#GTCHAT – Friday 25 March 2011

I’m honoured to be moderating the early #gtchat tomorrow (UK time 4.00PM; US EDT noon). Thanks to Deborah Mersino for trusting me with the task!

If you are new to #gtchat here is some background and guidance.

And here’s a link to a scheduler to enable you to check the time in your timezone.

I thought I should choose a topic within my comfort zone that would also be interesting and relevant to the full range of potential participants, so I’ve opted for:

‘Designing the Perfect National/State Policy for Gifted Education’

I want to give participants the opportunity to think about this beforehand, so I’ve set out below a broad structure for the discussion, using the question-based format that Deborah has introduced.

It’s quite likely that we won’t cover all of this territory, particularly if we get hooked into some of the earlier questions, or depart from the routemap, but I thought it would be helpful to you to see the map anyway!

Potential Questions to Consider

Q1. What are the good and bad points in my country’s/state’s existing gifted education policy (if any)?

Q2. In what ways does that policy not meet my needs?

Q3. If I were redesigning the policy, what would I want to achieve? (ie core objectives)

Q4. What ‘non-negotiables’ – essential core principles – would I establish as foundation stones?

Q5. How would I balance flexibility and prescription?

Q6. How would I secure compliance and improve quality?

Q7. How would I embed my gifted policy in my state’s/country’s wider education policy?

Q8. What are the the big risks I can foresee?

Q9. How can I make my policy affordable at a time of budget cuts?

Q10. How will I know if I’ve been successful?

Online resources

You might want to take a quick look at the policies you have in place, to remind yourself what you think of them.

If you think your policy is particularly good, or if you know of others you would prefer to follow, please don’t hesitate to post them under the #gtchat hashtag before or during the discussion.

In thinking comparatively about policies, you might find it helpful to check out some or all of these resources, which I’m posting now so you have a chance to sample them ahead of the discussion:

If you have other examples of helpful documents of this kind, please don’t hesitate to post them, either today or during the chat!

And if you have any further comments, suggestions, ideas ahead of tomorrow’s chat, please don’t hesitate to post those either!

See you tomorrow!



Thanks to all the participants for an invigorating and interesting #gtchat. Here is the transcript.


March 2011

A Worldwide Invitation to Join GT Voice

Back in July 2010, I published a post about the genesis and initial first steps in establishing a federation of UK stakeholders in gifted and talented education. I used the opportunity to express some ideas and some vague fears about risks associated with the process.

Three months later, in October, I joined a working group of ten volunteers charged with developing proposals for how such an entity might operate.

All of us are involved in one way or another with G&T education in the UK, but we gave a commitment to leave our personal and professional interests ‘at the door’ – as well as agreeing to invest up to 10 hours a week in the development process.

Between October and March we held a series of face-to-face meetings and teleconferences which culminated in a recent consultation event with our wider constituency in London, a stone’s throw from the London Eye and just over the river from the Houses of Parliament.

The purpose of the consultation was to test our thinking with the wider membership and prospective membership and, provided we had their agreement and support, to announce the next steps in the process.

We are very grateful and reassured that the full house of stakeholders felt able to give us positive feedback on our proposals, and to endorse the further action we recommended. They also gave us valuable information about the support services they would like to receive, how they could contribute to the undertaking and their longer term vision for future development.

Now that our deliberations are in the public domain, I can make public our proposals, so that those who were not present at the event, including many of my overseas readers, can have a clearer understanding of the direction of travel.

I also want to use this opportunity to extend an open invitation to my international readers to join the network.

I will not comment on the process by which we developed these proposals except to say that it was a hard struggle to reach consensus on some of the most controversial issues. We all brought very different visions to the table, as well as different ideas about how to agree a way forward. We got there eventually, but it has taken significantly longer than expected.

The Name and Nature of GT Voice

The working group considered and adopted several names during its deliberations but decided finally on ‘GT Voice’. This was designed into a logo, incorporating a strapline, which is reproduced in the left-hand column of this Blog.

