Singapore and South Korea look to the future, while Michael Gove looks to the past

Henry Stewart's picture
How should education systems prepare students for an uncertain future? This question is addressed in the Learning Curve, last week's report from Pearson. It got widespread coverage for its conclusion that  the UK is 6th in the world for educational achievement. However it also found that some of the world's most successful educational systems, especially in Asia, are moving away from rote-learning and focusing instead on team skills, empathy, innovation and creativity. The report notes that in 2015 the PISA international comparison will include new measures to measure collaborative skills.

The irony is that these countries are recognising the need for radical change in education just as Michael Gove seeks to take our education system back to the approaches being abandoned in places like Singapore and South Korea. Indeed he quotes the current Singapore system as a model to follow.

No education system can remain static,” writes Singapore’s Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong. "Technology is transforming our lives. The skills needed in the future will be very different from those needed today.” At the same time South Korean schools are now being encouraged to develop “creativity, character and collaboration”. And Chinese leaders believe their schools need to produce more "creative talent".

In contrast Michael Gove has not included creative subjects in the new ebacc and is focused on the same core subjects that were taught 50 years ago, preparing English students for the needs of the past economy.  The section is worth reading in full and I have included it below:

Softer Skills

(Extract from The Learning Curve, p36-37)

The questions of the appropriate education content to best ensure future economic growth and how best to equip students to face an uncertain future are also at the core of reforms in some of the more successful school systems, particularly in Asia.

Singapore’s Professor Lee explains that “of today’s job titles compared to those of 1995, many are very new; the skills are very new. We anticipate that evolution will be fast into the future.”

For over a decade, his country’s Ministry of Education has engaged in future scanning to identify the likely skills needed in the coming years, and adjusted its offerings to students accordingly. More important, since 1997, says Professor Lee, Singapore has shifted away from teaching rote knowledge to a firm foundation in the basics of maths, science, and literacy combined with an inculcation of how to understand and apply information. “We feel it contributes toward the students acquiring knowledge and skills of cognition and creativity attributes which are very important in the 21st century landscape.”

Both of these developments reflect an attitude that education systems need to be prepared for ongoing change rather than seek a single, best end state. “No education system can remain static,” writes Singapore’s Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, in the foreword to a recent report on education and geopolitics in the 21st century. “The world is changing rapidly. Technology is transforming our lives. The skills needed in the future will be very different from those needed today.”

Singapore is not alone. Shanghai students finished first in the latest PISA tests, but China is also shifting toward a much greater emphasis on creativity. Professor Zhao explains that the country’s leadership believes “the economy is moving quickly from a labour-intensive one to a knowledge economy. It needs creative talent.” Indeed, he finds it ironic that China is moving more in the direction of Western models even while politicians in those countries sometimes praise that of traditional Asian education. South Korean schools, meanwhile, are now being encouraged to develop “creativity, character and collaboration”.

Teaching people how to work together is indeed of growing relevance to the economy. According to Ms Parthasarathi, “A lot of education in the second half of the 20th century has made children fiercely individualistic, not good in a team, but these team skills – an ability to interact with respect with people; to empathise; to be innovatively adventurous – are essential for certain types of creativity.” In order to drive the teaching of collaborative skills, the Assessment and Teaching of 21st-Century Skills project – a multistakeholder group that includes the education ministries of the US, Australia, Singapore, Finland, the Netherlands and Costa Rica – has been seeking to develop metrics to test such abilities. These will be integrated into the PISA 2015 tests – a sign, Professor Schleicher says, that “the kinds of skills that matter in life are changing.”

Education can clearly deliver substantial social and economic outcomes. Understanding how it does so, however, and maximising those results are still works in progress for educational leaders. Says Mr Mackay, Chair of the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership: “None of the countries you might think would be complacent are complacent at all: they are investing in new metrics.”

