I was disappointed, if not surprised, to hear Schools Minister Nick Gibb’s speech this week at the Education World Forum on ‘the evidence for teacher-led instruction’; although he did have me splurting out my coffee as I read the opening statements in which he posits why we don’t take any notice of the evidence in education.
Evidence in Education
I don’t know what is running through your mind right now, but the irony is not lost on me and I suspect your mind is drawn to the green paper and the government’s ill-considered, and definitely not evidence-based, ideas for increasing the number of good school places in England with the particular aim of improving outcomes for disadvantaged pupils. Or perhaps you are casting your mind back a little further to the introduction of the National Curriculum and the likelihood that it is based on one book that the Schools Minister read on a beach about 10 years ago.
As I read on, the speech finds its way to Mr Gibb’s favourite subject – the work of E D Hirsch – and onto ‘decades of research’ that prove Hirsch is right. I excitedly raced to the end to read the bibliography and references so I could consider the research in more detail, but unfortunately this seems to have been accidentally omitted.
No Significant Decrease in Attainment
No matter, challenge to received wisdom is always worthwhile and there is one thing that Mr Gibb is definitely right about, that we haven’t cracked the education code yet. Last week’s secondary outcomes data showed no significant decrease in the attainment gap for disadvantaged pupils and perhaps more disappointingly, also showed poor progress is being made by this group.
Mr Gibb was keen to highlight that the most successful PISA countries all have education systems which rely on teacher-led instruction pedagogies and knowledge-rich curricula. I have worked with a lot of Chinese educators and almost all complain that there have been very few Chinese-born Nobel prize winners and of those eight, all have studied in the West. It is an interesting challenge and just dismissing the PISA tests, as not testing the right things is perhaps a distraction.
I am reminded of a paper I read a couple of years ago by BERA explaining the gap in maths between China and England. In China, results are higher and the spread is smaller than in England. The types of teaching in both countries was studied and very little traditional ‘lecture’-style teaching was found in either country. What was different was that in Chinese classrooms, 72% of the time was being used for ‘whole-class interaction’ compared to only 24% in English classrooms (at the height of the Numeracy Strategy this was reported to be more like 75%). The approach is characterised by two-way interaction, rather than one-way lecturing; and strong questioning skills and responding to pupils’ answers. I think we would all recognise these characteristics as familiar effective practice even if we might wrap it up differently from the whole-class context.
So it seems that Mr Gibb has stimulated debate, and any opportunity to reflect and share thinking tends to lead to improved ideas. Perhaps I just find the timing difficult, being advised about pedagogy from a politician only a week after the Chartered College of Teaching opened its doors.
One Education is a research-focused organisation and welcomes all steps in the direction of a ‘what works’ approach to education. As well as undertaking our own research, we also sponsor research for policy makers. Read about our sponsorship of the CMRE.