Multiplying excellence: maths schools in the UK

In a report published for National Numeracy Day, it was revealed that innumeracy and poor numeracy skills costs the UK economy over £20bn. And despite there being no scientific research to support the idea of a ‘maths person’, more than three-quarters of children at secondary school surveyed ahead of National Numeracy Day believe that some people are naturally able to do maths better than others. Combatting these challenges by improving attainment and study of maths past GCSE (and STEM subjects more widely) has been a target for the UK government for some years, with the current government highlighting it as a specific objective in order to fulfil the aims of the Industrial Strategy.

The challenge of innumeracy

Public perceptions of maths are poor. Research suggests that it is far more socially acceptable for an adult to say “oh I can’t work this sum out” than to say for example that they can’t read a word. As we get older, while reading and writing, and general literacy, is seen as something that is essential, many do not hold basic maths and numeracy skill in the same regard. This is despite the fact that being innumerate can have just as significant an impact on someone as being illiterate.

The knock-on impact of poor numeracy skills can be seen throughout adult life:  poorer employment prospects; lower confidence and self-esteem, and as a result poorer mental health; increased risk of poverty; and an increased likelihood of having a poor grasp of personal finances and as a result higher risk of unsustainable levels of debt. In addition, poor parental numeracy, has been shown to have an impact on the numeracy and confidence around maths of children and young people who grow up in the same environment. While we can’t all be maths prodigies, it is thought that poor parental attitudes to numeracy is leading to children, particularly girls and those from deprived or lower socioeconomic backgrounds, to miss out on opportunities to advance their maths education. It is hoped that specific targeted interventions, such as the introduction of maths schools will provide an environment for these pupils to flourish, and then go on to inspire the next generation.

 

Lagging in the Pisa rankings

The latest PISA rankings (the new figures are due to be published later this year) show that the UK is, and has been, performing consistently poorer than a number of other developed nations. However, students from east Asia by far outperform most others. Schools are also being encouraged, as well as providing specialist maths teaching, to try to integrate some of the techniques used in Chinese and Singaporean schools in particular to drive improvement in the subject. In addition, the number of young people who take maths as an optional subject (once it becomes non-compulsory after GCSE level) is staggeringly low. Raising this, along with the general quality of maths teaching should be a priority of all schools, not just those which offer a specialist maths education.

From Russia with love

Back when Michael Gove was Education Secretary he had an idea to base maths free schools on the model seen in Russia, particularly on the Kolmogorov Physics and Mathematics school in Moscow. The specialist school which allows young people aged 11-17 to complete their formal education in a maths-centred environment is part of Moscow State University. The association with the university means that students are taught by professors and research assistants, not only raising their attainment in the subject, but exposing them to quality teaching from professionals passionate about their subject, inspiring them to understand the professional routes that further mathematics study can bring. This is something that research has suggested is not widely available in UK schools.

Maths schools in the UK

There are two specialist maths schools in the country: Kings College Mathematics School, and Exeter Mathematics School. H callowever the government has released extra funding to try to encourage other universities to set up affiliated maths schools, making use of their teaching resource and providing an opportunity for those gifted and interested enough in the subject to excel.

In Scotland, a report published in 2018 titled Making maths count suggested that maths be made a national priority, highlighting that while there were pockets of exceptional practice in Scotland, there was a lack of co-ordination when it came to sharing expertise and best practice between schools. There are no plans to encourage a similar programme to maths schools in Scotland, but suggested improvements to raise levels of teaching in maths education in Scotland have included changing the requirements for teacher training, to require new teachers to have at least a higher qualification in maths (they already have to have a higher in English to teach and some have asked why it is not the case for maths too). Additionally, projects relating to “maths upskilling” of both the current and new teaching workforce in Scotland are designed to build confidence in using maths and applying it to real life situations so that it can be taught to a high standard with a good level of understanding (which the report found is not always the case currently).

Final thoughts

Future mathematicians  are vital for the future growth of the economy. And not just in the obvious areas like maths teaching, economics and statistics. The “age of digital” presents unprecedented opportunities for those with maths-based qualifications, with the demand for skilled workers with an expertise in maths far outstripping the availability of skilled maths graduates. It is hoped that the introduction (and the government hopes future further rollout) of maths schools in England will help to promote maths as a subject and raise attainment and standards in maths to encourage a new generation of maths learners to be developed.


Want to check up on your maths skills? Take the National Numeracy Challenge.