We hope that our members will use the logo as a badge of identity, marking their support for – and commitment to – the ideals and core principles for which GT Voice stands.

GT Voice is an inclusive network of those with an interest in UK gifted and talented education. That interest may be professional or personal (so parents/carers and gifted learners themselves may become members). They need not reside in the UK: the network is open to organisations and individuals located anywhere in the world.

Anyone with an interest in global G&T education is by definition interested in UK G&T education and so elgible to join!

It is intended to have the smallest possible central hub, to distance it from previous ‘top-down’ approaches to gifted education in this country and to ensure that, so far as possible, it does not set itself up in direct or indirect competition with its members.

The network is entirely independent of any other interests or organisations, not funded by or through the UK central Government and politically non-aligned. It is also non-profit making (though it will be established as a company limited by guarantee as it may need to generate income to help meet its costs).

The Charter

The Working Group has already consulted on and finalised a Charter for GT Voice which is published on the GT Voice Blog.

The Charter – officially Charter 2011, in recognition that it will be reviewed annually and may need to be revised and updated – sets out the core principles which all network members are invited to endorse:

  • The potential of gifted and talented (G&T) learners must be positively encouraged.
  • All learners – including all G&T learners – have an equal right to inspiration, challenge and support to maximise their potential.
  • All learners– including all G&T learners – have an equal right to be confident, happy and fulfilled in who they are and to feel good about letting others see what they are capable of achieving.
  • Effective G&T provision is essential for securing educational excellence, narrowing achievement gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged learners, and supporting social mobility
  • Effective G&T education will make a valuable contribution to the overall quality of our education system, our economy and our international competitiveness.

It goes on to define the purpose of GT Voice as to develop:

  • the significance and quality of gifted and talented identification, learning and support;
  • networking within the G&T community including organisations involved in G&T learning, both nationally and internationally;
  • improved access by G&T children and young people and their families to opportunities for learning, networking and support;
  • positive dialogue and collaboration to share knowledge, evidence and experience including an annual ‘G&T State of the Nation’ survey (see below); and
  • opportunities for members of the network to join together to strengthen advocacy of the need for an effective G&T strategy and provision across the UK and internationally.

The Charter notes that ‘members may decide at a later stage to extend the role and remit of the network to address other priorities, including advocacy for the needs of G&T learners, parents/carers and educators’.

Pending such a decision, there is nothing to prevent members from advocating in their role as members of GT Voice – as suggested by the final bullet point above – but they cannot claim to be speaking on behalf of the network.

There is an additional gloss on GT Voice’s role. It:

‘is a response to the changes in government education policy and funding. It seeks to build on past achievements; to ensure that existing expertise and resources are retained and to collaborate and offer mutual support. It also wants to develop imaginative, network-led ways to share knowledge and experience; to ensure the development of cutting edge projects and to improve services and support for the benefit of all gifted and talented learners.’

So there is emphasis on a mixed blend of continuity and change, including a clear commitment to innovation and reform.

Membership and Services

Prospective members are invited to sign up to the Charter by emailing enquiries@gtvoice.org.uk . A letter from the working group was sent directly to everyone on the mailing list as well as being published on the Blog.

All those who agree the Charter are encouraged to register as Founder Members of GT Voice. The letter confirms that membership and core services will be free of charge for the first year of GT Voice’s existence, though concedes that it may be necessary to explore how costs can be underwritten in the longer term to ensure that the network is financially sustainable.

Founder Members are entitled to use the GT Voice Logo on their websites, on any headed paper and in their marketing materials. They will also be able to access a range of online services via the GT Voice website.

The website, which is Joomla-based so very flexible, is expected to develop rapidly and is intended to become an online hub or, more accurately, a G&T routemap enabling members to locate and link together relevant resources, communities and discussions wherever they may be found online.

