selected jurisdictions are set out in Table 1 below, together with the total population of 15 year-olds in each jurisdiction.

 

Table 1: Sample sizes undertaking PISA 2012 problem solving assessment in selected jurisdictions

Country Unweighted Sample Total 15 year-olds
Australia 5,612 291,976
Canada 4,601 417,873
Finland 3,531 62,523
Hong Kong 1,325 84,200
Ireland 1,190 59,296
Shanghai 1,203 108,056
Singapore 1,394 53,637
South Korea 1,336 687,104
Taiwan 1,484 328,356
UK (England) 1,458 738,066
USA 1,273 3,985,714

Those taking the assessment were aged between 15 years and three months and 16 years and two months at the time of the assessment. All were enrolled at school and had completed at least six years of formal schooling.

Average performance compared with the performance of high and low achievers

The overall table of mean scores on the problem solving assessment is shown below

PISA problem solving raw scores Capture

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There are some familiar names at the top of the table, especially Singapore and South Korea, the two countries that comfortably lead the rankings. Japan is some ten points behind in third place but it in turn has a lead of twelve points over a cluster of four other Asian competitors: Macao, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Taiwan.

A slightly different picture emerges if we compare average performance with the proportion of learners who achieve the bottom proficiency level and the top two proficiency levels. Table 2 below compares these groups.

This table includes all the jurisdictions that exceeded the OECD average score. I have marked out in bold the countries in my sample of eleven which includes Ireland, the only one of them that did not exceed the OECD average.

Table 2: PISA Problem Solving 2012: Comparing Average Performance with Performance at Key Proficiency Levels

 

Jurisdiction Mean score Level 1 (%) Level 5 (%) Level 6 (%) Levels 5+6 (%)
Singapore 562 6.0 19.7 9.6 29.3
South Korea 561 4.8 20.0 7.6 27.6
Japan 552 5.3 16.9 5.3 22.2
Macao 540 6.0 13.8 2.8 16.6
Hong Kong 540 7.1 14.2 5.1 19.3
Shanghai 536 7.5 14.1 4.1 18.2
Taiwan 534 8.2 14.6 3.8 18.4
Canada 526 9.6 12.4 5.1 17.5
Australia 523 10.5 12.3 4.4 16.7
Finland 523 9.9 11.4 3.6 15.0
England (UK) 517 10.8 10.9 3.3 14.2
Estonia 515 11.1 9.5 2.2 11.7
France 511 9.8 9.9 2.1 12.0
Netherlands 511 11.2 10.9 2.7 13.6
Italy 510 11.2 8.9 1.8 10.7
Czech Republic 509 11.9 9.5 2.4 11.9
Germany 509 11.8 10.1 2.7 12.8
USA 508 12.5 8.9 2.7 11.6
Belgium 508 11.6 11.4 3.0 14.4
Austria 506 11.9 9.0 2.0 11.0
Norway 503 13.2 9.7 3.4 13.1
Ireland 498 13.3 7.3 2.1 9.4
OECD Ave. 500 13.2 8.9 2.5 11.4

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The jurisdictions at the top of the table also have a familiar profile, with a small ‘tail’ of low performance combined with high levels of performance at the top end.

Nine of the top ten have fewer than 10% of learners at proficiency level 1, though only South Korea pushes below 5%.

Five of the top ten have 5% or more of their learners at proficiency level 6, but only Singapore and South Korea have a higher percentage at level 6 than level 1 (with Japan managing the same percentage at both levels).

The top three performers – Singapore, South Korea and Japan – are the only three jurisdictions that have over 20% of their learners at proficiency levels 5 and 6 together.

South Korea slightly outscores Singapore at level 5 (20.0% against 19.7%). Japan is in third place, followed by Taiwan, Hong Kong and Shanghai.

But at level 6, Singapore has a clear lead, followed by South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong and Canada respectively.

England’s overall place in the table is relatively consistent on each of these measures, but the gaps between England and the top performers vary considerably.

The best have fewer than half England’s proportion of learners at proficiency level 1, almost twice as many learners at proficiency level 5 and more than twice as many at proficiency levels 5 and 6 together. But at proficiency level 6 they have almost three times as many learners as England.

Chart 1 below compares performance on these four measures across my sample of eleven jurisdictions.

All but Ireland are comfortably below the OECD average for the percentage of learners at proficiency level 1. The USA and Ireland are atypical in having a bigger tail (proficiency level 1) than their cadres of high achievers (levels 5 and 6 together).

At level 5 all but Ireland and the USA are above the OECD average, but USA leapfrogs the OECD average at level 6.

There is a fairly strong correlation between the proportions of learners achieving the highest proficiency thresholds and average performance in each jurisdiction. However, Canada stands out by having an atypically high proportion of students at level 6.

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Chart 1: PISA 2012 Problem-solving: Comparing performance at specified proficiency levels

Problem solving chart 1

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PISA’s Report discusses the variation in problem-solving performance within different jurisdictions. However it does so without reference to the proficiency levels, so we do not know to what extent these findings apply equally to high achievers.

Amongst those above the OECD average, those with least variation are Macao, Japan, Estonia, Shanghai, Taiwan, Korea, Hong Kong, USA, Finland, Ireland, Austria, Singapore and the Czech Republic respectively.

Perhaps surprisingly, the degree of variation in Finland is identical to that in the USA and Ireland, while Estonia has less variation than many of the Asian jurisdictions. Singapore, while top of the performance table, is only just above the OECD average in terms of variation.

The countries below the OECD average on this measure – listed in order of increasing variation – include England, Australia and Canada, though all three are relatively close to the OECD average. So these three countries and Singapore are all relatively close together.

Gender and socio-economic differences amongst high achievers

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Gender differences

On average across OECD jurisdictions, boys score seven points higher than girls on the problem solving assessment. There is also more variation amongst boys than girls.

Across the OECD participants, 3.1% of boys achieved proficiency level 6 but only 1.8% of girls did so. This imbalance was repeated at proficiency level 5, achieved by 10% of boys and 7.7% of girls.

The table and chart below show the variations within my sample of eleven countries. The performance of boys exceeds that of girls in all cases, except in Finland at proficiency level 5, and in that instance the gap in favour of girls is relatively small (0.4%).

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Table 3: PISA Problem-solving: Gender variation at top proficiency levels

Jurisdiction Level 5 (%) Level 6 (%) Levels 5+6 (%)
  Boys Girls Diff Boys Girls Diff Boys Girls Diff
Singapore 20.4 19.0 +1.4 12.0 7.1 +4.9 32.4 26.1 +6.3
South Korea 21.5 18.3 +3.2 9.4 5.5 +3.9 30.9 23.8 +7.1
Hong Kong 15.7 12.4 +3.3 6.1 3.9 +2.2 21.8 16.3 +5.5
Shanghai 17.0 11.4 +5.6 5.7 2.6 +3.1 22.7 14.0 +8.7
Taiwan 17.3 12.0 +5.3 5.0 2.5 +2.5 22.3 14.5 +7.8
Canada 13.1 11.8 +1.3 5.9 4.3 +1.6 19.0 16.1 +2.9
Australia 12.6 12.0 +0.6 5.1 3.7 +1.4 17.7 15.7 +2.0
Finland 11.2 11.6 -0.4 4.1 3.0 +1.1 15.3 14.6 +0.7
England (UK) 12.1 9.9 +2.2 3.6 3.0 +0.6 15.7 12.9 +2.8
USA 9.8 7.9 +1.9 3.2 2.3 +0.9 13.0 10.2 +2.8
Ireland 8.0 6.6 +1.4 3.0 1.1 +1.9 11.0 7.7 +3.3
OECD Average 10.0 7.7 +2.3 3.1 1.8 +1.3 13.1 9.5 +3.6

There is no consistent pattern in whether boys are more heavily over-represented at proficiency level 5 than proficiency level 6, or vice versa.

There is a bigger difference at level 6 than at level 5 in Singapore, South Korea, Canada, Australia, Finland and Ireland, but the reverse is true in the five remaining jurisdictions.

At level 5, boys are in the greatest ascendancy in Shanghai and Taiwan while, at level 6, this is true of Singapore and South Korea.

When proficiency levels 5 and 6 are combined, all five of the Asian tigers show a difference in favour of males of 5.5% or higher, significantly in advance of the six ‘Western’ countries in the sample and significantly ahead of the OECD average.

Amongst the six ‘Western’ representatives, boys have the biggest advantage at proficiency level 5 in England, while at level 6 boys in Ireland have the biggest advantage.

Within this group of jurisdictions, the gap between boys and girls at level 6 is comfortably the smallest in England. But, in terms of performance at proficiency levels 5 and 6 together, Finland is ahead.

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Chart 2: PISA Problem-solving: Gender variation at top proficiency levels

Problem solving chart 2

The Report includes a generic analysis of gender differences in performance for boys and girls with similar levels of performance in English, maths and science.

It concludes that girls perform significantly above their expected level in both England and Australia (though the difference is only statistically significant in the latter).

The Report comments:

‘It is not clear whether one should expect there to be a gender gap in problem solving. On the one hand, the questions posed in the PISA problem-solving assessment were not grounded in content knowledge, so boys’ or girls’ advantage in having mastered a particular subject area should not have influenced results. On the other hand… performance in problem solving is more closely related to performance in mathematics than to performance in reading. One could therefore expect the gender difference in performance to be closer to that observed in mathematics – a modest advantage for boys, in most countries – than to that observed in reading – a large advantage for girls.’

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Socio-economic differences

The Report considers variations in performance against PISA’s Index of Economic, Social and Cultural status (IESC), finding them weaker overall than for reading, maths and science.

It calculates that the overall percentage variation in performance attributable to these factors is about 10.6% (compared with 14.9% in maths, 14.0% in science and 13.2% in reading).

Amongst the eleven jurisdictions in my sample, the weakest correlations were found in Canada (4%), followed by Hong Kong (4.9%), South Korea (5.4%), Finland (6.5%), England (7.8%), Australia (8.5%), Taiwan (9.4%), the USA (10.1%) and Ireland (10.2%) in that order. All those jurisdictions had correlations below the OECD average.

Perhaps surprisingly, there were above average correlations in Shanghai (14.1%) and, to a lesser extent (and less surprisingly) in Singapore (11.1%).

The report suggests that students with parents working in semi-skilled and elementary occupations tend to perform above their expected level in problem-solving in Taiwan, England, Canada, the USA, Finland and Australia (in that order – with Australia closest to the OECD average).

The jurisdictions where these students tend to underperform their expected level are – in order of severity – Ireland, Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong and South Korea.

A parallel presentation on the Report provides some additional data about the performance in different countries of what the OECD calls ‘resilient’ students – those in the bottom quartile of the IESC but in the top quartile by perfromance, after accounting for socio-economic status.

It supplies the graph below, which shows all the Asian countries in my sample clustered at the top, but also with significant gaps between them. Canada is the highest-performing of the remainder in my sample, followed by Finland, Australia, England and the USA respectively. Ireland is some way below the OECD average.

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PISA problem resolving resilience Capture

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Unfortunately, I can find no analysis of how performance varies according to socio-economic variables at each proficiency level. It would be useful to see which jurisdictions have the smallest ‘excellence gaps’ at levels 5 and 6 respectively.

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How different jurisdictions perform on different aspects of problem-solving

The Report’s analysis of comparative strengths and weaknesses in different elements of problem-solving does not take account of variations at different proficiency levels

It explains that aspects of the assessment were found easier by students in different jurisdictions, employing a four-part distinction between:

‘Exploring and understanding. The objective is to build mental representations of each of the pieces of information presented in the problem. This involves:

  • exploring the problem situation: observing it, interacting with it, searching for information and finding limitations or obstacles; and
  • understanding given information and, in interactive problems, information discovered while interacting with the problem situation; and demonstrating understanding of relevant concepts.

Representing and formulating. The objective is to build a coherent mental representation of the problem situation (i.e. a situation model or a problem model). To do this, relevant information must be selected, mentally organised and integrated with relevant prior knowledge. This may involve:

  • representing the problem by constructing tabular, graphic, symbolic or verbal representations, and shifting between representational formats; and
  • formulating hypotheses by identifying the relevant factors in the problem and their inter-relationships; and organising and critically evaluating information.

Planning and executing. The objective is to use one’s knowledge about the problem situation to devise a plan and execute it. Tasks where “planning and executing” is the main cognitive demand do not require any substantial prior understanding or representation of the problem situation, either because the situation is straightforward or because these aspects were previously solved. “Planning and executing” includes:

  • planning, which consists of goal setting, including clarifying the overall goal, and setting subgoals, where necessary; and devising a plan or strategy to reach the goal state, including the steps to be undertaken; and
  • executing, which consists of carrying out a plan.

Monitoring and reflecting.The objective is to regulate the distinct processes involved in problem solving, and to critically evaluate the solution, the information provided with the problem, or the strategy adopted. This includes:

  • monitoring progress towards the goal at each stage, including checking intermediate and final results, detecting unexpected events, and taking remedial action when required; and
  • reflecting on solutions from different perspectives, critically evaluating assumptions and alternative solutions, identifying the need for additional information or clarification and communicating progress in a suitable manner.’

Amongst my sample of eleven jurisdictions:

  • ‘Exploring and understanding’ items were found easier by students in Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Australia, Taiwan and Finland. 
  • ‘Representing and formulating’ items were found easier in Taiwan, Shanghai, South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, Canada and Australia. 
  • ‘Planning and executing’ items were found easier in Finland only. 
  • ‘Monitoring and reflecting’ items were found easier in Ireland, Singapore, the USA and England.

The Report concludes:

‘This analysis shows that, in general, what differentiates high-performing systems, and particularly East Asian education systems, such as those in Hong Kong-China, Japan, Korea [South Korea], Macao-China, Shanghai -China, Singapore and Chinese Taipei [Taiwan], from lower-performing ones, is their students’ high level of proficiency on “exploring and understanding” and “representing and formulating” tasks.’

It also distinguishes those jurisdictions that perform best on interactive problems, requiring students to discover some of the information required to solve the problem, rather than being presented with all the necessary information. This seems to be the nearest equivalent to a measure of creativity in problem solving

Comparative strengths and weaknesses in respect of interactive tasks are captured in the following diagram.

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PISA problem solving strengths in different countries

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One can see that several of my sample – Ireland, the USA, Canada, Australia, South Korea and Singapore – are placed in the top right-hand quarter of the diagram, indicating stronger than expected performance on both interactive and knowledge acquisition tasks.

England is stronger than expected on the former but not on the latter.

Jurisdictions that are weaker than inspected on interactive tasks only include Hong Kong, Taiwan and Shanghai, while Finland is weaker than expected on both.

We have no information about whether these distinctions were maintained at different proficiency levels.

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Comparing jurisdictions’ performance at higher proficiency levels

Table 4 and Charts 3 and 4 below show variations in the performance of countries in my sample across the four different assessments at level 6, the highest proficiency level.

The charts in particular emphasise how far ahead the Asian Tigers are in maths at this level, compared with the cross-jurisdictional variation in the other three assessments.

In all five cases, each ‘Asian Tiger’s’ level 6 performance in maths also vastly exceeds its level 6 performance in the other three assessments. The proportion of students achieving level 6 proficiency in problem solving lags far behind, even though there is a fairly strong correlation between these two assessments (see below).

In contrast, all the ‘Western’ jurisdictions in the sample – with the sole exception of Ireland – achieve a higher percentage at proficiency level 6 in problem solving than they do in maths, although the difference is always less than a full percentage point. (Even in Ireland the difference is only 0.1 of a percentage point in favour of maths.)

Shanghai is the only jurisdiction in the sample which has more students achieving proficiency level 6 in science than in problem solving. It also has the narrowest gap between level 6 performance in problem solving and in reading.

Meanwhile, England, the USA, Finland and Australia all have broadly similar profiles across the four assessments, with the largest percentage of level 6 performers in problem solving, followed by maths, science and reading respectively.

The proximity of the lines marking level 6 performance in reading and science is also particularly evident in the second chart below.

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Table 4: Percentage achieving proficiency Level 6 in each domain

  PS L6  Ma L6 Sci L6 Re L6
Singapore 9.6 19.0 5.8 5.0
South Korea 7.6 12.1 1.1 1.6
Hong Kong 5.1 12.3 1.8 1.9
Shanghai 4.1 30.8 4.2 3.8
Taiwan 3.8 18.0 0.6 1.4
Canada 5.1 4.3 1.8 2.1
Australia 4.4 4.3 2.6 1.9
Finland 3.6 3.5 3.2 2.2
England (UK) 3.3 3.1 1.9 1.3
USA 2.7 2.2 1.1 1.0
Ireland 2.1 2.2 1.5 1.3
OECD Average 2.5 3.3 1.2 1.1

 Charts 3 and 4: Percentage achieving proficiency level 6 in each domain

Problem solving chart 3

Problem solving chart 4

The pattern is materially different at proficiency levels 5 and above, as the table and chart below illustrate. These also include the proportion of all-rounders, who achieved proficiency level 5 or above in each of maths, science and reading (but not in problem-solving).

The lead enjoyed by the ‘Asian Tigers’ in maths is somewhat less pronounced. The gap between performance within these jurisdictions on the different assessments also tends to be less marked, although maths accounts for comfortably the largest proportion of level 5+ performance in all five cases.

Conversely, level 5+ performance on the different assessments is typically much closer in the ‘Western’ countries. Problem solving leads the way in Australia, Canada, England and the USA, but in Finland science is in the ascendant and reading is strongest in Ireland.

Some jurisdictions have a far ‘spikier’ profile than others. Ireland is closest to achieving equilibrium across all four assessments. Australia and England share very similar profiles, though Australia outscores England in each assessment.

The second chart in particular shows how Shanghai’s ‘spike’ applies in all the other three assessments but not in problem solving.

Table 5: Percentage achieving Proficiency level 5 and above in each domain

  PS L5+  Ma L5+ Sci L5+ Re L5+ Ma + Sci + Re L5+
Singapore 29.3 40.0 22.7 21.2 16.4
South Korea 27.6 30.9 11.7 14.2 8.1
Hong Kong 19.3 33.4 16.7 16.8 10.9
Shanghai 18.2 55.4 27.2 25.1 19.6
Taiwan 18.4 37.2 8.4 11.8 6.1
Canada 17.5 16.4 11.3 12.9 6.5
Australia 16.7 14.8 13.5 11.7 7.6
Finland 15.0 15.2 17.1 13.5 7.4
England (UK) 14.2 12.4 11.7 9.1 5.7* all UK
USA 11.6 9.0 7.4 7.9 4.7
Ireland 9.4 10.7 10.8 11.4 5.7
OECD Average 11.4 12.6 8.4 8.4 4.4

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Charts 5 and 6: Percentage Achieving Proficiency Level 5 and above in each domain

Problem solving chart 5Problem solving chart 6.

How high-achieving problem solvers perform in other assessments

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Correlations between performance in different assessments

The Report provides an analysis of the proportion of students achieving proficiency levels 5 and 6 on problem solving who also achieved that outcome on one of the other three assessments: reading, maths and science.

It argues that problem solving is a distinct and separate domain. However:

‘On average, about 68% of the problem-solving score reflects skills that are also measured in one of the three regular assessment domains. The remaining 32% reflects skills that are uniquely captured by the assessment of problem solving. Of the 68% of variation that problem-solving performance shares with other domains, the overwhelming part is shared with all three regular assessment domains (62% of the total variation); about 5% is uniquely shared between problem solving and mathematics only; and about 1% of the variation in problem solving performance hinges on skills that are specifically measured in the assessments of reading or science.’

It discusses the correlation between these different assessments:

‘A key distinction between the PISA 2012 assessment of problem solving and the regular assessments of mathematics, reading and science is that the problem-solving assessment does not measure domain-specific knowledge; rather, it focuses as much as possible on the cognitive processes fundamental to problem solving. However, these processes can also be used and taught in the other subjects assessed. For this reason, problem-solving tasks are also included among the test units for mathematics, reading and science, where their solution requires expert knowledge specific to these domains, in addition to general problem-solving skills.

It is therefore expected that student performance in problem solving is positively correlated with student performance in mathematics, reading and science. This correlation hinges mostly on generic skills, and should thus be about the same magnitude as between any two regular assessment subjects.’

These overall correlations are set out in the table below, which shows that maths has a higher correlation with problem solving than either science or reading, but that this correlation is lower than those between the three subject-related assessments.

The correlation between maths and science (0.90) is comfortably the strongest (despite the relationship between reading and science at the top end of the distribution noted above).

PISA problem solving correlations capture

Correlations are broadly similar across jurisdictions, but the Report notes that the association is comparatively weak in some of these, including Hong Kong. Students here are more likely to perform poorly on problem solving and well on other assessments, or vice versa.

There is also broad consistency at different performance levels, but the Report identifies those jurisdictions where students with the same level of performance exceed expectations in relation to problem-solving performance. These include South Korea, the USA, England, Australia, Singapore and – to a lesser extent – Canada.

Those with lower than expected performance include Shanghai, Ireland, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Finland.

The Report notes:

‘In Shanghai-China, 86% of students perform below the expected level in problem solving, given their performance in mathematics, reading and science. Students in these countries/economies struggle to use all the skills that they demonstrate in the other domains when asked to perform problem-solving tasks.’

However, there is variation according to students’ maths proficiency:

  • Jurisdictions whose high scores on problem solving are mainly attributable to strong performers in maths include Australia, England and the USA. 
  • Jurisdictions whose high scores on problem solving are more attributable to weaker performers in maths include Ireland. 
  • Jurisdictions whose lower scores in problem solving are more attributable to weakness among strong performers in maths include Korea. 
  • Jurisdictions whose lower scores in problem solving are more attributable to weakness among weak performers in maths include Hong Kong and Taiwan. 
  • Jurisdictions whose weakness in problem solving is fairly consistent regardless of performance in maths include Shanghai and Singapore.

The Report adds:

‘In Italy, Japan and Korea, the good performance in problem solving is, to a large extent, due to the fact that lower performing students score beyond expectations in the problem-solving assessment….This may indicate that some of these students perform below their potential in mathematics; it may also indicate, more positively, that students at the bottom of the class who struggle with some subjects in school are remarkably resilient when it comes to confronting real-life challenges in non-curricular contexts…

In contrast, in Australia, England (United Kingdom) and the United States, the best students in mathematics also have excellent problem-solving skills. These countries’ good performance in problem solving is mainly due to strong performers in mathematics. This may suggest that in these countries, high performers in mathematics have access to – and take advantage of – the kinds of learning opportunities that are also useful for improving their problem-solving skills.’

What proportion of high performers in problem solving are also high performers in one of the other assessments?

The percentages of high achieving students (proficiency level 5 and above) in my sample of eleven jurisdictions who perform equally highly in each of the three domain-specific assessments are shown in Table 6 and Chart 7 below.

These show that Shanghai leads the way in each case, with 98.0% of all students who achieve proficiency level 5+ in problem solving also achieving the same outcome in maths. For science and reading the comparable figures are 75.1% and 71.7% respectively.

Taiwan is the nearest competitor in respect of problem solving plus maths, Finland in the case of problem solving plus science and Ireland in the case of problem solving plus reading.

South Korea, Taiwan and Canada are atypical of the rest in recording a higher proportion of problem solving plus reading at this level than problem solving plus science.

Singapore, Shanghai and Ireland are the only three jurisdictions that score above 50% on all three of these combinations. However, the only jurisdictions that exceed the OECD averages in all three cases are Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Finland.

Table 6: PISA problem-solving: Percentage of students achieving proficiency level 5+ in domain-specific assessments

  PS + Ma PS + Sci PS + Re
Singapore 84.1 57.0 50.2
South Korea 73.5 34.1 40.3
Hong Kong 79.8 49.4 48.9
Shanghai 98.0 75.1 71.7
Taiwan 93.0 35.3 43.7
Canada 57.7 43.9 44.5
Australia 61.3 54.9 47.1
Finland 66.1 65.4 49.5
England (UK) 59.0 52.8 41.7
USA 54.6 46.9 45.1
Ireland 59.0 57.2 52.0
OECD Average 63.5 45.7 41.0

Chart 7: PISA Problem-solving: Percentage of students achieving proficiency level 5+ in domain-specific assessments

Problem solving chart 7.

What proportion of students achieve highly in one or more assessments?

Table 7 and Chart 8 below show how many students in each of my sample achieved proficiency level 5 or higher in problem-solving only, in problem solving and one or more assessments, in one or more assessments but not problem solving and in at least one assessment (ie the total of the three preceding columns).

I have also repeated in the final column the percentage achieving this proficiency level in each of maths, science and reading. (PISA has not released information about the proportion of students who achieved this feat across all four assessments.)

These reveal that the percentages of students who achieve proficiency level 5+ only in problem solving are very small, ranging from 0.3% in Shanghai to 6.7% in South Korea.

Conversely, the percentages of students achieving proficiency level 5+ in any one of the other assessments but not in problem solving are typically significantly higher, ranging from 4.5% in the USA to 38.1% in Shanghai.

There is quite a bit of variation in terms of whether jurisdictions score more highly on ‘problem solving and at least one other’ (second column) and ‘at least one other excluding problem solving (third column).

More importantly, the fourth column shows that the jurisdiction with the most students achieving proficiency level 5 or higher in at least one assessment is clearly Shanghai, followed by Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan in that order.

The proportion of students achieving this outcome in Shanghai is close to three times the OECD average, comfortably more than twice the rate achieved in any of the ‘Western’ countries and three times the rate achieved in the USA.

The same is true of the proportion of students achieving this level in the three domain-specific assessments.

On this measure, South Korea and Taiwan fall significantly behind their Asian competitors, and the latter is overtaken by Australia, Finland and Canada.

