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The Fair Education Alliance: A wasted opportunity?



In April 2016 the Fair Education Alliance released its second annual report card.

This post reviews progress against the five declared impact goals, as well as the recommendations for securing stronger progress in future.


What is the Fair Education Alliance?

The Fair Education Alliance was launched by Teach First in June 2014.

It claims 55 members although the website lists only 44, while the new report card mentions 46, plus Offa who are ‘advisors to the FEA’.

Recent press releases have announced the addition of the University of Oxford, UCAS, SSAT, Allen & Overy, The English –Speaking Union, Gap Education, Challenge Partners and Ladies Who L-EARN. I think that makes 55.

Several of the participating organisations have a strong interest and involvement in access to higher education. There are four university members apart from Oxford, plus several third sector stalwarts including The Access Project, The Bridge Group, The…

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A blueprint for fair access?



Muybridge_ascending_stairs_animated_2Muybridge_ascending_stairs_animated_2Muybridge_ascending_stairs_animated_2This post reviews fair access developments subsequent to publication of the HE green paper and preceding publication of the impending white paper.

It asks whether some of the recommendations proffered by the Scottish Commission on Widening Access (COWA) should also be adopted in England.

Developments since the HE green paper

In England the green paper ‘Fulfilling our potential’ was published in November 2015 and a white paper is expected shortly.

The green paper reinforced two Tory targets announced during the election campaign, one to double participation amongst students from disadvantaged backgrounds compared with 2009 levels, the other to increase BME participation by 20% by 2020.

It proposed a seven-part action plan which is now being implemented:

  • New guidance to the Director of Fair Access on the progression and success of under-represented groups. This issued in February 2016, rapidly followed by Offa guidance to HEIs on 2017-18…

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Differentiation in the ITT core content framework



120-cellThis short post anticipates the coverage of top-end differentiation in the imminent framework of core content for initial teacher training (ITT).



The Carter review of initial teacher training (ITT) (January 2015) dates from the last months of the Coalition Government. The first recommendation is that DfE should commission a sector body to develop a framework of core content for ITT.

Carter stresses that this should be undertaken outside of central government and proposes that the framework should be informed by the areas for improvement it highlights. One of these is differentiation.

The Government Response to the Carter Review (January 2015) endorsed the recommendation to develop a framework. The government would commission an ‘independent working group made of expert representatives from the sector’ to report back to the Secretary of State.

In March 2015 a press release announced that a group had been commissioned to undertake the task…

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Education Excellence Everywhere for the most able



This brief post offers a preliminary assessment of provision for the most able in the 2016 schools white paper.



There was a little-noticed commitment in the Conservative Election Manifesto:

‘We will make sure that all students are pushed to achieve their potential and create more opportunities to stretch the most able.’

The statement was repeated in DfE’s Single departmental plan: 2015 to 2020, so further elucidation was expected in the white paper.

Education Excellence Everywhere’ was published on 17 March 2016, together with a ‘DfE Strategy 2015-2020: World class education and care’ and an impact assessment.

The strategy document says that the Department will:

  • Engage with stakeholders throughout the Parliament to develop the detailed policies that underpin the priorities
  • Set out more detail on each strand over the coming months

It identifies 12 strategic priorities, the fifth being:

‘Embed rigorous…

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Will the national funding formula support ‘excellence for all’?



Rotating_gimbal-xyzThis post explores tensions between the ‘excellence for all’ objective now underpinning national education policy and the proposed design of the national funding formula for schools.

It is framed as an exploratory discussion document. If a convincing counter-argument emerges I am ready to adjust my views.


Setting the scene

Doing Differentiation Differently?’ mentioned in passing a shift in national policy and rhetoric, from ‘no child left behind’ to a substantively different ‘excellence for all’ position.

‘No child left behind’ was a hangover from the Coalition government which briefly survived the change of administration, whereas ‘excellence for all’ – aka ‘education excellence everywhere’ – deliberately puts clear blue water between this administration and its predecessor.

