Michael Gove: Secretary of State for Education

Wikipedia link that seems to be relatively fair and has links to external sources for checking, some of which may be partisan.

Nick Gibb: Schools Minister

Wikipedia entry which seems to be fair and balanced and has links to other sites, some of which may be partisan.

Research relevant to government policy

This page will provide a survey of research related to government policy. It was updated on December 29th, 2010, although there is still little news on new science education policies so far.

Teacher preparation

This section has been written on 24th November 2010, when the UK Coalition Government is announcing its plans for education, including schools and 'teacher training'. Becoming a Teacher was a longitudinal (2003-8) investigation of the initial programmes commissioned by the government department responsible for education. Its final report amounts to 300 pages! The BBC today reports that appropriate soldiers will be given free training to become teachers and that the government will undertake
  • Reform of teacher training, including the introduction of special teaching schools modelled on existing teaching hospitals
  • More assessment of teacher training applicants, including tests of character and emotional intelligence
Presumably this information comes directly from a press release.
The majority of student teachers reported (Becoming a teacher project) that prior to starting their ITT:
  • they had been particularly looking forward to ‘being in classrooms and interacting with pupils’ (reported by 84% of survey respondents), ‘developing an understanding of teaching and learning’ (73%) and ‘learning to teach my subject’ (60%);
  • they had been concerned about workload (69% of survey respondents) and behaviour management (66%); and
  • they had thought that it was very important that they developed their ‘ability to bring about pupil learning’ (91%) and their ‘ability to maintain discipline in the classroom’ (86%).
The Becoming a Teacher project reports that 'prior to starting their ITT, most trainees reported that they had held a practical,
classroom-orientated approach to learning to teach and had been sceptical about the value of the more ‘theoretical’ aspects of ITT provision'. This starting position is paralleled by the comment that 'the majority of case study trainees stated that their school-based experiences were the most valuable aspect of their ITT'.
Case study data indicate that HEI-based aspects of ITT were considered most valuable where they were perceived to have clear practical utility for trainees’ work in schools and, specifically, where they related to:
  • lesson planning;
  • classroom management;
  • differentiation; and
  • educational policy and legal obligations.
  • Interviewees also valued the opportunities for meeting fellow student teachers that time in the HEI setting afforded.
  • Whilst some case study interviewees were sceptical about the value of ‘theoretical’ work:66% of survey respondents stated that the balance between the theoretical and practical elements of the programme was ‘about right’; and 85% felt that the links between the theoretical and practical elements of their programme were ‘usually’ or ‘always’ clear.
It seems that many teachers see their career as craft-oriented rather than professional (my view).
The report, which also includes an element of self-criticism regarding credibility and validity, is well worth reading. It does raise significant questions about the place of a theoretical base in teaching, mostly negative as I see it.