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Table 7: Percentage achieving proficiency level 5+ in different combinations of PISA assessments

  PS only% PS + 1 or more% 1+ butNot PS% L5+ in at least one % L5+ in Ma + Sci + Re %
Singapore 4.3 25.0 16.5 45.8 16.4
South Korea 6.7 20.9 11.3 38.9 8.1
Hong Kong 3.4 15.9 20.5 39.8 10.9
Shanghai 0.3 17.9 38.1 56.3 19.6
Taiwan 1.2 17.1 20.4 38.7 6.1
Canada 5.5 12.0 9.9 27.4 6.5
Australia 4.7 12.0 7.7 24.4 7.6
Finland 3.0 12.0 11.9 26.9 7.4
England (UK) 4.4 9.8 6.8 21.0 5.7* all UK
USA 4.1 7.5 4.5 16.1 4.7
Ireland 2.6 6.8 10.1 19.5 5.7
OECD Average 3.1 8.2 8.5 19.8 4.4

Chart 8: Percentage achieving proficiency level 5+ in different combinations of PISA assessments

Problem solving chart 8

The Report comments:

The proportion of students who reach the highest levels of proficiency in at least one domain (problem solving, mathematics, reading or science) can be considered a measure of the breadth of a country’s/economy’s pool of top performers. By this measure, the largest pool of top performers is found in Shanghai-China, where more than half of all students (56%) perform at the highest levels in at least one domain, followed by Singapore (46%), Hong  Kong-China (40%), Korea and Chinese  Taipei (39%)…Only one OECD country, Korea, is found among the five countries/economies with the largest proportion of top performers. On average across OECD countries, 20% of students are top performers in at least one assessment domain.

The proportion of students performing at the top in problem solving and in either mathematics, reading or science, too can be considered a measure of the depth of this pool. These are top performers who combine the mastery of a specific domain of knowledge with the ability to apply their unique skills flexibly, in a variety of contexts. By this measure, the deepest pools of top performers can be found in Singapore (25% of students), Korea (21%), Shanghai-China (18%) and Chinese Taipei (17%). On average across OECD countries, only 8% of students are top performers in both a core subject and in problem solving.’

There is no explanation of why proficiency level 5 should be equated by PISA with the breadth of a jurisdiction’s ‘pool of top performers’. The distinction between proficiency levels 5 and 6 in this respect requires further discussion.

In addition to updated ‘all-rounder’ data showing what proportion of students achieved this outcome across all four assessments, it would be really interesting to see the proportion of students achieving at proficiency level 6 across different combinations of these four assessments – and to see what proportion of students achieving that outcome in different jurisdictions are direct beneficiaries of targeted support, such as a gifted education programme.

In the light of this analysis, what are jurisdictions’ priorities for improving  problem solving performance?

Leaving aside strengths and weaknesses in different elements of problem solving discussed above, this analysis suggests that the eleven jurisdictions in my sample should address the following priorities:

Singapore has a clear lead at proficiency level 6, but falls behind South Korea at level 5 (though Singapore re-establishes its ascendancy when levels 5 and 6 are considered together). It also has more level 1 performers than South Korea. It should perhaps focus on reducing the size of this tail and pushing through more of its mid-range performers to level 5. There is a pronounced imbalance in favour of boys at level 6, so enabling more girls to achieve the highest level of performance is a clear priority. There may also be a case for prioritising the children of semi-skilled workers.

South Korea needs to focus on getting a larger proportion of its level 5 performers to level 6. This effort should be focused disproportionately on girls, who are significantly under-represented at both levels 5 and 6. South Korea has a very small tail to worry about – and may even be getting close to minimising this. It needs to concentrate on improving the problem solving skills of its stronger performers in maths.

Hong Kong has a slightly bigger tail than Singapore’s but is significantly behind at both proficiency levels 5 and 6. In the case of level 6 it is equalled by Canada. Hong Kong needs to focus simultaneously on reducing the tail and lifting performance across the top end, where girls and weaker performers in maths are a clear priority.

Shanghai has a similar profile to Hong Kong’s in all respects, though with somewhat fewer level 6 performers. It also needs to focus effort simultaneously at the top and the bottom of the distribution. Amongst this sample, Shanghai has the worst under-representation of girls at level 5 and levels 5 and 6 together, so addressing that imbalance is an obvious priority. It also demonstrated the largest variation in performance against PISA’s IESC index, which suggests that it should target young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, as well as the children of semi-skilled workers.

Taiwan is rather similar to Hong Kong and Shanghai, but its tail is slightly bigger and its level 6 cadre slightly smaller, while it does somewhat better at level 5. It may need to focus more at the very bottom, but also at the very top. Taiwan also has a problem with high-performing girls, second only to Shanghai as far as level 5 and levels 5 and 6 together are concerned. However, like Shanghai, it does comparatively better than the other ‘Asian Tigers’ in terms of girls at level 6. It also needs to consider the problem solving performance of its weaker performers in maths.

Canada is the closest western competitor to the ‘Asian Tigers’ in terms of the proportions of students at levels 1 and 5 – and it already outscores Shanghai and Taiwan at level 6. It needs to continue cutting down the tail without compromising achievement at the top end. Canada also has small but significant gender imbalances in favour of boys at the top end.

Australia by comparison is significantly worse than Canada at level 1, broadly comparable at level 5 and somewhat worse at level 6. It too needs to improve scores at the very bottom and the very top. Australia’s gender imbalance is more pronounced at level 6 than level 5.

Finland has the same mean score as Australia’s but a smaller tail (though not quite as small as Canada’s). It needs to improve across the piece but might benefit from concentrating rather more heavily at the top end. Finland has a slight gender imbalance in favour of girls at level 5, but boys are more in the ascendancy at level 6 than in either England or the USA. As in Australia, this latter point needs addressing.

England has a profile similar to Australia’s, but less effective at all three selected proficiency levels. It is further behind at the top than at the bottom of the distribution, but needs to work hard at both ends to catch up the strongest western performers and maintain its advantage over the USA and Ireland. Gender imbalances are small but nonetheless significant.

USA has a comparatively long tail of low achievement at proficiency level 1 and, with the exception of Ireland, the fewest high achievers. This profile is very close to the OECD average. As in England, the relatively small size of gender imbalances in favour of boys does not mean that these can be ignored.

Ireland has the longest tail of low achievement and the smallest proportion of students at proficiency levels 5, 6 and 5 and 6 combined. It needs to raise the bar at both ends of the achievement distribution. Ireland has a larger preponderance of boys at level 6 than its Western competitors and this needs addressing. The limited socio-economic evidence suggests that Ireland should also be targeting the offspring of parents with semi-skilled and elementary occupations.

So there is further scope for improvement in all eleven jurisdictions. Meanwhile the OECD could usefully provide a more in-depth analysis of high achievers on its assessments that features:

  • Proficiency level 6 performance across the board.
  • Socio-economic disparities in performance at proficiency levels 5 and 6.
  • ‘All-rounder’ achievement at these levels across all four assessments and
  • Correlations between success at these levels and specific educational provision for high achievers including gifted education programmes.

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GP

April 2014

Unpacking the Primary Assessment and Accountability Reforms

This post examines the Government response to consultation on primary assessment and accountability.

pencil-145970_640It sets out exactly what is planned, what further steps will be necessary to make these plans viable and the implementation timetable.

It is part of a sequence of posts I have devoted to this topic, most recently:

Earlier posts in the series include The Removal of National Curriculum Levels and the Implications for Able Pupils’ Progression (June 2012) and Whither National Curriculum Assessment Without Levels? (February 2013).

The consultation response contrives to be both minimal and dense. It is necessary to unpick each element carefully, to consider its implications for the package as a whole and to reflect on how that package fits in the context of wider education reform.

I have organised the post so that it considers sequentially:

  • The case for change, including the aims and core principles, to establish the policy frame for the planned reforms.
  • The impact on the assessment experience of children aged 2-11 and how that is likely to change.
  • The introduction of baseline assessment in Year R.
  • The future shape of end of KS1 and end of KS2 assessment respectively.
  • How the new assessment outcomes will be derived, reported and published.
  • The impact on floor standards.

Towards the end of the post I have also provided a composite ‘to do’ list containing all the declared further steps necessary to make the plan viable, with a suggested deadline for each.

And the post concludes with an overall judgement on the plans, in the form of a summary of key issues and unanswered questions arising from the earlier commentary. Impatient readers may wish to jump straight to that section.

I am indebted to Warwick Mansell for his previous post on this topic. I shall try hard not to parrot the important points he has already made, though there is inevitably some overlap.

Readers should also look to Michael Tidd for more information about the shape and content of the new tests.

What has been published?

The original consultation document ‘Primary assessment and accountability under the new national curriculum’ was published on 17 July 2013 with a deadline for response of 17 October 2013. At that stage the Government’s response was due ‘in autumn 2013’.

The response was finally published on 27 March, some four months later than planned and only five months prior to the introduction of the revised national curriculum which these arrangements are designed to support.

It is likely that the Government will have decided that 31 March was the latest feasible date to issue the response, so they were right up against the wire.

It was accompanied by:

  • A press release which focused on the full range of assessment reforms – for primary, secondary and post-16.

Shortly before the response was published, the reply to a Parliamentary question asked on 17 March explained that test frameworks were expected to be included within it:

‘Guidance on the nature of the revised key stage 1 and key stage 2 tests, including mathematics, will be published by the Standards and Testing Agency in the form of test framework documents. The frameworks are due to be released as part of the Government’s response to the primary assessment and accountability consultation. In addition, some example test questions will be made available to schools this summer and a full sample test will be made available in the summer of 2015.’ (Col 383W)

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In the event, these documents – seven in all – did not appear until 31 March and there was no reference to any of the three commitments above in what appeared on 27 March.

Finally, the Standards and Testing Agency published on 3 April a guidance page on national curriculum tests from 2016. At present it contains very little information but further material will be added as and when it is published.

Partly because the initial consultation document was extremely ‘drafty’, the reaction of many key external respondents to the consultation was largely negative. One imagines that much of the period since 17 October has been devoted to finding the common ground.

Policy makers will have had to do most of their work after the consultation document issued because they were not ready beforehand.

But the length of the delay in issuing the response would suggest that they also encountered significant dissent amongst internal stakeholders – and that the eventual outcome is likely to be a compromise of sorts between these competing interests.

Such compromises tend to have observable weaknesses and/or put off problematic issues for another day.

A brief summary of consultation responses is included within the Government’s response. I will refer to this at relevant points during the discussion below.

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The Case for Change

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Aims

The consultation response begins – as did the original consultation document – with a section setting out the case for reform.

It provides a framework of aims and principles intended to underpin the changes that are being set in place.

The aims are:

  • The most important outcome of primary education is to ‘give as many pupils as possible the knowledge and skills to flourish in the later phases of education’. This is a broader restatement of the ‘secondary ready’ concept adopted in the original consultation document.
  • The primary national curriculum and accountability reforms ‘set high expectations so that all children can reach their potential and are well prepared for secondary school’. Here the ‘secondary ready’ hurdle is more baldly stated. The parallel notion is that all children should do as well as they can – and that they may well achieve different levels of performance. (‘Reach their potential’ is disliked by some because it is considered to imply a fixed ceiling for each child and fixed mindset thinking.)
  • To raise current threshold expectations. These are set too low, since too few learners (47%) with KS2 level 4C in both English and maths go on to achieve five or more GCSE grades A*-C including English and maths, while 72% of those with KS2 level 4B do so. So the new KS2 bar will be set at this higher level, but with the expectation that 85% of learners per school will jump it, 13% more than the current national figure. Meanwhile the KS4 outcome will also change, to achievement across eight GCSEs rather than five, quite probably at a more demanding level than the present C grade. In the true sense, this is a moving target.
  • No child should be allowed to fall behind’. This is a reference to the notion of ‘mastery’ in its crudest sense, though the model proposed will not deliver this outcome. We have noted already a reference to ‘as many children as possible’ and the school-level target – initially at least – will be set at 85%. In reality, a significant minority of learners will progress more slowly and will fall short of the threshold at the end of KS2.
  • The new system ‘will set a higher bar’ but ‘almost all pupils should leave primary school well-placed to succeed in the next phase of their education’. Another nuanced version of ‘secondary ready’ is introduced. This marks a recognition that some learners will not jump over the higher bar. In the light of subsequent references to 85%, ‘almost all’ is rather over-optimistic.
  • We also want to celebrate the progress that pupils make in schools with more challenging intakes’. Getting ‘nearly all pupils to meet this standard…’ (the standard of secondary readiness?) ‘…is very demanding, at least in the short term’. There will therefore be recognition of progress ‘from a low starting point’ – even though these learners have, by definition, been allowed to fall behind and will continue to do so.

So there is something of a muddle here, no doubt engendered by a spirit of compromise.

The black and white distinction of ‘secondary-readiness’ has been replaced by various verbal approximations, but the bottom line is that there will be a defined threshold denoting preparedness that is pitched higher than the current threshold.

And the proportion likely to fall short is downplayed – there is apparent unwillingness at this stage to acknowledge the norm that up to 15% of learners in each school will undershoot the threshold – substantially more in schools with ‘challenging intakes’.

What this boils down to is a desire that all will achieve the new higher hurdle – and that all will be encouraged to exceed it if they can – tempered by recognition that this is presently impossible. No child should be allowed to fall behind but many inevitably will do so.

It might have been better to express these aims in the form of future aspirations – and our collective efforts to bridge the gap between present reality and those ambitious aspirations.

Principles

The section concludes with a new set of principles governing pedagogy, assessment and accountability:

  • ‘Ongoing, teacher-led assessment is a crucial part of effective teaching;
  • Schools should have the freedom to decide how to teach their curriculum and how to track the progress that pupils make;
  • Both summative teacher assessment and external testing are important;
  • Accountability is key to a successful school system, and therefore must be fair and transparent;
  • Measures of both progress and attainment are important for understanding school performance; and
  • A broad range of information should be published to help parents and the wider public know how well schools are performing.’

These are generic ‘motherhood and apple pie’ statements and so largely uncontroversial. I might have added a seventh – that schools’ in-house assessment and reporting systems must complement summative assessment and testing, including by predicting for parents the anticipated outcomes of the latter.

Perhaps interestingly, there is no repetition of the defence for the removal of national curriculum levels. Instead, the response concentrates on the support available to schools.

It mentions discussion with an ‘expert group on assessment’ about ‘how to support schools to make best use of the new assessment freedoms’. We are not told the membership of this group (which, as far as I know, has not been made public) or the nature of its remit.

There is also a link to information about the Assessment Innovation Fund, which will provide up to 10 grants of up to £10,000 which schools and organisations can use to develop packages that share their innovative practice with others.

 

Children’s experience of assessment up to the end of KS2

The response mentions the full range of national assessments that will impact on children between the ages of two and 11:

  • The statutory progress check at two years of age.
  • A new baseline assessment undertaken within a few weeks of the start of Year R, introduced from September 2015.
  • An Early Years Foundation Stage Profile undertaken in the final term of the year in which children reach the age of five. A revised profile was introduced from September 2012. It is currently compulsory but will be optional from September 2016. The original consultation document said that the profile would no longer be moderated and data would no longer be collected. Neither of those commitments is repeated here.
  • The Phonics Screening Check, normally undertaken in Year 1. The possibility of making these assessments non-statutory for all-through primary schools, suggested in the consultation document, has not been pursued: 53% of respondents opposed this idea, whereas 32% supported it.
  • End of KS1 assessment and
  • End of KS2 assessment.

So a total of six assessments are in place between the ages of two and 11. At least four – and possibly five – will be undertaken between ages two and seven.

It is likely that early years’ professionals will baulk at this amount of assessment, no matter how sensitively it is designed. But the cost and inefficiency of the model is also open to criticism.

The Reception Baseline

Approach

The original consultation document asked whether:

  • KS1 assessment should be retained as a baseline – 45% supported this and 41% were opposed.
  • A baseline check should be introduced at the start of Reception – 51% supported this and 34% were opposed.
  • Such a baseline check should be optional – 68% agreed and 19% disagreed.
  • Schools should be allowed to choose from a range of commercially available materials for this baseline check – 73% said no and only 15% said yes.

So, whereas views were mixed on where the baseline should be set, there were substantial majorities in favour of any Year R baseline check being optional and following a single, standard national format.

The response argues that Year R is the most sensible point at which to position the baseline since that is:

‘…the earliest point that nearly all children are in school’.

What happens in respect of children who are not in school at this point is not discussed.

There is no explanation of why the Government has disregarded the clear majority of respondents by choosing to permit a range of assessment approaches, so this decision must be ideologically motivated.

The response says ‘most’ are likely to be administered by teaching staff, leaving open the possibility that some options will be administered externally.

Design

Such assessments will need to be:

‘…strong predictors of key stage 1 and key stage 2 attainment, whilst reflecting the age and abilities of children in Reception’.

Presumably this means predictors of attainment in each of the three core subjects – English, maths and science – rather than any broader notion of attainment. The challenge inherent in securing a reasonable predictor of attainment across these domains seven years further on in a child’s development should not be under-estimated.

The response points out that such assessment tools are already available for use in Year R, some are used widely and some schools have long experience of using them. But there is no information about how many of these are deemed to meet already the description above.

In any case, new criteria need to be devised which all such assessments must meet. Some degree of modification will be necessary for all existing products and new products will be launched to compete in the market.

There is an opportunity to use this process to ratchet up the Year R Baseline beyond current expectations, so matching the corresponding process at the end of KS2. The consultation response says nothing about whether this is on the cards.

Interestingly, in his subsequent ‘Unsure start’ speech about early years inspection, HMCI refers to:

‘…the government’s announcement last week that they will be introducing a readiness-for-school test at age four. This is an ideal opportunity to improve accountability. But I think it should go further.

I hope that the published outcomes of these tests will be detailed enough to show parents how their own child has performed. I fear that an overall school grade will fail to illuminate the progress of poor children. I ask government to think again about this issue.’

The terminology – ‘readiness for school’ is markedly blunter than the references to a reception baseline in the consultation response. There is nothing in the response about the outcomes of these tests being published, nor anything about ‘an overall school grade’.

Does this suggest that decisions have already been made that were not communicated in the consultation response?

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Timeline, options, questions

Several pieces of further work are required in short order to inform schools and providers about what will be required – and to enable both to prepare for introduction of the assessments from September 2015. All these should feature in the ‘to do’ list below.

One might reasonably have hoped that – especially given the long delay – some attempt might have been made to publish suggested draft criteria for the baseline alongside the consultation response. The fact that even preliminary research into existing practice has not been undertaken is a cause for concern.

Although the baseline will be introduced from September 2015, there is a one-year interim measure which can only apply to all-through primary schools:

  • They can opt out of the Year R baseline measure entirely, relying instead on KS1 outcomes as their baseline; or
  • They can use an approved Year R baseline assessment and have this cohort’s progress measured at the end of KS2 (which will be in 2022) by either the Year R or the KS1 baseline, whichever demonstrates the most progress.

In the period up to and including 2021, progress will continue to be measured from the end of KS1. So learners who complete KS2 in 2021 for example will be assessed on progress since their KS1 tests in 2017.

Junior and middle schools will also continue to use a KS1 baseline.

Arrangements for infant and first schools are still to be determined, another rather worrying omission at this stage in proceedings.

It is also clear that all-through primary schools (and infant/first schools?) will continue to be able to opt out from the Year R baseline from September 2016 onwards, since the response says:

‘Schools that choose not to use an approved baseline assessment from 2016 will be judged on an attainment floor standard alone’.

Hence the Year R baseline check is entirely optional and a majority of schools could choose not to undertake it.

However, they would need to be confident of meeting the demanding 85% attainment threshold in the floor standard.

They might be wise to postpone that decision until the pitch of the progress expectation is determined. For neither the Year R baseline nor the amount of progress that learners are expected to make from their starting point in Year R is yet defined.

This latter point applies at the average school level (for the purposes of the floor standard) and in respect of the individual learner. For example, if a four year-old is particularly precocious in, say, maths, what scaled scores must they register seven years later to be judged to have made sufficient progress?

There are several associated questions that follow on from this.

Will it be in schools’ interests to acknowledge that they have precocious four year-olds at all? Will the Year R baseline reinforce the tendency to use Reception to bring all children to the same starting point in readiness for Year 1, regardless of their precocity?

Will the moderation arrangements be hard-edged enough to stop all-through primary schools gaming the system by artificially depressing their baseline outcomes?

Who will undertake this moderation and how much will it cost? Will not the decision to permit schools to choose from a range of measures unnecessarily complicate the moderation process and add to the expense?

The consultation response neither poses these questions nor supplies answers.

The future shape of end KS1 and end KS2 assessment

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What assessment will take place?

At KS1 learners will be assessed in:

  • Reading – test plus teacher assessment
  • Writing – test (of grammar, punctuation and spelling) plus teacher assessment
  • Speaking and listening – teacher assessment
  • Maths – test plus teacher assessment
  • Science  - teacher assessment

The new test of grammar, punctuation and spelling did not feature in the original consultation and has presumably been introduced to strengthen the marker of progress to which four year-olds should aspire at age seven.

The draft test specifications for the KS1 tests in reading, GPS and maths outline the requirements placed on the test developers, so it is straightforward to compare the specifications for reading and maths with the current tests.

The GPS test will include a 20 minute written grammar and punctuation task; a 20 minute test comprising short grammar, punctuation and vocabulary questions; and a 15 minute spelling task.

There is a passing reference to further work on KS1 moderation which is included in the ‘to do’ list below.

At KS2 learners will be assessed in

  • Reading – test plus teacher assessment
  • Writing – test (of grammar spelling and punctuation) plus teacher assessment
  • Maths – test plus teacher assessment
  • Science  - teacher assessment plus a science sampling test.

Once again, the draft test specifications – reading, GPS, maths and science sampling – describe the shape of each test and the content they are expected to assess.

I will leave it to experts to comment on the content of the tests.

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Academies and free schools

It is important to note that the framing of this content – by means of detailed ‘performance descriptors’ – means that the freedom academies and free schools enjoy in departing from the national curriculum will be largely illusory.

I raised this issue back in February 2013:

  • ‘We know that there will be a new grading system in the core subjects at the end of KS2. If this were to be based on the ATs as drafted, it could only reflect whether or not learners can demonstrate that they know, can apply and understand ‘the matters, skills and processes specified’ in the PoS as a whole. Since there is no provision for ATs that reflect sub-elements of the PoS – such as reading, writing, spelling – grades will have to be awarded on the basis of separate syllabuses for end of KS2 tests associated with these sub-elements.
  • This grading system must anyway be applied universally if it is to inform the publication of performance tables. Since some schools are exempt from National Curriculum requirements, it follows that grading cannot be derived directly from the ATs and/or the PoS, but must be independent of them. So this once more points to end of KS2 tests based on entirely separate syllabuses which nevertheless reflect the relevant part of the draft PoS. The KS2 arrangements are therefore very similar to those planned at KS4.’

I have more to say about the ‘performance descriptors’ below.

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Single tests for all learners

A critical point I want to emphasise at this juncture – not mentioned at all in the consultation document or the response – is the test development challenge inherent in producing single papers suitable for all learners, regardless of their attainment.

We know from the response that the P-scales will be retained for those who are unable to access the end of key stage tests. (Incidentally, the content of the P-scales will remain unchanged so they will not be aligned with the revised national curriculum, as suggested in the consultation document.)

There will also be provision for pupils who are working ‘above the P-scales but below the level of the test’.

Now the P-scales are for learners working below level 1 (in old currency). This is the first indication I have seen that the tests may not cater for the full range from Level 1-equivalent to Level 6-equivalent and above. But no further information is provided.

It may be that this is a reference to learners who are working towards level 1 (in old currency) but do not have SEN.

The 2014 KS2 ARA booklet notes:

‘Children working towards level 1 of the national curriculum who do not have a special educational need should be reported to STA as ‘W’ (Working below the level). This includes children who are working towards level 1 solely because they have English as an additional language. Schools should use the code ‘NOTSEN’ to explain why a child working towards level 1 does not have P scales reported. ‘NOTSEN’ replaces the code ‘EAL’ that was used in previous years.’

The consultation document said:

‘We do not propose to develop an equivalent to the current level 6 tests, which are used to challenge the highest-attaining pupils. Key stage 2 national curriculum tests will include challenging material (at least of the standard of the current level 6 test) which all pupils will have the opportunity to answer, without the need for a separate test’.

The draft test specifications make it clear that the tests should:

‘provide a suitable challenge for all children and give every child the opportunity to achieve as high a standard…as possible.’

Moreover:

‘In order to improve general accessibility for all children, where possible, questions will be placed in order of difficulty.’

The development of single tests covering this span of attainment – from level 1 to above level 6 – tests in which the questions are posed in order of difficulty and even the highest attainers must answer all questions – seem to me to be a very tall order, especially in maths.

More than that, I urgently need persuading that this is not a waste of high attainers’ time and poor assessment practice.

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How assessment outcomes will be derived, reported and published

Deriving assessment outcomes

One of the reasons cited for replacing national curriculum levels was the complexity of the system and the difficulty parents experienced in understanding it.

The Ministerial response to the original report from the National Curriculum Expert Panel said:

‘As you rightly identified, the current system is confusing for parents and restrictive for teachers. I agree with your recommendation that there should be a direct relationship between what children are taught and what is assessed. We will therefore describe subject content in a way which makes clear both what should be taught and what pupils should know and be able to do as a result.’

The consultation document glossed the same point thus:

‘Schools will be able to focus their teaching, assessment and reporting not on a set of opaque level descriptions, but on the essential knowledge that all pupils should learn.’

However, the consultation response introduces for the first time the concept of a ‘performance descriptor’.

This term is defined in the glossaries at the end of each draft test specification:

Description of the typical characteristics of children working at a particular standard. For these tests, the performance descriptor will characterise the minimum performance required to be working at the appropriate standard for the end of the key stage.’

Essentially this is a collective term for something very similar to old-style level descriptions.

Except that, in the case of the tests, they are all describing the same level of performance.

They have been rendered necessary by the odd decision to provide only a single generic attainment target for each programme of study. But, as noted back in February 2013, the test developers need a more sophisticated framework on which to base their assessments.

According to the draft test specifications they will also be used

‘By a panel of teachers to set the standards on the new tests following their first administration in May 2016’.

When it comes to teacher assessment, the consultation response says:

‘New performance descriptors will be introduced to inform the statutory teacher assessments at the end of key stage one [and]…key stage two.’

But there are two models in play simultaneously.

In four cases – science at KS1 and reading, maths and science at KS2 – there will be ‘a single performance descriptor of the new expected standard’, in the same way as there are in the test specifications.

But in five cases – reading, writing, speaking and listening and maths at KS1; and writing at KS2 :

‘teachers will assess pupils as meeting one of several performance descriptors’.

These are old-style level descriptors by another name. They perform exactly the same function.

