Stanford takes its time…

Stanford University’s ‘Year of Learning’ … In a year long, strategy encompasing all disciplines, Stanford take a fresh look at the

  • latest research on learning and teaching
  • role of technology in developing and supporting learning and teaching
  • the changing demography of education as the world goes global

I really recommend their blog 


All too often development planning is rushed – an example of the urgent crowding out the important. Stanford’s is a great example, from one of the world’s leading educational institutes of planning done well.  As Stoll, Fink and Earl (2003) once said:  it’s about learning and it’s about time.



Stoll, L., Fink, D., & Earl, L. M. (2003). It’s about learning (and it’s about time). London: RoutledgeFalmer.

Is this time different? Paul Mason on PostCapitalism

Paul Mason, economics editor of Channel Four, describes information technology as both product and disrupter of Capitalism.

His thesis, written in his book,  PostCapitalism: A guide to the future,  is that for a very long time Capitalism has confounded its critics by being more adaptable than could be imagined. However, Information Technology, he opines, poses a new challenge that is different to all preceding challengers.

In his talk at London Google HQ, he describes the main ways in which Information Technology does this:

  • The price mechanism is dissolving – e.g. the marginal costs of information goods are reduced to the effort of selecting ‘copy’ and ‘paste’ – this leads to an exponential price downfall. Never before have we lived in an era when prices would fall off a cliff.
  • It de-links work hours from wages. Work has become distributed, networked and target based (not time based).
  • Organisations, hierarchies and businesses are changing:  decentralised, non-managed, non-hierarchical, voluntary and diffuse.

So what comes next?

Interestingly for technologists, he points to the rise of a post-capitalist third sector driven by open source and collaborative action. He sees the rise of a quasi-sharing economy, where information is freely available leading to the optimal use of information.  The role of large information based companies will be forever undermined by the collapsing ‘price mechanism’, already under-way. The advent of AI will do the same for service sectors and automation in manufacturing.

The big question though, is just how fast will all this be, and what shape will the transition take?

The Doctor is in – your robot will see you now…

June 29, 2007…  Less than ten years ago.  This was the day the iPhone was released.  How the world has changed since then…

The pace of this change is exponential. Think explosive. Think accelerating. Think of the Gemino Curse which almost killed Harry Potter when raiding a vault in Gringott’s Bank.  A nifty dramatisation of compounding interest in which golden objects duplicated themselves recursively, in a swift attempt to drown intruders in gold.

The number of authors highlighting dangers in their sector is also growing. Sir Michael Barber et al., outline a coming avalanche in education, to name one example. Richard and Daniel Susskind go much further in their scholarly masterpiece:  The future of the professions. Looking beyond sectors, they cut to the heart of the issue and highlight how the historical d

rivers for the creation and maintenance of professions are ripe for disruption; and that this disruption is all too easily achieved.


Learning to Learn

Meta-cognitive interventions are one of the most cost-effective things teachers and schools can do, according to the Sutton Trust and the EEF toolkit.

But how do we help pupils become better learners?  This is the subject of a rigorous longitudinal study by James Mannion and Neil Mercer (2016), at the University of Cambridge.

They develop and test an interesting approach – and it yields results. Pupils who engage in their ‘learning to learn’ programme, do better at GCSE.  This is particularly true for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Like my own research in to the effect of leadership and culture (Connolly, 2015), they find it is a complex mixture of approaches that impact on results. In particular they focus on a curriculum to teach the following methods:

  • Self Regulation
  • Meta-Cognition
  • Oral Communication
  • A Shared Language of Learning
  • Collaboration
  • A Plan for Transfer

In his very influential synthesis, John Hattie (2003) suggests that approximately 50 percent of pupils’ attainment is due to home and pupil factors. Looking at parts of this curriculum, perhaps ‘learning to learn’ is the start of a fruitful look at how schools can engage with those factors.  Certainly, the UK is behind the curve on this – New Zealand placed ‘Learning to Learn’ on the curriculum many years ago.  Mannion and Mercer’s paper is a very welcome development in English education.


Connolly, V. (2015). Leadership, School Culture and Attainment: a secondary data analysis of TALIS 2013 (England) (MPhil). University of Cambridge, Cambridge.

Hattie, J. (2003). Teachers Make a Difference, What is the research evidence? Camberwell VIC: Australian Council Educational Research. Retrieved from

Mannion, J., & Mercer, N. (2016). Learning to learn: improving attainment, closing the gap at Key Stage 3. The Curriculum Journal, 27(2), 246–271.

