I am rounding out this year’s blogging with my customary backwards look at the various posts I published during 2014.
This is partly an exercise in self-congratulation but also flags up to readers any potentially useful posts they might have missed.
This is my 32nd post of the year, three fewer than the 35 I published in 2013. Even so, total blog views have increased by 20% compared with 2013.
Almost exactly half of these views originate in the UK. Other countries generating a large number of views include the United States, Singapore, India, Australia, Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia, Germany, Canada and South Korea. The site has been visited this year by readers located in157 different countries.
My most popular post during 2014 was Gifted Education in Singapore: Part 2, which was published back in May 2012. This continues to attract interest in Singapore!
The most popular post written during 2014 was The 2013 Transition Matrices and High Attainers’ Performance (January).
Other 2014 posts that attracted a large readership were:
- What happened to the Level 6 Reading results? (September)
This illustrates just how strongly the accountability regime features in the priorities of English educators.
I have continued to feature comparatively more domestic topics: approximately 75% of my posts this year have been about the English education system. I have not ventured beyond these shores since September.
The first section below reviews the minority of posts with a global perspective; the second covers the English material. A brief conclusion offers my take on future prospects.
Global Gifted Education
I began the year by updating my Blogroll, with the help of responses to Gifted Education Activity in the Blogosphere and on Twitter.
This post announced the creation of a Twitter list containing all the feeds I can find that mention gifted education (or a similar term, whether in English or another language) in their profile.
I have continued to update the list, which presently includes 1,312 feeds and has 22 subscribers. If you want to be included – or have additions to suggest – please don’t hesitate to tweet me.
While we’re on the subject, I should take this opportunity to thank my 5,960 Twitter followers, an increase of some 28% compared with this time last year.
In February I published A Brief Discussion about Gifted Labelling and its Permanency. This recorded a debate I had on Twitter about whether the ‘gifted label’ might be used more as a temporary marker than a permanent sorting device.
March saw the appearance of How Well Does Gifted Education Use Social Media?
This proposed some quality criteria for social media usage and blogs/websites that operate within the field of gifted education.
It also reviewed the social media activity of six key players (WCGTC, ECHA, NAGC, SENG, NACE and Potential Plus UK) as well as wider activity within the blogosphere, on five leading social media platforms and utilising four popular content creation tools.
Some of the websites mentioned above have been recast since the post was published and are now much improved (though I claim no direct influence).
Also in March I published What Has Become of the European Talent Network? Part One and Part Two.
These posts were scheduled just ahead of a conference organised by the Hungarian sponsors of the network. I did not attend, fearing that the proceedings would have limited impact on the future direction of this once promising initiative. I used the posts to set out my reservations, which include a failure to engage with constructive criticism.
Part One scrutinises the Hungarian talent development model on which the European Network is based. Part Two describes the halting progress made by to date. It identifies several deficiencies that need to be addressed if the Network is to have a significant and lasting impact on pan-European support for talent development and gifted education.
During April I produced PISA 2012 Creative Problem Solving: International Comparison of High Achievers’ Performance
This analyses the performance of high achievers from a selection of 11 jurisdictions – either world leaders or prominent English-speaking nations – on the PISA 2012 Creative Problem Solving assessment.
It is a companion piece to a 2013 post which undertook a similar analysis of the PISA 2012 assessments in Reading, Maths and Science.
In May I contributed to the Hoagies’ Bloghop for that month.
Air on the ‘G’ String: Hoagies’ Bloghop, May 2014 was my input to discussion about the efficacy of ‘the G word’ (gifted). I deliberately produced a provocative and thought-provoking piece which stirred typically intense reactions in several quarters.
Finally, September saw the production of Beware the ‘short head’: PISA’s Resilient Students’ Measure.
This takes a closer look at the relatively little-known PISA ‘resilient students’ measure – focused on high achievers from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds – and how well different jurisdictions perform against it.
The title reflects the post’s conclusion that, like many other countries, England:
‘…should be worrying as much about our ‘short head’ as our ‘long tail’’.
And so I pass seamlessly on to the series of domestic posts I published during 2014…
English Education Policy
My substantive post in January was High Attainment in the 2013 Secondary and 16-18 Performance Tables, an analysis of the data contained in last year’s Tables and the related statistical publications.
Also in January I produced a much briefer commentary on The 2013 Transition Matrices and High Attainers’ Performance.
The purpose of these annual posts (and the primary equivalent which appears each December) is to synthesise data about the performance of high attainers and high attainment at national level, so that schools can more easily benchmark their own performance.