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A teacher recruitment shortage in deprived areas – are financial incentives the answer?

by Stacey Dingwall

In February, we reported on the publication of the House of Commons Education Committee’s report on teacher recruitment and retention in England. The report suggested that there are “significant” teacher shortages in the country, and highlighted data indicating that more than 10% of teachers leave the profession after a year, and 30% leave within five years.

Recruitment and retention regional trends

The Committee’s report focused on issues of recruitment and retention in terms of subject and regional areas, but didn’t comment on regional trends. This is an issue which the previous head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, raised in his annual report for 2014/15. The report cites findings from surveying carried out by Ofsted which suggest that headteachers see teacher recruitment as a “real problem”, due to a shortage of trainees coming through which has resulted in “huge” competition for them between schools. “Unsurprisingly”, the report states, the majority of trainees are opting for well-performing schools in more affluent areas.

This isn’t just an issue among new teachers. According to research carried out by the University of Cambridge last year, more experienced teachers are also less likely to be working in schools in areas of high deprivation. The analysis found that teachers working in more advantaged schools have, on average, 18 months more experience than those in the least advantaged schools.

Financial incentives

The University of Cambridge’s findings were presented at the Sutton Trust’s 2016 Best in Class summit, alongside polling from the NFER which found that teachers believe that offering financial incentives is the best way to attract teachers to more deprived schools. 63% of those surveyed also supported bonuses for those teachers who improve their pupils’ results.

The Social Market Foundation also supports the provision of financial incentives for teachers who choose to work in schools with high levels of pupils eligible for free school meals, and has proposed an additional £530 per year for primary teachers, and £1,300 for secondary level teachers. Their 2016 report, Social inequalities in access to teachers, found that, in addition to having a higher proportion of inexperienced teachers, secondary schools in areas of higher deprivation are also more likely to have teachers without an academic qualification in their relevant subject.

The Talent Transfer Initiative

Evidence on the impact of providing financial incentives for teachers is limited, however, and that which has been published provides mixed results. One initiative that has produced results which indicate that ‘teacher merit pay’ can produce positive outcomes is the Talent Transfer Initiative in the US. TTI involved teachers with a proven track record of improving pupil attainment in deprived areas in districts of cities including Miami and Los Angeles, transferring to schools with the highest levels of deprivation. If a teacher stayed in their new role for two years, they received $20,000 across five instalments, regardless of whether pupils’ test scores improved. Over 90% of the teachers stayed in their new jobs for the required period, and 60% continued after the trial ended. Pupil attainment was increased by between 4 and 10 percentile points for those taught by the transfer teachers, compared to a control-group of teachers.

A crucial thing to note, however, is that less than a quarter of the 1,500 teachers identified as being eligible for the initiative chose to apply to participate. This is down to the issue of what motivates teachers; in the UK as well as the US, research has consistently shown that teachers are more motivated by working conditions and improving pupil outcomes than pay. In its report, the Social Market Foundation also acknowledged that it is difficult to know just how large financial incentives would need to be to attract experienced teachers to schools with high levels of free school meals (FSM) eligibility. And as the controversy over school funding rages on – and the country faces more electoral upheaval – this is a calculation that is unlikely to be made anytime soon.


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What’s happening in the English education system and how does it compare to Singapore’s system?

by Stacey Dingwall

At the end of last year, we looked at the state of the Scottish education system following the publication of some disappointing Pisa results for the country. In this blog, we focus on some of the issues recently highlighted within the English education system, and how the system compares to that of Singapore – a system that is frequently identified as a model for other countries.

Pisa (Programme for International Student Assessment)

Although there was no significant change in England’s absolute score in the 2015 OECD survey of maths, science and reading, or in the country’s performance relative to other countries, England’s rankings did not experience the same decline seen in Scotland and Wales. While Scotland’s scores across all three areas were the lowest they had recorded in any other Pisa survey, pupils in England performed slightly above the OECD average in reading for the first time.

After a similar stagnation in scores were achieved in the previous Pisa survey, the Minister of Schools for England, Nick Gibb, promised reforms and funding in order to ensure that the country was able to better compete with the top performing countries. The 2015 results show that East Asian countries including Singapore continue to dominate the rankings, and are continuing to make advances.

Teaching

The success of Singapore’s education system has been attributed to its investment in its teachers. All of the country’s teachers are trained at its National Institute of Education and are selected from the top 5% of graduates. Teachers are required to commit to the profession for at least three years and are mentored by ‘master teachers’ at the start of their careers.

As we highlighted on the blog recently, the House of Commons Education Committee raised concerns about teacher training and recruitment in England in the report of their inquiry. The evidence the Committee received suggested that the government is failing to take “adequate” action to tackle what is described as “significant” teacher shortages in England. The report highlights data that more than 10% of teachers leave the profession after a year.