The Goldilocks Principle

It would seem that the brewing crisis in teacher recruitment really might be a crisis.  With the perfect storm gathering, of rising pupil numbers, failing recruitment and retention issues… how long before crisis will equal pupils being sent home for lack of a teacher? It has happened before…

This is a terribly sad state of affairs. Sad because we are discussing the wrong question:  What’s really best for students’ learning…?

As politicians blame teachers and schools, repeatedly, possibly endlessly, for failing their charges… let’s consider:

Pupils’ learning environment, is teachers’ work environment

If you can see the sense of that, then it follows that bashing teachers is the same as bashing pupils…  and it all boils down to one failed message:

more = better

For example – teachers just need to work harder. work longer hours, longer terms, with more pupils, with more marking, more differentiation, more complexity and more accountability.

But reality is different. School effectiveness research has long moved on. Now is the time to consider working smart; with a full awareness of the law of diminishing returns. Perhaps the Singaporeans were right:  Teach less,  learn more?

I call this the Goldilocks Principle.

We need to get smarter on how much effort, time and resource is just right… And the answer will be different for different schools… It’s the same reason why we have so many different pasta sauces – we are all different after all. Sometimes, one size does not fit all…

If we sort this out, perhaps the 300,000 plus teachers not teaching might actually return to the classroom and the teacher recruitment crisis will be shown for what it is… a teacher morale crisis based on a failing, simplistic and outdated model of education.


Race to the Finnish line

Perennial questions that keep resurfacing:

What’s the Finnish secret?  and Should UK education become more like Finland?

Perhaps though, we have more in common with Finland than we think?

The 2010 OECD report on education in Finland lists a number similarities to UK initiatives:

  • A core curriculum that has become increasingly less prescriptive
  • Choice for schools and teachers on the text books and methods they use
  • A comprehensive system, with no selection
  • High numbers of immigrants in the capital, Helsinki;
  • Early intervention for children with additional learning needs to keep all children in main stream schools if possible  (Latest election campaigning suggests this is about to get a welcome big boost in England)
  • School meals for all
  • Links with industry
  • High levels of formative assessment and measurement (sound like AfL to anyone?)

They also have some things we profess to like/ aspire to,  such as:

  • High esteem on vocational training, often integrated with academic training

Arguably we could do better on all of the above.The UK has recently stepped back from the following, although Finland holds them important:

  • Modular exams
  • Individualised learning programmes for all upper secondary school students promoting real flexibility and choice
  • Full service pastoral care in all schools  (we used to call this the Every Child Matters initiative coupled with Sure Start)
  • University based ITT underpinned by a 5 year Masters degree.

Finally, Finland seems to differ strongly with the UK on:

  • Accountability via sampling, to help schools
  • Strong home-school links
  • Abolished setting/ streaming
  • Trust in teachers

And very sadly,  both countries are bad at:

  • Continuing professional training for teachers

However there are a few things that England does which Finland does not.  Is the difference between our systems more defined by what the English do additionally?  Might a dose of ‘less be more’ for English education? Looking to the UK’s top private schools could be good instruction.  These highly performing institutions:

  • Teach fewer days per year
  • Focus more on character building, community service and meta-cognitive development
  • Trust teachers more
  • Have generally opted out of league tables
  • Offer more curriculum choice and flexibility to pupils

While these schools also benefit from high levels of funding and family advantage, this does not explain all of private schools’ success. Perhaps there’s a lesson in this.

The Problem with Tests

We now live in a relentless, evidence based race to brilliance…  or so some would say. If you can’t measure progress, current rhetoric holds that progress didn’t take place!  ergo… If you can’t test it,  don’t teach it…  some say.

Others reject regular progress testing…  but who is right?

The recent debate about a Singaporean logic/math question has highlighted the difficulty in applying and interpreting tests.  Whether Cheryl’s birthday is in July or August has become a real debate.

As it turns out,  there’s more than one way to answer this question!!  (click here for the alternative solution).  And although I am a fan of diagnostic baseline testing – this does give us an enjoyable and vital reminder of the limits of testing and the importance of looking beyond the test.

Perhaps it’s best summarised in the words of learners…

calvin and hobbes - creative maths

If we are to meet the challenges facing tomorrow’s scientists, then we’re going to need a little more flexibility and creativity in our education.