In February I wrote What Becomes of Schools that Fail their High Attainers?*
It examines the subsequent history of schools that recorded particularly poor results with high attainers in the Secondary Performance Tables. (The asterisk references a footnote apologising ‘for this rather tabloid title’.)
By March I was focused on Challenging NAHT’s Commission on Assessment subjecting the Commission’s Report to a suitably forensic examination and offering a parallel series of recommendations derived from it.
My April Fool’s joke this year was Plans for a National Centre for Education Research into Free Schools (CERFS). This has not materialised but, had our previous Secretary of State for Education not been reshuffled, I’m sure it would have been only a matter of time!
Also in April I was Unpacking the Primary Assessment and Accountability Reforms, exposing some of the issues and uncertainties embodied in the government’s response to consultation on its proposals.
Some of the issues I highlighted eight months ago are now being more widely discussed – not least the nature of the performance descriptors, as set out in the recent consultation exercise dedicated to those.
But the reform process is slow. Many other issues remain unresolved and it seems increasingly likely that some of the more problematic will be delayed deliberately until after the General Election.
May was particularly productive, witnessing four posts, three of them substantial:
- How well is Ofsted reporting on the most able? explores how Ofsted inspectors are interpreting the references to the attainment and progress of the most able added to the Inspection Handbook late last year. The sample comproses the 87 secondary inspection reports that were published in March 2014. My overall assessment? Requires Improvement.
- A Closer Look at Level 6 is a ‘data-driven analysis of Level 6 performance’. As well as providing a baseline against which to assess future Level 6 achievement, this also identifies several gaps in the published data and raises as yet unanswered questions about the nature of the new tests to be introduced from 2016.
- One For The Echo Chamber was prompted by The Echo Chamber reblogging service, whose founder objected that my posts are too long, together with the ensuing Twitter debate. Throughout the year the vast majority of my posts have been unapologetically detailed and thorough. They are intended as reference material, to be quarried and revisited, rather than the disposable vignettes that so many seem to prefer. To this day they get reblogged on The Echo Chamber only when a sympathetic moderator is undertaking the task.
- ‘Poor but Bright’ v ‘Poor but Dim’ arose from another debate on Twitter, sparked by a blog post which argued that the latter are a higher educational priority than the former. I argued that both deserved equal priority, since it is inequitable to discriminate between disadvantaged learners on the basis of prior attainment and the economic arguments cut both ways. This issue continues to bubble like a subterranean stream, only to resurface from time to time, most recently when the Fair Education Alliance proposed that the value of pupil premium allocations attached to disadvantaged high attainers should be halved.
In June I asked Why Can’t We Have National Consensus on Educating High Attainers? and proposed a set of core principles that might form the basis for such consensus.
These were positively received. Unfortunately though, the necessary debate has not yet taken place.
The principles should be valuable to schools considering how best to respond to Ofsted’s increased scrutiny of their provision for the most able. Any institution considering how best to revitalise its provision might discuss how the principles should be interpreted to suit their particular needs and circumstances.
July saw the publication of Digging Beneath the Destination Measures which explored the higher education destinations statistics published the previous month.
It highlighted the relatively limited progress made towards improving the progression of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to selective universities.
There were no posts in August, half of which was spent in Norway, taking the photographs that have graced some of my subsequent publications.
In September I produced What Happened to the Level 6 Reading Results? an investigation into the mysterious collapse of L6 reading test results in 2014.
Test entries increased significantly. So did the success rates on the other level 6 tests (in maths and in grammar, punctuation and spelling (GPS)). Even teacher assessment of L6 reading showed a marked upward trend.
Despite all this, the number of pupils successful on the L6 reading test fell from 2,062 in 2013 to 851 (provisional). The final statistics – released only this month – show a marginal improvement to 935, but the outcome is still extremely disappointing. No convincing explanation has been offered and the impact on 2015 entries is unlikely to be positive.
These present the evidence base relating to high attainment gaps between disadvantaged and other learners, to distinguish what we know from what remains unclear and so to provide a baseline for further research.
The key finding is that the evidence base is both sketchy and fragmented. We should understand much more than we do about the size and incidence of excellence gaps. We should be strengthening the evidence base as part of a determined strategy to close the gaps.
In October 16-19 Maths Free Schools Revisited marked a third visit to the 16-19 maths free schools programme, concentrating on progress since my previous post in March 2013, especially at the two schools which have opened to date.
I subsequently revised the post to reflect an extended series of tweeted comments from Dominic Cummings, who was a prime mover behind the programme. The second version is called 16-19 Maths Free Schools Revisited: Oddyssean Edition .