Teacher workload was also highlighted as a significant issue, and the Education Policy Institute gave evidence to the Committee that 60% of respondents to a survey they carried out identified it as a “key barrier” to accessing continuing professional development. EPI analysis also found that teachers in England average four days of CPD per year, compared to 12 in Singapore. Teacher CPD was identified as important for not only professionalism during the inquiry, but also for pupil outcomes.

The schools landscape

The quality of the teaching workforce in England is not the only area in which concerns have been raised over the impact on pupils. The education system in England is a complex one, and has become even more so in recent years with academies, free schools and the reintroduction of grammar schools. Government policy has not been consistent: the Education Bill and the academisation of all schools in England were both abandoned shortly after their announcement.

Last week’s Budget included the announcement of a one-off payment of £320m for 140 new free schools to be created, in addition to the 500 already pledged before 2020. However, there’s still no evidence that significant improvements at the primary level are associated with academy status, and differences at GCSE level between converter academies and other similar maintained schools are not statistically significant. At the end of last year, the EPI found that grammar school pupils’ higher GCSE attainment is not actually a result of better grammar school performance, but can actually be attributed to the high prior attainment and demographic of pupils at selective schools.

The EPI concluded that grammar schools are more likely to widen the attainment gap for disadvantaged pupils. It was further reported earlier this month by the Sutton Trust that a policy of ‘social selection’ is being operated in admissions to the best performing schools.

Research from the NFER has indicated that parents are confused about academies, and the different types that exist. A preference for schools to be accountable to local education authorities was also indicated, which conflicts with the government’s focus on expanding academies/free schools.

Singapore operates a centralised schools system, which is integrated and characterised by a prescribed national curriculum. English academies are not required to follow the national curriculum.

Funding for schools

Despite the Budget announcement, recent news in the education world has been dominated by claims from schools that they are underfunded. As we noted in a blog from last year, when the government announced its plans for total academisation, cuts of £600m to the Education Services Grant awarded to local authorities were also planned. Even though the policy has been abandoned, the cuts have not been reversed.

Analysis for the National Union of Teachers (NUT) found that under the government’s new ‘fair funding’ formula, 98% of schools would see cuts by 2020. Responding to the consultation on the formula, representatives from over a dozen Conservative-led councils said that they were “extremely concerned” over what they see as inadequate levels of funding.

At last week’s Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) conference, headteachers told education secretary Justine Greening that current funding levels have resulted in them having to cut some subjects and support services, and increase class sizes. The day before the conference, the heads of over 1,000 schools in England wrote to parents and MPs to report the same issues.

The government insists that funding for schools is higher than ever before, at £40bn for 2016-17 and rising to £42bn in 2019-20 to take account of rising pupil numbers. However, Labour argue that as the budget does not provide for funding per pupil to increase in line with inflation, it actually represents a real-terms reduction in the funds spent for every pupil. In December, the National Audit Office published a report which said that as the government was only offering flat cash funding per pupil over the next five years, “Schools have not experienced this level of reduction in spending power since the mid-1990s”.

The latest data from the World Bank indicates that Singapore allocated a lower percentage of its GDP in 2012 than the UK: 3.3% vs 5.6%.

The future?

In an article published just before the Budget, Theresa May published an article which spoke of her government’s ambition to “make Britain the world’s greatest meritocracy”. Meritocracy is a key policy of the Singapore education system, and is identified as one of the main reasons for the system’s success. With evidence continuing to point towards disadvantaged pupils being denied the opportunities of their peers, and schools declaring that they don’t have enough funding to provide vital services, it’s clear that there is still some way to go before this ambition can begin to be realised.

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Back to the classroom – teacher training and recruitment

Adult Ed - Study Partners

by Stacey Dingwall

Earlier this week, the House of Commons Education Select Committee published a report on the recruitment and retention of teachers in England. Announced in October 2015, the Committee took evidence on whether there was a ‘crisis’ in teacher recruitment, including by region and subject; what the “root causes” of the present situation with regards to teacher recruitment were; and what action the government should take to address issues with teacher recruitment.

“Significant shortages”

The Committee’s report suggests that at present, the government is failing to take “adequate” action to tackle what it describes as “significant” teacher shortages in England. It is noted that the targets for initial teacher training (ITT) courses have been missed for the last five years and that Geography, Biology and History were the only subjects in which the targets for new entrants to postgraduate and undergraduate ITT courses were exceeded. Targets for all other secondary level subjects were missed, with only 68% of Computing ITT places filled, and only 41% of Design and Technology places.