The response says that the KS1 teacher assessment performance descriptors will be drafted by an expert group for introduction in autumn 2014. It does not mention whether KS2 teacher assessment performance descriptors will be devised in the same way and to the same timetable.

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Reporting assessment outcomes to parents

When it comes to reporting to parents, there will be three different arrangements in play at both KS1 and KS2:

  • Test results will be reported by means of scaled scores (of which more in a moment).
  • One set of teacher assessments will be reported by selecting from a set of differentiated performance descriptors.
  • A second set of teacher assessments will be reported according to whether learners have achieved a single threshold performance descriptor.

This is already significantly more complex than the previous system, which applied the same framework of national curriculum levels across the piece.

It seems that KS1 test outcomes will be reported as straightforward scaled scores (though this is only mentioned on page 8 of the main text of the response and not in Annex B, which compares the new arrangements with those currently in place).

But, in the case of KS2:

‘Parents will be provided with their child’s score alongside the average for their school, the local area and nationally. In the light of the consultation responses, we will not give parents a decile ranking for their child due to concerns about whether decile rankings are meaningful and their reliability at individual pupil level.’

The consultation document proposed a tripartite reporting system comprising:

  • A scaled score for each KS2 test, derived from raw test marks and built around a ‘secondary readiness standard’. This standard would be set at a scaled score of 100, which would remain unchanged. It was suggested for illustrative purposes that a scale based on the current national curriculum tests might run from 80 to 130.
  • An average scaled score in each test for other pupils nationally with the same prior attainment at the baseline. Comparison of a learner’s scaled score with the average scaled score would show whether they had made more or less progress than the national average.
  • A national ranking in each test – expressed in terms of deciles – showing how a learner’s scaled score compared with the range of performance nationally.

The latter has been dispensed with, given that 35% of consultation respondents disagreed with it, but there were clearly technical reservations too.

In its place, the ‘value added’ progress measure has been expanded so that there is a comparison with other pupils in the learner’s own school and the ‘local area’ (which presumably means local authority). This beefs up the progression element in reporting at the expense of information about the attainment level achieved.

So at the end of KS2 parents will receive scaled scores and three average scaled scores for each of reading, writing and maths – twelve scores in all – plus four performance descriptors, of which three will be singleton threshold descriptors (reading, maths and science) and one will be selected from a differentiated series (writing). That makes sixteen assessment outcomes altogether, provided in four different formats.

The consultation response tells us nothing more about the range of the scale that will be used to provide scaled scores. We do not even know if it will be the same for each test.

The draft test specifications say that:

‘The exact scale for the scaled scores will be determined following further analysis of trialling data. This will include a full review of the reporting of confidence intervals for scaled scores.’

But they also contain this worrying statement:

‘The provision of a scaled score will aid in the interpretation of children’s performance over time as the scaled score which represents the expected standard will be the same year on year. However, at the extremes of the scaled score distribution, as is standard practice, the scores will be truncated such that above and below a certain point, all children will be awarded the same scaled score in order to minimise the effect for children at the ends of the distribution where the test is not measuring optimally.’

This appears to suggest that scaled scores will not accurately describe performance at the extremes of the distribution, because the tests will not accurately measure such performance. This might be describing a statistical truism, but it again begs the question whether the highest attainers are being short-changed by the selected approach.

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Publication of assessment outcomes

The response introduces the idea that ‘a suite of indicators’ will be published on each school’s own website in a standard format. These are:

  • The average progress made by pupils in reading, writing and maths. (This is presumably relevant to both KS1 and KS2 and to both tests and teacher assessment.)
  • The percentage of pupils reaching the expected standard in reading, writing and mathematics at the end of key stage 2. (This is presumably relevant to both tests and teacher assessment.)
  • The average score of pupils in their end of key stage 2 assessments. (The final word suggests teacher assessment as well as tests, even though there will not be a score from the former.)
  • The percentage of pupils who achieve a high score in all areas at the end of key stage 2. (Does ‘all areas’ imply something more than statutory tests and teacher assessments? Does it mean treating each area separately, or providing details only of those who have achieved high scores across all areas?)

The latter is the only reference to high attainers in the entire response. It does not give any indication of what will count as a high score for these purposes. Will it be designed to catch the top-third of attainers or something more demanding, perhaps equivalent to the top decile?

A decision has been taken not to report the outcomes of assessment against the P-scales because the need to contextualise such information is perceived to be relatively greater.

And, as noted above, HMCI let slip the fact that the outcomes of reception baselines would also be published, but apparently in the form of a single overall grade.

We are not told when these requirements will be introduced, but presumably they must be in place to report the outcomes of assessments undertaken in spring 2016.

Additionally:

‘So that parents can make comparisons between schools, we would like to show each school’s position in the country on these measures and present these results in a manner that is clear for all audiences to understand. We will discuss how best to do so with stakeholders, to ensure that the presentation of the data is clear, fair and statistically robust.’

This suggests inclusion in the 2016 School Performance Tables, but this is not stated explicitly.

Indeed, apart from references to the publication of progress measures in the 2022 Performance Tables, there is no explicit coverage of their contribution in the response, nor any reference to the planned supporting data portal, or how data will be distributed between the Tables and the portal.

The original consultation document gave several commitments on the future content of performance tables. They included:

  • How many of a school’s pupils are amongst the highest attaining nationally, by showing the percentage of pupils achieving a high scaled score in each subject.
  • Measures to show the attainment and progress of learners attracting the Pupil Premium.
  • Comparison of each school’s performance with that of schools with similar intakes.

None are mentioned here, nor are any of the suggestions advanced by respondents taken up.

Floor standards

Changes are proposed to the floor standards with effect from September 2016.

This section of the response begins by committing to:

‘…a new floor standard that holds schools to account both on the progress that they make and on how well their pupils achieve.’

But the plans set out subsequently do not meet this description.

The progress element of the current floor standard relates to any of reading, writing or mathematics but, under the new floor standard, it will relate to all three of these together.

An all-though primary school must demonstrate that:

‘…pupils make sufficient progress at key stage 2 from their starting point…’

As we have noted above, all-through primaries can opt to use the KS1 baseline or the Year R baseline in 2015. Moreover, from 2016 they can choose not to use the Year R baseline and be assessed solely on the attainment measure in the floor standards (see below).

Junior and middle schools obviously apply the KS1 baseline, while arrangements for infant and first schools have yet to be finalised.

What constitutes ‘sufficient progress’ is not defined. Annex C of the response says:

‘For 2016 we will set the precise extent of progress required once key stage 2 tests have been sat for the first time.’

Presumably this will be progress from KS1 to KS2, since progress from the Year R baseline will not be introduced until 2023.

The attainment element of the new floor standards is for schools to have 85% or more of pupils meeting the new, higher threshold standard at the end of KS2 in all of reading, writing and maths. The text says explicitly that this threshold is ‘similar to a level 4b under the current system’.

Annex C clarifies that this will be judged by the achievement of a scaled score of 100 or more in each of the reading and maths tests, plus teacher assessment that learners have reached the expected standard in writing (so the GPS test does not count in the same way, simply informing the teacher assessment).

As noted above, this a far bigger ask than the current reference to 65% of learners meeting the expected (and lower 4c) standard. The summary at the beginning of the response refers to it as ‘a challenging aspiration’:

‘Over time we expect more and more schools to achieve this standard.’

The statement in the first paragraph of this section of the response led us to believe that these two requirements – for progress and attainment respectively – would be combined, so that schools would be held account for both (unless, presumably, they exercised their right to opt out of the Year R baseline assessment).

But this is not the case. Schools need only achieve one or the other.

It follows that schools with a very high performing intake may exceed the floor standards on the basis of all-round high attainment alone, regardless of the progress made by their learners.

The reason for this provision is unclear, though one suspects that schools with an extremely high attaining intake, whether at Reception or Year 3, will be harder pressed to achieve sufficient progress, presumably because some ceiling effects come into play at the end of KS2.

This in turn might suggest that the planned tests do not have sufficient headroom for the highest attainers, even though they are supposed to provide similar challenge to level 6 and potentially extend beyond it.

Meanwhile, schools with less than stellar attainment results will be obliged to follow the progress route to jump the floor standard. This too will be demanding because all three domains will be in play.

There will have been some internal modelling undertaken to judge how many schools would be likely to fall short of the floor standards given these arrangements and it would be very useful to know these estimates, however unreliable they prove to be.

In their absence, one suspects that the majority of schools will be below the floor standards, at least initially. That of course materially changes the nature and purpose of the standards.

To Do List

The response and the draft specifications together contain a long list of work to be carried out over the next two years or so. I have included below my best guess as to the latest possible date for each decision to be completed and communicated:

  • Decide how progress will be measured for infants and first schools between the Year R baseline and the end of KS1 (April 2014)
  • Make available to schools a ‘small number’ of sample test questions for each key stage and subject (Summer 2014)
  • Work with experts to establish the criteria for the Year R baseline (September 2014)
  • KS1 [and KS2?] teacher assessment performance descriptors to be drafted by an expert group (September 2014)
  • Complete and report outcomes of a study with schools that already use Year R baseline assessments (December 2014)
  • Decide how Year R baseline assessments will be moderated (December 2014)
  • Publish a list of assessments that meet the Year R baseline criteria (March 2015)
  • Decide how Year R baseline results will be communicated to parents and to Ofsted (March 2015)
  • Make available to schools a full set of sample materials including tests and mark schemes for all KS1 and KS2 tests (September 2015)
  • Complete work with Ofsted and Teachers to improve KS1 moderation (September 2015)
  • Provide further information to enable teachers to assess pupils at the end of KS1 and KS2 who are ‘working above the P-scales but below the level of the test’ (September 2015)
  • Decide whether to move to external moderation of P-scale teacher assessment (September 2015)
  • Agree with stakeholders how to compare schools’ performance on a suite of assessment outcomes published in a standard format (September 2015)
  • Publish all final test frameworks (Autumn 2015)
  • Introduce new requirements for schools to publish a suite of assessment outcomes in a standard format (Spring 2016)
  • Panels of teacher use level descriptors to set the standards on the new tests following their first administration in May 2016 (Summer 2016)
  • Define what counts as sufficient progress from the Year R baseline to end KS1 and end KS2 respectively (Summer 2016)

Conclusion

Overall the response is rather more cogent and coherent than the original consultation document, though there are several inconsistencies and many sins of omission.

Drawing together the key issues emerging from the commentary above, I would highlight twelve key points:

  • The declared aims express the policy direction clumsily and without conviction. The ultimate aspirations are universal ‘secondary readiness’ (though expressed in broader terms), ‘no child left behind’ and ‘every child fulfilling their potential’ but there is no real effort to reconcile these potentially conflicting notions into a consensual vision of what primary education is for. Moreover, an inconvenient truth lurks behind these statements. By raising expectations so significantly – 4b equivalent rather than 4c; 85% over the attainment threshold rather than 65%; ‘sufficient progress’ rather than median progress and across three domains rather than one – there will be much more failure in the short to medium term. More learners will fall behind and fall short of the thresholds; many more schools are likely to undershoot the floor standards. It may also prove harder for some learners to demonstrate their potential. It might have been better to acknowledge this reality and to frame the vision in terms of creating the conditions necessary for subsequent progress towards the ultimate aspirations.
  • Younger children are increasingly caught in the crossbeam from the twin searchlights of assessment and accountability. HMCI’s subsequent intervention has raised the stakes still further. This creates obvious tensions in the sector which can be traced back to disagreements over the respective purposes of early years and primary provision and how they relate to each other. (HMCI’s notion of ‘school readiness’ is no doubt as narrow to early years practitioners as ‘secondary readiness’ is to primary educators.) But this is not just a theoretical point. Additional demands for focused inspection, moderation and publication of outcomes all carry a significant price tag. It must be open to question whether the sheer weight of assessment activity is optimal and delivers value for money. Should a radical future Government – probably with a cost-cutting remit – have rationalisation in mind?
  • Giving schools the freedom to choose from a range of Year R baseline assessment tools also seems inherently inefficient and flies in the face of the clear majority of consultation responses. We are told nothing of the perceived quality of existing services, none of which can – by definition – satisfy these new expectations without significant adjustment. It will not be straightforward to construct a universal and child-friendly instrument that is a sufficiently strong predictor of Level 4b-equivalent performance in KS2 reading, writing and maths assessments undertaken seven years later. Moreover, there will be a strong temptation for the Government to pitch the baseline higher than current expectations, so matching the  realignment at the other end of the process. Making the Reception baseline assessment optional – albeit with strings attached – seems rather half-hearted, almost an insurance against failure. Effective (and expensive) moderation may protect against widespread gaming, but the risk remains that Reception teachers will be even more predisposed to prioritise universal school readiness over stretching their more precocious four year-olds.
  • The task of designing an effective test for all levels of prior attainment at the end of key stage 2 is equally fraught with difficulty. The P-scales will be retained (in their existing format, unaligned with the revised national curriculum) for learners with special needs working below the equivalent of what is currently level 1. There will also be undefined provision ‘for those working above the level of the P-scales but below the level of the test’, even though the draft test development frameworks say:

‘All eligible children who are registered at maintained schools, special schools, or academies (including free schools) in England and are at the end of key stage 2 will be required to take the…test, unless they have taken it in the past.’

And this applies to all learners other than those in the exempted categories set out in the ARA booklets. The draft specifications add that test questions will be placed in order of difficulty. I have grave difficulty in understanding how such assessments can be optimal for high attainers and fear that this is bad assessment practice.

  • On top of this there is the worrying statement in the test development frameworks that scaled scores will be ‘truncated’ at the extremes of the distribution’. This does not fill one with confidence that the highest and lowest attainers will have their test performance properly recognised and reported.
  • The necessary invention of ‘performance descriptors’ removes any lingering illusion that academies and free schools have significant freedom to depart from the national curriculum, at least as far as the core subjects are concerned. It is hard to understand why these descriptors could not have been published alongside the programmes of study within the national curriculum.
  • The ‘performance descriptors’ in the draft test specifications carry all sorts of health warnings that they are inappropriate for teacher assessment because they cover only material that can be assessed in a written test. But there will be significant overlap between the test and teacher assessment versions, particularly in those that describe threshold performance at the equivalent of level 4b. For we know now that there will also be hierarchies of performance descriptors – aka level descriptors – for KS1 teacher assessment in reading, writing, speaking and listening and maths, as well as for KS2 teacher assessment in writing. Levels were so problematic that it has been necessary to reinvent them!
  • What with scaled scores, average scaled scores, threshold performance descriptors and ‘levelled’ performance descriptors, schools face an uphill battle in convincing parents that the reporting of test outcomes under this system will be simpler and more understandable. At the end of KS2 they will receive 16 different assessments in four different formats. (Remember that parents will also need to cope with schools’ approaches to internal assessment, which may or may not align with these arrangements.)
  • We are told about new requirements to be placed on schools to publish assessment outcomes, but the description is infuriatingly vague. We do not know whether certain requirements apply to both KS1 and 2, and/or to both tests and teacher assessment. The reference to ‘the percentage of pupils who achieve a high score in all areas at the end of key stage 2’ is additionally vague because it is unclear whether it applies to performance in each assessment, or across all assessments combined. Nor is the pitch of the high score explained. This is the only reference to high attainers in the entire response and it raises more questions than it answers.
  • We also have negligible information about what will appear in the school performance tables and what will be relegated to the accompanying data portal. We know there is an intention to compare schools’ performance on the measures they are required to publish and that is all. Much of the further detail in the original consultation document may or may not have fallen by the wayside.
  • The new floor standards have all the characteristics of a last-minute compromise hastily stitched together. The consultation document was explicit that floor standards would:

‘…focus on threshold attainment measures and value-added progress measures’

It anticipated that the progress measure would require average scaled scores of between 98.5 and 99.0 adding:

‘Our modelling suggests that a progress measure set at this level, combined with the 85% threshold attainment measure, would result in a similar number of schools falling below the floor as at present.’

But the analysis of responses fails to report at all on the question ‘Do you have any comments about these proposals for the Department’s floor standards?’ It does include the response to a subsequent question about including an average point score attainment measure in the floor standards (39% of respondents were in favour of this against 31% against). But the main text does not discuss this option at all. It begins by stating that both an attainment and a progress dimension are in play, but then describes a system in which schools can choose one or the other. There is no attempt to quantify ‘sufficient progress’ and no revised modelling of the impact of standards set at this level. We are left with the suspicion that a very significant proportion of schools will not exceed the floor. There is also a potential perverse incentive for schools with very high attaining intakes not to bother about progress at all.

  • Finally, the ‘to do’ list is substantial. Several of those with the tightest deadlines ought really to have been completed ahead of the consultation response, especially given the significant delay. There is nothing about the interaction between this work programme and that proposed by NAHT’s Commission on Assessment. Much of this work would need to take place on the other side of a General Election, while the lead time for assessing KS2 progress against a Year R baseline is a full nine years. This makes the project as a whole particularly vulnerable to the whims of future governments.

I’m struggling to find the right description for the overall package. I don’t think it’s quite substantial or messy enough to count as a dog’s breakfast. But, like a poorly airbrushed portrait, it flatters to deceive. Seen from a distance it appears convincing but, on closer inspection, there are too many wrinkles that have not been properly smoothed out

GP

April 2014

 

 

What Has Become of the European Talent Network? Part Two

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This is the second and concluding part of a post about progress by the European Talent Centre towards a European Talent Network.

EU flag CapturePart One:

  • Provided an updated description of the Hungarian model for talent support and its increasingly complex infrastructure.
  • Described the origins of the European Talent project and how its scope and objectives have changed since its inception and.
  • Outlined the project’s initial advocacy effort within the European Commission.

This second episode describes the evolution of the model for the European Network, continues the history of its advocacy effort and reviews the progress Flag_of_Hungarymade by the European Centre in Budapest towards achieving its aims.

It concludes with an overall assessment of progress that highlights some key fault lines and weaknesses that, if addressed, would significantly improve the chances of overall success.

Initial Efforts to Design the European Network

A Draft Talent Points Plan 

At the 2012 ECHA Conference in Munster, a draft ‘Talent Points Plan’ was circulated which set out proposed criteria for EU Talent Points.

The following entities qualify for inclusion on the EU Talent Map:

  • ‘an already existing at least 2 year-old network connected to talent support
  • organizations/institutions focusing mainly on talent support: research, development, identification (eg schools, university departments, talent centers, excellence centers etc)
  • policy makers on national or international level (ministries, local authorities)
  • NGOs
  • business corporation with talent management programs (talent identification, corporate responsibility programs, creative climates)
  • parent organizations of gifted and talented children.’

But only organisations count as EU Talent Points. Each:

  • ‘has a strategy/action plan connected to talent (identification, support, research, carrier planning, etc…)
  • is willing to share at least one best/good practice, research results, video
  • is willing to share information on talent support (programs, conferences, talent days)
  • is open to be visited by other network members
  • is open to cooperate
  • accepts English as a common language while communicating in the network
  • is willing to update the data of home page 2 times/year.’ [sic]

My feedback on this draft urged a more flexible, inclusive approach – similar to what had been proposed earlier – as well as an online consultation of stakeholders to find out what they wanted from the Centre and the wider network.

Curiously, the ‘Towards a European Talent Support Network’ publication that was also distributed at the Conference took a somewhat different line, suggesting a more distributed network in which each country has its own Talent Support Centre:

‘The Talent Support Centres of the European countries could serve as regional hubs of this network building a contact structure going beyond their own country, while the core elements of our unique network could be the so-called European Talent Points… European Talent Centres are proposed to be registered by the Committee of the European Council of High Ability… A European Talent Centre should be an organization or a distinct part of a larger organization established for this purpose.

This is a pronounced shift from the ‘networked hubs’ proposed previously.

The publication goes on to set out ‘proposed requirements for a European Talent Centre’. Each:

  • ‘has an expertise of at least one year to coordinate the talent support activity of minimum 10 thousand persons 
  • has minimum two full-time employees who are dedicated to the tasks listed below 
  • is able to provide high quality information on theoretical and practical issues of gifted education and talent support
  • is able to keep records on the talent support activity of its region including the registration, help and coordination of European Talent Points and making this information available on the web (in the form of a Talent Support Map of the region)
  • is willing to cooperate with other European Talent Centres and with ECHA
  • is willing and able to coordinate joint actions, international events, Talent Days and other meetings in the field of talent support
  • is open to be visited by representatives, experts, talented young people of other European Talent Centres
  • is able to help and influence decisions on regional, national and/or European policies concerning the gifted and talented.’

The document also offers an alternative version of the criteria for European Talent Points.

Whereas the draft I began with specified that only organisations could be placed on the EU Talent Map, this version offers a more liberal interpretation, saying that Talent Points may be:

  • ‘organizations/institutions focusing mainly on talent support: research, development, identification (e. g: schools, university departments, talent centres, excellence centres, NGOs, etc.)
  • talent-related policy makers on national or international level [sic] (ministries, local authorities)
  • business corporation with talent management programs (talent identification, corporate responsibility programs, creative climate)
  • organizations of gifted and talented people
  • organizations of parents of gifted and talented children, or
  • umbrella organization (network) of organizations of the above types’

Talent points are to be registered (not accredited) by the appropriate European talent centres, but it appears that the centres would not enjoy discretion in such matters because there is a second set of proposed requirements:

  • ‘Has a strategy/action plan connected to talent (identification, support, research, career planning, etc.)
  • Is able and willing to share information on its talent support practices and other talent-related matters with other European Talent Points (programs, conferences, Talent Days) including sending the necessary data to a European Talent Centre and sharing at least one best practice/research result on the web
  • Is open to cooperate with other European Talent Points including the hosting of visiting representatives, talented young people from other European Talent Points.’

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Problems with the Talent Points Plan

‘Towards a European Talent Support Network’ stipulates – for no apparent reason – that a European Talent Centre has to be an organisation or part of an organisation established specifically for this purpose. It cannot be subsumed seamlessly into the existing responsibilities of an organisation.

There is no reference to funding to cover the cost of this activity, so that is presumably to be provided, or at least secured, by the organisation in question.

The criteria for European centres seem to be seeking to clone the Budapest Centre. To locate one in every European country – so roughly 50 countries – would be a tall order indeed, requiring a minimum of 100FTE employees.

The impact on the role and responsibilities of the Budapest Centre is not discussed. What would it do in this brave new world, other than to cover Hungary’s contribution to the network?

The only justification for ECHA’s involvement is presumably the reference earlier in ‘Towards a European Talent Support Network’:

‘Stemming from its traditions – and especially due to its consultative status as a non-governmental organization (NGO) at the Council of Europe –ECHA has to stand in the forefront in building a European Talent Support Network; a network of all people involved in talent support.’

ECHA News carries a report of the minutes of an ECHA committee meeting held in April 2013:

‘It was suggested that ECHA should be an accrediting organization for European Talent Centres and Talent Points. In the following discussion it was concluded that (1) it might be possible to establish a special accrediting committee; (2) Talent Centres would decide where Talent Points can be; (3) the proposal for European Talent Centres and European Talent Points criteria would be sent to additional key ECHA members (including National Correspondents) as discussion material. Criteria will be decided later.’

So ECHA would have control of the decision which entities could become European Talent Centres. This is despite the fact that ECHA is an entirely separate membership organisation with no formal responsibility for the EU Talent initiative.

This is not a sensible arrangement.

There is no explanation of why the network itself could not accredit its own members.

Turning back to the proposed requirements for European talent centres, these must be minimum requirements since there would otherwise be no need for an accreditation committee to take decisions.

Presumably the committee might impose its own additional criteria, to distinguish, for example, between two competing proposals for the same region.

The requirement for a year’s experience in relation to ‘co-ordinating’ talent support activity for at least 10,000 people is not explained. What exactly does it mean?

It might have been better to avoid quantitative criteria altogether. Certainly it is questionable whether even the present centre in Budapest meets this description.

And why the attempt to control inputs – the reference to at least two full-time staff – rather than outcomes? Surely the employment of sufficient staff is a matter that should be left to the centre’s discretion entirely.

The broad idea of a distributed network rather than a Budapest-centred network is clearly right, but the reasoning that puts ECHA in a controlling position with regard to the network is out of kilter with that notion, while the criteria themselves are inflexible and unworkable, especially since there is no budget attached to them.

When it comes to the talent points there are clear conflicts between the two versions. The first set of criteria outlined above is the more onerous. They propose an exclusive – rather than illustrative – list of those that can be included on the EU Talent Map.

Additionally they add that existing networks can feature on the map, but only if they are at least two years old! And they stipulate an additional English language requirement and biannual updating of their website homepage.

Only an entity with some serious difficulties could manage to share two sets of different draft criteria – each with its own profound problems – at precisely the same time!

Hungary budapest by night

Budapest by Night

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The EU Advocacy Effort Continues

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What Became of the Written Declaration?

Written Declarations are designed to stimulate debate. Once submitted by MEPs they are printed in all official EU languages and entered into a register. There is then a three month window in which other MEPs may sign them.

Those attracting signatures from a majority of MEPs are announced by the President in a plenary session of the European Parliament and forwarded for consideration to the bodies named in the text.

Those that do not attract sufficient signatures officially lapse.

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The archive of written declarations shows that – despite the revisions outlined above and the best efforts of all those lobbying (including me) – WD 0034/2012 lapsed on 20 February 2013 having attracted 178 signatures. Since there are some 750 MEPs, that represents less than 25% of the total.

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A Parliamentary Hearing

As part of this ultimately unsuccessful lobbying effort, the Hungarian MEP who – along with three colleagues – submitted the Written Declaration also hosted a Parliamentary Hearing on the support of talents in the European Union.

The programme lists the speakers as:

  • Anneli Pauli, a Finn, formerly a Deputy Director General of the European Commission’s Research and Innovation Directorate.
  • Laszlo Andor, a Hungarian and EU Commissioner for employment, social affaris and inclusion. (Any contribution he made to the event is not included in the record, so he may or may not have been there.)
  • Peter Csermely. The current ECHA President and the man behind the EU Talent Centre.

There was no-one from the Commission’s Education Directorate involved.

The record of proceedings makes interesting reading, highlighting the Written Declaration, the economic value of talent development to the EU, the contribution it can make to research and innovation, the scope to support the inclusion of immigrants and minorities and the case for developing the European network.