It will not be a centralised ‘one stop shop’ that relocates resources from their current location unless that is necessary to safeguard access and/or helpful to the membership.

The website will offer members:

  • online registration;
  • a G&T education news and information service, including a calendar of events;
  • multimedia forums supporting interaction and collaboration between members;
  • a directory of providers of services relevant to G&T education in the UK. (The letter invited those on the mailing list to send in details of their services for inclusion on this directory); and
  • other support, to be determined and developed in the light of feedback.

Annual State of the Nation Report

As an additional service, the working group has committed GT Voice to providing an annual report on the health of G&T education in the UK, drawing on available data and on qualitative evidence secured through a brief annual survey.

This is intended to inform future discussion about the development of services by and for members, as well as any advocacy or other activity they may wish to undertake.

The working group intends to develop an underpinning database to capture all statistics and records potentially relevant to the report, drawing in material supplied by national Government, which is committed to increased transparency through data-sharing.

We expect to prepare an initial baseline survey for publication towards the end of 2011, drawing in evidence from the January 2011 School Census and linking it to summer 2010 achievement data.

The data may include evidence relating to high attainers, as well as the identified G&T population, given current uncertainty as to whether such identification will continue to be required in future School Censuses.

The provision of this service will require funding to meet the costs, although these will be kept to a minimum. It may be necessary to charge for access to detailed reports and possibly related services to help meet the costs.

Election of a Permanent Steering Group

All individual adult Founder Members registered by the deadline will be able to vote in the election of permanent Steering Group members. It will not be possible for organisations to vote, so those who are organisational members should take care to ensure that they are also registered as individuals.

The Steering Group’s constitution has been adapted from that of giftEDnz, the professional network established in New Zealand, although the size of the Group is significantly larger, in recognition of the larger population of the UK and the wider range of stakeholders that GT Voice represents.

There will be nine full members, each elected to serve a three-year term of office. Each will stand in the same open election – there will be no system for reserving Steering Group places to particular constituencies (although candidates are free to declare themselves as potentially representative of particular constituencies).

Any adult Foundation Member may stand for election to the Steering Group. Each candidate will be invited to submit a short supporting statement and all of these will be published online.

Voting will be anonymised – using membership numbers – and will also be done online, via the website. The result will be cross-checked and, if necessary, will be scrutinised independently.

Once elected, the Steering Group may appoint up to four co-opted members with one-year terms of office to fill any gaps in their skillset. Co-opted members must also be Founder Members of GT Voice.

The Board will also elect its own chair and other officers as necessary. In all proceedings, all steering group members, including co-opted members, have a single vote – although the Chair has a casting vote if needed.


We intend that the timetable and full draft constitution will be published online by mid-April. Nominations for the Steering Group will be invited between mid-May and mid-June, when voting begins.

Voting will take place between mid-June and mid-July. Votes will be counted and checked and the result announced before the end of the Summer Term.

The elected Steering Group will meet for the first time in September 2011, when it will elect its officers and have the option to appoint co-optees. The working group will hand over all vestigial responsibilities to the elected Steering Group at that point.

The International Perspective

The reason for this post is to alert readers overseas that, if they are prepared to sign the GT Voice Charter, they are eligible to become Founder Members of GT Voice, to access the services available to Members and to vote in the forthcoming elections.

So, if you fit this description, please don’t hesitate to send your details to enquiries@gtvoice.org.uk (or use the online registration service once that is available).

It will be critical to the effectiveness of GT Voice that it develops and maintains strong links with G&T stakeholders in other countries and with the emerging global advocacy movement for G&T education.

In recognition of that, I will be representing GT Voice at the imminent Hungarian EU Presidential Conference on Talent Support in Budapest, Hungary and using that opportunity to encourage international colleagues to register as Founder Members of GT Voice.

I will be keen to explore with them ways in which the network might develop to reflect their needs and interests and will feed back their views to the working group on my return.