While the report acknowledges the importance of recruiting new teachers to the profession, it also emphasises the importance of retaining the teachers that it already has. Government data shows that more than 10% of teachers leave the profession after a year, and 30% leave within five years. Giving evidence to the enquiry, the National Audit Office (NAO) suggested that the number of teachers leaving rose by 11% between 2011 and 2014.

“Unmanageable” workloads

The Education Committee identified workload as a key driver for those teachers who choose to leave the profession. Last year, 82% of the 4,000 respondents to a Guardian survey described their workload as “unmanageable”. Analysis published by the Education Policy Institute (EPI) in October found that teachers in England work longer hours than their peers in 35 other developed countries, working an average of 48.2 hours per week.

When Nicky Morgan was Education Secretary, three review groups were set up to provide recommendations around the three biggest areas identified by teachers as those that add to their workload unnecessarily: marking, planning and data management. The groups’ recommendations have yet to be progressed following their publication in March 2016 (and Morgan’s replacement).

In Scotland, Education Secretary John Swinney announced his intention to “declutter” the Scottish education system at last year’s Scottish Learning Festival, by reducing teachers’ workload around assessments. In response, teaching union EIS suspended their programme of industrial action over teacher workload in relation to examinations.

Teaching as a second career

Swinney also announced plans to develop new routes into teaching, using funding from the Scottish Government’s Attainment Scotland Fund. These plans were followed by the launch of the ‘Teaching Makes People’ campaign at the start of the month, which is targeted at recruiting more teachers in the STEM subjects.

As well as undergraduates, the campaign is also aiming to attract people from the STEM industries into the profession. In particular, the Scottish Government hopes that it will convince former oil and gas industry workers to retrain as teachers.

The National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) reported in January that more than 6,200 people aged 30 and over started ITT in 2016-17, the highest number since 2012-13.  Entering teaching as a second career has become more common in recent years. In November, Financial Times associate editor and columnist Lucy Kellaway announced that she was leaving her role to become a maths teacher after 31 years in her role.

At the same time, Kellaway set up Now Teach, a charity which works to encourage senior professionals in the business industry to retrain as teachers. Aside from helping with the issue of teacher recruitment, headteachers have also welcomed the benefits of having former professionals in the classroom in terms of their leadership skills and ability to provide careers advice.

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Talking to children about poverty: why education needs to get in on the act

boy with bear

1 in 5 children in poverty

Scotland has one of the highest rates of child poverty in the UK. The latest figures from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimate that 1 in 5 children in Scotland live in poverty, with the figure rising to 1 in 3 in the urban centre of Glasgow. With more and more families falling into relative poverty and the numbers of working poor rising, the newly branded “JAMs” (just about managing) are, in some cases not managing, having to decide between heating their house or feeding their families.

People are affected by poverty in many different ways. For adults it can lower self-esteem, increase levels of stress, and can have consequences for mental and physical health. However, it’s sometimes forgotten that many children can feel these same effects from growing up in a family living in poverty.

In the same way as adults, many children suffer from low self-esteem and feel the invisible burden of the stigma that the label of “poverty” places on them. In addition, children affected by poverty:

  • are more likely to be victims of bullying;
  • tend to have lower attainment at school;
  • have fewer social networks or groups of friends;
  • suffer from poorer physical and mental health;
  • have less chance of leaving school with a full set of qualifications and going on to further or higher education (despite the best efforts of various governments to change this); and
  • are more likely than “affluent children” to spend their adulthood in poverty too.

How children understand poverty

Many children have an understanding of poverty as meaning “poor” or lacking in money. Concepts such as heating a home, building personal debt or not being able to afford to travel to work are not things they yet associate as being part of the cost of living, despite many of them seeing their own parents face these struggles on a weekly basis.

They associate poverty with foreign, particularly third world nations, as well as with homelessness, loneliness, a lack of familial support and a reliance on donations. Many children, even from the poorest backgrounds do not recognise themselves as being in poverty. This is something highlighted in research conducted by the Scottish Universities Insight Institute (SUII), which looked at child perceptions of poverty, and expressing these through alternate methods such as art.

In the study, children from schools in less affluent areas of Glasgow and Aberdeen were surveyed and many regarded notions of poverty as a distant, “third world” concept. However, when they were engaged in more creative methods, such as drama, or art, expressions of their experiences of poverty became more acute.

School children raising hands. View from behind.