Pauli is reported as saying that:

‘Talents are the heart of the future EU’s research area, thus they will work hard on it that the Horizon 2020 will offer enough support to them.’ [sic]

Horizon 2020 is the EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation. There is no explicit home for talent support within the framework of the Horizon 2020 programme, so it remains to be seen how this will materialise in practice.

She also says:

‘…that school education on talents and the creative education in school sciences should be strengthened’ [sic]

This presumably carried rather less authority considering her role – and considering that, as we have seen, the Declaration was framed exclusively in terms of ‘non-formal learning’.

There is little explicit reference to the specifics of the European Talent project other than that:

‘…EU-wide talent-support units are needed, Europren [sic] Talent Points Network, a European Talent Day could be organised, or even a Year of Excellence and Talents could be implemented in the future too.’

We are not told how well attended the hearing was, nor do we have any information about its influence.

Only 13 more MEPs signed the WD between the Hearing and the deadline, and that was that.

An EU Thematic Working Group on Talent Support?

The 2013 publication ‘Towards a European Talent Support Network’ puts the best possible spin on the Written Declaration and the associated Hearing.

It then continues:

‘Confirming the importance of WD 34/2012, an EU Thematic Working Group on supporting talent and creativity was initiated by Prof. Péter Csermely. As a starting activity, the EU Thematic Working Group will work out the detailed agenda of discussions and possible EU member state co-operation in the area of talent support. This agenda may include items like:

  • Mutual information on measures to promote curricular and extra-curricular forms of talent support, including training for educational professionals to recognise and help talent;
  • Consideration of the development of an EU member state talent support network bringing together talent support communities, Talent Points and European Talent Centres in order to facilitate co-operation and the development and dissemination of the best talent support practices in Europe;
  • Consideration of celebration of the European Day of Talented;
  • Suggestions to the Commission to include talent support as a priority in future European strategies, such as the strategies guiding the European Research Area and the European Social Fund.’

The proposed status of this group is not discussed, so it is unclear whether it will be an expert group under the aegis of the Commission, or an independent group established with funding from Erasmus Plus or another EU programme.

If it is the latter, we will have to wait some time for it to be established; if it is the former, it does not yet feature in the Commission’s Register.

In either case, we are some nine months on from the publication of the document that brought us this news and there is still no indication of whether this group exists, when it will start work or who its membership is/will be.

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A European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) Opinion

At about the same time as a draft Written Declaration was circulated in January 2012, the Bureau of the EU’s European Economic and Social Committee was recommending that the Committee proper should undertake a fresh programme of ‘own initiative opinions’ (so the weakest category of NLA).

These included:

‘Unleashing the potential of young people with high intellectual abilities in the European Union’

Although the development process was undertaken during 2012, the final opinion was not published until January 2013.

The EESC describes itself thus:

‘The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) is a consultative body that gives representatives of Europe’s socio-occupational interest groups and others, a formal platform to express their points of views on EU issues. Its opinions are forwarded to the Council, the European Commission and the European Parliament.’

Its 353 members are nominated by member governments and belong to an employers’ group, a workers’ group or a ‘various interests’ group. There are six sections, one of which is ‘Employment, Social Affairs and Citizenship’ (SOC).

EESC opinions are prepared by study groups which typically comprise 12 members including a rapporteur. Study groups may make use of up to four experts.

I cannot trace a relationship between the EESC’s opinion and the European Talent initiative.

The latter’s coverage does not mention any involvement and there is no information on the EU side about who prompted the process.

The focus of the opinion – high intellectual ability – is markedly out of kilter with the broader talent focus of the Talent Network, so it is highly likely that this activity originated elsewhere.

If that is the case then we can reasonably conclude that the European Talent initiative has not fulfilled its original commitment to an NLA.

Diligent online researchers can trace the development of this Opinion from its earliest stages through to eventual publication. There is a database of the key documents and also a list of the EESC members engaged in the process.

As far as I can establish the group relied on a single expert – one Jose Carlos Gibaja Velazquez, who is described as Subdirección General de Centros de Educación Infantil, Primaria y Especial Comunidad de Madrid’.

The link between JCBV and the EESC is explained here (translation into English here). I can find no link between Senor Gibaja and the EU Talent Network.

EESC members of the study group were:

  • Beatrice Quin France)
  • Teresa Tsizbierek (Pol)

An Early Draft of the Opinion

The earliest version of the Opinion is included an information memo dated 7 January. This also cites the significance of the Europe 2020 Strategy:

‘One of the top priorities of the Europe 2020 Strategy is to promote smart growth, so that knowledge and innovation become the two key drivers of the European economy. In order to reach this goal, it is essential that the European Union take advantage of the potential of the available human capital, particularly of young people with high intellectual capacities, who make up around 3% of the population.’

But it is clearly coming from a different perspective to the EU Talent Centre, which isn’t mentioned.

The ‘gist of the opinion’ at this early stage is as follows:

‘The EESC recommends that the European Commission and the Member States support further studies and research that would tap the potential of gifted children and young people in a wide variety of fields, aiming to facilitate employment and employability within the framework of the EU and, in a context of economic crisis, enhance specialist knowledge and prevent brain drain;

  • The Committee recommends that, in the future, greater consideration be given to each Member State’s existing models for and experience in working with highly gifted children, particularly those which benefit all of society, facilitate cohesion, reduce school failure and encourage better education in accordance with the objectives of the Europe 2020 strategy;
  • The Committee proposes improving educational care for children and young people with high abilities, in terms of the following aspects:

-          initial and ongoing training of teaching staff regarding the typical characteristics of highly able students, as well as the detection and educational care they need;

-          pooling of procedures for the early detection of high intellectual abilities among students in general and in particular among those from disadvantaged social backgrounds;

-          designing and implementing educational measures aimed at students with high intellectual abilities;

-          incorporating into teacher training the values of humanism, the reality of multiculturalism, the educational use of ICT and, lastly, the encouragement of creativity, innovation and initiative.’

Mount Bel Stone courtesy of Horvabe

Mount Bel Stone courtesy of Horvabe

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What the Opinion Eventually Recommended

The final version of the Opinion was discussed by the EESC at its meeting on 16 January 2013 and was adopted ‘by 131 votes in favour, none against, with 13 abstentions’.

The analysis contained in the Opinion is by no means uncontentious and a close analysis would generate a long list of reservations. But this would be oblique to the issue under discussion.

The recommendations are as follows (my emboldening):

‘The European Economic and Social Committee is aware that the issue of children and young people with high intellectual abilities has been fairly well researched, as a result of the studies conducted over the last decades and the extensive corpus of specialist scientific literature. However, given the importance of this topic, the EESC recommends that the European Commission and the Member States support further studies and research and adopt suitable measures to cater for diversity among all types of people. These should include programmes that would tap the potential of gifted children and young people in a wide variety of fields. The aims of this action would include facilitating employment and employability within the framework of the EU and, in a context of economic crisis, enhancing specialist knowledge and preventing brain drain to other parts of the world.

The Committee proposes nurturing the development and potential of children and young people with high abilities throughout the various stages and forms of their education, avoiding premature specialisation and encouraging schools to cater for diversity, and exploiting the possibilities of cooperative and non-formal learning.

The Committee recommends fostering education and lifelong learning, bearing in mind that each individual’s intellectual potential is not static but evolves differently throughout the various stages of his or her life.

The Committee recommends that, in the future, greater consideration be given to each Member State’s existing models for and experience in working with highly gifted children, particularly those which benefit all of society, facilitate cohesion, reduce school failure and encourage better education in accordance with the objectives of the Europe 2020 strategy.

The Committee highlights the need to detect, in the workplace, those workers (particularly young workers) who are able and willing to develop their intellectual capabilities and contribute to innovation, and to give them the opportunity to further their education in the field that best matches their ambitions and centres of interest.

The Committee proposes improving educational care for children and young people with high abilities, in terms of the following aspects:

  • initial and ongoing training of teaching staff regarding the typical characteristics of highly able students, as well as the detection and educational care they need;
  • pooling of procedures for the early detection of high intellectual abilities among students in general and in particular among those from disadvantaged social backgrounds;
  • designing and implementing educational measures aimed at students with high intellectual abilities. These measures should include actions inside and outside ordinary educational establishments;
  • incorporating into teacher training the values of humanism, the reality of multiculturalism, the educational use of ICT and, lastly, the encouragement of creativity, innovation and initiative.

Improving the care provided for highly able students should include their emotional education (which is particularly important during adolescence), the acquisition of social skills with a view to facilitating integration and inclusion in society, integration into the labour market, and fostering their teamwork skills.

Schemes and procedures for student exchanges and visits abroad should be tapped into so that gifted students can take part in them, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Opportunities for exchanging information and good practices on detecting and caring for gifted students should be harnessed across the EU Member States.

Entrepreneurship should be fostered among children and young people with high abilities, with a view to encouraging responsibility and solidarity towards society overall.

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More than One Opinion?

I have devoted significant attention to this apparently unrelated initiative because it shows that the EU lobbying effort in this field is poorly co-ordinated and pursuing substantively different objectives.

The EU Talent project failed to secure the NLA it was pursuing, but someone else has exploited the same route to influence – and for substantially different purposes.

What is worse, the EU Talent lobby seems to have failed entirely to secure any cross-reference to their efforts, despite there being two Hungarians on the study group. Did they try and fail or didn’t they try at all?

Perhaps fortunately, the Opinion seems to have been as influential as the Written Declaration. One wonders whether the enormous energy and time invested in each of these processes was ultimately worthwhile.

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What progress has been made by the European Talent Project?

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The Mission Has Changed

The website version of the Centre’s mission is subtly different from the original version discussed earlier in this post

The Centre now seeks:

  • ‘to provide talent support an emphasis commensurate with its importance in every European country [same]
  • to provide talented youngsters access to the most adequate forms of education in every Member State [same]
  • to make Europe attractive for the talented youth [same]
  • to create talent-friendly societies in every European country [same]
  • to accelerate the sharing of information on the topic [new]
  • to create a higher number of more efficient forms of talent support for the talented’ [new]
  • to make it easier for social actors interested in talent support to find each other through the European talent support network.’ [new]

The reference to voluntary experts has gone, to be replaced by a call for:

‘…partners – professionals, talents and talent supporters – willing to think and work together.’

Towards a European Talent Support Network’ offers a different version again.

The mission and role of the Centre have changed very slightly, to reflect the new orthodoxy of multiple European talent centres, describing the Budapest body as ‘the first European Talent Centre’.

Four long-term goals are outlined:

  • to give talent support a priority role in the transformation of the sector of education;
  • To reduce talent loss to the minimum in Europe,
  • To accelerate the sharing of information on the topic by integrating talent support initiatives of the Member States of the EU into a network
  • To make it easier for social actors interested in talent support to find each other through the European talent support network.’

It adds some additional short term objectives for good measure:

  • ‘As a hub of a European network, try to trigger mechanisms which bring organizations and individuals together to facilitate collaboration, share best practices and resources
  • Draw the Talent Support Map of Europe
  • Organize conferences for professionals in the region
  • Do research on the field of talent support
  • Collect and share best practices.’

We have now encountered three different versions of a mission statement for an entity that is less than two years old.

It is not clear whether this represents an evolutionary process within the organisation – which might be more understandable if it were better documented – or a certain slipperiness and opportunistic shifting of position that makes it very difficult for outsiders to get a grip on exactly what the Centre is for.

In typical fashion, the document says that:

‘the activities of the Centre fall into four large groups: advocacy, research, organisation (conferences, meetings, Talent Days), contact-keeping (meeting delegations from all over the world) and sharing information.’

Forgive me, but isn’t that five groups?

We have dealt with advocacy already and unfortunately there is negligible information available about the ‘contact-keeping’ activity undertaken – ie the various delegations that have been met by the staff and what the outcomes have been of those meetings.

That leaves research, organisation and sharing information.

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Esterhazy Castle

Esterhazy Castle

Advisory Board and Partners

Before leaving the Centre’s operations, it is important to note that a three-strong Advisory Board has bee been appointed.

All three are luminaries of ECHA, two of them serving on the current Executive Committee.

There is no explanation of the Board’s role, or how it was chosen, and no published record of its deliberations. It is not clear whether it is intended as a substitute for the advisory group that was originally envisaged, which was to have had much broader membership.

As noted above, there is also a new emphasis on ‘partners’. The full text of the reference on the website says:

‘We are looking for partners – professionals, talents and talent supporters – willing to think and work together. We sincerely hope that the success of the Hungarian example will not stop short at the frontiers of the country, but will soon make its way to European talent support co-operation.’

Four partners are currently listed – ECHA, the Global Centre for Gifted and Talented Children, IGGY and the World Council – but there is no explanation of the status conferred by partnership or the responsibilities expected of partners in return.

Are partners prospective European Talent Centres or do they have a different status? Must partners be talent points or not? We are not told.

Research

This is presumably a reference to the ‘Best Practices’ section of the Budapest Centre’s website, which currently hosts two collections of studies ‘International Horizons of Talent Support Volumes 1 and 2’ and a selection of individual studies (17 at the time of writing).

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The quality of this material can best be described as variable. This study of provision in Ireland is relatively unusual, since most of the material is currently devoted to Central and Eastern Europe, but it gives a sense of what to expect.

There has been no effort to date to collect together already-published research and data about provision in different parts of Europe and to make that material openly accessible to readers. That is a major disappointment.

There is nothing in the collection that resembles an independent evaluation of the European Talent Initiative as a whole, or even an evaluation of the Hungarian NTP.

At best one can describe the level and quality of research-related activity as embryonic.

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Event Organisation

This Table shows what the Centre has achieved to date and what is planned for 2014:

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2011 2012 2013 2014
Conference Yes (Budapest) Unofficial (Warsaw) No Yes (Budapest)
EU Talent Day Yes No No Yes

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The 2014 Conference is the first official EU-wide event since the 2011 launch conference. The same is true of the 2014 EU Talent Day.

The Polish conference was initially planned for spring 2012, but failed to materialise. By July it was confirmed that there would only be ‘an unofficial follow-up’ in October. My December 2012 post described my personal and ultimately unsuccessful efforts to attend this event and summarised the proceedings.

The 2014 Conference Website insists that it will coincide with the Third EU Talent Day but I can find barely a trace of a Second, except in Estonia, where it was celebrated on 21 March 2012.

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This is not a strikingly positive record.

The 2014 Conference website names an organising ‘international scientific committee’ that is heavily biased towards academics (eight of the eleven), ECHA luminaries (five of the eleven) and Hungarians (four of the eleven).

The programme features four academic keynotes about networks and networking.

The remainder involve Slovenia’s education minister, the EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion (a Hungarian who was advertised to be part of the Parliamentary Hearing on the Written Declaration but, if he did attend, apparently made no contribution) and one devoted to the ‘International Talent Competiveness Index’.

I think this must be INSEAD’s Global Talent Competitiveness Index).

INSEAD’s inaugural 2013 Report ranks Hungary 40th of 103 countries on this Index. (The UK is ranked 7th and the US 9th).

There are eight ‘break-up sessions’ [sic]:

  • The role of governments and the EU in creation a European Network[sic]
  • Digital Networks for Talented Youth
     
  • Social responsibility and organisational climate
  • Practice and Ethics of Networking
  • Multiple disadvanteged children [sic]
  • Parents’ networks in Europe
  • Counselling Centers [sic]
  • Civil networks for Talent Support

The expected outcome of the event is not specified. There is no scheduled opportunity to discuss the progress made to date by the EU Talent initiative, or the policy and implementation issues flagged up in this post. And there is no information about the mediation of the Conference via social media (though there are now Skype links next to the items in the programme).

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Talent Map and Resources

The website features a Resource Center [sic] which includes a database of ‘selected resources’. We are not told on what basis the selection has been made.

The database is built into the website and is not particularly accessible, especially if one compares it with the Hungarian equivalent. Indeed, the Talent Centre website is decidedly clunky by comparison.

The Talent Map is now better populated than it was, though inconsistently so. There are only two entries for Hungary, for example, while Romania has 11. There are only three in the UK and none in Ireland. Neither CTYI nor SNAP is mentioned.

It might have been better to pre-populate the map and then to indicate which entries had been ‘authorised’ by their owners.

From a presentational perspective the map is better than the database, though it should have a full page to itself.

Both the database and the map are still works in progress.

Overall Assessment and Key Issues Arising

In the light of this evidence, what are we to make of the progress achieved towards a European Talent Network over the last four years?

In my judgement:

  • The fundamental case for modelling a European Talent Network on the Hungarian National Talent Programme is unproven. The basic design of the NTP may reflect one tradition of consensus on effective practice, but the decision to stop at age 35 is unexplained and idiosyncratic. The full model is extremely costly to implement and relies heavily on EU funding. Even at current levels of funding, it is unlikely to be impacting on more than a relatively small minority of the target population. It is hard to see how it can become financially sustainable in the longer term. 
  • There is no detailed and convincing rationale for, or description of, how the model is being modified (into ‘Hungary-lite’) for European rollout. It is abundantly clear that this rollout will never attract commensurate funding and, compared with the NTP, it is currently being run ‘on a shoestring’. But, as currently envisaged, the rollout will require significant additional funding and the projected sources of this funding are unspecified. The more expensive the rollout becomes, the more unlikely it is to be financially sustainable. In short, the scalability to Europe of the modified Hungarian talent support model is highly questionable.
  • The shape and purpose of the overall European Talent initiative has changed substantively on several occasions during its short lifetime. There is only limited consistency between the goals being pursued now and those originally envisaged. There have been frequent changes to these goals along the way, several of them unexplained. It is not clear whether this is attributable to political opportunism and/or real confusion and disagreement within the initiative over what exactly it is seeking to achieve and how. There are frequently inconsistencies between different sources over exactly how aspects of the rollout are to be implemented. This causes confusion and calls into question the competence of those who are steering the process. Such ‘mission creep’ will radically reduce the chances of success.
  • The relationship with ECHA has always been problematic – and remains so. Fundamentally the European Talent Initiative is aiming to achieve what ECHA itself should have achieved, but failed. The suggestion that ECHA be given control over the accreditation of European Talent Centres is misguided. ECHA is a closed membership organisation rather than an open network and cannot be assumed to be representative of all those engaged in talent support throughout Europe. There is no reason why this process could not be managed by the network itself. In the longer term the continued co-existence of the Network and ECHA as separate entities becomes increasingly problematic. But any merger would demand radical reform of ECHA. Despite the injection of new blood into the ECHA Executive, the forces of conservatism within it remain strong and are unlikely to countenance such a radical step.
  • The progress achieved by the European Talent Centre during its relatively short existence has been less than impressive. That is partly attributable to the limited funding available and the fact that it is being operated on the margins of the Hungarian NTP. The funding it does attract comes with the expectation that it will be used to advertise the successes of the NTP abroad, so raising the status and profile of the domestic effort. There is a tension between this and the Centre’s principal role, which must be to drive the European rollout. 
  • The decision to move to a distributed model in which several European Talent Centres develop the network, rather than a centralised model driven by Budapest, is absolutely correct. (I was saying as much back in 2011.) However, the wider implications of this decision do not appear to have been thought through. I detect a worrying tendency to create bureaucracy for the sake of it, rather than focusing on getting things done.
  • Meanwhile, the Budapest Centre has made some headway with a Talent Map and a database of resources, but not nearly enough given the staffing and resource devoted to the task. The failure to deliver annual EU Conferences and Talent Days is conspicuous and worrying. Conversely, the effort expended on lobbying within the European Commission has clearly been considerable, though the tangible benefits secured from this exercise are, as yet, negligible.
  • For an initiative driven by networking, the quantity and quality of communication is poor. Independent evaluation studies of the Hungarian model do not seem to be available, at least not in English. There should be a fully costed draft specification for the European roll-out which is consulted upon openly and widely. Consultation seems confined currently to ECHA members which is neither inclusive nor representative. No opportunities are provided to challenge the direction of travel pursued by the initiative and its decision-making processes are not transparent. There is no evidence that it is willing to engage with critics or criticism of its preferred approach. The programme for the 2014 Conference does not suggest any marked shift in this respect.

An unkind critic might find sufficient evidence to level an accusation of talent support imperialism, albeit masked by a smokescreen of scientifically justified networkology.

I do not subscribe to that view, at least not yet. But I do conclude that the European Talent effort is faltering badly. It may limp on for several years to come, but it will never achieve its undoubted potential until the issues outlined above are properly and thoroughly addressed.

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GP

March 2014

 

What Has Become of the European Talent Network? Part One

This post discusses recent progress by the European Talent Centre towards a European Talent Network.

EU flag CaptureIt is a curtain-raiser for an imminent conference on this topic and poses the critical questions I would like to see addressed at that event.

It should serve as a briefing document for prospective delegates and other interested parties, especially those who want to dig beneath the invariably positive publicity surrounding the initiative.

It continues the narrative strand of posts I have devoted to the Network, concentrating principally on developments since my last contribution in December 2012.

 

Flag_of_HungaryThe post is organised part thematically and part chronologically and covers the following ground:

  • An updated description of the Hungarian model for talent support and its increasingly complex infrastructure.
  • The origins of the European Talent project and how its scope and objectives have changed since its inception.
  • The project’s advocacy effort within the European Commission and its impact to date.
  • Progress on the European Talent Map and promised annual European Talent Days and conferences.
  • The current scope and effectiveness of the network, its support structures and funding.
  • Key issues and obstacles that need to be addressed.

To improve readability I have divided the text into two sections of broadly equivalent length. Part One is dedicated largely to bullets one to three above, while Part Two deals with bullets three to six.

Previous posts in this series

If I am to do justice to this complex narrative, I must necessarily draw to some extent on material I have already published in earlier posts. I apologise for the repetition, which I have tried to keep to a minimum.

On re-reading those earlier posts and comparing them with this, it is clear that my overall assessment of the EU talent project has shifted markedly since 2010, becoming progressively more troubled and pessimistic.

This seems to me justified by an objective assessment of progress, based exclusively on evidence in the public domain – evidence that I have tried to draw together in these posts.

However, I feel obliged to disclose the influence of personal frustration at this slow progress, as well as an increasing sense of personal exclusion from proceedings – which seems completely at odds with the networking principles on which the project is founded.

I have done my best to control this subjective influence in the assessment below, confining myself as far as possible to an objective interpretation of the facts.

However I refer you to my earlier posts if you wish to understand how I reached this point.

  • In April 2011 I attended the inaugural conference in Budapest, publishing a report on the proceedings and an analysis of the Declaration produced, plus an assessment of the Hungarian approach to talent support as it then was and its potential scalability to Europe as a whole.
  • In December 2012 I described the initial stages of EU lobbying, an ill-fated 2012 conference in Poland, the earliest activities of the European Talent Centre and the evolving relationship between the project and ECHA, the European Council for High Ability.

I will not otherwise comment on my personal involvement, other than to say that I do not expect to attend the upcoming Conference, judging that the cost of attending will not be exceeded by the benefits of doing so.

This post conveys more thoroughly and more accurately the points I would have wanted to make during the proceedings, were suitable opportunities provided to do so.

A brief demographic aside

It is important to provide some elementary information about Hungary’s demographics, to set in context the discussion below of its talent support model and the prospects for Europe-wide scalability.

Hungary is a medium-sized central European country with an area roughly one-third of the UK’s and broadly similar to South Korea or Portugal.

It has a population of around 9.88 million (2013) about a sixth of the size of the UK population and similar in size to Portugal’s or Sweden’s.

Hungary is the 16th most populous European country, accounting for about 1.4% of the total European population and about 2% of the total population of the European Union (EU).

It is divided into 7 regions and 19 counties, plus the capital, Budapest, which has a population of 1.7 million in its own right.

RegionsHungary

Almost 84% of the population are ethnic Hungarians but there is a Roma minority estimated (some say underestimated) at 3.1% of the population.

Approximately 4 million Hungarians are aged below 35 and approximately 3.5m are aged 5-34.

The GDP (purchasing power parity) is $19,497 (source: IMF), slightly over half the comparable UK figure.

The Hungarian Talent Support Model

The Hungarian model has grown bewilderingly complex and there is an array of material describing it, often in slightly different terms.

Some of the English language material is not well translated and there are gaps that can be filled only with recourse to documents in Hungarian (which I can only access through online translation tools).

Much of this documentation is devoted to publicising the model as an example of best practice, so it can be somewhat economical with the truth.

The basic framework is helpfully illustrated by this diagram, which appeared in a presentation dating from October 2012.

EU talent funding Capture

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It shows how the overall Hungarian National Talent Programme (NTP) comprises a series of time-limited projects paid for by the EU Social Fund, but also a parallel set of activities supported by a National Talent Fund which is fed mainly by the Hungarian taxpayer.

The following sections begin by outlining the NTP, as described in a Parliamentary Resolution dating from 2008.

Secondly, they describe the supporting infrastructure for the NTP as it exists today.

Thirdly, they outline the key features of the time-limited projects: The Hungarian Genius Programme (HGP) (2009-13) and the Talent Bridges Programme (TBP) (2012-14).

Finally, they try to make sense of the incomplete and sometimes conflicting information about the funding allocated to different elements of the NTP.

Throughout this treatment my principal purpose is to show how the European Talent project fits into the overall Hungarian plan, as precursor to a closer analysis of the former in the second half of the post.

I also want to show how the direction of the NTP has shifted since its inception.

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The National Talent Programme (NTP) (2008-2028)

The subsections below describe the NTP as envisaged in the original 2008 Parliamentary Resolution. This remains the most thorough exposition of the broader direction of travel that I could find.

Governing principles

The framework set out in the Resolution is built on ten general principles that I can best summarise as follows:

  • Talent support covers the period from early childhood to age 35, so extends well beyond compulsory education.
  • The NTP must preserve the traditions of existing successful talent support initiatives.
  • Talent is complex and so requires a diversity of provision – standardised support is a false economy.
  • There must be equality of access to talent support by geographical area, ethnic and socio-economic background.
  • Continuity is necessary to support individual talents as they change and develop over time; special attention is required at key transition points.
  • In early childhood one must provide opportunities for talent to emerge, but selection on the basis of commitment and motivation become increasingly significant and older participants increasingly self-select.
  • Differentiated support is needed to support different levels of talent; there must be opportunities to progress and to step off the programme without loss of esteem.
  • In return for talent support, the talented individual has a social responsibility to support talent development in others.
  • Those engaged in talent support – here called talent coaches – need time and support.
  • Wider social support for talent development is essential to success and sustainability.