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Roger Titcombe's picture
Thu, 06/12/2012 - 09:42

Pearson sells BTEC qualifications. It has taken a hit by Gove drastically reducing pre16 BTECs in schools from 2014 in accordance with the Wolf report. 'The Learning Curve' is very dubious research from a commercial organisation with an interest in the issue. Treat with care.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 06/12/2012 - 11:05

Roger - you're right to stress caution when reading reports from publishers because they may have a vested interest. However, the report was written by the Economist Intelligence Unit not by Pearson, the publishers. The number crunching seems to be robust (although I'm not a statistician).

Pearson has a share in the Economist but the Economist says it's not a subsidiary (see first link below). The "Learning Curve", then, appears to be independent and most of its conclusions appear sound eg there's no "magic bullet" for raising school performance (see second link below). The only criticism I had was a slight bias towards the "school choice" agenda (ie bringing market forces into the education "market" which sets alarm bells ringing because Pearson is a global contender - see Francis's international blob, third link below).

This was disappointing - the authors had used a second-hand source which analysed the PISA 2003 results (but not all countries) and come to a conclusion which contradicted PISA analysis. It would have been better if the authors had consulted PISA 2003 directly.

That said, the rest of the report seems considered and balanced.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Thu, 06/12/2012 - 11:13

Janet. It is not robust. Terry Wrigly has analysed it in detail and it is full of holes.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 06/12/2012 - 11:35

Roger - that's interesting. As I said, I'm not a statistician. I should be grateful if you could provide a link to Terry Wrigley's analysis as I'd like to read it.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 06/12/2012 - 11:50

It's not the first time, and I suspect it won't be the last, that contributers to this site, including me, point out that Gove is out-of-step with the rest of the world. He values some subjects (academic) over others (creative, technical, vocational, some humanities) while other countries are moving towards a more integrated and balanced curriculum.

He says he wants an exam system that matches the world's best but then proposes something that other countries have discarded.

He says he wants to inject competition into education but countries he admires, such as Finland, offer little school choice.

He says he's no objection to schools making a profit when Sweden has begun an inquiry into the motivation of the for-profit educational providers that run Sweden's free schools.

He says he wants his policies to be "evidence based" but ignores any evidence that doesn't fit his ideas.

terrywrigley's picture
Thu, 06/12/2012 - 22:41

I haven't posted this yet, but just sent out a few emails to friends, and put some questions to Pearson which they haven't yet answered.

The problem with their analysis is they simply take on trust various data, some of it coming from Whitehall, then they give a weighting which is somewhat dubious but favours the UK.

If I have understood it correctly, this weighting merges all three PISA subjects into a single score, thus reducing its effect on the overall score and rank order. PISA is crucial, as it reflects higher levels of thinking (more holistic problem-solving and, to a degree, critical) rather than simply memorised knowledge.

A third of the overall weighting is given to 'literacy' 'upper secondary graduation' and 'tertiary graduation'.

a) almost all advanced countries are assigned a 99.6 % literacy rate, a guestimate based on zero evidence and with no criterion of quality of literacy. This statistic is meaningless.

b) the UK is given a 92% "upper secondary graduation" rate which (when we match it with DfE statistics) seems to include everybody who does any kind of course during any of the time when they are 16-18, including part-time and short units of work-based study. The term ' graduation' is completely misleading, as the report admits, and some countries' data is based on outcomes while others is based on enrolment. In fact, only 62% of 17 year olds (=Y12) are attending a course leading to a qualification above GCSE grade C (44% A/AS, 18% Level 3). This is a problem highlighted in the Wolf Report, of short-term, low-level learning with little continuity or sense of progression, and interspersed with spells of inactivity. It is fallacious, then, to score the UK higher than most of the Scandinavian countries where nearly 90% are in continuous high-quality full-time education for 2 or 3 years from age 16.

c) tertiary is divided into type A (academic) and type B (more practical), but it looks as in, in the UK, everything of level 4 or above has been included in the type A. (nothing wrong with that, but the comparisons with other countries are misleading, since they classify a lot more as type B. For example, in Germany many of the courses which are studied here in universities (i.e. type A) are pursued in high-level Technical High Schools (?polytechnics) which, I think, appear in the data as type B. There is a 20 percentage point difference in the stats.