Engaging education professionals in the poverty discourse

In Scotland, the overarching framework of Getting it Right for Every Child (GIRFEC) is designed to bring services and professionals with whom children come into contact closer together to create a complete model of care for a child. It is interesting that in the latest commitment to tackling child poverty in Scotland there is no commitment to including teachers or education in general, in the same way as health professionals or social workers.

We know that poverty can have an adverse impact on wellbeing and on learning, and that children who live in poverty are more likely to be absent from school. However, education professionals are largely excluded from the discussions which child welfare officers, social workers, doctors and third sector colleagues are already having around the health and wellbeing of children who are living in poverty.

In a practical sense schools do, to a degree, already engage in reducing the impact of child poverty by providing financial and practical help. This could include subsidies for school meals or trips, the donation of free uniforms, breakfast clubs and tutoring after school classes. There have even been cases of individual teachers giving children clean clothes, meals or allowing them to sleep in the staff room at break and lunchtimes to allow them to catch up on sleep lost because of a disruptive lifestyle at home. However, talking about poverty with children is often neglected. This is something that academics are keen to see schools do more of – use their position to engage children in talking about poverty in order to help identify children at risk, but also to help raise the issue with other children who may not have experienced it or know what it is.

Using creative methods in schools to talk about poverty

Many academics argue that statistics on attainment can be misleading – while poverty has a significant impact, it does not correlate directly to cognitive ability. As one researcher at a seminar suggested, “just because you were born poor does not mean you were born without the ability to learn”. While there is evidence to suggest the slower development of children who live in poverty is acute in the early years, there is also evidence that the attainment gap is closing – what children in poverty miss out on is opportunity, variation and experience, and a chance to develop, rather than having lower overall cognitive function. This is one of the reasons, academics argue, it is so vital to engage teachers in wider discussions on child poverty.

For example, the vocabulary of children in poverty is often smaller in range than that of their more affluent peers. But, rather than this being the result of reduced cognitive function, researchers have found that this is primarily because they have not had the need to learn new words. Unlike children from more affluent backgrounds, they tend to remain within their community unit, using more colloquial language and a more limited number of words; they also often have less access to books or exposure to cultural experiences. That is not to say that they could not learn or have learnt all of the words that a child from a more affluent area knows; it’s just that they have not had the need or the opportunity to learn them yet. With this in mind, alternative methods of communication such as art, dance and storytelling could prove useful in explaining poverty to children, and helping them to discuss their experiences and understanding of what it means to be in poverty.

künstlermaterial

Using creative ways of communicating and engaging with children has already been found useful in helping them to talk about other issues personal to them, such as trauma or abuse. Researchers from the Scottish University Insight Institute-funded research team employed similar methods, using art, drama and play to help children express their feelings on poverty, and how it could be tackled in their communities. Children acted out scenarios, wrote poems, and created a number of pieces of tactile artwork, including sculptures and drawings. It was thought that these same methods could be used by teachers as a way to allow children to communicate their feelings about poverty and express issues relating to their own personal experiences without feeling stigmatised or singled out by other members of the class.

It is clear that the education profession has an important role, not only in helping to alleviate the effects of poverty on children through schemes like breakfast clubs, but also in a teaching and learning role. Many teachers and schools are averse to raise issues of money or poverty with children for fear of placing unnecessary distress onto children. However, sensitive and context-aware teaching on the issues around poverty should be seen as an opportunity, not a burden to teachers.

Effective discussion could go a long way to helping children to open up about experiences of poverty and also help them to be more understanding of other children who are living in poverty, reducing stigma and encouraging positive action within their local communities.


This blog reflects on research from the Scottish Universities Insight Institute and seminar participation at the Centre for Child Well-being and Protection at the University of Stirling.

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Modern language learning in a globalised world

Elementary school students raising hands. View from behind.

by Stacey Dingwall

In November, the Teaching Schools Council published Ian Bauckham’s Modern foreign languages pedagogy review, which looked at modern foreign languages teaching practice in key stages 3 and 4 in England.

The EBacc and modern languages

The review was announced in May last year by schools minister Nick Bole, shortly after it was indicated that 3,500 more language teachers would be needed in order to realise the government’s desire for 90% of pupils to sit the English Baccalaureate (EBacc), which includes a language component.

Only 40% of English pupils currently take the EBacc. The Education Datalab’s estimate of the number of additional language teachers needed to increase this to 90% represents an increase of almost 40%. The government has missed its recruitment target for language teachers for the last four years, achieving just 87% of its target in 2015.