Hence the Hungarians are focused on a system-wide effort to promote talent development that extends well beyond compulsory education, but only up to the age of 35. As noted above, if 0-4 year-olds are excluded, this represents an eligible population of about 3.5 million people.

The choice of this age 35 cut-off seems rather arbitrary. Having decided to push beyond compulsory education into adult provision, it is not clear why the principle of lifelong learning is then set aside – or exactly what happens when participants reach their 36th birthdays.

Otherwise the principles above seem laudable and broadly reflect one tradition of effective practice in the field.

Goals

The NTP’s goals are illustrated by this diagram

NTP goals Capture

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The elements in the lower half of the diagram can be expanded thus:

  • Talent support traditions: support for existing provision; development of new provision to fill gaps; minimum standards and professional development for providers; applying models of best practice; co-operation with ethnic Hungarian programmes outside Hungary (‘cross border programmes’); and ‘systematic exploration and processing of the talent support experiences’ of EU and other countries which excel in this field. 
  • Integrated programmes: compiling and updating a map of the talent support opportunities available in Hungary as well as ‘cross border programmes’; action to support access to the talent map; a ‘detailed survey of the international talent support practice’; networking between providers with cooperation and collaboration managed through a set of talent support councils; monitoring of engagement to secure continuity and minimise drop-out. 
  • Social responsibility: promoting the self-organisation of talented youth;  developing their innovation and management skills; securing counselling; piloting  a ‘Talent Bonus – Talent Coin’ scheme to record in virtual units the monetary value of support received and provided, leading to consideration of a LETS-type scheme; support for ‘exceptionally talented youth’; improved social integration of talented youth and development of a talent-friendly society. 
  • Equal opportunities: providing targeted information about talent support opportunities; targeted programming for disadvantaged, Roma and disabled people and wider emphasis on integration; supporting the development of Roma talent coaches; and action to secure ‘the desirable gender distribution’. 
  • Enhanced recognition: improving financial support for talent coaches; reducing workload and providing counselling for coaches; improving recognition and celebrating the success of coaches and others engaged in talent support. 
  • Talent-friendly society: awareness-raising activity for parents, family and friends of talented youth; periodic talent days to mobilise support and ‘promote the local utilisation of talent’; promoting talent in the media, as well as international communication about the programme and ‘introduction in both the EU and other countries by exploiting the opportunities provided by Hungary’s EU Presidency in 2011’; ‘preparation for the foreign adaptation of the successful talent support initiatives’ and organisation of EU talent days. 

Hence the goals incorporate a process of learning from European and other international experience, but also one of feeding back to the international community information about the Hungarian talent support effort and extending the model into other European countries.

There is an obvious tension in these goals between preserving the traditions of existing successful initiatives and imposing a framework with minimum standards and built-in quality criteria. This applies equally to the European project discussed below.

The reference to a LETS-type scheme is intriguing but I could trace nothing about its subsequent development.

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Planned Infrastructure

In 2008 the infrastructure proposed to undertake the NTP comprised:

  • A National Talent Co-ordination Board, chaired at Ministerial level, to oversee the programme and to allocate a National Talent Fund (see below).
  • A National Talent Support Circle [I’m not sure whether this should be ‘Council’] consisting of individuals from Hungary and abroad who would promote talent support through professional opportunities, financial contribution or ‘social capital opportunities’.
  • A National Talent Fund comprising a Government contribution and voluntary contributions from elsewhere. The former would include the proceeds of a 1% voluntary income tax levy (being one of the good causes towards which Hungarian taxpayers could direct this contribution). Additional financial support would come from ‘the talent support-related programmes of the New Hungary Development Plan’.
  • A system of Talent Support Councils to co-ordinate activity at regional and local level.
  • A national network of Talent Points – providers of talent support activity.
  • A biennial review of the programme presented to Parliament, the first being in 2011.

Presumably there have been two of these biennial reviews to date. They would make interesting reading, but I could find no material in English that describes the outcomes.

The NTP Infrastructure Today

The supporting infrastructure as described today has grown considerably more complex and bureaucratic than the basic model above.

  • The National Talent Co-ordination Board continues to oversee the programme as a whole. Its membership is set out here.
  • The National Talent Support Council was established in 2006 and devised the NTP as set out above. Its functions are more substantial than originally described (assuming this is the ‘Circle’ mentioned in the Resolution), although it now seems to be devolving some of these. Until recently at least, the Council: oversaw the national database of talent support initiatives and monitored coverage, matching demand – via an electronic mailing list – with the supply of opportunities; initiated and promoted regional talent days; supported the network of talent points and promoted the development of new ones; invited tenders for niche programmes of various kinds; collected and analysed evidence of best practice and the research literature; and promoted international links paying ‘special attention to the reinforcement of the EU contacts’. The Council has a Chair and six Vice Presidents as well as a Secretary and Secretariat. It operates nine committees: Higher Education, Support for Socially Disadvantaged Gifted People, Innovations, Public Education, Foreign Relations, Public and Media Relations, Theory of Giftedness, Training and Education and Giftedness Network.
  • The National Talent Point has only recently been identified as an entity in its own right, distinct from the National Council. Its role is to maintain the Talent Map and manage the underpinning database. Essentially it seems to have acquired the Council’s responsibilities for delivery, leaving the Council to concentrate on policy. It recently acquired a new website.
  • The Association of Hungarian Talent Support Organizations (MATEHETZ) is also a new addition. Described as ‘a non-profit umbrella organization that legally represents its members and the National Talent Support Council’, it is funded by the National Council and through membership fees. The Articles of Association date from February 2010 and list 10 founding organisations. The Association provides ‘representation’ for the National Council’ (which I take to mean the membership). It manages the time-limited programmes (see below) as well asthe National Talent Point and the European Talent Centre.
  • Talent Support Councils: Different numbers of these are reported. One source says 76; another 65, of which some 25% were newly-established through the programme. Their role seems broadly unchanged, involving local and regional co-ordination, support for professionals, assistance to develop new activities, helping match supply with demand and supporting the tracking of those with talent.
  • Talent Point Network: there were over 1,000 talent points by the end of 2013. (Assuming 3.5 million potential participants, that is a talent point for every 3,500 people.) Talent points are providers of talent support services – whether identification, provision or counselling. They are operated by education providers, the church and a range of other organisations and may have a local, regional or national reach. They join the network voluntarily but are accredited. In 2011 there were reportedly 400 talent points and 200 related initiatives, so there has been strong growth over the past two years.
  • Ambassadors of Talent: Another new addition, introduced by the National Talent Support Council in 2011. There is a separate Ambassador Electing Council which appoints three new ambassadors per year. The current list has thirteen entries and is markedly eclectic.
  • Friends of Talent Club: described in 2011 as ‘a voluntary organisation that holds together those, who are able and willing to support talents voluntarily and serve the issue of talent support…Among them, there are mentors, counsellors and educators, who voluntarily help talented people develop in their professional life. The members of the club can be patrons and/or supporters. “Patrons” are those, who voluntarily support talents with a considerable amount of service. “Supporters” are those, who voluntarily support the movement of talent support with a lesser amount of voluntary work, by mobilizing their contacts or in any other way.’ This sounds similar to the originally envisioned ‘National Talent Support Circle’ [sic]. I could find little more about the activities of this branch of the structure.
  • The European Talent Centre: The National Talent Point says that this:

‘…supports and coordinates European actions in the field of talent support in order to find gifted people and develop their talent in the interest of Europe as a whole and the member states.’

Altogether this is a substantial endeavour requiring large numbers of staff and volunteers and demanding a significant budgetary topslice.

I could find no reliable estimate of the ratio of the running cost to the direct investment in talent support, but there must be cause to question the overall efficiency of the system.

My hunch is that this level of bureaucracy must consume a significant proportion of the overall budget.

Clearly the Hungarian talent support network is a long, long way from being financially self-sustaining, if indeed it ever could be.

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Hungary Parliament Building Budapest

Hungarian Parliament Building

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The Hungarian Genius Programme (HGP) (2009-13)

Launched in June 2009, the HGP had two principal phases lasting from 2009 to 2011 and from 2011 to 2013. The fundamental purpose was to establish the framework and infrastructure set out in the National Talent Plan.

This English language brochure was published in 2011. It explains that the initial focus is on adults who support talents, establishing a professional network and training experts, as well as creating the network and map of providers.

It mentions that training courses lasting 10 to 30 hours have been developed and accredited in over 80 subjects to:

‘…bring concepts and methods of gifted and talented education into the mainstream and reinforce the professional talent support work… These involve the exchange of experience and knowledge expansion training, as well as programs for those who deal with talented people in developing communities, and awareness-raising courses aimed at the families and environment of young pupils, on the educational, emotional and social needs of children showing special interest and aptitude in one or more subject(s). The aims of the courses are not only the exchange of information but to produce and develop the professional methodology required for teaching talents.’

The brochure also describes an extensive talent survey undertaken in 2010, the publication of several good practice studies and the development of a Talent Loan modeled on the Hungarian student loan scheme.

It lists a seven-strong strategic management group including an expert adviser, project manager, programme co-ordinator and a finance manager. There are also five operational teams, each led by a named manager, one of which focused on ‘international relations: collecting and disseminating international best practices; international networking’.

A subsequent list of programme outputs says:

  • 24,000 new talents were identified
  • The Talent Map was drawn and the Talent Network created (including 867 talent points and 76 talent councils).
  • 23,500 young people took part in ‘subsidised talent support programmes’
  • 118 new ‘local educational talent programmes’ were established
  • 25 professional development publications were written and made freely available
  • 13,987 teachers (about 10% of the total in Hungary) took part in professional development.

Evidence in English of rigorous independent evaluation is, however, limited:

‘The efficiency of the Programme has been confirmed by public opinion polls (increased social acceptance of talent support) and impact assessments (training events: expansion of specialised knowledge and of the methodological tool kit).’

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The Talent Bridges Project (TBP) (2012-2014)

TBP began in November 2012 and is scheduled to last until ‘mid-2014’.

The initially parallel TBP is mentioned in the 2011 brochure referenced above:

‘In the strategic plan of the Talent Bridges Program to begin in 2012, we have identified three key areas for action: bridging the gaps in the Talent Point network, encouraging talents in taking part in social responsibility issues and increasing media reach. In order to become sustainable, much attention should be payed [sic] to maintaining and expanding the support structure of this system, but the focus will significantly shift towards direct talent care work with the youth.’

Later on it says:

‘Within the framework of the Talent Bridges Program the main objectives are: to further improve the contact system between the different levels of talent support organisations; to develop talent peer communities based on the initiatives coming from young people themselves; to engage talents in taking an active role in social responsibility; to increase media reach in order to enhance the recognition and social support for both high achievers and talent support; and last, but not least, to arrange the preliminary steps of setting up an EU Institute of Talent Support in Budapest.’

A list of objectives published subsequently contains the following items:

  • Creating a national talent registration and tracking system
  • Developing programmes for 3,000 talented young people from  disadvantaged backgrounds and with special educational needs
  • Supporting the development of ‘outstanding talents’ in 500 young people
  • Supporting 500 enrichment programmes
  • Supporting ‘the peer age groups of talented young people’
  • Introducing programmes to strengthen interaction between parents, teachers and  talented youth benefiting  5,000 young people
  • Introducing ‘a Talent Marketplace’ to support ‘the direct social utilisation of talent’ involving ‘150 controlled co-operations’
  • Engaging 2,000 mentors in supporting talented young people and training 5,000 talent support facilitators and mentors
  • Launching a communication campaign to reach 100,000 young people and
  • Realise European-Union-wide communication (in addition to the current 10, to involve 10 more EU Member States into the Hungarian initiatives, in co-operation with the European Talent Centre in Budapest established in the summer of 2012).

Various sources describe how the TBP is carved up into a series of sub-projects. The 2013 Brochure ‘Towards a European Talent Support Network’ lists 14 of these, but none mention the European work.

However, what appears to be the bid for TBP (in Hungarian) calls the final sub-project ‘an EU Communications Programme’ (p29), which appears to involve:

  • Raising international awareness of Hungary’s talent support activities
  • Strengthening Hungary’s position in the EU talent network
  • Providing a foreign exchange experience for talented young Hungarians
  • Influencing policy makers.

Later on (p52) this document refers to an international campaign, undertaken with support from the European Talent Centre, targeting international organisations and the majority of EU states.

Work to be covered includes the preparation of promotional publications in foreign languages, the operation of a ‘multilingual online platform’, participation in international conferences (such as those of ECHA, the World Council, IRATDE and ICIE); and ‘establishing new professional collaborations with at least 10 new EU countries or international organisations’.

Funding

It is not a straightforward matter to reconcile the diverse and sometimes conflicting sources of information about the budgets allocated to the National Talent Fund, HGP and the TBP, but this is my best effort, with all figures converted into pounds sterling.

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2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 Total
NTF x £2.34m.or £4.1m  £2.34m.or £4.1m £8.27m tbc tbc tbc
Of which ETC x x x £80,000 £37,500 £21,350 £138,850
HGP £8.0m £4.6m x £12.6m
TBP x x x £5.3m £5.3m
Of which EU comms x x x £182,000 £182,000

Several sources say that the Talent Fund is set to increase in size over the period.

‘This fund has an annual 5 million EUR support from the national budget and an additional amount from tax donations of the citizens of a total sum of 1.5 million EUR in the first year doubled to 3 million EUR and 6 million EUR in the second and third years respectively.’ (Csermely 2012)

That would translate into a budget of £5.4m/£6.7m/£9.2m over the three years in question, but it is not quite clear which three years are included.

Even if we assume that the NTF budget remains the same in 2013 and 2014 as in 2012, the total investment over the period 2009-2014 amounts to approximately £60m.

That works out at about £17 per eligible Hungarian. Unfortunately I could find no reliable estimate of the total number of Hungarians that have benefited directly from the initiative to date.

On the basis of the figures I have seen, my guesstimate is that the total will be below 10% of the total eligible population – so under 350,000. But I must stress that there is no evidence to support this.

Whether or not the intention is to reach 100% of the population, or whether there is an in-built assumption that only a proportion of the population are amenable to talent development, is a moot point. I found occasional references to a 25% assumption, but it was never clear whether this was official policy.

Even if this applies, there is clearly a significant scalability challenge even within Hungary’s national programme.

It is also evident that the Hungarians have received some £18m from the European Social Fund over the past five years and have invested at least twice as much of their own money. That is a very significant budget indeed for a country of this size.

Hungary’s heavy reliance on EU funding is such that they will find it very difficult to sustain the current effort if that largesse disappears.

One imagines that they will be seeking continued support from EU sources over the period 2014-2020. But, equally, one would expect the EU to demand robust evidence that continued heavy dependency on EU funding will not be required.

And of course a budget of this size also begs questions about scalability to Europe in the conspicuous absence of a commensurate figure. There is zero prospect of equivalent funding being available to extend the model across Europe. The total bill would run into billions of pounds!

A ‘Hungarian-lite’ model would not be as expensive, but it would require a considerable budget.

However, it is clear from the table that the present level of expenditure on the European network has been tiny by comparison with the domestic investment – probably not much more than £100,000 per year.

Initially this came from the National Talent Fund budget but it seems as though the bulk is now provided through the ESF, until mid-2014 at least.

This shift seems to have removed a necessity for the European Talent Centre to receive its funding in biannual tranches through a perpetual retendering process.

For the sums expended from the NTF budget are apparently tied to periods of six months or less.

The European Talent Centre website currently bears the legend:

‘Operation of the European Talent Centre – Budapest between 15th December 2012 and 30th June 2013 is realised with the support of Grant Scheme No. NTP-EUT-M-12 announced by the Institute for Educational Research and Development and the Human Resources Support Manager on commission of the Ministry of Human Resources “To support international experience exchange serving the objectives of the National Talent Programme, and to promote the operation and strategic further development of the European Talent Centre – Budapest”.’

But when I wrote my 2012 review it said:

‘The operation of the European Talent Centre — Budapest is supported from 1 July 2012 through 30 November 2012 by the grant of the National Talent Fund. The grant is realised under Grant Scheme No. NTP-EU-M-12 announced by the Hungarian Institute for Educational Research and Development and the SándorWekerle Fund Manager of the Ministry of Administration and Justice on commission of the Ministry of Human Resources, from the Training Fund Segment of the Labour Market Fund.’

A press release confirmed the funding for this period as HUF 30m.

Presumably it will now need to be amended to reflect the arrival of £21.3K under Grant Scheme No. NTP-EU-M-13 – and possibly to reflect income from the ESF-supported TBP too.

A comparison between the Hungarian http://tehetseg.hu/ website and the European Talent Centre website is illustrative of the huge funding imbalance in favour of the former.

Danube Bend at Visegrad courtesy of Phillipp Weigell

Danube Bend at Visegrad courtesy of Phillipp Weigell

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Origins of the European Talent Project: Evolution to December 2012

Initial plans

Hungary identified talent support as a focus during its EU Presidency, in the first half of 2011, citing four objectives:

  • A talent support conference scheduled for April 2011
  • A first European Talent Day to coincide with the conference, initially ‘a Hungarian state initiative…expanding it into a public initiative by 2014’.
  • Talent support to feature in EU strategies and documents, as well as a Non-Legislative Act (NLA). It is not specified whether this should be a regulation, decision, recommendation or opinion. (Under EU legislation the two latter categories have no binding force.)
  • An OMCexpert group on talent support – ie an international group run under the aegis of the Commission.

The Budapest Declaration

The Conference duly took place, producing a Budapest Declaration on Talent Support in which conference participants:

  • ‘Call the European Commission and the European Parliament to make every effort to officially declare the 25th of March the European Day of the Talented and Gifted.’
  • ‘Stress the importance of…benefits and best practices appearing in documents of the European Commission, the European Council and the European Parliament.’
  • ‘Propose to establish a European Talent Resource and Support Centre in Budapest’ to ‘coordinate joint European actions in the field’.
  • ‘Agree to invite stakeholders from every country of the European Union to convene annually to discuss the developments and current questions in talent support. Upon the invitation of the Government of Poland the next conference will take place in Warsaw.’

The possibility of siting a European Centre anywhere other than Budapest was not seriously debated.

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Evolution of a Written Declaration to the EU

Following the Conference an outline Draft Resolution of the European Parliament was circulated for comment.

This proposed that:

 ‘A Europe-wide talent support network should be formed and supported with an on-line and physical presence to support information-sharing, partnership and collaborations. This network should be open for co-operation with all European talent support efforts, use the expertise and networking experiences of existing multinational bodies such as the European Council of High Ability and support both national and multinational efforts to help talents not duplicating existing efforts but providing an added European value.’

Moreover, ‘A European Talent Support Centre should be established…in Budapest’. This:

‘…should have an Advisory Board having the representatives of interested EU member states, all-European talent support-related institutions as well as key figures of European talent support.’

The Centre’s functions are five-fold:

‘Using the minimum bureaucracy and maximising its use of online solutions the European Talent Support Centre should:

  • facilitate the development and dissemination of best curricular and extra-curricular talent support practices;
  • coordinate the trans-national cooperation of Talent Points forming an EU Talent Point network;
  • help  the spread of the know-how of successful organization of Talent Days;
  • organize annual EU talent support conferences in different EU member states overseeing the progress of cooperation in European talent support;
  • provide a continuously updated easy Internet access for all the above information.’

Note the references on the one hand to an inclusive approach, a substantial advisory group (though without the status of an EU-hosted OMC expert group) and a facilitating/co-ordinating role, but also – on the other hand – the direct organisation of annual EU-wide conferences and provision of a sophisticated supporting online environment.

MEPs were lined up to submit the Resolution in Autumn 2011 but, for whatever reason, this did not happen.

Instead a new draft Written Declaration was circulated in January 2012. This called on:

  •  Member States to consider measures helping curricular and extracurricular forms of talent support including the training of educational professionals to recognize and help talent;
  • The Commission to consider talent support as a priority of future European strategies, such as the European Research Area and the European Social Fund;
  • Member States and the Commission to support the development of a Europe-wide talent support network, formed by talent support communities, Talent Points and European Talent Centres facilitating cooperation, development and dissemination of best talent support practices;
  • Member States and the Commission to celebrate the European Day of the Talented and Gifted.’

The focus has shifted from the Budapest-centric network to EU-led activity amongst member states collectively. Indeed, no specific role for Hungary is mentioned.

There is a new emphasis on professional development and – critically – a reference to ‘European talent centres’. All mention of NLAs and OMC expert groups has disappeared.

There followed an unexplained 11-month delay before a Final Written Declaration was submitted by four MEPs in November 2012.

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The 2012 Written Declaration 

There are some subtle adjustments in the final version of WD 0034/2012. The second bullet point has become:

  • ‘The Commission to consider talent support as part of ‘non-formal learning’ and a priority in future European strategies, such as the strategies guiding the European Research Area and the European Social Fund’.

While the third now says:

  • ‘Member States and the Commission to support the development of a Europe-wide talent support network bringing together talent support communities, Talent Points and European Talent Centres in order to facilitate cooperation and the development and dissemination of the best talent support practices.’

And the fourth is revised to:

  • ‘Member States and the Commission to celebrate the European Day of Highly Able People.’

The introduction of a phrase that distinguishes between education and talent support is curious.

CEDEFOP – which operates a European Inventory on Validation of Non-formal and Informal Learning – defines the latter as:

‘…learning resulting from daily work-related, family or leisure activities. It is not organised or structured (in terms of objectives, time or learning support). Informal learning is in most cases unintentional from the learner’s perspective. It typically does not lead to certification.’

One assumes that a distinction is being attempted between learning organised by a school or other formal education setting and that which takes place elsewhere – presumably because EU member states are so fiercely protective of their independence when it comes to compulsory education.

But surely talent support encompasses formal and informal learning alike?

Moreover, the adoption of this terminology appears to rule out any provision that is ‘organised or structured’, excluding huge swathes of activity (including much of that featured in the Hungarian programme). Surely this cannot have been intentional.

Such a distinction is increasingly anachronistic, especially in the case of gifted learners, who might be expected to access their learning from a far richer blend of sources than simply in-school classroom teaching.

Their schools are no longer the sole providers of gifted education, but facilitators and co-ordinators of diverse learning streams.

The ‘gifted and talented’ terminology has also disappeared, presumably on the grounds that it would risk frightening the EU horses.

Both of these adjustments seem to have been a temporary aberration. One wonders who exactly they were designed to accommodate and whether they were really necessary.

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Establishment and early activity of the EU Talent Centre in Budapest

The Budapest centre was initially scheduled to launch in February 2012, but funding issues delayed this, first until May and then the end of June.

The press release marking the launch described the long-term goal of the Centre as:

‘…to contribute on the basis of the success of the Hungarian co-operation model to organising the European talent support actors into an open and flexible network overarching the countries of Europe.’

Its mission is to:

‘…offer the organisations and individuals active in an isolated, latent form or in a minor network a framework structure and an opportunity to work together to achieve the following:

  • to provide talent support an emphasis commensurate with its importance in every European country
  • to reduce talent loss to the minimum in Europe,
  • to give talent support a priority role in the transformation of the sector of education; to provide talented young persons access to the most adequate forms of education in every Member State,
  • to make Europe attractive for the talented youth,
  • to create talent-friendly societies in every European country.’

The text continues:

‘It is particularly important that network hubs setting targets similar to those of the European Talent Centre in Budapest should proliferate in the longer term.

The first six months represent the first phase of the work: we shall lay the bases [sic] for establishing the European Talent Support Network. The expected key result is to set up a team of voluntary experts from all over Europe who will contribute to that work and help draw the European talent map.

But what exactly are these so-called network hubs? We had to wait some time for an explanation.

There was relatively little material on the website at this stage and this was also slow to change.

My December 2012 post summarised progress thus:

‘The Talent Map includes only a handful of links, none in the UK.

The page of useful links is extensive but basically just a very long list, hard to navigate and not very user-friendly. Conversely, ‘best practices’ contains only three resources, all of them produced in house.

The whole design is rather complex and cluttered, several of the pages are too text-heavy and occasionally the English leaves something to be desired.’

 

Here ends the first part of this post. Part Twoexplains the subsequent development of the ‘network hubs’ concept, charts the continuation of the advocacy effort  and reviews progress in delivering the services for which the Budapest Centre is  responsible.

It concludes with an overall assessment of the initiative highlighting some of its key weaknesses.

GP

March 2014

How Well Does Gifted Education Use Social Media?

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This post reviews the scope and quality of gifted education coverage across selected social media.

It uses this evidence base to reflect on progress in the 18 months since I last visited this topic and to establish a benchmark against which to judge future progress.

tree-240470_640More specifically, it:

  • Proposes two sets of quality criteria – one for blogs and other websites, the other for effective use of social media;
  • Reviews gifted education-related social media activity:

By a sample of six key players  – the World Council (WCGTC) and the European Council for High Ability (ECHA), NAGC and SENG in the United States and NACE and Potential Plus UK over here

Across the Blogosphere and five of the most influential English language social media platforms – Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Twitter and You Tube and

Utilising four content curation tools particularly favoured by gifted educators, namely PaperLi, Pinterest, ScoopIt and Storify.

  • Considers the gap between current practice and the proposed quality criteria – and whether there has been an improvement in the application of social media across the five dimensions of gifted education identified in my previous post.

I should declare at the outset that I am a Trustee of Potential Plus UK and have been working with them to improve their online and social media presence. This post lies outside that project, but some of the underlying research is the same.

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I have been this way before

This is my second excursion into this territory.

In September 2012 I published a two-part response to the question ‘Can Social Media Help Overcome the Problems We Face in Gifted Education?’

  • Part One outlined an analytical framework based on five dimensions of gifted education. Each dimension is stereotypically associated with a particular stakeholder group though, in reality, each group operates across more than one area. The dimensions (with their associated stakeholder groups in brackets) are: advocacy (parents); learning (learners); policy-making (policy makers); professional development (educators); and research (academics).
  • Part Two used this framework to review the challenges faced by gifted education, to what extent these were being addressed through social media and how social media could be applied more effectively to tackle them. It also outlined the limitations of a social media-driven approach and highlighted some barriers to progress.