There's more to this Pearson Review, headed by a certain Michael Barber, than meets the eye. It needs some political (or business) analysis, I think.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 07/12/2012 - 08:00

Thanks, Terry. I'm not a statistician so am at a disadvantage when reading these reports. My initial reaction was that the number-crunching (albeit with caveats - see link below) showed that the UK was higher up the "league tables" than the impression, based on a misleading interpretation of PISA, given in press releases and speeches pumped out of the DfE and churned by most sections of the media. I felt this higher position was worth publicising (I won't admit to crowing) because it was an antidote to the relentless tide of negative propaganda about England's/UK's "broken" education system. However, in one of my comments I said it was important to keep these tests in proportion.

That said, the report's main message - that there's no magic bullet for school improvement - is sound.

PS I had a few queries about the EIU data and will comment about these later

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 07/12/2012 - 08:30

Terry - this risks going off thread but my queries about the data in the Learning Curve were these:

1 The number-crunching was based on PISA, TIMSS and PIRLS results from 2003 - 2009 but not all countries took part in TIMSS.
2 The results for the UK in PISA 2003 were not published because they were not considered sound. Yet figures for the UK in 2003 were given in the EIU report.

I wrote to the Learning Curve about this and received this response:

"You are right to mention that the UK did not participate in TIMSS as a whole. The scores in the Data Bank that the EIU lists for the UK for TIMSS scores are estimations. England and Scotland did participate in the TIMSS programme separately, and all the estimates for the UK for TIMSS, both at Grade 4 and 8, are based on a weighted average of England and Scotland's individual scores. You can see this by hovering over the data for that of the UK. For some other countries, the EIU has made estimates using PISA data, but this very much depends on the country."

"In 2003, the England PISA sample fell short of student level response and pre-agreed school rates. However, results for Scotland were released (see The one listed in the Data bank reflects the score for Scotland. It appears that this has not been flagged on the website in the hovering facility. Thank you for notifying us about this; we will endeavour to correct this."

You're right that the term "graduation" is misleading. I took it to mean university graduation rates because we don't use the term "graduation" for pupils leaving secondary school whether it be at 16 or 18. I then wondered if this graduation rate included foreign students graduating from English universities - if these had been included then the graduation rate would have been reduced. As you can see, I was on the wrong track completely.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Fri, 07/12/2012 - 08:54

Janet, Henry and others - The education systems of Singapore, Korea, Finland etc are not seeking a special place in the curriculum for exams in 'creative' subjects, they are seeking to promote creativity and innovation through reformed teaching methods in all subjects including and perhaps especially the EBC core. This is all about teaching methods driven by developmental theories of learning that promote higher order thinking skills (see Bloom). BTECs and the whole of the English NVQ system promote teaching methods that fail to produce such development. This is what underpins the Wolf report. Pearson has a stake in this system and an interest in trying to convince the public and politicians that all is well. Terry's work shows that it is not. This is all quite profound stuff that my New Statesman article seeks to deal with.

Leonard James's picture
Sat, 08/12/2012 - 06:52

This isn't the first time the LSN have tried to portray the better Asian education systems as 'progressive' systems.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 08/12/2012 - 08:05

Leonard - I'm puzzled that you should say that my August 2011 post shows that LSN has "tried to portray the better Asian education systems as 'progressive' systems". Re-reading my post I see that it complained about Gove's use of the discredited 2000 PISA figures for the UK (these concerns have now been upheld by the UK Statistics Authority) and summarised the thoughts of Andreas Schleicher (OECD) about one Asian jurisdiction, Shanghai. Gove professes admiration for Shanghai and uses it to show how the UK is "behind" yet the type of teaching Schleicher identified doesn't seem to fit with what Gove proposes:

"Mr Gove might be surprised to learn that Mr Schleicher of the OECD said the success was due to moving from a system based on knowledge acquisition to one which encourages students to analyse and apply information."