The two small institutions at KCL and Exeter University (both very similar to each other) constitute a rather limited outcome for a project that was intended to generate a dozen innovative university-sponsored establishments. There is reportedly a third school in the pipeline but, as 2014 closes, details have yet to be announced.
Excellence Gaps Quality Standard: Version One is an initial draft of a standard encapsulating effective whole school practice in supporting disadvantaged high attainers. It updates and adapts the former IQS for gifted and talented education.
This first iteration needs to be trialled thoroughly, developed and refined but, even as it stands, it offers another useful starting point for schools reviewing the effectiveness of their own provision.
The baseline standard captures the essential ‘non-negotiables’ intended to be applicable to all settings. The exemplary standard is pitched high and should challenge even the most accomplished of schools and colleges.
All comments and drafting suggestions are welcome.
In November I published twin studies of The Politics of Setting and The Politics of Selection: Grammar Schools and Disadvantage.
These issues have become linked since Prime Minister Cameron has regularly proposed an extension of the former as a response to calls on the right wing of his party for an extension of the latter.
This was almost certainly the source of autumn media rumours that a strategy, originating in Downing Street, would be launched to incentivise and extend setting.
Newly installed Secretary of State Morgan presumably insisted that existing government policy (which leaves these matters entirely to schools) should remain undisturbed. However, the idea might conceivably be resuscitated for the Tory election manifesto.
Now that UKIP has confirmed its own pro-selection policy there is pressure on the Conservative party to resolve its internal tensions on the issue and identify a viable alternative position. But the pro-grammar lobby is unlikely to accept increased setting as a consolation prize…
Earlier in December I added a companion piece to ‘The Politics of Selection’.
How Well Do Grammar Schools Perform With Disadvantaged Students? reveals that the remaining 163 grammar schools have very different records in this respect. The poor performance of a handful is a cause for concern.
I also published High Attainment in the 2014 Primary School Performance Tables – another exercise in benchmarking, this time for primary schools interested in how well they support high attainers and high attainment.
This shows that HMCI’s recent distinction between positive support for the most able in the primary sector and a much weaker record in secondary schools is not entirely accurate. There are conspicuous weaknesses in the primary sector too.
Meanwhile, Chinese learners continue to perform extraordinarily well on the Level 6 maths test, achieving an amazing 35% success rate, up six percentage points since 2013. This domestic equivalent of the Shanghai phenomenon bears closer investigation.
My penultimate post of the year HMCI Ups the Ante on the Most Able collates all the references to the most able in HMCI’s 2014 Annual Report and its supporting documentation.
It sets out Ofsted’s plans for the increased scrutiny of schools and for additional survey reports that reflect this scrutiny.
It asks the question whether Ofsted’s renewed emphasis will be sufficient to rectify the shortcomings they themselves identify and – assuming it will not – outlines an additional ten-step plan to secure system-wide improvement.
So what are the prospects for 2015 and beyond?
My 2013 Retrospective was decidedly negative about the future of global gifted education:
‘The ‘closed shop’ is as determinedly closed as ever; vested interests are shored up; governance is weak. There is fragmentation and vacuum where there should be inclusive collaboration for the benefit of learners. Too many are on the outside, looking in. Too many on the inside are superannuated and devoid of fresh ideas.’
Despite evidence of a few ‘green shoots’’ during 2014, my overall sense of pessimism remains.
Meanwhile, future prospects for high attainers in England hang in the balance.
Several of the Coalition Government’s education reforms have been designed to shift schools’ focus away from borderline learners, so that every learner improves, including those at the top of the attainment distribution.
On the other hand, Ofsted’s judgement that a third of secondary inspections this year
‘…pinpointed specific problems with teaching the most able’
would suggest that schools’ everyday practice falls some way short of this ideal.
HMCI’s commitment to champion the interests of the most able is decidedly positive but, as suggested above, it might not be enough to secure the necessary system-wide improvement.
Ofsted is itself under pressure and faces an uncertain future, regardless of the election outcome. HMCI’s championing might not survive the arrival of a successor.
It seems increasingly unlikely that any political party’s election manifesto will have anything significant to say about this topic, unless the enthusiasm for selection in some quarters can be harnessed and redirected towards the much more pertinent question of how best to meet the needs of all high attainers in all schools and colleges, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
But the entire political future is shrouded in uncertainty. Let’s wait and see how things are shaping up on the other side of the election.
From a personal perspective I am closing in on five continuous years of edutweeting and edublogging.
I once expected to extract from this commitment benefits commensurate with the time and energy invested. But that is no longer the case, if indeed it ever was.
I plan to call time at the end of this academic year.