The Education Datalab’s latest data on the EBacc, published in October, suggests that the number of pupils who sit the qualification has stalled because there hasn’t been a significant increase in the number of entries in languages.

The Bauckham review

Ian Bauckham’s review emphasises the “clear educational, personal, cultural, social, cognitive, career and business benefits in being able to communicate confidently in another language”. However, it notes that the latest edition of the CBI/Pearson Education and Skills Survey found that over 50% of employers were not satisfied with their employees’ foreign language skills.

Although this is problematic for the country on a variety of levels, the Bauckham review points to the difficult context in which schools find themselves with regards to teaching foreign languages. Aside from recruitment issues, teachers are also dealing with some negative attitudes to foreign language learning from pupils and their parents, who may have had a poor language learning experience themselves. The review highlights that it is much easier for non-native English speakers to acquire the language due to its global dominance.

Schools also have to juggle the competing pressure of increasing the number of pupils taking STEM related subjects. The issue of a shortfall of people with STEM skills in the UK has received a great deal more attention from researchers and policymakers in recent years than a lack of those with language skills.

Language learning in Scotland: the 1+2 approach

In 2012, the Scottish Government published “Language learning in Scotland: a 1+2 approach”. Intended to be rolled out across two parliaments, the approach was included in the government’s 2011 manifesto, which stated their intention to “introduce a norm for language learning in schools based on the European Union 1+2 model – that is we will create the conditions in which every child will learn two languages in addition to their own mother tongue”.

The Scottish Government’s ambition for the approach is that by 2020, all children will start to learn an additional language from P1 that they will continue studying until at least S3. They will also be given the opportunity to start studying a third language no later than P5. This ambition also fits in with the government’s focus on closing the attainment gap during its term, with the language approach working to achieve key goals such as increasing the employability of school leavers.

Overall, the Scottish Government says its key aim in improving and expanding language learning in schools is that “young people are equipped with the skills and competencies they need in our increasingly globalised world” – a prudent ambition in increasingly uncertain times.

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‘High quality and equitable outcomes for all’ – highlights from the Scottish Learning Festival 2015

By Rebecca Jackson

“High quality and equitable outcomes for all”  – that was the theme of this year’s Scottish Learning Festival held last week at the SECC in Glasgow. A mix of academic and policy based seminars, converged with practitioner based learning during the session on Wednesday.

Out of a packed schedule we chose to attend the launch of a new initiative to encourage more STEM teachers; information on the Scottish Attainment Challenge, delivered by Education Scotland and the Scottish Government; and a promotion of employment partnership learning, showing how schools and colleges can engage more with local business to provide opportunities for students.

A fundamental commitment of the Scottish Government

The keynote speech on Wednesday was delivered by Angela Constance MSP, Minister for Education at the Scottish Government. In her address, she stressed the importance of the key themes of the conference, which were collaboration, best practice and ensuring that no child in Scotland should be unable to fulfil their potential at school because of their background or their ability to pay.

Scottish education she said, would be “driven by evidence of ‘what works’ “ and “education in Scotland must be about ability to learn, not ability to pay, at all levels” and that this was a fundamental commitment on the part of the Scottish Government.

She also launched a new initiative aimed at getting more STEM teachers into the teaching system in Scotland. Teachers, she said, were key not only to teaching but to inspiring students to pursue subjects to a higher level.

She awarded the Robert Owen Award for an Inspiring Educator to Professor Graham Donaldson, the man behind Teaching Scotland’s future report on the education of Scotland’s teachers.

Angela Constance MSP addresses the conference. Rebecca Jackson, 2015

Angela Constance MSP addresses the conference. Rebecca Jackson, 2015

Tackling the attainment gap: the Scottish Attainment Challenge           

The Scottish Attainment Challenge was promoted as an accelerator of change, building on what has already been done in Scotland and using core values and agreed outcomes to create a system which takes a uniquely Scottish approach. The focus is on 4 key areas, and is delivered by a three way framework which uses a national hub, inter authority collaboration and support and the Scottish Attainment Fund.

The four key areas are:

  • Collaboration for improvement
  • High quality teaching and learning
  • Linking with family and community
  • Supporting nurture and well-being.

Speakers in this seminar emphasised that in Scotland, policy needs to be driven by what works. The challenge, they said, could not be delivered in isolation. Kevin Helman from Stirling and Clackmannan provided a local authority perspective. He highlighted the role of head teachers sharing best practice among schools.

