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Sir Michael on the most able


HMCI Sir Michael Wilshaw devoted his monthly commentary for June 2016 to the education of our most able learners.

He has consistently championed the education of the most able in non-selective secondary schools, having instigated two Ofsted survey reports on this topic, published in June 2013 and March 2015 respectively.

This new commentary is a reaction to the negligible progress achieved since the 2015 report. That contained similar statements about the very limited headway made since 2013.

This post examines the new commentary, setting it in the context of the two previous surveys, the 2016 schools white paper and wider education policy. It:

  • Asks why it is proving so hard for Ofsted to secure system-wide effective practice, despite new emphasis in the common inspection framework and inspection handbooks.
  • Poses some fundamental questions about definitions, terminology and our expectations of the most able learners in both primary and secondary schools…

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Exposing the implications of ‘educational excellence everywhere’



Several of my recent educational posts have mentioned the new-found commitment to ‘educational excellence everywhere’.

This was the title selected for the March 2016 white paper, but it is also the strategic goal at the heart of this government’s education policy. It should influence every part of the white paper, informing every educational decision taken while the government remains in office.

I have drawn attention to the ‘clear blue water’ between this new goal and the default position adopted by the previous coalition government, perhaps best described as ‘no child left behind’.

One is focused on supporting all learners to maximise their achievement; the other on eradicating the ‘long tail’ by concentrating disproportionately on the lower end of the spectrum, so reducing the span of achievement and improving performance against standard national benchmarks.

Both positions give due priority to closing the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged learners but, under…

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The HE white paper underwhelms on fair access



This post compares white paper plans to strengthen fair access with the proposals set out in the green paper.

It assesses each element of these plans and whether they amount to a convincing national strategy.

It also considers whether the white paper is likely to bring about a much-needed improvement in the recruitment of disadvantaged students to highly selective universities.



The higher education green paper ‘Fulfilling our potential: teaching excellence, social mobility and student choice’ appeared in November 2015.

My analysis: ‘Access and participation in the HE Green Paper’ (November 2015) assessed the proposed targets and the government’s initial seven-fold plan for achieving them.

More recently I published ‘A blueprint for fair access?’ (April 2016). This offered an update on developments since the green paper, including progress made against each of the seven elements in the plan.

It proposed that the…

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Ofqual’s W-turn on GCSE grade 9



Ofqual is attempting a double-U-turn on how to define grade 9 in the new GCSE scale.

This will affect the highest attaining learners in all our schools, all staff who teach them and all those who rely on GCSE grades to select high-attaining students, including university admissions staff.

It also has implications for the performance of all state-funded schools on government accountability measures, so it is not small beer.

You might be forgiven for missing this, since it was announced in the graveyard slot on Friday 22 April, while most educators’ attention was diverted to the furore over forced academisation.

A brief press release announced a second consultation on setting GCSE grade standards. We had anticipated an exercise focused on the subjects first introduced in 2018.

But Ofqual is also proposing to reverse its previous decision, already once revised, on the definition of grade 9 boundaries (and indeed grade…

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TIMSS PISA PIRLS: Morgan’s targets scrutinised



Simple_CV_Joint_animatedThis post examines ministerial targets for improving England’s educational performance by 2020, as measured by international comparisons studies.

It explores the evolution of these targets, how they might be interpreted and the prospects for achieving them given likely outcomes from the next round of reports, scheduled for publication in December 2016/2017.

  • PISA 2015 results (maths, reading and science at age 15) will be published in December 2016, some seven months hence. PISA is a triennial survey so there will be one further set of results in December 2019 before the deadline for achievement of the target.
  • TIMSS 2015 outcomes (maths and science at ages 9/10 and 13/14) will also be published in December 2016. TIMSS is conducted every four years, so the results of TIMSS 2019 should be available by December 2020, just as the deadline expires.
  • PIRLS 2016 results (reading aged 9/10) will not be published until December…

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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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