In further recognition of the significance of the Hungarian Presidential Initiative and of pan-EU partnership and collaboration in G&T education, the working group has agreed to align the launch of GT Voice with the inaugural EU Talent Day celebrations.

We very much hope that GT Voice will be able to play a significant role in the development and delivery of the support programme for European G&T education that we confidently expect to emerge from the Presidential Conference.

If you have any questions about GT Voice and how you can become involved – or if you have ideas and suggestions for services and support targeted specifically at our international members – please don’t hesitate to contact me (see the About page for contact details).

Thanks and – I hope – welcome aboard!


March 2011

Second Life Workshop: ‘A Global Perspective on Gifted Education’

On Saturday 26 March at 8.00PM UK time, I will be leading a workshop in Second Life taking ‘A Global Perspective on Gifted Education).

The Workshop is my personal contribution to the inaugural celebration of the European Day of Talent, celebrated on 9 April 2011, which has been organised by the Hungarians as part of their drive to support European gifted education while they hold the EU Presidency.

The corresponding times for other parts of the world are:

  • 9.00 PM CEST
  • 4.00 PM US Eastern
  • 1.00 PM US Pacific
  • 7.00 AM Aus (Victoria) (Sun 27 March)
  • 9.00 AM NZ (Sun 27 March)

You can find further details about me and about how to join the event on the website of the Bavarian Centre for Gifted and Talented Children which has been organising a series of Global Gifted Education meetings in Second Life, this being the sixth in the series.

Roya Klingner, the Head of the Bavarian Centre, has designed specially for the event a Gifted Phoenix avatar, which is literally the embodiment of the ‘headshot’ avatar I use for this Blog, Twitter and Facebook. Doesn’t he look a fine figure!

So you will be interacting with a hybrid personality, combining the body of Gifted Phoenix and the voice of his alter ego Tim Dracup. (My normal gender-shifting SL avatar Tiresius Draconia is resting on this occasion.)

I want to take a slightly different direction to my predecessors in the series by making a serious effort to maximise interaction with you, the participants.

While it’s fine to come along, take a back seat and watch the proceedings, I’m really keen to get some proper discussion going amongst those willing to take part.

To that end, I’ve decided to share my presentation a week in advance, so participants can see broadly what I plan to cover and so prepare their own contributions. You can find it at:

Second Life Presentation March 2011

As a lead-in to the discussion I shall be relying on a graphical version of my very first post on this Blog, which I have also reproduced below.

Nurture <————————————————————————————————————–> Nature
A tendency towards understanding giftedness as predominantly achievable through effort or, conversely, as predominantly inherited.
All learners are potentially gifted; giftedness is fluid and has multiple domains; improvements in gifted education have universal benefit Support for a small fixed group of academically gifted learners who, once identified, remain so.
Equity <————————————————————————————————————–> Excellence
A tendency to see the purpose of G&T education as predominantly to narrow achievement gaps and improve social mobility or, conversely, as predominantly about raising academic standards
Combating social disadvantage through holistic support, to uncover and sustain submerged potential. Support for existing high achievers to secure the best possible educational outcomes regardless of background
Personalisation <————————————————————————————————————-> Special needs
A tendency to see gifted education as part of personalised education for all or, conversely, as responding to these learners’ special educational needs
Inclined towards provision in a standard school/classroom setting where enrichment is the guiding principle and gifted learners are seen as entirely normal. Inclined towards withdrawal and separate teaching where acceleration is the guiding principle. Gifted learners are different and may have social/emotional problems.

In that early post, I proposed that system-wide approaches to gifted education, whether at state or national level, could be defined by the position they take on each of these three polarities.

In the year that has passed, I’ve found nothing to suggest that my hypothesis is incorrect. Indeed, I’ve come to realise that this diagram also serves to define the different personal positions taken by stakeholders in gifted education, whether parents, educators or researchers.

So I want to test the hypothesis in our Second Life discussion. I’m interested in whether there are other features of equal significance that should be included in this basic model, or whether the omissions are essentially second-order.