The conclusions I reached might be summarised as follows:

  • Many of the problems associated with gifted education are longstanding and significant, but not insurmountable. Social media will not eradicate these problems but can make a valuable contribution towards that end by virtue of their unrivalled capacity to ‘only connect’.
  • Gifted education needs to adapt if it is to thrive in a globalised environment with an increasingly significant online dimension driven by a proliferation of social media. The transition from early adoption to mainstream practice has not yet been effected, but rapid acceleration is necessary otherwise gifted education will be left behind.
  • Gifted education is potentially well-placed to pioneer new developments in social media but there is limited awareness of this opportunity, or the benefits it could bring.

The post was intended to inform discussion at a Symposium at the ECHA Conference in Munster, Germany in September 2012. I published the participants’ presentations and a report on proceedings (which is embedded within a review of the Conference as a whole).

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Defining quality

I have not previously attempted to pin down what constitutes a high quality website or blog and effective social media usage, not least because so many have gone before me.

But, on reviewing their efforts, I could find none that embodied every dimension I considered important, while several appeared unduly restrictive.

It seems virtually impossible to reconcile these two conflicting pressures, defining quality with brevity but without compromising flexibility. Any effort to pin down quality risks reductionism while also fettering innovation and wilfully obstructing the pioneering spirit.

I am a strong advocate of quality standards in gifted education but, in this context, it seemed beyond my capacity to find or generate the ideal ‘flexible framework’, offering clear guidance without compromising innovation and capacity to respond to widely varying needs and circumstances.

But the project for Potential Plus UK required us to consult stakeholders on their understanding of quality provision, so that we could reconcile any difference between their perceptions and our own.

And, in order to consult effectively, we needed to make a decent stab at the task ourselves.

So I prepared some draft success criteria, drawing on previous efforts I could find online as well as my own experience over the last four years.

I have reproduced the draft criteria below, with slight amendment to make them more universally applicable. The first set – for a blog or website – are generic, while those relating to wider online and social media presence are made specific to gifted education.

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Draft Quality Criteria for a Blog or Website

1.    The site is inviting to regular and new readers alike; its purpose is up front and explicit; as much content as possible is accessible to all.

 2.    Readers are encouraged to interact with the content through a variety of routes – and to contribute their own (moderated) content.

3.    The structure is logical and as simple as possible, supported by clear signposting and search.

 4.    The design is contemporary, visually attractive but not obtrusive, incorporating consistent branding and a complementary colour scheme. There is no external advertising.

 5.    The layout makes generous and judicious use of space and images – and employs other media where appropriate.

 6.    Text is presented in small blocks and large fonts to ensure readability on both tablet and PC.

 7.    Content is substantial, diverse and includes material relevant to all the site’s key audiences.

 8.    New content is added weekly; older material is frequently archived (but remains accessible).

 9.    The site links consistently to – and is linked to consistently by – all other online and social media outlets maintained by the authors.

 10. Readers can access site content by multiple routes, including other social media, RSS and email.

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Draft quality criteria for wider online/social media activity

1.    A body’s online and social media presence should be integral to its wider communications strategy which should, in turn, support its purpose, objectives and priorities.

 2.    It should:

 a.    Support existing users – whether they are learners, parents/carers, educators, policy-makers or academics – and help to attract new users;

 b.    Raise the entity’s profile and build its reputation – both nationally and internationally – as a first-rate provider in one or more of the five areas of gifted education;

 c.    Raise the profile of gifted education as an  issue and support  campaigning for stronger provision;

 d.    Help to generate income to support the pursuit of these objectives and the body’s continued existence.

3.    It should aim to:

 a.    Provide a consistently higher quality and more compelling service than its main competitors, generating maximum benefit for minimum cost.

 b.    Use social media to strengthen interaction with and between users and provide more effective ‘bottom-up’ collaborative support.

 c.    Balance diversity and reach against manageability and effectiveness, prioritising media favoured by users but resisting pressure to diversify without justification and resource.

 d.    Keep the body’s online presence coherent and uncomplicated, with clear and consistent signposting so users can navigate quickly and easily between different online locations.

e.    Integrate all elements of the body’s online presence, ensuring they are mutually supportive.

 4.    It should monitor carefully the preferences of users, as well as the development of online and social media services, adjusting the approach only when there is a proven business case for doing so.

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P1010262-001

Perth Pelicans by Gifted Phoenix

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Applying the Criteria

These draft criteria reflect the compromise I outlined above. They are not the final word. I hope that you will help us to refine them as part of the consultation process now underway and I cannot emphasise too much that they are intended as guidelines, to be applied with some discretion.

I continue to maintain my inalienable right – as well as yours – to break any rules imposed by self-appointed arbiters of quality.

To give an example, readers will know that I am particularly exercised by any suggestion that good blog posts are, by definition, brief!

I also maintain your inalienable right to impose your own personal tastes and preferences alongside (or in place of) these criteria. But you might prefer to do so having reflected on the criteria – and having dismissed them for logical reasons.

There are also some fairly obvious limitations to these criteria.

For example, bloggers like me who use hosted platforms are constrained to some extent by the restrictions imposed by the host, as well as by our preparedness to pay for premium features.

Moreover, the elements of effective online and social media practice have been developed with a not-for-profit charity in mind and some in particular may not apply – or may not apply so rigorously – to other kinds of organisations, or to individuals engaged in similar activity.

In short, these are not templates to be followed slavishly, but rather a basis for reviewing existing provision and prompting discussion about how it might be further improved.

It would be forward of me to attempt a rigorous scrutiny against each of the criteria of the six key players mentioned above, or of any of the host of smaller players, including the 36 active gifted education blogs now listed on my blogroll.

I will confine myself instead to reporting factually all that I can find in the public domain about the activity of the six bodies, comparing and contrasting their approaches with broad reference to the criteria and arriving at an overall impressionistic judgement.

As for the blogs, I will be even more tactful, pointing out that my own quick and dirty self-review of this one – allocating a score out of ten for each of the ten items in the first set of criteria – generated a not very impressive 62%.

Of course I am biased. I still think my blog is better than yours, but now I have some useful pointers to how I might make it even better!

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Comparing six major players

I wanted to compare the social media profile of the most prominent international organisations, the most active national organisations based in the US (which remains the dominant country in gifted education and in supporting gifted education online) and the two major national organisations in the UK.

I could have widened my reach to include many similar organisations around the world but that would have made this post more inaccessible. It also struck me that I could evidence my key messages by analysis of this small sample alone – and that my conclusions would be equally applicable to others in the field, wherever they are located geographically.

My analysis focuses on these organisations’:

  • Principal websites, including any information they contain about their wider online and social media activity;
  • Profile across the five selected social media platforms and use of blogs plus the four featured curational tools.

I have confined myself to universally accessible material, since several of these organisations have additional material available only to their memberships.

I have included only what I understand to be official channels, tied explicitly to the main organisation. I have included accounts that are linked to franchised operations – typically conferences – but have excluded personal accounts that belong to individual employees or trustees of the organisations in question.

Table 1 below shows which of the six organisations are using which social media. The table includes hyperlinks to the principal accounts and I have also repeated these in the commentary that follows.

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Table 1: The social media used by the sample of six organisations

WCGTC ECHA SENG NAGC PPUK NACE
Blog No No [Yes] No No No
Facebook Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Google+ Yes No Yes No Yes Yes
LinkedIn Yes No Yes No Yes No
Twitter Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes
You Tube Yes No Yes Yes No Yes
PaperLi Yes No No No No No
Pinterest No No No Yes Yes No
ScoopIt No No No No No No
Storify No No No Yes No No

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The table gives no information about the level or quality of activity on each account – that will be addressed in the commentary below – but it gives a broadly reliable indication of which organisations are comparatively active in social media and which are less so.

The analysis shows that Facebook and Twitter are somewhat more popular platforms than Google+, LinkedIn and You Tube, while Pinterest leads the way amongst the curational tools. This distribution of activity is broadly representative of the wider gifted education community.

The next section takes a closer look at this wider activity on each of the ten platforms and tools.

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Comparing gifted-related activity on the ten selected platforms and tools

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Blogs

As far as I can establish, none of the six organisations currently maintains a blog. SENG does have what it describes as a Library of Articles, which is a blog to all intents and purposes – and Potential Plus UK is currently planning a blog.

Earlier this year I noticed that my blogroll was extremely out of date and that several of the blogs it contained were no longer active. I reviewed all the blogs I could find in the field and sought recommendations from others.

I imposed a rule to distinguish live blogs from those that are dead or dormant – they had to have published three or more relevant posts in the previous six months.

I also applied a slightly more subjective rule, in an effort to sift out those that had little relevance to anyone beyond the author (being cathartic diaries of sorts) and those that are entirely devoted to servicing a small local advocacy group.

I ended up with a long shortlist of 36 blogs, which now constitutes the revised blogroll in the right hand column.  Most are written in English but I have also included a couple of particularly active blogs in other languages.

The overall number of active blogs is broadly comparable with what I remember in 2010 when I first began, but the number of posts has probably fallen.

I don’t know to what extent this reflects changes in the overall number of active blogs and posts, either generically or in the field of education. In England there has been a marked renaissance in edublogging over the last twelve months, yet only three bloggers venture regularly into the territory of gifted education.

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Facebook

Alongside Twitter, Facebook has the most active gifted education community.

There are dozens of Facebook Groups focused on giftedness and high ability. At the time of writing, the largest and most active are:

The Facebook Pages with the most ‘likes’ have been established by bodies located in the United States. The most favoured include:

There is a Gifted Phoenix page, which is rigged up to my Twitter account so all my tweets are relayed there. Only those with a relevant hashtag – #gtchat or #gtvoice – will be relevant to gifted education.

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Google+

To date there is comparatively little activity on Google+, though many have established an initial foothold there.

Part of the problem is lack of familiarity with the platform, but another obstacle is the limited capacity to connect other parts of one’s social media footprint with one’s Google+ presence.

There is only one Google+ Community to speak of: ‘Gifted and Talented’ currently with 134 members.

A search reveals a large number of people and pages ostensibly relevant to gifted education, but few are useful and many are dormant.

Amongst the early adopters are:

My own Google+ page is dormant. It should now be possible to have WordPress.com blogposts appear automatically on a Google+ page, but the service seems unreliable. There is no capacity to link Twitter and Google+ in this fashion. I am waiting on Google to improve the connectivity of their service.

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LinkedIn

LinkedIn is also comparatively little used by the gifted education community. There are several groups:

But none is particularly active, despite the rather impressive numbers above. Similarly, a handful of organisations have company pages on LinkedIn, but only one or two are active.

The search purports to include a staggering 98,360 people who mention ‘gifted’ in their profiles, but basic account holders can only see 100 results at a time.

My own LinkedIn page is registered under my real name rather than my social media pseudonym and is focused principally on my consultancy activity. I often forget it exists.

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Twitter

By comparison, Twitter is much more lively.

My brief January post mentioned my Twitter list containing every user I could find who mentions gifted education (or a similar term, whether in English or a selection of other languages) in their profile.

The list currently contains 1,263 feeds. You are welcome to subscribe to it. If you want to see it in action first, it is embedded in the right-hand column of this Blog, just beneath the blogroll.

The majority of the gifted-related activity on Twitter takes place under the #gtchat hashtag, which tends to be busier than even the most popular Facebook pages.

This hashtag also accommodates an hour long real-time chat every Friday (at around midnight UK time) and at least once a month on Sundays, at a time more conducive to European participants.

Other hashtags carrying information about gifted education include: #gtvoice (UK-relevant), #gtie (Ireland-relevant), #hoogbegaafd (Dutch-speaking); #altascapacidades (Spanish-speaking), #nagc and #gifteded.

Chats also take place on the #gtie and #nagc hashtags, though the latter may now be discontinued.

Several feeds provide gifted-relevant news and updates from around the world. Amongst the most followed are:

  • NAGC (4,240 followers)
  • SENG (2,709 followers)

Not forgetting Gifted Phoenix (5,008 followers) who publishes gifted-relevant material under the #gtchat (globally relevant material) and #gtvoice (UK-relevant material) hashtags.

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Twitter network 2014 Capture

Map of Gifted Phoenix’s Twitter Followers March 2014

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You Tube

You Tube is of course primarily an audio-visual channel, so it tends to be used to store public presentations and commercials.

A search on ‘gifted education’ generates some 318,000 results including 167,000 videos and 123,000 channels, but it is hard to see the wood for the trees.

The most viewed videos and the most used channels are an eclectic mix and vary tremendously in quality.

Honourable mention should be made of:

The most viewed video is called ‘Top 10 Myths in Gifted Education’, a dramatised presentation which was uploaded in March 2010 by the Gifted and Talented Association of Montgomery County. This has had almost 70,000 views.

Gifted Phoenix does not have a You Tube presence.

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Paper.li

Paper.li describes itself as ‘a content curation service’ which ‘enables people to publish newspapers based on topics they like and treat their readers to fresh news, daily.’

It enables curators to draw on material from Facebook, Twitter, Google+, embeddable You Tube videos and websites via RSS feeds.

In September 2013 it reported 3.7m users each month.

I found six gifted-relevant ‘papers’ with over 1,000 subscriptions:

There is, as yet, no Gifted Phoenix presence on paper.li, though I have been minded for some months to give it a try.

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Pinterest

Pinterest is built around a pinboard concept.  Pins are illustrated bookmarks designating something found online or already on Pinterest, while Boards are used to organise a collection of pins. Users can follow each other and others’ boards.

Pinterest is said to have 70 million users, of which 80% are female.

A search on ‘gifted education’ reveals hundreds of boards dedicated to the topic, but unfortunately there is no obvious way to rank them by number of followers or number of pins.

Since advanced search capability is conspicuous by its absence, the user apparently has little choice but to sift laboriously through each board. I have not undertaken this task so I can bring you no useful information about the most used and most popular boards.

Judging by the names attached to these boards, they are owned almost exclusively by women. It is interesting to hypothesise about what causes this gender imbalance – and whether Pinterest is actively pursuing female users at the expense of males.

There are, however, some organisations in the field making active use of Pinterest. A search of ‘pinners’ suggests that amongst the most popular are:

  • IAGC Gifted which has 26 boards, 734 pins and 400 followers.

Gifted Phoenix is male and does not have a presence on Pinterest…yet!

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Scoop.it

Scoop.it stores material on a page somewhere between a paper.li-style newspaper and a Pinterest-style board. It is reported to have almost seven million unique visitors each month.

‘Scoopable’ material is drawn together via URLs, a programmable ‘suggestions engine’ and other social media, including all the ‘big four’. The free version permits a user to link only two social media accounts however, putting significant restrictions on Scoop.it’s curational capacity.

Scoop.it also has limited search engine capability. It is straightforward to conduct an elementary search like this one on ‘gifted’ which reveals 107 users.

There is no quick way of finding those pages that are most used or most followed, but one can hover over the search results for topics to find out which have most views:

Gifted Phoenix has a Scoop.it topic which is still very much a work in progress.

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Storify

Storify is a slightly different animal to the other three tools. It describes itself as:

‘the leading social storytelling platform, enabling users to easily collect tweets, photos, videos and media from across the web to create stories that can be embedded on any website.  With Storify, anyone can curate stories from the social web to embed on their own site and share on the Storify platform.’

Estimates of user numbers vary but are typically from 850,000 to 1m.

Storify is a flexible tool whose free service permits one to collect material already located on the platform and from a range of other sources including Twitter, Facebook, You Tube, Flickr, Instagram, Google search, Tumblr – or via RSS or URL.

The downside is that there is no way to search within Storify for stories or users, so one cannot provide information about the level of activity or users that it might be helpful to follow.

However, a Google search reveals that users of Storify include:

  • IGGY with 9 followers

These tiny numbers show that Storify has not really taken off as a curational platform in its own right, though it is an excellent supporting tool, particularly for recording transcripts of Twitter chats.

Gifted Phoenix has a Storify profile and uses the service occasionally.

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The Cold Shoulder in Perth Zoo by Gifted Phoenix

The Cold Shoulder in Perth Zoo by Gifted Phoenix

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Comparing the six organisations

So, having reviewed wider gifted education-related activity on these ten social media platforms and tools, it is time to revisit the online and social media profile of the six selected organisations.

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World Council

The WCGTC website was revised in 2012 and has a clear and contemporary design.

The Council’s Mission Statement has a strong networking feel to it and elsewhere the website emphasises the networking benefits associated with membership:

‘…But while we’re known for our biennial conference the spirit of sharing actually goes on year round among our membership.

By joining the World Council you can become part of this vital network and have access to hundreds of other peers while learning about the latest developments in the field of gifted children.’

The home page includes direct links to the organisation’s Facebook Page and Twitter feed. There is also an RSS feed symbol but it is not active.

Both Twitter and Facebook are of course available to members and non-members alike.

At the time of writing, the Facebook page has 1,616 ‘likes’ and is relatively current, with five posts in the last month, though there is relatively little comment on these.

The Twitter feed typically manages a daily Tweet. Hashtags are infrequently if ever employed. At the time of writing the feed has 1,076 followers.

Almost all the Tweets are links to a daily paper.li production ‘WCGTC Daily’ which was first published in late July 2013, just before the last biennial conference. This has 376 subscribers at the present time, although the gifted education coverage is selective and limited.

However, the Council’s most recent biennial conference was unusual in making extensive use of social media. It placed photographs on Flickr, videos of keynotes on YouTube and podcasts of keynotes on Mixlr.

There was also a Blog – International Year of Giftedness and Creativity – which was busy in the weeks immediately preceding the Conference, but has not been active since.

There are early signs that the 2015 Conference will also make strong use of social media. In addition to its own website, it already has its own presence on Twitter and Facebook.

One of the strands of the 2015 Conference is:

‘Online collaboration

  • Setting the stage for future sharing of information
  • E-networking
  • E-learning options’

And one of the sponsors is a social media company.

As noted above, the World Council website provides links to two of its six strands of social media activity, but not the remaining four. It is not yet serving as an effective hub for the full range of this activity.

Some of the strands link together well – eg Twitter to paper.li – but there is considerable scope to improve the incidence and frequency of cross-referencing.

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ECHA

Of the six organisations in this sample, ECHA is comfortably the least active in social media with only a Facebook page available to supplement its website.

The site itself is rather old-fashioned and could do with a refresh. It includes a section ‘Introducing ECHA’ which emphasises the organisation’s networking role:

‘The major goal of ECHA is to act as a communications network to promote the exchange of information among people interested in high ability – educators, researchers, psychologists, parents and the highly able themselves. As the ECHA network grows, provision for highly able people improves and these improvements are beneficial to all members of society.’

This is reinforced in a parallel Message from the President.

There is no reference on the website to the Facebook group which is closed, but not confined solely to ECHA members. There are currently 191 members. The group is fairly active, but does not rival those with far more members listed above.

There’s not much evidence of cross-reference between the Facebook group and the website, but that may be because the website is infrequently updated.

As with the World Council, ECHA conferences have their own social media profile.

At the 2012 Conference in In Munster this was left largely to the delegates. Several of us live Tweeted the event.

I blogged about the Conference and my part in it, providing links to transcripts of the Twitter record. The post concluded with a series of learning points for this year’s ECHA Conference in Slovenia.

The Conference website explains that the theme of the 2014 event is ‘Rethinking Giftedness: Giftedness in the Digital Age’.

Six months ahead of the event, there is a Twitter feed with 29 followers that has been dormant for three months at the time of writing and a LinkedIn group with 47 members that has been quiet for five months.

A Forum was also established which has not been used for over a year. There is no information on the website about how the event will be supported by social media.

I sincerely hope that my low expectations will not be fulfilled!

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SENG

SENG is far more active across social media. Its website carries a 2012 copyright notice and has a more contemporary feel than many of the others in this sample.

The bottom of the home page extends an invitation to ‘connect with the SENG community’ and carries links to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn (though not to Google+ or You Tube).

In addition, each page carries a set of buttons to support the sharing of this information across a wide range of social media.

The organisation’s Strategic Plan 2012-2017 makes only fleeting reference to social media, in relation to creating a ‘SENG Liaison Facebook page’ to support inter-state and international support.

It does, however, devote one of its nine goals to the further development of its webinar programme (each costs $40 to access or $40 to purchase a recording for non-participants).

SENG offers online parent support groups but does not state which platform is used to host these. It has a Technology/Social Media Committee but its proceedings are not openly available.

Reference has already been made above to the principal Facebook Page which is popular, featuring posts on most days and a fair amount of interaction from readers.

The parallel group for SENG Liaisons is also in place, but is closed to outsiders, which rather seems to defeat the object.

The SENG Twitter feed is relatively well followed and active on most days. The LinkedIn page is somewhat less active but can boast 142 followers while Google+ is clearly a new addition to the fold.

The You Tube channel has 257 subscribers however and carries 16 videos, most of them featuring presentations by James Webb. Rather strangely, these don’t seem to feature in the media library carried by the website.

SENG is largely a voluntary organisation with little staff resource, but it is successfully using social media to extend its footprint and global influence. There is, however, scope to improve coherence and co-ordination.

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National Association for Gifted Children

The NAGC’s website is also in some need of refreshment. Its copyright notice dates from 2008, which was probably when it was designed.

There are no links to social media on the home page but ‘NAGC at a glance’ carries a direct link to the Facebook group and a Twitter logo without a link, while the page listing NAGC staff has working links to both Facebook and Twitter.

In the past, NAGC has been more active in this field.

There was for a time a Parenting High Potential Blog but the site is now marked private.

NAGC’s Storify account contains the transcripts of 6 Twitter chats conducted under the hashtag #nagcchat between June and August 2012. These were hosted by NAGC’s Parent Outreach Specialist.

But, by November 2012 I was tweeting:

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And in February 2013:

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This post was filled by July 2013. The postholder seems to have been concentrating primarily on editing the magazine edition of Parenting High Potential, which is confined to members only (but also has a Facebook presence – see below).

NAGC’s website carries a document called ‘NAGC leadership initiatives 2013-14’ which suggests further developments in the next few months.

The initiatives include:

‘Leverage content to intentionally connect NAGC resources, products and programs to targeted audiences through an organization-wide social media strategy.’

and

‘Implement a new website and membership database that integrates with social media and provides a state-of-the-art user interface.’

One might expect NAGC to build on its current social media profile which features:

  • A Facebook Group which currently has 2,420 members and is reasonably active, though not markedly so. Relatively few posts generate significant comments.
  • A Twitter feed boasting an impressive 4,287 followers. Tweets are published on a fairly regular basis

There is additional activity associated with the Annual NAGC Convention. There was extensive live Tweeting from the 2013 Convention under the rival hashtags #NAGC2013 and #NAGC13. #NAGC14 looks the favourite for this year’s Convention which has also established a Facebook presence

NAGC also has its own networks. The website lists 15 of these but hardly any of their pages give details of their social media activity. A cursory review reveals that:

Overall, NAGC has a fairly impressive array of social media activity but demonstrates relatively little evidence of strategic coherence and co-ordination. This may be expected to improve in the next six months, however.

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NACE

NACE is not quite the poorest performer in our sample but, like ECHA, it has so far made relatively little progress towards effective engagement with social media.

Its website dates from 2010 but looks older. Prominent links to Twitter and Facebook appear on the front page as well as – joy of joys – an RSS feed.

However, the Facebook link is not to a NACE-specific page or group and the RSS feed doesn’t work.

There are references on the website to the networking benefits of NACE membership, but not to any role for the organisation in wider networking activity via social media. Current efforts seem focused primarily on advertising NACE and its services to prospective members and purchasers.

The Twitter feed has a respectable 1,426 followers but Tweets tend to appear in blocks of three or four spaced a few days apart. Quality and relevance are variable.

The Google+ page and You Tube channel contain the same two resources, posted last November.

There is much room for improvement.

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Potential Plus UK

All of which brings us back to Potential Plus and the work I have been supporting to strengthen its online and social media presence.

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Current Profile

Potential Plus’s current social media profile is respectably diverse but somewhat lacking in coherence.

The website is old-fashioned. There is a working link to Facebook on the home page, but this takes readers to the old NAGC Britain page which is no longer used, rather than directing them to the new Potential Plus UK page.

Whereas the old Facebook page had reached 1,344 likes, the new one is currently at roughly half that level – 683 – but the level of activity is reasonably impressive.

There is a third Facebook page dedicated to the organisation’s ‘It’s Alright to Be Bright’ campaign, which is not quite dormant.

All website pages carry buttons supporting information-sharing via a wide range of social media outlets. But there is little reference in the website content to its wider social media activity.

The Twitter feed is fairly lively, boasting 1,093 followers. It currently has some 400 fewer followers than NACE but has published about 700 more Tweets. Both are publishing at about the same rate. Quality and relevance are similarly variable.

The LinkedIn page is little more than a marker and does not list the products offered.

The Google+ presence uses the former NAGC Britain name and is also no more than a marker.

But the level of activity on Pinterest is more significant. There are 14 boards each containing a total of 271 pins and attracting 26 followers.  This material has been uploaded during 2014.

There is at present no substantive blog activity, although the stub of an old wordpress.com site still exists and there is also a parallel stub of an old wordpress.com children’s area.

There are no links to any of these services from the website – nor do these services link clearly and prominently with each other.

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Future Strategy

The new wordpress.com test site sets out our plans for Potential Plus UK, which have been shaped in accordance with the two sets of draft success criteria above.

The purpose of the project is to help the organisation to:

  • improve how it communicates and engage with its different audiences clearly and effectively
  • improve support for members and benefit all its stakeholder groups
  • provide a consistently higher quality and more compelling service than its main competitors that generates maximum benefit for minimum cost

Subject to consultation and if all goes well, the outcome will be:

  • A children’s website on wordpress.org
  • A members’ and stakeholders’ website on wordpress.com (which may transfer to wordpress.org in due course)
  • A new forum and a new ‘bottom-up’ approach to support that marries curation and collaboration and
  • A coherent social media strategy that integrates these elements and meets audiences’ needs while remaining manageable for PPUK staff.

You can help us to develop this strategy by responding to the consultation here by Friday 18 April.