It is identified as one of three core objectives in the DfE’s Single departmental plan: 2015 to 2020:

‘Educational excellence everywhere: every child and young person can access high-quality provision, achieving…

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Doing differentiation differently?



TesseractThis post compares how we do differentiation with how it’s done elsewhere.

It explores the tension within education policy between autonomy and pedagogical prescription through the ‘forensic analysis’ of recent ministerial speech content.

It flags up the likelihood of further policy tensions following the recent (and welcome) shift from ‘no child left behind’ under the Coalition Government to ‘excellence for all’ under the new Administration.

It is a detailed critique built on evidence and should not be interpreted as critical of any government or office holder. Ministers of all political complexions in all recent governments have felt the need to influence pedagogy. This time round, however, a parallel emphasis on autonomy throws the issue into sharper relief, as does the present role of the EEF and the intended role of a College of Teaching.



This is the last in a set of four educational posts I delayed…

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The ‘Missing 520’



This post assesses the progress of English Russell Group universities in admitting students from areas with low levels of higher education participation.

It reapplies a methodology used previously by the Sutton Trust and the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission (SMCPC) to measure the success of these 20 universities in recruiting young, full-time first degree entrants from low participation neighbourhoods (LPNs).

It uses data on recruitment from POLAR3 Quintile 1 (background below) as reported in the UK Performance Indicators for Higher Education (UKPIs). The analysis compares outcomes for 2010/11 with those for 2014/15 to assess progress over the last five years for which data is available.



Back in 2004 the Sutton Trust published ‘The Missing 3,000 – State Schools Under-Represented at Leading Universities’. From time to time reference to ‘the missing 3,000’ still reappears in the fair access literature.

This calculation was based the performance…

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Why isn’t pupil premium closing excellence gaps?



This post:


  • Reviews the most recent statistical evidence of attainment gaps between disadvantaged high attainers and their peers.
  • Questions why pupil premium is having no impact on these excellence gaps and
  • Proposes action to close the gaps by raising attainment, so improving the life chances of these learners.



I have written extensively about the phenomenon of excellence gaps, which I have defined as:

‘The difference between the percentage of disadvantaged learners who reach a specified age- or stage-related threshold of high achievement – or who secure the requisite progress between two such thresholds – and the percentage of all other eligible learners that do so.’

The first part of this post reviews what the most recent DfE statistical publications reveal about the size of these gaps and the trend over the last few years.

It draws on:

  • SFR 47/2015: National curriculum assessments at key stage 2:…

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Policy Exchange to the Rescue?



This post is mainly about Policy Exchange’s plans for ‘super-selective schools’, as proposed on Total Politics and reprised in Schools Week



Blue_cut-coneIt’s been a strange six months.

Last July I officially retired the Gifted Phoenix Blog and the @GiftedPhoenix Twitter feed, leaving the former open access and converting the latter into a private archive.

I had embarked on both with the notion that consumers of these free services would reciprocate with a steady stream of paid consultancy. But I found myself devoting all my time to producing freebies while the trickle of consultancy work dried up entirely. So after a five-year stint it was time to pull the plug.

In late August I launched my new Eponymous Blog and opened a parallel @TimDracup Twitter feed. I still cover education issues, alongside other interests, but I will only blog or tweet when I have something I particularly want…

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Access and participation in the HE Green Paper



This post casts a critical eye over the proposals for widening participation and fair access in the Higher Education Green Paper.

It succeeds an earlier post – ‘Can we expect a rocket boost for fair access?’ (October 2015) – that discussed what was known of the Government’s intentions prior to publication.



BIS published the Green Paper: ‘Fulfilling our potential: teaching excellence, social mobility and student choice’ on Friday 6 November.

Fridays are not normally selected for high profile Government announcements.

There were reports that a launch originally scheduled for Thursday 15 October was delayed to coincide with a Prime Ministerial speech:

‘There are suggestions that one factor behind Mr Cameron’s growing focus on widening participation is that, in the wake of the government’s decision to abolish child poverty targets which were being missed, universities are one of the key fields where the Conservatives…

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