I’m also keen to learn where potential discussants position themselves on the three polarities. Are they ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal’ and if so, to what extent – or do they have a ‘spiky profile’?

How do these polarities play out in the national and international debate about the nature and purpose of gifted education? Which positions are in the ascendant? What chance is there of a working consensus to secure progress when gifted education is vulnerable to budget cuts?

Give it some thought and come along next Saturday/Sunday for what I’m sure will be a fascinating discussion of where your countries are positioned and to what extent your personal positions are in sympathy or out of kilter!


March 2011

Postcript : Here is a You Tube Video of the first part of the Second Life event.

On International Benchmarking and its Potential Application to Gifted Education

International benchmarking is all the rage in education policy, so I have been examining the arguments for and against, as well as contemplating its potential application to gifted education.

Benchmarking is comparing one country’s educational performance against others, with the intention of applying to it policy solutions adapted from the countries that achieve the best educational outcomes.

It is highly attractive to policy-makers, but the education research community is not quite as readily convinced.

Comparative educators have long wrestled with the key question whether policies can be transferred across national borders or are inextricably linked with the social and cultural environment in which they originated.

And there are several other problems associated with the benchmarking process, especially when it involves the derivation of policy steers from international assessment studies.

We will take a closer look at benchmarking, its popularity and the criticism it attracts, before considering to what extent it has been applied to gifted education and the case for taking this further.

I have divided the post into three parts, in recognition of its length and complexity. I’m afraid there’s not much coverage of gifted education until Part Three, but I hope the wider treatment is of interest!

Definitions and Approaches to Benchmarking


The OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) has become the best-known international benchmarking tool. This triennial publication compares the changing performance of education systems, over time and relative to each other, by testing a sample of 15 year-olds in literacy, maths and science.

The first assessment took place in 1997. Results from the fifth round, PISA 2009, were published in December 2010 and planning for PISA 2012 is already under way. The number of participating countries is steadily increasing: 74 took part in PISA 2009 compared with 58 three years earlier.

PISA treads a fine line between proclaiming itself the world’s foremost education benchmarking tool and making – or, more often, allowing others to make – somewhat over-ambitious claims about its value to national policy-makers.

For the OECD is typically careful to say that countries should use the results to inform their decisions, rather than slavishly transferring entire policies from the highest-scoring countries: PISA is just one source of evidence rather than a complete answer.

But sometimes the PISA ‘brand’ is advertised in such a way that national politicians and educationalists are beguiled into thinking that it offers them something more than a set of indicators to factor into their wider analysis.

The OECD press release for the 2009 Report comes a little too close to encouraging such a response:

‘PISA aims to help countries see how their school systems match up globally with regard to their quality, equity and efficiency. The best performing education systems show what others can aspire to, as well as inspire national efforts to help students to learn better, teachers to teach better, and school systems to become more effective.’

I have yet to find a PISA publication that explicitly sets out what other evidence, alongside PISA, it would be wise for national policy makers to take into account, but we shall see later that it will on occasion take care to acknowledge the limitations of PISA-based benchmarking.


One example is to be found in a September 2007 publication by McKinsey and Company, ‘How the World’s Best Performing School Systems Come Out on Top’.

This contains a foreword by Andreas Schleicher, Head of the Indicators and Analysis Division in the Education Directorate of OECD and so Director of PISA. He acknowledges the problem of causation:

‘measuring performance does not of itself lead to insights about what policy and practice can do to help students to learn better’.

before admitting that McKinsey is breaking new ground in linking together quantitative results from PISA and qualitative commentary, so enabling:

‘policy makers to learn about the features of effective systems without copying systems in their entirety’.

But he continues in such a way that we are inclined to transfer our unrealistic expectations away from PISA and onto McKinsey’s broader methodology:

‘By enabling policy-makers to examine their own education systems in the light of the best performing systems that set the standards of what can be achieved, the report provides policy-makers with a unique tool to bring about improvements in schooling….Comparative analyses of this kind will become ever more important as the best-performing education systems, not simply improvement by national standards, will increasingly become the yardstick for success.’