"...Mr Gove misses what Schleicher thinks is most impressive about Shanghai schools: they focus on collaborative and creative learning, and teachers motivate pupils to learn for themselves."

I fail to see how encouraging students to analyse and apply information or to focus on "collaborative and creative learning" is something to be condemned. Roger is correct: these teaching methods should underpin all teaching and not be pigeon-holed into a space marked "creative".

Leonard James's picture
Sat, 08/12/2012 - 17:32

Wasn't the problem that the type of teaching identified pretty much the opposite of what is advocated on this website?

Yousif Nahba's picture
Fri, 07/12/2012 - 16:45

Arguing about the stats of the report is surely to miss the point?

The important findings of the report are backed up by personal statements rather than statistics:

'Paul Cappon, former President of the Canadian Council on the study of education “we measure just a few things, usually inputs more than outputs because they are simpler and easier to measure, not because they are more significant – they
are not.”

Vibha Parthasarathi, a distinguished Indian educationalist, adds that successful outcomes arise from “the interplay of several factors, some tangible, others intangible. What I’ve seen in any number of surveys is you measure what is measurable. The softer inputs of education get left out.” These inputs, however, can be crucial, such as the cultural context in which education occurs.'

The report clearly indicates that, until a great deal more research is currently forthcoming, answers to what works in education will be found, not in statistics, but in things that cannot be measured by statistics.

How, then, can we learn about what works in education?

Maybe by considering the views of the closest observers of educational outcomes: parents?

For example, latest reports from Finland's comprehensive 'miracle' show that it may be moving in certain directions readily recognisable in England:

'Finland is famed not only for its excellent Pisa.....results but also its highly egalitarian education system. Until now, comprehensives have been dutifully attended by children in the local catchment area. But picky parents are beginning to puncture this system, rejecting schools with high immigrant numbers and supposedly underqualified teachers, and even demanding to sit in on lessons. "School shopping" is on the rise in Helsinki.

Until a few years ago, Ritva Tyyska was headteacher of Meri-Rastila Primary School in the poor east of Helsinki. "Forty-five per cent of the children were from immigrant backgrounds and another 30 per cent had special educational needs," she says.

Ms Tyyska found that parents of preschoolers would openly ask about the percentage of immigrants or SEN children. "They were afraid that the teacher could not help their child and that the school would not have enough resources," she says. "They were concerned about how the child's Finnish will develop if so many pupils speak it as a second language."

She adds that, in some cases, it may simply be parents wanting their children to be with other Finns and may also reflect something like a social class divide developing in the proudly classless country.

In addition, parents are increasingly sitting in on lessons to assess the quality of the teaching. According to Finnish law, they do not have to ask to do this but can just turn up and watch.'

Do parents have the same right under English Law?

Roger Titcombe's picture
Fri, 07/12/2012 - 17:49

No they don't, but this would not have been a problem in my headship school. This emphasises that league tables in England are not just destroying the comprehensive system in England and consequently lowering standards here, but that the contagion has the potential to spread and damage even the most effective school system in the world.

Yousif Nahba's picture
Sat, 08/12/2012 - 05:40

The point of the EIU report is summed up by its conclusion:

The understanding of what inputs lead to the best educational outcomes is still basic, which is not surprising given that robust international benchmarking figures are few and often of recent date. Moreover, education remains an art, and much of what engenders quality is difficult to quantify.

General lessons to be drawn, then, are often still basic as well. Dr Finn says of studies looking at high-performing school systems, “I don’t detect many similarities other
than high standards, solid curriculum, competent teachers and a supportive culture that is education minded.” Other research might point to the importance of school choice and school autonomy'

It also points out that: 'what may set Finland and South Korea apart is that in both, ideas
about education have also been shaped by a significant underlying moral purpose.....

Both of these moral purposes can cause difficulties in different ways. The high expectations and pressure mean that studies regularly find South Korean teenagers
to be the least happy in the OECD. In Finland, the egalitarian system seems less effective at helping highly talented students to perform to the best of their ability than at making sure average results are high.'