The Scottish Attaniment Challenge outlined in Stirling and Clackmannan. Rebecca Jackson, 2015

The Scottish Attaniment Challenge outlined in Stirling and Clackmannan. Rebecca Jackson, 2015

The Girls in Energy Programme

Employment partnerships between schools and businesses could be a key way to promote vocational learning and encourage STEM subjects in schools. We’ve written before on this blog about the need to build STEM skills in the UK and especialy the importance of providing girls with STEM role models.

It was encouraging therefore to hear in another seminar session about the Girls in Energy programme, an Aberdeenshire based project between Mintlaw Academy and Shell.

The project provides a useful blueprint which could be recreated across Scotland. The programme combines:

  • blended learning, of academic and vocational qualifications (2 HNC’s and 1SVQ level 2);
  • industrial visits;
  • a 2 week placement.
Girls in Energy programme. Rebecca Jackson, 2015

Girls in Energy programme. Rebecca Jackson, 2015

There was an emphasis on how the scheme boosted employability skills, including interview technique, presentation skills and communicating with others, equipping the girls involved with practical skills valued by employers.

Practitioners and students who have been through the scheme were keen to stress that the scheme could easily be recreated if strong relationships between education and industry/business are forged. They highlighted the potential in engineering, construction and other industries which could follow the same outline as their model.

All that is good about Scottish education

The conference highlighted all that is good about the Scottish education sector. The stalls and exhibition space were filled with people who are passionate about providing a better, more equal and well-rounded education for children in Scotland.

However the conference also emphasised the core values of what academics and practitioners feel  is needed to drive education forward in the future – an understanding and sharing of best practice and resources, and the ability to integrate multiple aspects of learning to create a better experience for teachers, local authorities and children alike.


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Creative contribution – the value of arts education

künstlermaterial

By Heather Cameron

According to the Creative Industries Council (CIC) it’s “an exciting and pivotal time for the UK’s creative industries”, with recent statistics showing that the sector punches above its weight in terms of the economy, generating £71.4 billion gross value added (GVA) in 2012 – a 9.4 % increase that surpasses the growth of any other UK industry sector.

Five priority areas for focus were identified by CIC in their recent strategy for the sector:

  • access to finance;
  • education and skills;
  • infrastructure;
  • intellectual property;
  • and international (exports and inward investment).

Despite the positive value of this sector, there are a number of challenges which could hinder progress, particularly in relation to education.

A lack of investment in arts and crafts subjects could have serious consequences for the future of higher education (HE) in the arts and ultimately for the creative industries sector. Francine Norris, Director of Education at West Dean College, which offers courses in conservation and visual arts, recently commented that the government needs to wake up to the fact that arts and crafts underpin the UK’s world-leading creative industries sector. The CIC has highlighted craft as a fundamental component of the UK’s creative industries, employing over 100,000 people and showing an above average increase in GVA between 2008 and 2012.

The National Society for Education in Art and Design (NSEAD) has argued that government policy changes have had a negative impact on the subject. In their most recent survey of art, craft and design educators, which considered the position and value of the subject in schools in the last three years (2011-2014), NSEAD concluded that:

“Performance measures continue to erode provision at key stage 3 and 4; fewer specialist teachers are being trained and there is a paucity of subject specific professional development; learning opportunities for pupils both in school and within the cultural sector have diminished; and the subject lacks value, especially in the state school sector.”

NSEAD has also noted that the number of candidates (male and female) sitting GCE A level art and design subjects continues to fall, with a total of 44,922 sitting the exam this year, compared to 45,336 in 2013 and 46,483 in 2012 when numbers peaked.

According to a recent Crafts Council report, the number of arts GCSEs studied by children has fallen by 14% since the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) was introduced in 2010. Arts subjects are not included in the EBacc, which is currently the main performance measure for schools, so it is unsurprising that participation has decreased at a time when schools are under increasing pressure to meet performance targets.

Added to this, the Cultural Learning Alliance has commented on figures released earlier this year by the Department for Education, suggesting that the arts are experiencing a disproportionate decline in provision. According to the data, the number of hours that arts subjects are taught and the number of arts teachers in England’s secondary schools have fallen since 2010 by up to 11%. In contrast, the EBacc subjects of history and geography have seen the number of teachers and hours taught rise between 7% and 12%.

The problem continues at the level of higher education, with university places in the arts and crafts also declining in the face of high tuition fees and a lack of funding. The Crafts Council highlights a 39% decline in the number of arts and craft courses available in the five years to 2012, down from 820 courses in 2007/08 to 500 in 2011/12.