McKinsey examines 25 school systems around the world including 10 of the top PISA performers. The qualitative dimension of their study is derived from a literature survey and interviews with a range of experts and policy-makers.

Rather strangely, curriculum and pedagogy are set aside because ‘these subjects are well-debated in the literature’ and the focus is laid exclusively on the infrastructure of the school system.

This results in an incomplete picture of system effectiveness and, by failing to take into account key elements, inevitably distorts that picture. (We shall see later that proponents of curriculum benchmarking recognise the need for a holistic treatment and this argument surely applies both ways.)

In the absence of curriculum and pedagogy, McKinsey conclude that three policy areas have the most impact, regardless of the culture in which they are applied. These three ‘key drivers’ are:

  • getting the right people to become teachers
  • developing them into effective teachers and
  • equipping the system to provide the best possible teaching to every learner.

The third of these is most relevant to the focus of this post. But it takes the reader only so far and no further.

We learn that high-performing systems have high expectations of what every child can achieve and then monitor performance against those expectations, intervening when they are not being met.

We are told that ‘the best systems have produced approaches to ensure that the school can compensate for the disadvantages resulting from the students’ home environment’.

This not strictly true. A more accurate statement can be found in the Executive Summary of the PISA 2009 Report, Volume 2:

‘Socio-economic disadvantage has many facets and cannot be ameliorated by education policy alone, much less in the short term….However, even if socio-economic background itself is hard to change, PISA shows that some countries succeed in reducing its impact on learning outcomes.’

Finally, these systems ensure that resources are targeted at those students who need them most, but this rather begs the question which students do need them most.

If the highest-performing systems have high expectations of all learners, then presumably all under-achievers are equally deserving, regardless of whether or not they are low achievers? We are never told.

PISA again

Three years on, PISA has become more explicit in its own claims for how it can help policy makers. The 2010 publication ‘Strong Performers and Successful Reformers in Education: Lessons from PISA for the United States’ suggests that PISA can:

  • show what achievements are possible in comparable education systems
  • be used to set national improvement targets and reform trajectories
  • allow countries to link their national assessments to PISA assessments
  • help countries to validate their progress, defending themselves against allegations that improvements are attributable to falling standards
  • assist countries to optimise their existing policies or consider alternative approaches.

It advances a ‘Framework for Analysis’ based on the principle that there is a continuum of approaches to education reform related to countries’ economic development.

It argues that developing countries with limited resources will be likely to have lower levels of literacy and so may choose to:

‘invest more heavily in educating well a small elite to lead the country’s industries and government operations while allocating remaining resources for teachers with little training. When teacher quality is so low, governments may also prescribe to teachers very precise job requirements, instructing teachers what to do and how to do it.’

Conversely, more advanced economies tend to focus on competing in the global economy by extending universally the education that was formerly provided only to the elite.

They need to recruit teachers from amongst the best graduates but, to do so, they must remove ‘bureaucratic command-and-control systems’ and replace them with ‘professional norms of control’ giving more professional discretion to teachers and ‘greater latitude in developing student creativity and critical thinking skills that are important to knowledge-based economies’.

All countries are said to lie somewhere along this continuum, which is presented as having the following elements:

  • Economic development: from impoverished, pre-industrial low-wage to high value-added, high wage
  • Teacher quality: from a few years more than lower secondary to high level professional knowledge workers
  • Curriculum, instruction and assessment: from basic literacy, rote learning to complex skills, creativity
  • Work organisation from hierarchical, authoritarian to flat, collegial
  • Accountability: from primary accountability to authorities to primary accountability to peers and stakeholders
  • Student inclusion: from the best students must learn at high levels to all students must learn at high levels

Although countries can make progress on one or more of these elements independently of the others, this is likely to pose problems:

‘adjusting only one or two dimensions at a time without concern for a more co-ordinated adaptation of the system as a whole risks tampering with the equilibrium that pervades successful systems.’