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La Palma Panorama by Gifted Phoenix

La Palma Panorama by Gifted Phoenix

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Conclusion

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Gifted Phoenix

I shall begin by reflecting on Gifted Phoenix’s profile across the ten elements included in this analysis:

  • He has what he believes is a reasonable Blog.
  • He is one of the leading authorities on gifted education on Twitter (if not the leading authority).
  • His Facebook profile consists almost exclusively of ‘repeats’ from his Twitter feed.
  • His LinkedIn page reflects a different identity and is not connected properly to the rest of his profile.
  • His Google+ presence is embryonic.
  • He has used Scoop.it and Storify to some extent, but not Paper.li or Pinterest.

GP currently has a rather small social media footprint, since he is concentrating on doing only two things – blogging and microblogging – effectively.

He might be advised to extend his sphere of influence by distributing the limited available human resource more equitably across the range of available media.

On the other hand he is an individual with no organisational objectives to satisfy. Fundamentally he can follow his own preferences and inclinations.

Maybe he should experiment with this post, publishing it as widely as possible and monitoring the impact via his blog analytics…

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The Six Organisations

There is a strong correlation between the size of each organisation’s social media footprint and the effectiveness with which they use social media.

There are no obvious examples – in this sample at least – of organisations that have a small footprint because of a deliberate choice to specialise in a narrow range of media.

If we were to rank the six in order of effectiveness, the World Council, NAGC and SENG would be vying for top place, while ECHA and NACE would be competing for bottom place and Potential Plus UK would be somewhere in the middle.

But none of the six organisations would achieve more than a moderate assessment against the two sets of quality criteria. All of them have huge scope for improvement.

Their priorities will vary, according to what is set out in their underlying social media strategies. (If they have no social media strategy, the obvious priority is to develop one, or to revise it if it is outdated.)

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The Overall Picture across the Five Aspects of Gifted Education

This analysis has been based on the activities of a small sample of six generalist organisations in the gifted education field, as well as wider activity involving a cross-section of tools and platforms.

It has not considered providers who specialise in one of the five aspects – advocacy, learning, professional development, policy-making and research – or the use being made of specialist social media, such as MOOCs and research tools.

So the judgements that follow are necessarily approximate. But nothing I have seen across the wider spectrum of social media over the past 18 months would seriously call into question the conclusions reached below.

  • Advocacy via social media is slightly stronger than it was in 2012 but there is still much insularity and too little progress has been made towards a joined up global movement. The international organisations remain fundamentally inward-looking and have been unable to offer the leadership and sense of direction required.  The grip of the old guard has been loosened and some of the cliquey atmosphere has dissipated, but academic research remains the dominant culture.
  • Learning via social media remains limited. There are still several niche providers but none has broken through in a global sense. The scope for fruitful partnership between gifted education interests and one or more of the emerging MOOC powerhouses remains unfulfilled. The potential for social media to support coherent and targeted blended learning solutions – and to support collaborative learning amongst gifted learners worldwide – is still largely unexploited.
  • Professional development via social media has been developed at a comparatively modest level by several providers, but the prevailing tendency seems to be to regard this as a ‘cash cow’ generating income to support other activities. There has been negligible progress towards securing the benefits that would accrue from systematic international collaboration.
  • Policy-making via social media is still the poor relation. The significance of policy-making (and of policy makers) within gifted education is little appreciated and little understood. What engagement there is seems focused disproportionately on lobbying politicians, rather than on developing at working level practical solutions to the policy problems that so many countries face in common.
  • Research via social media is negligible. The vast majority of academic researchers in the field are still caught in a 20th Century paradigm built around publication in paywalled journals and a perpetual round of face-to-face conferences. I have not seen any significant examples of collaboration between researchers. A few make a real effort to convey key research findings through social media but most do not. Some of NAGC’s networks are beginning to make progress and the 2013 World Conference went further than any of its predecessors in sharing proceedings with those who could not attend. Now the pressure is on the EU Talent Conference in Budapest and ECHA 2014 in Slovenia to push beyond this new standard.

Overall progress has been limited and rather disappointing. The three conclusions I drew in 2012 remain valid.

In September 2012 I concluded that ‘rapid acceleration is necessary otherwise gifted education will be left behind’. Eighteen months on, there are some indications of slowly gathering speed, but the gap between practice in gifted education and leading practice has widened meanwhile – and the chances of closing it seem increasingly remote.

Back in 2010 and 2011 several of my posts had an optimistic ring. It seemed then that there was an opportunity to ‘only connect’ globally, but also at European level via the EU Talent Centre and in the UK via GT Voice. But both those initiatives are faltering.

My 2012 post also finished on an optimistic note:

‘Moreover, social media can make a substantial and lasting contribution to the scope, value and quality of gifted education, to the benefit of all stakeholders, but ultimately for the collective good of gifted learners.

No, ‘can’ is too cautious, non-assertive, unambitious. Let’s go for WILL instead!’

Now in 2014 I am resigned to the fact that there will be no great leap forward. The very best we can hope for is disjointed incremental improvement achieved through competition rather than collaboration.

I will be doing my best for Potential Plus UK. Now what about you?

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GP

March 2014

Challenging NAHT’s Commission on Assessment

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This post reviews the Report of the NAHT’s National Commission on Assessment, published on 13 February 2014.

pencil-145970_640Since I previously subjected the Government’s consultation document on primary assessment and accountability to a forensic examination, I thought it only fair that I should apply the same high standards to this document.

I conclude that the Report is broadly helpful, but there are several internal inconsistencies and a few serious flaws.

Impatient readers may wish to skip the detailed analysis and jump straight to the summary at the end of the post which sets out my reservations in the form of 23 recommendations addressed to the Commission and the NAHT.

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Other perspectives

Immediate reaction to the Report was almost entirely positive.

The TES included a brief Ministerial statement in its coverage, attributed to Michael Gove:

‘The NAHT’s report gives practical, helpful ideas to schools preparing for the removal of levels. It also encourages them to make the most of the freedom they now have to develop innovative approaches to assessment that meet the needs of pupils and give far more useful information to parents.’

ASCL and ATL both welcomed the Report, as did the National Governors’ Association, though there was no substantive comment from NASUWT or NUT.

The Blogosphere exhibited relatively little interest, although a smattering of posts began to expose some issues:

  • LKMco supported the key recommendations, but wondered whether the Commission might not be guilty of reinventing National Curriculum levels;
  • Mr Thomas Maths was more critical, identifying three key shortcomings, one being the proposed approach to differentiation within assessment;
  • Warwick Mansell, probably because he blogs for NAHT, confined himself largely to summarising the Report, which he found ‘impressive’, though he did raise two key points – the cost of implementing these proposals and how the recommendations relate to the as yet uncertain position of teacher assessment in the Government’s primary assessment and accountability reforms.

All of these points – and others – are fleshed out in the critique below.

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Background

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Remit, Membership and Evidence Base

The Commission was first announced in July 2013, when it was described as:

‘a commission of practitioners to shape the future of assessment in a system without levels.’

By September, Lord Sutherland had agreed to Chair the body and its broad remit had been established:

‘To:

  • establish a set of principles to underpin national approaches to assessment and create consistency;
  • identify and highlight examples of good practice; and
  • build confidence in the assessment system by securing the trust and support of officials and inspectors.’

Written evidence was requested by 16 October.

The first meeting took place on 21 October and five more were scheduled before the end of November.

Members’ names were not included at this stage (beyond the fact that NAHT’s President – a Staffordshire primary head – was involved) though membership was now described as ‘drawn from across education’.

Several members had in fact been named in an early October blog post from NAHT and a November press release from the Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors (CIEA) named all but one – NAHT’s Director of Education. This list was confirmed in the published Report.

The Commission had 14 members but only six of them – four primary heads one primary deputy and one secondary deputy – could be described as practitioners.

The others included two NAHT officials in addition to the secretariat, one being General Secretary Russell Hobby, and one from ASCL;  John Dunford, a consultant with several other strings to his bow, one of those being Chairmanship of the CIEA; Gordon Stobart an academic specialist in assessment with a long pedigree in the field; Hilary Emery, the outgoing Chief Executive of the National Children’s Bureau; and Sam Freedman of Teach First.

There were also unnamed observers from DfE, Ofqual and Ofsted.

The Report says the Commission took oral evidence from a wide range of sources. A list of 25 sources is provided but it does not indicate how much of their evidence was written and how much oral.

Three of these sources are bodies represented on the Commission, two of them schools. Overall seven are from schools. One source is Tim Oates, the former Chair of the National Curriculum Review Expert Panel.

The written evidence is not published and I could find only a handful of responses online, from:

Overall one has to say that the response to the call for evidence was rather limited. Nevertheless, it would be helpful for NAHT to publish all the evidence it received. It might be helpful for NAHT to consult formally on key provisions in its Report.

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Structure of the Report and Further Stages Proposed

The main body of the Report is sandwiched between a foreword by the Chair and a series of Annexes containing case studies, historical and international background.  This analysis concentrates almost entirely on the main body.

The 21 Recommendations are presented twice, first as a list within the Executive Summary and subsequently interspersed within a thematic commentary that summarises the evidence received and also conveys the Commission’s views.

The Executive Summary also sets out a series of Underpinning Principles for Assessment and a Design Checklist for assessment in schools, the latter accompanied by a set of five explanatory notes.

It offers a slightly different version of the Commission’s Remit:

‘In carrying out its task, the Commission was asked to achieve three distinct elements:

  • A set of agreed principles for good assessment
  • Examples of current best practice in assessment that meet these principles
  • Buy-in to the principles by those who hold schools to account.’

These are markedly less ambitious than their predecessors, having dropped the reference to ‘national approaches’ and any aspiration to secure support from officials and inspectors for anything beyond the Principles.

Significantly, the Report is presented as only the first stage in a longer process, an urgent response to schools’ need for guidance in the short term.

It recommends that further work should comprise:

  • ‘A set of model assessment criteria based on the new National Curriculum.’ (NAHT is called upon to develop and promote these. The text says that a model document is being  commissioned but doesn’t reveal the timescale or who is preparing it);
  • ‘A full model assessment policy and procedures, backed by appropriate professional development’ that would expand upon the Principles and Design Checklist. (NAHT is called upon to take the lead in this, but there is no indication that they plan to do so. No timescale is attached)
  • ‘A system-wide review of assessment’ covering ages 2-19. It is not explicitly stated, but one assumes that this recommendation is directed towards the Government. Again no timescale is attached.

The analysis below looks first at the assessment Principles, then the Design Checklist and finally the recommendations plus associated commentary. It concludes with an overall assessment of the Report as a whole.

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Assessment Principles

As noted above, it seems that national level commitment is only sought in respect of these Principles, but there is no indication in the Report – or elsewhere for that matter – that DfE, Ofsted and Ofqual have indeed signed up to them.

Certainly the Ministerial statement quoted above stops well short of doing so.

The consultation document on primary assessment and accountability also sought comments on a set of core principles to underpin schools’ curriculum and assessment frameworks. It remains to be seen whether the version set out in the consultation response will match those advanced by the Commission.

The Report recommends that schools should review their own assessment practice against the Principles and Checklist together, and that all schools should have their own clear assessment principles, presumably derived or adjusted in the light of this process.

Many of the principles are unexceptionable, but there are a few interesting features that are directly relevant to the commentary below.

For it is of course critical to the internal coherence of the Report that the Design Checklist and recommendations are entirely consistent with these Principles.

I want to highlight three in particular:

  • ‘Assessment is inclusive of all abilities…Assessment embodies, through objective criteria, a pathway of progress and development for every child…Assessment objectives set high expectations for learners’.

One assumes that ‘abilities’ is intended to stand proxy for both attainment and potential, so that there should be ‘high expectations’ and a ‘pathway of progress and development’ for the lowest and highest attainers alike.

  • ‘Assessment places achievement in context against nationally standardised criteria and expected standards’.

This begs the question whether the ‘model document’ containing assessment criteria commissioned by NAHT will be ‘nationally standardised’ and, if so, what standardisation process will be applied.

  • ‘Assessment is consistent…The results are readily understandable by third parties…A school’s results are capable of comparison with other schools, both locally and nationally’.

The implication behind these statements must be that results of assessment in each school are transparent and comparable through the accountability regime, presumably by means of the performance tables (and the data portal that we expect to be introduced to support them).

This cannot be taken as confined to statutory tests, since the text later points out that:

‘The remit did not extend to KS2 tests, floor standards and other related issues of formal accountability.’

It isn’t clear, from the Principles at least, whether the Commission believes that teacher assessment outcomes should also be comparable. Here, as elsewhere, the Report does a poor job of distinguishing between statutory teacher assessment and assessment internal to the school.

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Design Checklist.

 

Approach to Assessment and Use of Assessment

The Design Checklist is described as:

‘an evaluation checklist for schools seeking to develop or acquire an assessment system. They could also form the seed of a revised assessment policy.’

It is addressed explicitly to schools and comprises three sections covering, respectively, a school’s approach to assessment, method of assessment and use of assessment.

The middle section is by far the most significant and also the most complex, requiring five explanatory notes.

I have taken the more straightforward first and third sections first.

‘Our approach to assessment’ simply makes the point that assessment is integral to teaching and learning, while also setting expectations for regular, universal professional development and ‘a senior leader who is responsible for assessment’.

It is not clear whether this individual is the same as, or additional to, the ‘trained assessment lead’ mentioned in the Report’s recommendations.

I can find no justification in the Report for the requirement that this person must be a senior leader.

A more flexible approach would be preferable, in which the functions to be undertaken are outlined and schools are given flexibility over how those are distributed between staff. There is more on this below.

The final section ‘Our use of assessment’ refers to staff:

  • Summarising and analysing attainment and progress;
  • Planning pupils’ learning to ensure every pupil meets or exceeds expectations (Either this is a counsel of perfection, or expectations for some learners are pitched below the level required to satisfy the assessment criteria for the subject and year in question. The latter is much more likely, but this is confusing since satisfying the assessment criteria is also described in the Checklist in terms of ‘meeting…expectations’.)
  • Analysing data across the school to ensure all pupils are stretched while the vulnerable and those at risk make appropriate progress (‘appropriate’ is not defined within the Checklist itself but an explanatory note appended to the central section  – see below – glosses this phrase);
  • Communicating assessment information each term to pupils and parents through ‘a structured conversation’ and the provision of ‘rich, qualitative profiles of what has been achieved and indications of what they [ie parents as well as pupils] need to do next’; and
  • Celebrating a broad range of achievements, extending across the full school curriculum and encompassing social, emotional and behavioural development.

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Method of Assessment: Purposes

‘Our method of assessment’ is by far the longest section, containing 11 separate bullet points. It could be further subdivided for clarity’s sake.

The first three bullets are devoted principally to some purposes of assessment. Some of this material might be placed more logically in the ‘Our Use of Assessment’ section, so that the central section is shortened and restricted to methodology.

The main purpose is stipulated as ‘to help teachers, parents and pupils plan their next steps in learning’.

So the phrasing suggests that assessment should help to drive forward the learning of parents and teachers, as well as to the learning of pupils. I’m not sure if this is deliberate or accidental.

Two subsidiary purposes are mentioned: providing a check on teaching standards and support for their improvement; and providing a comparator with other schools via collaboration and the use of ‘external tests and assessments’.

It is not clear why these three purposes are singled out. There is some overlap with the Principles but also a degree of inconsistency between the two pieces of documentation. It might have been better to cross-reference them more carefully.

In short, the internal logic of the Checklist and its relationship with the Principles could both do with some attention.

The real meat of the section is incorporated in the eight remaining bullet points. The first four are about what pupils are assessed against and when that assessment takes place. The last four explain how assessment judgements are differentiated, evidenced and moderated.

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Method of Assessment: What Learners Are Assessed Against – and When

The next four bullets specify that learners are to be assessed against ‘assessment criteria which are short, discrete, qualitative and concrete descriptions of what a pupil is expected to know and be able to do.’

These are derived from the school curriculum ‘which is composed of the National Curriculum and our own local design’ (Of course that is not strictly the position in academies, as another section of the Report subsequently points out.)

The criteria ‘for periodic assessment are arranged into a hierarchy setting out what children are normally expected to have mastered by the end of each year’.

Each learner’s achievement ‘is assessed against all the relevant criteria at appropriate times of the school year’.

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The Span of the Assessment Criteria

The first explanatory note (A) clarifies that the assessment criteria are ‘discrete, tangible descriptive statements of attainment’ derived from ‘the National Curriculum (and any school curricula)’.

There is no repetition of the provision in the Principles that they should be ‘nationally standardised’ but ‘there is little room for meaningful variety’, even though academies are not obliged to follow the National Curriculum and schools have complete flexibility over the remainder of the school curriculum.

The Recommendations have a different emphasis, saying that NAHT’s model criteria should be ‘based on the new National Curriculum’ (Recommendation 6), but the clear impression here is that they will encompass the National Curriculum ‘and any school curricula’ alike.

This inconsistency needs to be resolved. NAHT might be better off confining its model criteria to the National Curriculum only – and making it clear that even these may not be relevant to academies.

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The Hierarchy of Assessment Criteria

The second explanatory note (B) relates to the arrangement of the assessment criteria

‘…into a hierarchy, setting out what children are normally expected to have mastered by the end of each year’.

This note is rather muddled.

It begins by suggesting that a hierarchy divided chronologically by school year is the most natural choice, because:

‘The curriculum is usually organised into years and terms for planned delivery’

That may be true, but only the Programmes of Study for the three core subjects are organised by year, and each clearly states that:

‘Schools are…only required to teach the relevant programme of study by the end of the key stage. Within each key stage, schools therefore have the flexibility to introduce content earlier or later than set out in the programme of study. In addition, schools can introduce key stage content during an earlier key stage if appropriate.’

All schools – academies and non-academies alike – therefore enjoy considerable flexibility over the distribution of the Programmes of Study between academic years.

(Later in the Report – in the commentary preceding the first six recommendations – the text mistakenly suggests that the entirety of ‘the revised curriculum is presented in a model of year-by-year progress’ (page 14) It does not mention the provision above).

The note goes on to suggest that the Commission has chosen a different route, not because of this flexibility, but because ‘children’s progress may not fit neatly into school years’:

‘…we have chosen the language of a hierarchy of expectations to avoid misunderstandings. Children may be working above or below their school year…’

But this is not an absolute hierarchy of expectations – in the sense that learners are free to progress entirely according to ability (or, more accurately, their prior attainment) rather than in age-related lock steps.

In a true hierarchy of expectations, learners would be able to progress as fast or as slowly as they are able to, within the boundaries set by:

  • On one hand, high expectations, commensurate challenge and progression;
  • On the other hand, protection against excessive pressure and hot-housing and a judicious blending of faster pace with more breadth and depth (of which more below).

This is no more than a hierarchy by school year with some limited flexibility at the margins.

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The timing of assessment against the criteria

The third explanatory note (C) confirms the Commission’s assumption that formal assessments will be conducted at least termly – and possibly more frequently than that.

It adds:

‘It will take time before schools develop a sense of how many criteria from each year’s expectations are normally met in the autumn, spring and summer terms, and this will also vary by subject’.

This is again unclear. It could mean that a future aspiration is to judge progress termly, by breaking down the assessment criteria still further – so that a learner who met the assessment criteria for, say, the autumn term is deemed to be meeting the criteria for the year as a whole at that point.

Without this additional layer of lock-stepping, presumably the default position for the assessments conducted in the autumn and spring terms is that learners will still be working towards the assessment criteria for the year in question.

The note also mentions in passing that:

‘For some years to come, it will be hard to make predictions from outcomes of these assessments to the results in KS2 tests. Such data may emerge over time, although there are question marks over how reliable predictions may be if schools are using incompatible approaches and applying differing standards of performance and therefore cannot pool data to form large samples.’

This is one of very few places where the Report picks up on the problems that are likely to emerge from the dissonance between internal and external statutory assessment.

But it avoids the central issue, this being that the approach to internal assessment it advocates may not be entirely compatible with predicting future achievement in the KS2 tests. If so, its value is seriously diminished, both for parents and teachers, let alone the learners themselves.  This issue also reappears below.

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Method of Assessment: How Assessment Judgements are Differentiated, Evidenced and Moderated

The four final bullet points in this section of the Design Checklist explain that all learners will be assessed as either ‘developing’, ‘meeting’, or ‘exceeding’ each relevant criterion for that year’.

Learners deemed to be exceeding the relevant criteria in a subject for a given year ‘will also be assessed against the criteria in that subject for the next year.’

Assessment judgements are supported by evidence comprising observations, records of work and test outcomes and are subject to moderation by teachers in the same school and in other schools to ensure they are fair, reliable and valid.

I will set moderation to one side until later in the post, since that too lies outside the scope of methodology.

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Differentiation against the hierarchy of assessment criteria

The fourth explanatory note (D) addresses the vexed question of differentiation.

As readers may recall, the Report by the National Curriculum Review Expert Panel failed abjectly to explain how they would provide stretch and challenge in a system that focused exclusively on universal mastery and ‘readiness to progress’, saying only that further work was required to address the issue.

Paragraph 8.21 implied that they favoured what might be termed an ‘enrichment and extension’ model:

‘There are issues regarding ‘stretch and challenge’ for those pupils who, for a particular body of content, grasp material more swiftly than others. There are different responses to this in different national settings, but frequently there is a focus on additional activities that allow greater application and practice, additional topic study within the same area of content, and engagement in demonstration and discussion with others…These systems achieve comparatively low spread at the end of primary education, a factor vital in a high proportion of pupils being well positioned to make good use of more intensive subject-based provision in secondary schooling.’

Meanwhile, something akin to the P Scales might come into play for those children with learning difficulties.

On this latter point, the primary assessment and accountability consultation document said DfE would:

‘…explore whether P-scales should be reviewed so that they align with the revised national curriculum and provide a clear route to progress to higher attainment.’

We do not yet know whether this will happen, but Explanatory Note B to the Design Checklist conveys the clear message that the P-Scales need to be retained:

‘…must ensure we value the progress of children with special needs as much as any other group. The use of P scales here is important to ensure appropriate challenge and progression for pupils with SEN.’

By contrast, for high attainers, the Commission favours what might be called a ‘mildly accelerative’ model whereby learners who ‘exceed’ the assessment criteria applying to a subject for their year group may be given work that enables them to demonstrate progress against the criteria for the year above.

I describe it as mildly accelerative because there is no provision for learners to be assessed more than one year ahead of their chronological year group. This is a fairly low ceiling to impose on such accelerative progress.

It is also unclear whether the NAHT’s model assessment criteria will cover Year 7, the first year of the KS3 Programmes of Study, to enable this provision to extend into Year 6.

The optimal approach for high attainers would combine the ‘enrichment and extension’ approach apparently favoured by the Expert Panel with an accelerative approach that provides a higher ceiling, to accommodate those learners furthest ahead of their peers.

High attaining learners could then access a customised blend of enrichment (more breadth), extension (greater depth) and acceleration (faster pace) according to their needs.

This is good curricular practice and it should be reflected in assessment practice too, otherwise the risk is that a mildly accelerative assessment process will have an undesirable wash-back effect on teaching and learning.

Elsewhere, the Report advocates the important principle that curriculum, assessment and pedagogy should be developed in parallel, otherwise there is a risk that one – typically assessment – has an undesirable effect on the others. This would be an excellent exemplar of that statement.

The judgement whether a learner is exceeding the assessment criteria for their chronological year would be evidenced by enrichment and extension activity as well as by pre-empting the assessment criteria for the year ahead. Exceeding the criteria in terms of greater breadth or more depth should be equally valued.

This more rounded approach, incorporating a higher ceiling, should also be supported by the addition of a fourth ‘far exceeded’ judgement, otherwise the ‘exceeded’ judgement has to cover far too wide a span of attainment, from those who are marginally beyond their peers to those who are streets ahead.

These concerns need urgently to be addressed, before NAHT gets much further with its model criteria.

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The aggregation of criteria

In order to make the overall judgement for each subject, learners’ performance against individual assessment criteria has to be combined to give an aggregate measure.

The note says:

‘The criteria themselves can be combined to provide the qualitative statement of a pupil’s achievements, although teachers and schools may need a quantitative summary. Few schools appear to favour a pure binary approach of yes/no. The most popular choice seems to be a three phase judgement of working towards (or emerging, developing), meeting (or mastered, confident, secure, expected) and exceeded. Where a student has exceeded a criterion, it may make sense to assess them also against the criteria for the next year.’

This, too, begs some questions. The statement above is consistent with one of the Report’s central recommendations:

‘Pupil progress and achievement should be communicated in terms of descriptive profiles rather than condensed to numerical summaries (although schools may wish to use numerical data for internal purposes).’

Frankly it seems unlikely that such ‘condensed numerical summaries’ can be kept hidden from parents. Indeed, one might argue that they have a reasonable right to know them.

These aggregations – whether qualitative or quantitative – will be differentiated at three levels, according to whether the learner best fits a ‘working towards’, ‘meeting’ or ‘exceeding’ judgement for the criteria relating to the appropriate year in each programme of study.

I have just recommended that there needs to be an additional level at the top end, to remove undesirable ceiling effects that lower expectations and are inconsistent with the Principles set out in the Report. I leave it to others to judge whether, if this was accepted, a fifth level is also required at the lower end to preserve the symmetry of the scale.

There is also a ‘chicken and egg’ issue here. It is not clear whether a learner must already be meeting some of the criteria for the succeeding year in order to show they are exceeding the criteria for their own year – or whether assessment against the criteria for the succeeding year is one potential consequence of a judgement that they are exceeding the criteria for their own year.

This confusion is reinforced by a difference of emphasis between the checklist – which says clearly that learners will be assessed against the criteria for the succeeding year if they exceeded the criteria for their own – and the explanatory note, which says only that this may happen.

Moreover, the note suggests that this applies criterion by criterion – ‘where a student has exceeded a criterion’ – rather than after the criteria have been aggregated, which is the logical assumption from the wording in the checklist – ‘exceeded the relevant criteria’.

This too needs clarifying.

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Recommendations and Commentary

I will try not to repeat in this section material already covered above.

I found that the recommendations did not always sit logically with the preceding commentary, so I have departed from the subsections used in the Report, grouping the material into four broad sections: further methodological issues; in-school and school-to school support; national support; and phased implementation.

Each section leads with the relevant Recommendations and folds in additional relevant material from different sections of the commentary. I have repeated recommendations where they are relevant to more than one section.