Surely if the outstanding economic contribution of the creative industries sector is to continue, then the value of arts education must be recognised and continue to be sufficiently supported? A review by the Arts Council, which reported that learning through arts and culture improves attainment across many other aspects of the school curriculum, also highlighted gaps in research evidencing the benefits of arts and culture, concluding that:

“Driving the development of evidence and research in understanding the impact arts and culture plays on the wider society will be critical to shaping and developing arguments in favour of sustained public investment in arts and culture.” 

Perhaps this lack of evidence of the value of the arts is what needs to be addressed in order to increase awareness.


 

Further reading

Evaluating Sistema Scotland: ‘arts and smarts’ – assessing the impact of arts participation on academic performance during school years, systematic literature review (Work package 2)

Creating artists’ workspace

Embedding arts and humanities in the creative economy: the role of graduates in the UK, IN Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy, Vol 32 No 3 Jun 2014, pp426-450

The value of arts and culture to people and society: an evidence review

Building a creative nation: evidence review

Arts and crafts: critical to economic innovation, IN Economic Development Quarterly, Vol 27 No 3

The contribution of the arts and culture to the national economy

The Idox Information Service has a wealth of research reports, articles and case studies on a range of arts and culture topics. Abstracts and full text access to subscription journal articles are only available to members.

Improving attainment … what recent evaluations tell us

evaluation

Image from Flickr user Beth Kanter, licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons License

by Stacey Dingwall

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) is an independent charity that works to break the link between family income and educational achievement, ensuring that children from all backgrounds can fulfil their potential and make the most of their talents. Funded by the Sutton Trust and Department of Education, the EEF aims to raise the attainment of children facing disadvantage by:

  • Identifying and funding promising educational innovations that address the needs of disadvantaged children in primary and secondary schools in England.
  • Evaluating these innovations to extend and secure the evidence on what works and can be made to work at scale.
  • Encouraging schools, government, charities, and others to apply evidence and adopt innovations found to be effective.

At the beginning of October, the EEF published reports outlining findings from seven of their projects. Writing on the EEF blog, Dr Kevan Collins explained that “we investigate the strategies schools use to improve their students’ attainment. We use independent evaluators to assess whether these methods really make a difference, with a focus on their impact on pupils eligible for free school meals”. On the National Foundation for Education Research’s (NFER) blog, Marian Sainsbury praised the work of the EEF in the area of evaluation, particularly their use of the randomised control trial (RCT) method of evaluation, a method which she argued is not used often enough in education.

One of the EEF’s evaluation reports received particular attention in the media: an evaluation of the ‘Increasing Pupil Motivation’ initiative, which aimed to improve attainment at GCSE level by providing incentives to Year 11 pupils in England. The initiative was largely targeted at relatively deprived schools, and offered pupils two incentives: one financial, in which the amount was reduced if they did not maintain standards in four measures of effort (attendance, behaviour, classwork and homework); and the other offered the incentive of a trip or event, under which pupils were allocated a certain number of tickets, to be reduced if they did not meet the four measures of effort.

Despite previous research indicating that the provision of incentives directly for test scores had a positive effect, the EEF evaluation of the provision of incentives specifically for effort found no significant positive impact of either type of incentive on GCSE attainment in English, maths or science. The findings did, however, suggest that the financial incentive had a significant positive impact on classwork effort in each of the three subjects, while both incentives had a positive impact on GCSE maths for pupils with low levels of prior attainment.

Findings from evaluations of another six initiatives were also published:

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Raising attainment for all, not just some – Scottish Learning Festival 2014

slf

By Stacey Dingwall

On Wednesday 25th September, I attended the first day of the Scottish Learning Festival at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre. Now in its 14th year, the two day event, organised by Education Scotland, saw over 4,000 delegates gather to discuss the latest in education policy and practice.

The theme of this year’s festival was ‘raising education for all, not just some’. This was reflected in some way in most of the sessions I attended throughout the day, emphasising the importance of achieving equity for all students, regardless of their background, in education systems.

The first session I attended, ‘Game on Scotland: the educational impact of the 2014 Commonwealth Games’ got the day off to an exciting start thanks to the presence of Kimberley and Louise Renicks, who had brought along the gold medals they won for judo at the 2014 Games in Glasgow. The sisters spoke about their involvement with the Game on Scotland Athletes Visits Programme, which has seen them visit all the secondary schools in East Renfrewshire since the conclusion of the Games.

Louise explained how part of the talk she gives in schools involves trying to motivate pupils by helping them gain an insight into how the crowd made her feel when she walked out to compete, and she also emphasised the importance of encouraging children to achieve their personal best – not everyone can or has to reach that ‘gold’ standard.

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