Felix Maringe(2005) Approaches in science teacher preparation: a comparative study of England and Zimbabwe
Paper presented at the British Educational Research Association Annual Conference, University of Glamorgan, 14-17 September 2005
Maringe points to the effect of OfSTED focusing on QTS as leading to the separation of theory and practice in the UK. Maringe gives a very pointed and disparaging view of school-centred ITE, indicating that this is contrary to the system in the rest of Europe. Maringe states that reflexion is impossible without a theoretical base. Paper here
The policy on recruitment is about to change in favour of school-based ITE, Coble, Smith & Berry in Collins A & Gillespie (Eds) (2009) The Continuum of Secondary Science Preparation: Knowledge, Questions, and Research Recommendations 1-21 note that 'political and business leaders often blame the lackluster performance of US students in international assessments on the critical shortage of qualified teachers of science, mathematics, and technology.' 'Researchers have long documented that, compared to other subjects, science classes are more likely to be taught by unqualified and underqualified teachers.' 'Researchers have difficulty in determining what constitutes teacher effectiveness.' Monk (1994) stated that the most powerful predictors of higher student achievement were whether the teacher was fully certified and have earned a college major in the subject. (p2) they mention that retention is equally, if not more, important than recruiting. Generally, recruitment is adequate to meet demand, but retention is not. In the US, higher salaries (about 10 - 15%) would aid retention. Ingersoll and Perda (2006) (p7) found that school poverty, school size, and the urbanicity of the school community were important predictors of teacher turnover in public schools. The leavers also reported inadequate preparation time (69%) and lack of faculty influence and autonomy (62%) were inhibitors, more than poor salaries (46%) or behaviour (46%). Johnson, Birkeland and Peske (2005) found that 'brief, inexpensive, convenient and practical training were key to attracting mid-career professional, but were also the root cause of the inadequate time spent learning how to teach and the insufficient resources available to deliver high quality preparation.'Humphrey and Wechsler (2005) found that most of the shortcut alternative certification programmes investigate did not necessarily attract candidates from high demand private sector occupations! Mentoring during an induction phase of a few years is essential for stability but that mentoring is often very time-limited, weak and poorly evaluated, with inadequately trained mentors. Elsewhere, Coble et al state that university-based courses produce better teachers than alternative certification, citing a number of reviews.
The Coalition Government (May 2011) is initiating change in specifying teacher standards. The next is from the DfE web site:
'The new approach will set out rigorous standards teachers should meet in order to:
  • provide excellent teaching
  • crackdown on bad behaviour
  • improve pupils’ skills in the basics of English and maths
  • provide better support to those pupils falling behind.
Headteachers and teachers have told me (Michael Gove) in no uncertain terms that the current teachers’ standards are ineffective, meaningless and muddy, fluffy concepts. There is also no clear evidence that they help to improve standards.
Sally Coates, Chair of the Teachers’ Standards Review and Principal at Burlington Danes Academy in London, said:
Clear and focussed Teachers’ Standards that are relevant to classroom practice are key. They need to reflect the craft of teaching and be meaningful to teachers so that they can teach and develop to the best of their ability.
With more than a hundred different standards on top of the GTCE’s Code of Conduct, it has become bureaucratic and confusing for headteachers and teachers alike.'
Other members of the review panel make similar statements. The review panel is made up almost entirely of teachers, most of them head teachers, with no representation from the teacher education community, apart from Teach First.
The DfE web site reports on 'research' on teacher quality. They refer to a survey carried out by NFER for the General Teaching Council. The methodology used is not clear but appears to consist of a questionnaire with simple responses accompanied by a series of qualitative, in-depth interviews.

Integrated and Separate Sciences (aka Triple Science)

I have only been able to find assertions and survey evaluations on Triple Science and no mention of Double Award Science. Comments such as "That said, even the new Dual Award qualification has much to commend it, especially for “non-scientists”. by David Humphreys, Head Teacher at Woodhouse Grove School (Independent) in West Yorkshire, exemplify a common view. Charlene Czerniak, at the University of Toledo in the USA has provided a review of Interdisciplinary Science Teaching in The Handbook of Research on Science Education (Ed SK Abell and NG Lederman, 2007, published by Routledge). In her chapter, largely based on American literature, Czerniak mentions the lack of consensus over the meaning of the term 'integrated'. She also comments that research on achievement differences between separate and integrated courses find few consistent results, except that most differences are small, and the evidence often comes from curriculum development programmes where some improvement is to be expected through the Hawthorne effect. She points to a general pattern where teachers of low achieving classes adopt thematic approaches, while the higher achieving students are provided with separate sciences. She lists a variety of claimed advantages for integrated sciences, such as addressing real-life concerns better, more chance of problem-solving and independent learning, more involvement with the environment and society, more collaboration between teacher and student in planning the curriculum, better retention of learned knowledge, more enrichment opportunities for able learners, for which no evidence has been found. Of course, similar claims are made for Triple Science, and equally there is little evidence. It is clearly time for more research. Finally, I should mention that Dual Award is no safeguard for integration since arrangements are often made to teach different discipline-based modules by specialist science teachers.