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Further methodological issues

Recommendation 4: Pupils should be assessed against objective criteria rather than ranked against each other

Recommendation 5: Pupil progress and achievements should be communicated in terms of descriptive profiles rather than condensed to numerical summaries (although schools may wish to use numerical data for internal purposes.

Recommendation 6: In respect of the National Curriculum, we believe it is valuable – to aid communication and comparison – for schools to be using consistent criteria for assessment. To this end, we call upon NAHT to develop and promote a set of model assessment criteria based on the new National Curriculum.

The commentary discusses the evolution of National Curriculum levels, including the use of sub-levels and their application to progress as well as achievement. In doing so, it summarises the arguments for and against the retention of levels.

In favour of retention:

  • The system of levels provides a common language used by schools to summarise attainment and progress;
  • It is argued (by some professionals) that parents have grown up with levels and have an adequate grasp of what they mean;
  • The numerical basis of levels was useful to schools in analysing and tracking the performance of large numbers of pupils;
  • The decision to remove levels was unexpected and caused concern within the profession, especially as it was also announced that being ‘secondary ready’ was to be associated with the achievement of Level 4B;
  • If levels are removed, they must be replaced by a different common language, or at least ‘an element of compatibility or common understanding’ should several different assessment systems emerge.

In favour of removal:

  • It is argued (by the Government) that levels are not understood by parents and other stakeholders;
  • The numerical basis of levels does not have the richness of a more rounded description of achievement. The important narrative behind the headline number is often lost through over-simplification.
  • There are adverse effects from labelling learners with levels.

The Commission is also clear that the Government places too great a reliance on tests, particularly for accountability purposes. This has narrowed the curriculum and resulted in ‘teaching to the test’.

It also creates other perverse incentives, including the inflation of assessment outcomes for performance management purposes or, conversely, the deflation of assessment outcomes to increase the rate of progress during the subsequent key stage.

Moreover, curriculum, assessment and pedagogy must be mutually supportive. Although the Government has not allowed the assessment tail to wag the curricular dog:

‘…curriculum and assessment should be developed in tandem.’

Self-evidently, this has not happened, since the National Curriculum was finalised way ahead of the associated assessment arrangements which, in the primary sector, are still unconfirmed.

There is a strong argument that such assessment criteria should have been developed by the Government and made integral to the National Curriculum.

Indeed, in Chapter 7 of its Report on ‘The Framework for the National Curriculum’, the National Curriculum Expert Panel proposed that attainment targets should be retained, not in the form of level descriptors but as ‘statements of specific learning outcomes related to essential knowledge’ that  would be ’both detailed and precise’. They might be presented alongside the Programmes of Study.

The Government ignored this, opting for a very broad single, standard attainment target in each programme of study:

‘By the end of each key stage, pupils are expected to know, apply and understand the matters, skills and processes specified in the relevant programme of study.’

As I pointed out in a previous post, one particularly glaring omission from the Consultation Document on Primary Assessment and Accountability was any explanation of how Key Stage Two tests and statutory teacher assessments would be developed from these singleton ‘lowest common denominator’ attainment targets, especially in a context where academies, while not obliged to follow the National Curriculum, would undertake the associated tests.

We must await the long-delayed response to the consultation to see if it throws any light on this matter.

Will it commit the Government to producing a framework, at least for statutory tests in the core subjects, or will it throw its weight behind the NAHT’s model criteria instead?

I have summarised this section of the Report in some detail as it is the nearest it gets to providing a rational justification for the approach set out in the recommendations above.

The model criteria appear confined to the National Curriculum at this point, though we have already noted that is not the case elsewhere in the Report.

I have also discussed briefly the inconsistency in permitting the translation of descriptive profiles into numerical data ‘for internal purposes’, but undertook to develop that further, for there is a wider case that the Report does not entertain.

We know that there will be scores attached to KS2 tests, since those are needed to inform parents and for accountability purposes.

The Primary Assessment and Accountability consultation document proposed a tripartite approach:

  • Scaled scores to show attainment, built around a new ‘secondary-ready’ standard, broadly comparable with the current Level 4B;
  • Allocation to a decile within the range of scaled scores achieved nationally, showing attainment compared with one’s peers; and
  • Comparison with the average scaled score of those nationally with the same prior attainment at the baseline, to show relative progress.

Crudely speaking, the first of these measures is criterion-referenced while the second and third are norm-referenced.

We do not yet know whether these proposals will proceed – there has been some suggestion that deciles at least will be dropped – but parents will undoubtedly want schools to be able to tell them what scaled scores their children are on target to achieve, and how those compare with the average for those with similar prior attainment.

It will be exceptionally difficult for schools to convey that information within the descriptive profiles, insofar as they relate to English and maths, without adopting the same numerical measures.

It might be more helpful to schools if the NAHT’s recommendations recognised that fact. For the brutal truth is that, if schools’ internal assessment processes do not respond to this need, they will have to set up parallel processes that do so.

In order to derive descriptive profiles, there must be objective assessment criteria that supply the building blocks, hence the first part of Recommendation 4. But I can find nothing in the Report that explains explicitly why pupils cannot also be ranked against each other. This can only be a veiled and unsubstantiated objection to deciles.

Of course it would be quite possible to rank pupils at school level and, in effect, that is what schools will do when they condense the descriptive profiles into numerical summaries.

The real position here is that such rankings would exist, but would not be communicated to parents, for fear of ‘labelling’. But the labelling has already occurred, so the resistance is attributable solely to communicating these numerical outcomes to parents. That is not a sustainable position.

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In-school and school-to-school support

Recommendation 1: Schools should review their assessment practice against the principles and checklist set out in this report. Staff should be involved in the evaluation of existing practice and the development of a new, rigorous assessment system and procedures to enable the school to promote high quality teaching and learning.

Recommendation 2: All schools should have clear assessment principles and practices to which all staff are committed and which are implemented. These principles should be supported by school governors and accessible to parents, other stakeholders and the wider school community.

Recommendation 3: Assessment should be part of all school development plans and should be reviewed regularly. This review process should involve every school identifying its own learning and development needs for assessment. Schools should allocate specific time and resources for professional development in this area and should monitor how the identified needs are being met.

Recommendation 7 (part): Schools should work in collaboration, for example in clusters, to ensure a consistent approach to assessment. Furthermore, excellent practice in assessment should be identified and publicised…

Recommendation 9: Schools should identify a trained assessment lead, who will work with other local leads and nationally accredited assessment experts on moderation activities.

Recommendation 16: All those responsible for children’s learning should undertake rigorous training in formative, diagnostic and summative assessment, which covers how assessment can be used to support teaching and learning for all pupils, including those with special educational needs. The government should provide support and resources for accredited training for school assessment leads and schools should make assessment training a priority.

Recommendation 20: Schools should be asked to publish their principles of assessment from September 2014, rather than being required to publish a detailed assessment framework, which instead should be published by 2016. The development of the full framework should be outlined in the school development plan with appropriate milestones that allow the school sufficient time to develop an effective model.

All these recommendations are perfectly reasonable in themselves, but it is worth reflecting for a while on the likely cost and workload implications, particularly for smaller primary schools:

Each school must have a ‘trained assessment lead’ who may or may not be the same as the ‘senior leader who is responsible for assessment’ mentioned in the Design Checklist. There is no list of responsibilities for that person, but it would presumably include:

  • Leading the review of assessment practice and developing a new assessment system;
  • Leading the definition of the school’s assessment principles and practices and communicating these to governors, parents, stakeholders and the wider community;
  • Lead responsibility for the coverage of assessment within the school’s development plan and the regular review of that coverage;
  • Leading the identification and monitoring of the school’s learning and development needs for assessment;
  • Ensuring that all staff receive appropriate professional development – including ‘rigorous training in formative diagnostic and summative assessment’;
  • Leading the provision of in-school and school-to-school professional development relating to assessment;
  • Allocating time and resources for all assessment-related professional development and monitoring its impact;
  • Leading collaborative work with other schools to ensure a consistent approach to assessment;
  • Dissemination of effective practice;
  • Working with other local assessment leads and external assessment experts on moderation activities.

And, on top of this, there is a range of unspecified additional responsibilities associated with the statutory tests.

It is highly unlikely that this range of responsibilities could be undertaken effectively by a single person in less than half a day a week, as a bare minimum. There will also be periods of more intense pressure when a substantially larger time allocation is essential.

The corresponding salary cost for a ‘senior leader’ might be £3,000-£4,000 per year, not to mention the cost of undertaking the other responsibilities displaced.

There will also need to be a sizeable school budget and time allocation for staff to undertake reviews, professional development and moderation activities.

Moderation itself will bear a significant cost. Internal moderation may have a bigger opportunity cost but external moderation will otherwise be more expensive.

Explanatory note (E), attached to the Design Checklist, says:

‘The exact form of moderation will vary from school to school and from subject to subject. The majority of moderation (in schools large enough to support it) will be internal but all schools should undertake a proportion of external moderation each year, working with partner schools and local agencies.’

Hence the cost of external moderation will fall disproportionately on smaller schools with smaller budgets.

It would be wrong to suggest that this workload is completely new. To some extent these various responsibilities will be undertaken already, but the Commission’s recommendations are effectively a ratcheting up of the demand on schools.

Rather than insisting on these responsibilities being allocated to a single individual with other senior management responsibilities, it might be preferable to set out the responsibilities in more detail and give schools greater flexibility over how they should be distributed between staff.

Some of these tasks might require senior management input, but others could be handled by other staff, including paraprofessionals.

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National support

Recommendation 7 (part): Furthermore, excellent practice in assessment should be identified and publicised, with the Department for Education responsible for ensuring that this is undertaken.

Recommendation 8 (part): Schools should be prepared to submit their assessment to external moderators, who should have the right to provide a written report to the head teacher and governors setting out a judgement on the quality and reliability of assessment in the school, on which the school should act. The Commission is of the view that at least some external moderation should be undertaken by moderators with no vested interest in the outcomes of the school’s assessment. This will avoid any conflicts of interest and provide objective scrutiny and broader alignment of standards across schools.

Recommendation 9: Schools should identify a trained assessment lead, who will work with other local leads and nationally accredited assessment experts on moderation activities.

Recommendation 11: The Ofsted school inspection framework should explore whether schools have effective assessment systems in place and consider how effectively schools are using pupil assessment information and data to improve learning in the classroom and at key points of transition between key stages and schools.

Recommendation 14: Further work should be undertaken to improve training for assessment within initial teacher training (ITT), the newly qualified teacher (NQT) induction year and on-going professional development. This will help to build assessment capacity and support a process of continual strengthening of practice within the school system.

Recommendation 15: The Universities’ Council for the Education of Teachers (UCET) should build provision in initial teacher training for delivery of the essential assessment knowledge.

Recommendation 16: All those responsible for children’s learning should undertake rigorous training in formative, diagnostic and summative assessment, which covers how assessment can be used to support teaching and learning for all pupils, including those with special educational needs. The government should provide support and resources for accredited training for school assessment leads and schools should make assessment training a priority.

Recommendation 17: A number of pilot studies should be undertaken to look at the use of information technology (IT) to support and broaden understanding and application of assessment practice.

Recommendation 19: To assist schools in developing a robust framework and language for assessment, we call upon the NAHT to take the lead in expanding the principles and design checklist contained in this report into a full model assessment policy and procedures, backed by appropriate professional development.

There are also several additional proposals in the commentary that do not make it into the formal recommendations:

  • Schools should be held accountable for the quality of their assessment practice as well as their assessment results, with headteachers also appraising teachers on their use of assessment. (The first part of this formulation appears in Recommendation 11 but not the second.) (p17);
  • It could be useful for the teaching standards to reflect further assessment knowledge, skills and understanding (p17);
  • A national standard in assessment practice for teachers would be a useful addition (p18);
  • The Commission also favoured the approach of having a lead assessor to work with each school or possibly a group of schools, helping to embed good practice across the profession (p18).

We need to take stock of the sheer scale of the infrastructure that is being proposed and its likely cost.

In respect of moderation alone, the Report is calling for sufficient external moderators, ‘nationally accredited assessment experts’ and possibly lead assessors to service some 17,000 primary schools.

Even if we assume that these roles are combined in the same person and that each person can service, say, 25 schools, that still demands something approaching a cadre of 700 people who also need to be supported, managed and trained.

If they are serving teachers there is an obvious opportunity cost. Providing a service of this scale would cost tens of millions of pounds a year.

Turning to training and professional development, the Commission is proposing:

  • Accredited training for some 17,000 school assessment leads (with an ongoing requirement to train new appointees and refresh the training of those who undertook it too far in the past);
  • ‘Rigorous training in formative, diagnostic and summative assessment, which covers how assessment can be used to support teaching and learning for all pupils, including those with special educational needs’ for everyone deemed responsible for children’s learning, so not just teachers. This will include hundreds of thousands of people in the primary sector alone.
  • Revitalised coverage of assessment in ITE and induction, on top of the requisite professional development package.

The Report says nothing of the cost of developing, providing and managing this huge training programme, which would cost some more tens of millions of pounds a year.

I am plucking a figure out of the air, but it would be reasonable to suggest that moderation and training costs combined might require an annual budget of some £50 million – and quite possibly double that. 

Unless one argues that the testing regime should be replaced by a national sampling process – and while the Report says some of the Commission’s members supported that, it stops short of recommending it – there are no obvious offsetting savings.

It is disappointing that the Commission made no effort at all to quantify the cost of its proposals.

These recommendations provide an excellent marketing opportunity for some of the bodies represented on the Commission.

For example, the CIEA press release welcoming the Report says:

‘One of the challenges, and one that schools will need to meet, is in working together, and with local and national assessment experts, to moderate their judgements and ensure they are working to common standards across the country. The CIEA has an important role to play in training these experts.’

Responsibility for undertaking pilot studies on the role of IT in assessment is not allocated, but one assumes it would be overseen by central government and also funded by the taxpayer.

Any rollout from the pilots would have additional costs attached and would more than likely create additional demand for professional development.

The reference to DfE taking responsibility for sharing excellent practice is already a commitment in the consultation document:

‘…we will provide examples of good practice which schools may wish to follow. We will work with professional associations, subject experts, education publishers and external test developers to signpost schools to a range of potential approaches.’ (paragraph 3.8).

Revision of the School Inspection Framework will require schools to give due priority to the quality of their assessment practice, though Ofsted might reasonably argue that it is already there.

Paragraph 116 of the School Inspection Handbook says:

‘Evidence gathered by inspectors during the course of the inspection should include… the quality and rigour of assessment, particularly in nursery, reception and Key Stage 1.’

We do not yet know whether NAHT will respond positively to the recommendation that it should go beyond the model assessment criteria it has already commissioned by leading work to expand the Principles and Design Checklist into ‘a full model assessment policy and procedures backed by appropriate professional development’.

There was no reference to such plans in the press release accompanying the Report.

Maybe the decision could not be ratified in time by the Association’s decision-making machinery – but this did not prevent the immediate commissioning of the model criteria.

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Phased Implementation

Recommendation 10: Ofsted should articulate clearly how inspectors will take account of assessment practice in making judgements and ensure both guidance and training for inspectors is consistent with this.

Recommendation 12: The Department for Education should make a clear and unambiguous statement on the teacher assessment data that schools will be required to report to parents and submit to the Department for Education. Local authorities and other employers should provide similar clarity about requirements in their area of accountability.

Recommendation 13: The education system is entering a period of significant change in curriculum and assessment, where schools will be creating, testing and revising their policies and procedures. The government should make clear how they will take this into consideration when reviewing the way they hold schools accountable as new national assessment arrangements are introduced during 2014/15. Conclusions about trends in performance may not be robust.

Recommendation 18: The use by schools of suitably modified National Curriculum levels as an interim measure in 2014 should be supported by the government. However, schools need to be clear that any use of levels in relation to the new curriculum can only be a temporary arrangement to enable them to develop, implement and embed a robust new framework for assessment. Schools need to be conscious that the new curriculum is not in alignment with the old National Curriculum levels.

Recommendation 20: Schools should be asked to publish their principles of assessment from September 2014, rather than being required to publish a detailed assessment framework, which instead should be published by 2016. The development of the full framework should be outlined in the school development plan with appropriate milestones that allow the school sufficient time to develop an effective model.

Recommendation 21: A system wide review of assessment should be undertaken. This would help to repair the disjointed nature of assessment through all ages, 2-19.

The Commission quite rightly identifies a number of issues caused by the implementation timetable, combined with continuing uncertainty over aspects of the Government’s plans.

At the time of writing, the response to the consultation document has still not been published (though it was due in autumn 2013) yet schools will be implementing the new National Curriculum from this September.

The Report says:

‘There was strong concern expressed about the requirement for schools to publish their detailed curriculum and assessment framework in September 2014.’

This is repeated in Recommendation 20, together with the suggestion that this timeline should be amended so that only a school’s principles for assessment need be published by this September.

I have been trying to pin down the source of this requirement.

Schedule 4 of The School Information (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2012 do not require the publication of a detailed assessment framework, referring only to

‘The following information about the school curriculum—

(a)  in relation to each academic year, the content of the curriculum followed by the school for each subject and details as to how additional information relating to the curriculum may be obtained;

(b)  in relation to key stage 1, the names of any phonics or reading schemes in operation; and

(c)  in relation to key stage 4—

(i)            a list of the courses provided which lead to a GCSE qualification,

(ii)          a list of other courses offered at key stage 4 and the qualifications that may be acquired.’

I could find no Government guidance stating unequivocally that this requires schools to carve up all the National Curriculum programmes of study into year-by-year chunks.  (Though there is no additional burden attached to publication if they have already undertaken this task for planning purposes.)

There are references to the publication of Key Stage 2 results (which will presumably need updating to reflect the removal of levels), but nothing on the assessment framework.

Moreover, the DfE mandatory timeline says that from the Spring Term of 2014:

‘All schools must publish their school curriculum by subject and academic year, including their provision of personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE).’

(The hyperlink returns one to the Regulations quoted above.)

There is no requirement for publication of further information in September.

I wonder therefore if this is a misunderstanding. I stand to be corrected if readers can point me to the source.

It may arise from the primary assessment and accountability consultation document, which discusses publication of curricular details and then proceeds immediately to discuss the relationship between curriculum and assessment:

‘Schools are required to publish this curriculum on their website…In turn schools will be free to design their approaches to assessment, to support pupil attainment and progression. The assessment framework must be built into the school curriculum, so that schools can check what pupils have learned and whether they are on track to meet expectations at the end of the key stage, and so that they can report regularly to parents.’ (paras 3.4-3.5)

But this conflation isn’t supported by the evidence above and, anyway, these are merely proposals.

That said, it must be assumed that the Commission consulted its DfE observer on this point before basing recommendations on this interpretation.

If the observer’s response was consistent with the Commission’s interpretation, then it is apparently inconsistent with all the material so far published by the Department!

It may be necessary for NAHT to obtain clarification of this point given the evidence cited above.

That aside, there are issues associated with the transition from the current system to the future system.

The DfE’s January 2014 ‘myths and facts’ publication says:

‘As part of our reforms to the national curriculum, the current system of “levels” used to report children’s attainment and progress will be removed from September 2014. Levels are not being banned, but will not be updated to reflect the new national curriculum and will not be used to report the results of national curriculum tests. Key Stage 1 and Key Stage KS2 [sic] tests taken in the 2014 to 2015 academic year will be against the previous national curriculum, and will continue to use levels for reporting purposes

Schools will be expected to have in place approaches to formative assessment that support pupil attainment and progression. The assessment framework should be built into the school curriculum, so that schools can check what pupils have learned and whether they are on track to meet expectations at the end of the key stage, and so that they can report regularly to parents. Schools will have the flexibility to use approaches that work for their pupils and circumstances, without being constrained by a single national approach.’

The reference here to having approaches in place – rather than the publication of a ‘detailed curriculum and assessment framework’ – would not seem wildly inconsistent with the Commission’s idea that schools should establish their principles by September 2014, and develop their detailed assessment frameworks iteratively over the two succeeding years. However, the Government needs to clarify the position.

Since Key Stage 2 tests will not dispense with levels until May 2016 (and they will be published in the December 2015 Performance Tables), there will be an extended interregnum in which National Curriculum Levels will continue to have official currency.

Moreover, levels may still be used in schools – they are not being banned – though they will not be aligned to the new National Curriculum.

The Report says:

‘…it is important to recognise that, even if schools decide to continue with some form of levels, the new National Curriculum does not align to the existing levels and level descriptors and this alignment is a piece of work that needs to be undertaken now.’ (p19).

However, the undertaking of this work does not feature in the Recommendations, unless it is implicit in the production by NAHT of ‘a full model assessment policy and procedures’, which seems unlikely.

One suspects that the Government would be unwilling to endorse such a process, even as a temporary arrangement, since what is to stop schools from continuing to use this new improved levels structure more permanently?

The Commission would appear to be on stronger ground in asking Ofsted to make allowances during the interregnum (which is what I think Recommendation 10 is about) especially given that, as Recommendation 13 points out, evidence of ‘trends in performance may not be robust’.

The point about clarity over teacher assessment is well made – and one hopes it will form part of the response to the primary assessment and accountability consultation document when that is eventually published.

The Report itself could have made progress in this direction by establishing and maintaining a clearer distinction between statutory and internal teacher assessment.

The consultation document itself made clear that KS2 writing would continue to be assessed via teacher assessment rather than a test, and, moreover:

‘At the end of each key stage schools are required to report teacher assessment judgements in all national curriculum subjects to parents. Teachers will judge whether each pupil has met the expectations set out in the new national curriculum. We propose to continue publishing this teacher assessment in English, mathematics and science, as Lord Bew recommended.’ (para 3.9)

But what it does not say is what requirements will be imposed to ensure consistency across this data. Aside from KS2 writing, will they also be subject to the new scaled scores, and potentially deciles too?

Until schools have answers to that question, they cannot consider the overall shape of their assessment processes.

The final recommendation, for a system-wide review of assessment from 2-19 is whistling in the wind, especially given the level of disruption already caused by the decision to remove levels.

Neither this Government nor the next is likely to act upon it.

 

Conclusion

The Commission’s Report moves us forward in broadly the right direction.

The Principles, Design Checklist and wider recommendations help to fill some of the void created by the decision to remove National Curriculum levels, the limited nature of the primary assessment and accountability consultation document and the inordinate delay in the Government’s response to that consultation.

We are in a significantly better place as a consequence of this work being undertaken.

But there are some worrying inconsistencies in the Report as well as some significant shortcomings to the proposals it contains. There are also several unanswered questions.

Not to be outdone, I have bound these up into a series of recommendations directed at NAHT and its Commission. There are 23 in all and I have given mine letters rather than numerals, to distinguish them from the Commission’s own recommendations.

  • Recommendation A: The Commission should publish all the written evidence it received.
  • Recommendation B: The Commission should consult on key provisions within the Report, seeking explicit commitment to the Principles from DfE, Ofqual and Ofsted.
  •  Recommendation C: The Commission should ensure that its Design Checklist is fully consistent with the Principles in all respects. It should also revisit the internal logic of the Design Checklist.
  • Recommendation D: So far as possible, ahead of the primary assessment and accountability consultation response, the Commission should distinguish clearly how its proposals relate to statutory teacher assessment, alongside schools’ internal assessment processes.
  • Recommendation E: NAHT should confirm who it has commissioned to produce model assessment criteria and to what timetable. It should also explain how these criteria will be ‘nationally standardised’.
  • Recommendation F: The Commission should clarify whether the trained assessment lead mentioned in Recommendation 9 is the same or different to the ‘senior leader who is responsible for assessment’ mentioned in the Design Checklist.
  • Recommendation G: The Commission should set out more fully the responsibilities allocated to this role or roles and clarify that schools have flexibility over how they distribute those responsibilities between staff.
  • Recommendation H:  NAHT should clarify how the model criteria under development apply – if at all – to the wider school curriculum in all schools and to academies not following the National Curriculum.
  • Recommendation I: NAHT should clarify how the model criteria under development will allow for the fact that in all subjects all schools enjoy flexibility over the positioning of content in different years within the same key stage – and can also anticipate parts of the subsequent key stage.
  • Recommendation J: NAHT should clarify whether the intention is that the model criteria should reflect the allocation of content to specific terms as well as to specific years.
  • Recommendation K: The Commission should explain how its approach to internal assessment will help predict future performance in end of Key Stage tests.
  • Recommendation L: The Commission should shift from its narrow and ‘mildly accelerative’ view of high attainment to accommodate a richer concept that combines enrichment (breadth), extension (depth) and acceleration (faster pace) according to learners’ individual needs.
  • Recommendation M: The Commission should incorporate a fourth ‘far exceeded’ assessment judgement, since the ‘exceeded’ judgement covers too wide a span of attainment.
  • Recommendation N: NAHT should clarify whether its model criteria will extend into KS3, to accommodate assessment against the criteria for at least year 7, and ideally beyond.
  • Recommendation O: The Commission should clarify whether anticipating criteria for a subsequent year is a cause or a consequence of being judged to be ‘exceeding’ expectations in the learner’s own chronological year.
  • Recommendation P: The Commission should confirm that numerical summaries of assessment criteria – as well as any associated ranking positions – should be made available to parents who request them.
  • Recommendation Q: The Commission should explain why schools should be forbidden from ranking learners against each other (or allocating them to deciles).
  • Recommendation R: The Commission should assess the financial impact of its proposals on schools of different sizes.
  • Recommendation S: The Commission should cost its proposals for training and moderation, identifying the burden on the taxpayer and any offsetting savings.
  • Recommendation T: NAHT should clarify its response to Recommendation 19, that it should lead the development of a full model assessment policy and procedures.
  • Recommendation U: The Commission should clarify with DfE its understanding that schools are required to publish a detailed curriculum and assessment framework by September 2014.
  • Recommendation V: The Commission should clarify with DfE the expectation that it should have in place ‘approaches to formative assessment’ and whether the proposed assessment principles satisfy this requirement.
  • Recommendation W: The commission should clarify whether it is proposing that work is undertaken to align National Curriculum levels with the new National Curriculum and, if so, who it proposes should undertake this.

So – good overall – subject to these 23 reservations!

Some are more significant than others. Given my area of specialism, I feel particularly strongly about those that relate directly to high attainers, especially L and M above.

Those are the two I would nail to the door of 1 Heath Square.

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GP

March 2014