Schleicher's List

John Mountford's picture
Andreas Schleicher offers his view of what makes for a "successful education system" based on evidence from around the world. Could it be aimed at Education Secretary Nicky Morgan who says "she wants England to get into the top five of the international Pisa tests for English and maths by 2020."? In setting out to debunk seven myths about what makes a successful education system, Schleicher, makes a particular assertion that has to be questioned: "..... it is unlikely that school systems will achieve performance parity with the best-performing countries until they accept that all children can achieve at very high levels."

He clearly believes that ALL students are capable of achieving to the same standard, citing those systems that require "all students to meet the standards that they formerly expected only their elite students to meet."

This is his full list of the seven myths blighting education reform that he believes to be widely held, especially in the west.

1. Disadvantaged pupils are doomed to do badly in school.

2. Immigrants lower results.

3. It's all about money.

4. Smaller class sizes raise standards.

5. Comprehensive systems for fairness, academic selection for higher results.

6.The digital world needs new subjects and a wider curriculum.

7.Success is about being born talented.

As I say, I strongly disagree with his comments about the apparent conformity of human cognitive capacity and question his views about the curriculum, ("In top performing education systems the curriculum is not mile-wide and inch-deep, but tends to be rigorous, with a few things taught well and in great depth.") Apart from this, there is a great deal that confirms what I and many on this forum believe. But I anticipate that his views will not go unquestioned!
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Roger Titcombe's picture
Fri, 06/02/2015 - 18:40

I agree with him about the myths.

"He clearly believes that ALL students are capable of achieving to the same standard, citing those systems that require “all students to meet the standards that they formerly expected only their elite students to meet.”

I agree with what I think he is getting at. There are no measurable limits to individual attainment, but no largish group of humans will ever all achieve to the same standard unless the task is impossible, in which case everybody will fail completely and equally, or unless it is utterly trivial and easy, in which case everybody can do it (by definition). All the in betweens produce a 'distribution' (ie variation) of some sort.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 07/02/2015 - 10:10

It's true that all humans have the potential to succeed (however it's measured). But that potential might not be realised. And it's not just the fault of 'systems'. Expecting all children to reach the standard formerly expected only from an 'elite' doesn't mean all children will do so.

An embryo has the potential to become a fully-developed human child but things can happen which no amount of expectation can repair. Our embryo may develop into a baby which has been well-nourished and full-term; but it may arrive with low birth-weight or premature.

But assume our embryo has no such disadvantages and arrives as a normal, healthy baby. Look at it at nine months (David Attenborough says a nine-month baby is the creature that is most likely to make his jaw drop). Already there'll be a difference between the baby whose been played with, sung to and cuddled and the baby who's been mechanically handled and propped in a baby seat in front of the TV.

These differences can widen until the child reaches schools. Schools can help narrow the gap, of course, but without help from a wider environment (family, neighbourhood) then no amount of 'expectation' will make such a deprived child reach the standard formerly expected of the elite.

John Mountford's picture
Sun, 08/02/2015 - 01:07

Schleicher's list is both interesting and relevant to the reform agenda. However, I maintain he has overstated the case in a number of key areas. It shows, I believe, how carefully 'evidence' needs to be analysed and presented, even when that is your speciality.

As an example, he states categorically that there is "no relationship between class size and learning outcomes," That is an over-simplification of a very complex relationship. The research, ranging back over many decades, has shown that, if class sizes are limited to about fifteen or thereabouts across the early years (up to Yr3), there are measurable benefits, especially for girls and those children from disadvantaged backgrounds. This is not to take away from the relevance of his remark about quality teaching in some countries - "Rather than putting money into small classes, they invest in competitive teacher salaries, ongoing professional development and a balance in working time."

Further, he makes a very interesting comment about intelligence, "The writings of many educational psychologists have fostered the belief that student achievement is mainly a product of inherited intelligence, not hard work." No one makes the case against inherited intelligence and, equally, few would argue that having a positive work ethic is not important. I cannot account for how many of the 'many educational psychologists' make the case for inherited intelligence over hard work in determining student achievement. Maybe, however, he has the evidence to back this up. The point is, as you have argued in "Education Matters", Roger, intelligence is 'plastic' and open to improvement via cognitively challenging teaching, BUT conforms to the standard distribution of the Bell Curve. You make the case so well, that by raising the quality of teaching it benefits ALL ability groups, leading to the emergence of a more intelligent society. From my reading of Schleicher's comments, he seems to ignore the fact that the relationship between innate ability and environmental factors is still only poorly understood. I question his implication that student achievement is mainly the product of hard work. From my very personal experience, if it was down to hard work to the extent that Schleicher suggests, I would be far more intelligent than I am and would have been an outstanding, rather than a good teacher (well most of the time!!)