This rather confirms the inadequacy of McKinsey’s 2007 publication. While the elements of the continuum seem quite reasonable, one is left wondering about their empirical basis. We shall encounter a somewhat different list later in the argument.


The Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) has a helpful wiki that takes a wider perspective on what benchmarking is and how it is undertaken. It defines benchmarking as:

‘a means for economies to analyse internal performance compared to that of other economies, identify processes and approaches of high performing education systems, and collaborate with other member economies… to learn about successful school improvement measures.’

The purpose is to:

‘improve the economic security and social well-being of member economies…to identify and replicate a set of promising policies to achieve a turnaround in the performance of consistently low-performing schools, school systems, and/or new schools.’

According to APEC, the benchmarking process involves six key steps:

  • Form an expert group to identify criteria for selecting benchmark sites, develop benchmarking protocols and take decisions.
  • Examine the international literature on effective school improvement strategies, including any evaluations conducted by the host countries.
  • Using specified criteria, identify high performing economies with promising education policies for addressing persistently low-performing schools:
  • Specify their protocols for describing and solving the identified problems.
  • Identify an expert in the host country to conduct a case study.
  • Bring experts together to discuss findings and extrapolate practices for adoption.

This offers us a welcome example of a more decentralised approach to benchmarking educational practice: it is not essential to base a benchmarking exercise on PISA and/or any other existing international comparisons studies.

World Bank

Not to be outdone by the OECD, the World Bank is now adopting educational benchmarking.

It is currently consulting on a new Education Strategy for 2020, called ‘Learning for All’ which continues its commitment to supporting countries to achieved the education Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) building on the progress made to date but also

‘makes a significant shift toward the development of knowledge and skills that will drive people’s employability, productivity and well-being, and countries’ competitiveness and economic growth’.

The new strategy involves working to improve countries’ education systems, looking beyond inputs like schools, teachers and books, to focus on improving accountability and results.

The overview of the strategy includes a commitment to benchmarking:

‘At the country and global levels, the Bank will help develop a high-quality knowledge base to guide education systems reform. These efforts will include… new System Assessment and Benchmarking tools currently being developed. These system tools will provide detailed analysis of countries’ capacities throughout the education system, from ECD [early child development?] and teacher policy to tertiary education and skills development.

In each of these dimensions, the system tools will assess the “missing middle” of intermediate outcomes, providing information about where the results chain is breaking down. By benchmarking progress against international best practices, the tool will both highlight areas of strength and weakness and identify successful reformers [sic] that can serve as models in specific areas of education’.

These new tools are incorporated in a programme called System Assessment and Benchmarking for Education Results (SABER), which the World Bank describes as:

a comprehensive toolkit of system diagnostics to examine education systems and their component policy domains against global standards, best practices, and in comparison with policies and practices of countries around the world’.

SABER will look across the education policy spectrum and will review systems for equity and inclusion, as well as opportunities for tracking and extending learning, both of which may conceivably encompass gifted education (though there is as yet no reference to them doing so).

For each policy domain, the Bank will produce:

  • A conceptual framework to identify the intended policy goals, the policy levers in place to secure those goals and the indicators that measure progress;
  • Diagnostic tools to help assess performance on policy goals, drawing on available evidence and outcomes in the highest performing education systems;
  • Country reports giving a snapshot of performance including a 1-page report card;
  • Case studies to illustrate how countries have improved their performance;
  • A website to share the information; and
  • ‘A global education benchmarking tool drawing on a database of education leading indicators across all of the critical policy domains to give a comprehensive picture of what’s going well and what can be reformed for any country to get better results from their education system.’

In Part Two we shall look at how benchmarking is becoming influential in the United States and in England, and at the reservations that have been expressed about it.


March 2011