Social gaps in access to education

Sutton Trust: Worlds Apart
Nick Gibb (Education Minister) has recently (noted on 26th August 2010) that a major challenge in teaching is the large social gap in achievement. The Smithers and Robinson Report for the Sutton Trust uses as a measure the Social Selectivity Index. They report that:' The socially selective schools tended to be larger, and more had sixth forms, were in charge of their own admissions, were faith schools, and had adopted academic rather than practical specialisms. Their pupils by definition came from more prosperous homes, were less likely to have special educational needs, and differed in ethnic background from the income deprived schools. There was no difference, however, in gender composition.' Smithers and Robinson argue that a major factor is selection when a school is oversubscribed, and that faith schools tend to be more socially selective than non-faith schools. The data used is from the DCSF (now the Department for Education) and the report was compiled before the 2010 General Election. Smithers and Robinson have their own selective viewpoints, particularly on comprehensive and grammar schools, but nevertheless, the report suggests that creating autonomous schools, such as free schools, is unlikely to alter the social gap issue. It looks like this issue is more intractable than many.

School Buildings and learning

Newcastle Research Centre for Learning literature review
"There is clear evidence that extremes of environmental elements (for example, poor ventilation or
excessive noise) have negative effects on students and teachers and that improving these elements
has significant benefits. However, once school environments come up to minimum standards, the
evidence of effect is less clear-cut. Our evaluation suggests that the nature of the improvements
made in schools may have less to do with the specific element chosen for change than with how
the process of change is managed.
There appears to be a strong link between effective engagement with staff, students and other users of school buildings and the success of environmental change in having an impact on behaviour, well-being or attainment. The ownership of innovation, in contrast to the externally imposed solution, appears to tap directly into motivational aspects which are key factors in maximising the impact of change. Changing the environment is ‘worth doing’ if it is done as a design process."
Futures lab
Links buildings to values of education. Relates to pedagogy. A rather more philosophical paper that challenges some traditional thinking and so creates the conditions for reflection.

Teach First

I have been unable to find much reliable, valid and robust research on this route to teaching in the UK. I am open to suggestions for where such evidence might be found. Teach First has a Press Release on research carried out by The University of Manchester, claiming to show significant increases.

Early years learning

US - a wise investment
Recommendations arising from “The Economic Impacts of Child Care and Early Education:Financing Solutions for the Future” a conference sponsored by Legal Momentum’s Family Initiative and the MIT Workplace Center Leslie J. Calman & Linda Tarr-Whelan 2005
Investments in quality child care and early childhood education do more than pay
significant returns to children—our future citizens. They also benefit taxpayers and enhance economic vitality.
This MIT study summarises the benefits of providing Early Years Learning, based on robust research evidence. Many of the arguments are directly applicable to the UK scene.
Early childhood investment boost the economy
Adds evidence from neurobiology to the economic data
The importance of highly qualified teachers
Stanford researcher Linda Darling-Hammond found that teachers with strong subject-matter knowledge, solid training in teaching methodologies and theories, full certificates, and high scores on licensing exams have greater student gains in reading, elementary education, and early childhood education.
Science early learning - ERIC database papers
Some papers and journal articles from the 1990s - worth a look
SPEEL project
SPEEL Study of Pedagogical Effectiveness in Early Learning 2002
Gates Foundation on Early Learning
The influential Fates Foundation produced this in 2005