League tables, surely, are merely a political response to a groundswell of concern from parents who are also voters, a symptom of problems in an educational system rather than a cause.

If parents, by far and away the best judges of educational outcomes, were unconcerned, there would be no need for league tables. Finland has no league tables so parents there, increasingly, exercise their right to sit in on classes instead.

Leonard James's picture
Sat, 08/12/2012 - 06:58

The problem is that teacher accountability in the form of league tables, high stakes compliance inspections and associated targets and benchmarking have encouraged teachers to game the system rather than work towards genuine reform.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 08/12/2012 - 08:17

Yousif - you are right in saying that the report's conclusion was that there is no "magic bullet" for raising school performance. It's a point made elsewhere on this site:

However, Leonard (8/12/12 6.58 am) is correct: league tables distort what is taught in schools. This is upheld by the OECD which warned that the excessive emphasis on exam results in England risked grade inflation, "gaming" and ignoring important non-cognitive skills (OECD Economic Surveys UK 2011). And a major review of evidence into the link between market forces and educational outcomes* found that:

"Many researchers had argued about whether raw exam results were reliable indicators of school quality. They found it was not easy to separate “good”, “average” and “bad” schools using test scores alone. Some researchers concluded that published league tables which were supposed to help parents choose between schools was a “somewhat meaningless exercise.”"

*See faqs above: "Do market forces in education increase achievement and efficiency?"

Yousif Nahba's picture
Sat, 08/12/2012 - 14:40


UK parents are concerned about education so successive governments involving all major parties start reforms but the league tables set up to monitor the reforms apparently exacerbate the problem.

Therefore presumably state schools get worse and worse, yet international reports on UK education show that it stands 6th in the world but nobody knows why.

Meanwhile the UK private educational sector expands and flourishes overseas as here in the UAE.

It sounds like parents in the UK state educational sector are right to be concerned. Does anyone have answers for them?

Is the state of state education a big area of discussion in the Parliament?

Leonard James's picture
Sat, 08/12/2012 - 17:44

League tables and inspectors are not about monitoring they are about compliance. The only thing the bureaucracy cares about is providing evidence of their complicity to whoever is above them. In the meantime the behaviour crisis and dumbing down remains unchecked.

Yousif Nahba's picture
Sun, 09/12/2012 - 04:44

But the OECD seems to have a kind of international league table of educational performance itself?

Parents are responsible for their children's education. How can they know which school to send their child to, without examinations and inevitable comparisons between schools from comparing exam results?

Why, in a state funded educational system accountable to a national assembly, is so much money permitted to be spent on league tables if it is clear that they do so much damage?

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 09/12/2012 - 08:55

Yousif - you're right that the OECD (and TIMSS and PIRLS) are international league tables but their results should be kept in proportion. They should not be used to judge a country's education system as a whole because they confine themsleves to testing a limited number of subjects (no more than three) at a particular age. And the results are contradictory (eg TIMSS contradicted OECD's PISA about England's position in league tables). They should not be used to drive education policy (as Gove is doing).

The Institute of Fiscal Studies published a report last year which found that a school's intake governs its academic achievement. League tables are an inaccurate measure of a school's performance - it's quite possible for a school near the top of the league table based on raw results to be still offering a poor education to their pupils. And the Education Endowment Fund found that many poor performing schools (in terms of results) were still doing a good job in difficult circumstances (second link below).

Yousif Nahba's picture
Sun, 09/12/2012 - 11:44

Parents are responsible for their children’s education.

How can they know which school to send their child to, without examinations and inevitable comparisons between schools from comparing exam results?

Maybe the best way is for parents to sit in on lessons as many do now in Finland but this hardly seems like a practical solution in a nation of 60 million people.

What do you suggest?

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sat, 08/12/2012 - 15:37

Yousif - League tables and marketisation did not come about as a result of dissatifaction of parents with the education system. Secondary Heads Association research in the 1980s showed that parents had never been happier with the comprehensive school system. The 1988 Education Act that transformed the system and ushered in marketisation and league tables was a deliberate, ideology motivated measue designed to soften up the system for eventual privatisation, which is now coming ever closer. Parental angst has increased year-on-year ever since. As the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has pointed out, school quality cannot be measured by aggregate exam results, but the 5+A*-C figure is needed to drive competition and league tables. It is invalid not because exams are too narrow or insufficiently sophisticated it is because the main driver of aggregated exam results is how bright the intake cohort are, and this varies enormously. The evidence for this is in the CATs score data collected in authorities like Hackney for its banded admissions system. Once again, the idea of a school's exam results being a a measure of the school's quality seems to be common sense so this is another propagandist's dream because once again the refutation is complex, counter-intuitive and in some respects offends some sacred cows of the political left, thus nullifying the opposition.

Yousif Nahba's picture
Sat, 08/12/2012 - 15:54

More confused. I thought the UK between 1988 and now had governments from all parties?

Why, in the world's most famous democracy, would parents/voters select successive governments putting education at the centre of their manifesto (education, education etc.) if everything in the garden was rosy?

But I may not have exactly followed all of your commentary: 'It is invalid not because exams are too narrow or insufficiently sophisticated it is because the main driver of aggregated exam results is how bright the intake cohort are, and this varies enormously. The evidence for this is in the CATs score data collected in authorities like Hackney for its banded admissions system. Once again, the idea of a school’s exam results being a a measure of the school’s quality seems to be common sense so this is another propagandist’s dream because once again the refutation is complex, counter-intuitive and in some respects offends some sacred cows of the political left,'

My apologies.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sat, 08/12/2012 - 16:07

Yousif - The 1988 Education Act was enacted by Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government. Had Labour won in 1992 the Act would probably have been repealed as Neil KInnock was a strong supporter of the comprehensive system. When Blair won for Labour in 1997, much to the shock of everyone in education, he soon revealed himself to be a closet Thatcherite and leapt onto the opportunity the Conservatives had created for further 'free market reform'.

At least that's how I see it!

Yousif Nahba's picture
Sat, 08/12/2012 - 16:38

I have looked up Neil Kinnock on Google.

I think he is still in the 'Mother of Parliaments'?

So the answer is for him to be the leader of your Labour party again?

Is Mr Miliband no good, what do you think?

Why not? He is only 70 and William Ewart Gladstone was Prime Minister aged 84.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 09/12/2012 - 14:27

Yousif - You ask how a parent should choose a school for their children. The answer is that they shouldn't need to. Our children all went to our local comprehensive. Our children then made the same decision for their children (our grandchildren). There are lots of ways parents can support their children's education by supporting their school and perhaps being elected as a parent governor. In my experience as a comprehensive school head, parents were always welcome to come into the school and sit in in lessons. In the event of complaints parents could raise issues with governors and/or democratically elected local councillors. Failing that, formal complaints could be made to the Local Authority, but this is very rare as parents should have a good relationship with their child's teachers and the head should be welcoming and accessible.

However I accept that school choice may now be an issue. A half of all secondaries are now independent academies with 'Executive Principals' and Directors. They do not have governors in the same sense as LA schools. Competion and league tables drive the curriculum. As taxpayers we 'pay the piper', but they 'call the tune'. Free schools will make things worse still. The 'choice' provided for parents is often a mirage. Increasingly parents are even denied a local secular school to choose from, as religious schools encouraged by the government are taking their place.

I get stick for calling our education system broken. How broken can it get, and who broke it?

Yousif Nahba's picture
Sun, 09/12/2012 - 15:30

Myself, I like your British sense of humour. Here in UAE, we have British School, French school, Lebanese, German, Christian, Islamic, public, private, all kinds and I know you must have the same.

So how do your parents choose?