Pupil premium

Institute for Fiscal Studies March 2009
Suggests from unreferenced OECD research that there is a weak link between a pupil premium and achievement.
IFS briefing note - election 2010
This Institute for Fiscal Studies is pre-election but contains excellent references to external research e.g. the lack of correlation between teacher effectiveness and quality of qualifications. Lost of it is focused on monetary input but there are many gems of other material.
Breaking the link - DCSF policy March 2009
BREAKING THE LINK between disadvantage and low attainment EVERYONE’S BUSINESS
The previous Labour Government's evidence on tackling disadvantages for pupils. Clearly partisan but has much independent evidence embedded.
IFS Research on Pupil Premium
Concludes that there is no significant effect.
Education Policy in the UK
Stephen Machin & Anna Vignoles 2006 Centre for the Economics of Education, LSE
Machin and Vignoles make an evidence-based survey of various government actions, such as vocational qualification development, Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA), and the Literacy Hour. They conclude that compared with our European neighbours, literacy, at that time, was a major constraint on educational progress, and that the Literacy Hour had improved literacy rates but not by enough. Their survey of vocational qualification reports indicated a plethora of initiatives amidst a plethora of qualifications without significant improvement. The EMA had increased staying on rates among the poorest, where take up of education opportunities was dire compared with the middle class, particularly among those who would have been economically inactive. However, staying on remained an issue where the UK lags behind European competitors. They also conclude that the introduction of tuition fees had a minimal impact on social inequality in HE.

Free schools

Channel 4 March 4th
The overall conclusion is that the research is inconclusive and that interpretation largely depends on one's personal political views!

The paper above is the latest (retrieved from the Institute of Education on 24th June 2010) to confirm serious doubts about the impact of the Free Schools Policy on educational achievement. Some are suggesting a hidden agenda, such as damaging local democracy, or imminent privatisation of schools. Les Lawrence, the chairman of the Children and Young People board on the Local Government Association and a Tory councillor, told a select committee inquiry in 2009 that evidence reviewed by the LGA suggested only the middle classes took real advantage, despite the schools being designed to help children from deprived backgrounds. Paul Carter, leader of Kent County Council, is reported to have said that funding parents to start their own schools would threaten the budgets of other local schools, although he also added that he was 100% behind Michael Gove's plans.

High quality teachers

The Conservative Policy on education has:
Raise the status of the teaching profession. Move to a high quality system of teacher recruitment and training by raising entry requirements, expanding Teach First and incentivising top maths and science graduates.
The importance of highly qualified teachers
Stanford researcher (US) Linda Darling-Hammond found that teachers with strong subject-matter knowledge, solid training in teaching methodologies and theories, full certificates, and high scores on licensing exams have greater student gains in reading, elementary education, and early childhood education.

Curriculum freedom

I have been unable, so far, to find research evidence related to this topic. (June 2010)


Robust and reliable research about academies and their effectiveness is uncommon. The National Audit Office published The Academies Programme in 2007 and focused on value for money. The report recognises that it is reviewing the early days of the programme. It reports that academic performance is better than similar schools, that the programme adds choice, and that academies still score below the national average. The Department does undertake or commission and post-project review after the schools is opened, and there is no data in this report about whether the school populations are the same or different after opening the new school, which makes a robust analysis almost impossible. The report also noted the higher cost per pupil in academies, and the extra cost of procurement without economies of scale. Clearly, this is an area where more research is needed.

Education choice

Hogan V & Walker I (2002) Education Choice under Uncertainty and Public Policy Institute for the Study of Social Change here
Hogan and Walker focus on decisions made by potential school leavers concerning whether to leave school, or stay on. The paper is based on modelling such as the risk of not achieving greater returns, even though a decision to stay on generally means increasing financial and career awards for the population as a whole. Leaving school is not reversible, since once the individual has left, there is no return. The process is risky, since the outcomes are stochastic, or dealing with probability and not with certain outcomes. In this sense, it like many systems in biology when dealing with individuals in whole populations. The more uncertain the outcome, the more likely an individual is to stay on, ie the greater the risk the more education individuals take up. The authors also showed that increased labour income taxation would induce individuals to stay in school longer, unless those taxes were highly progressive and/or individual is highly risk averse or sufficiently poor.

Society for Quality Education
has a mixture of policy assertions and what it calls research but is in reality a reviewed set of opinions. the Society's approach may be best described as traditional, with strong influences from the movement to set up schools by parents. It provides a polemic on Science for the 21st century.
It provides no research methodology, probably because there is none, but makes interesting reading for its clear exposition of one view about science teaching.

Research and policy

Published on 7th June, 2010, this paper from CfBT explores the lack of impact of research on policy, providing various explanations for this, and making positive suggestions. Well worth reading.