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 09/12/2012 - 15:56

Yousif - You have a problem that we once (almost) overcome. Our state schools set up as a result of the 1944 Education Act, a very wise and forward looking piece of legislation, were meant for all children of all religions and ethnic backgrounds all taught in the same school. I say 'almost' because we foolishly allowed Christian churches to run their own state funded schools, which made it impossible in a marketised 'choice' system to deny other religions the same right. The best education systems, in my view, have secular, inclusive schools in which children are taught about each others religions in the spirit of tolerance, but no preaching is allowed. That is the business of churches, mosques etc, not schools. However, I think this thread has run its course.

Ben Taylor's picture
Mon, 10/12/2012 - 13:48

We hardly had a marketised school system in 1944. We had well over 100 years of church schooling which no one needed to allow. Its this kind of mentality which leads to bad comprehensives. Start trusting the plebs about what kind of schools they want.

You may have a point about league tables but let's see what else we could measure in order to be able to keep on improving. I accept that is a genuine but not ignorable problem.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Mon, 10/12/2012 - 15:48

Ben - There are many ways of measuring the effectiveness of schools, but I agree that some hard data on attainment and progression of pupils is essential. In Hackney, all pupils take the GL Assessment Cognitive Ability Test (CAT) in Y6. This is a kind of IQ test in three aspects of cognitive challenge. Many on the left hate the very idea as it smacks of 'fixed ability conferred at birth' and eugenics. I am very happy to engage in those arguments but not here. However, what matters is the correlation between these test scores and GCSE, A Level and degree results. It is astonishingly high. Social scientists typically jump for joy when they find correlations around 0.5. CATs/GCSE correlations are in the 0.8/0.9 region. Much more info is on the GL Assessment website. Still not good enough for making reliable predictions for individual pupils, but very reliable for school intake cohorts. Furthermore these correlations are very little affected by socio-economic factors, which again some on the left prefer not to believe. This means that when Mossbourne Academy uses CATs tests to select an average CATs score intake from its very deprived catchment (rejecting the great majority of applicants in the process), those pupils are predicted by their CATS as achieving as highly as rich kids at a posh school anywhere else with the same CATs profile. And they do, because Mossbourne is a good school that is 'deprivation blind' in terms of its curriculum and approach to learning. This then is a sound basis for producing hard data on school effectiveness. Output data (exam results) are compared with input data (CATs scores). SATs scores don't work for input data because these are distorted by all the tricks deployed to boost them under the high stakes pressure of primary league tables. This is why secondary schools almost always restest their Y7 intakes in various ways. They know that the SATs scores are of little use. In Cumbria in my time as a head all pupils took NfER CATs in Y7 of secondary. These data were, at one time, effectively used by the LEA (as was) to measure the relative effectiveness of Cumbria schools. I still have the county wide data, which showed that many schools with low mean intake CATs scores, near the bottom of the raw GCSE league table, (usually in the poorer parts of the county) frequently outperformed the schools with higher intake CATs scores (usually in the posher parts of the county). Most of those high performing low league table schools have since been closed and replaced by academies, whose current performance related to CATs is much poorer. Of course none of this is simple, it is counter intuitive, and requires sophisticated statistics, but it is perfectly possible in Hackney and any LA area that uses CATs tests, and I would be surprised if the Hackney LA/The Learning Trust doesn't do it. Michael Shayer and Philip Adey, amongst others showed that cognitive ability can be improved by particular approaches to teaching and learning. These are the approaches now adopted by the countries at the top of the PISA table. In England such approaches have been replaced by league table driven, degraded curriculum, teaching to the test and cramming, which is why England is sliding down the PISA table. This is my hypothesis as set out in my New Statesman article. League tables are making our kids dimmer. Many of the facts support it, including research by Michael Shayer. However it needs to be rigorously tested. I have written a book about it but so far failed to get it published.

Yousif Nahba's picture
Sun, 09/12/2012 - 16:27

Thank you for your very wise responses.

We have secular inclusive schools like the Al Khubairat British School with people from all communities.

But we have other schools, Lebanese for example and Islamic in the same neighbourhood.

Our parents choose what they like but they would like exam league tables to help them like you do. You are lucky.

Allah il kareem.

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