I'm with you, Janet, I do firmly believe that "Expecting all children to reach the standard formerly expected only from an ‘elite’ doesn’t mean all children will do so.", except for one slight variation, 'it doesn't mean that all children CAN do so.' And, how good was this mythical elite, anyway!! Complexity upon complexity!!! So hard to reduce such imponderables to simple analysis, but we, (including the OECD) have to keep trying.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 08/02/2015 - 09:55

John - you're right that the relative influences of nature and nurture are complex. And it's too simplistic to say every child can succeed if they work hard. During my teaching career I met children who worked very hard but still produced poor quality work. An extreme example was a girl who answered literature questions by painstakingly copying out chunks from the text. On the other hand, I also met children who did the bare minimum but managed to get high GCSE grades.

These are anecdotes, of course. But I don't think they're untypical.

I'm straying into territory which is beyond my expertise but the workings of the brain are activated by stimulus. Children arriving at schools will have received different levels of stimulation. It's possible brains which have already received a lot of stimulation would be more receptive to education and do better in schools (or better at passing tests). At the same time, education can fire up sluggish brains (this is not scientific language, I know).

As you say, it's 'complexity upon complexity'. It can't be reduced to a single sentence on a list. Nor can responsibility for education success be loaded solely on to schools. Education isn't just found in schools - it's delivered by families, the neighbourhood, the media (for better or worse).

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 08/02/2015 - 11:06

Janet and John - I agree with you both. I posted my view here.

As John points out, this is a major theme of 'Learning Matters'. In fact all the arguments in the book are based around these fundamental propositions that are shared by the other teachers, educationalists and academics that I commend on LSN.

John perfectly summarises this shared fundamental proposition.

'The point is, as you have argued in “Education Matters”, Roger, intelligence is ‘plastic’ and open to improvement via cognitively challenging teaching, BUT conforms to the standard distribution of the Bell Curve. You make the case so well, that by raising the quality of teaching it benefits ALL ability groups, leading to the emergence of a more intelligent society.'

I and others constantly bang on about this because despite its being the mainstream position of academic educationalists, it is not the dominant paradigm in current political and media discourse. How often do you see the phrase, 'ensuring that your child will attain their potential' in school 'mission statements' and PR blurb?

There are also still plenty on the left who recoil in horror at any mention of the word 'intelligence', innate or otherwise, seeing it as the first step on a slippery slope to nazism.

There is a subtle distinction between believing that children (and adults) do not have a 'fixed potential', that learning 'disposition' (Claxton) is important and that particular cognitively developmental approaches can raise intelligence, and the belief that anybody can achieve anything if they 'want it badly enough' and never give up trying.

I always wanted to play football for Aston Villa (they could possibly do worse on current form) but it was never going to happen however hard I tried. Many people have extraordinary talents, some of them cognitive, that cannot be achieved by most of the rest of us despite any amount of gut busting ambition and effort.

The two preceding paragraphs are entirely consistent with each other, but not obviously so. The obvious, 'common sense', 'buttermilk of the devil' views about education (and much else besides) can be expressed in a sentence by the likes of Nigel Farage with a pint in his hand.

How long as it taken me to explain this?

I wish it could be otherwise.

agov's picture
Sun, 08/02/2015 - 11:26

"he states categorically that there is “no relationship between class size and learning outcomes,” That is an over-simplification of a very complex relationship."

As would seem to be agreed with by the Sutton Trust on the basis of what it calls 'moderate' evidence - but perhaps that's good enough for Andreas Schleicher.

John Mountford's picture
Mon, 09/02/2015 - 23:08

It would appear, agov, that Schleicher is prepared to settle for 'good enough' on a lot of counts and in so doing overlooks some key facts, thus bringing into question the validity of his 'evidence'.

Take, for example, in the case of the first of his seven myths - 'Disadvantaged pupils are doomed to do badly in school.'

In the BBC News report he says, "results from Pisa tests show that the 10% most disadvantaged 15-year-olds in Shanghai have better maths skills than the 10% most privileged students in the United States and several European countries."

A more accurate appreciation of the facts, however, can be gained from this article in The Guardian of February 2014.

Far from confirming the reliability of Schleicher's statement, we learn from this report that, "... nearly half of Shanghai's school-age children belong to migrant families and were effectively barred from taking the test: because of China's residence registration system, these students are forced to attend high school in their home provinces, where schools are often debilitatingly understaffed. Although students from 12 provinces took the test in 2009, the government only shared Shanghai's scores."

As an economist, the good Doctor has been more than a little economical with the truth. Perhaps it might have been more accurate if he'd re-phrased his first myth thus, 'Disadvantaged pupils are doomed to do badly in counties where politicians manipulate education opportunity in order to convince others that all in their garden is rosy.' Or more simply, 'Remove political interference from education.' !!!!

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 10/02/2015 - 10:38

John - Schleicher admitted to the Education Select Committee that more than 25% of the cohort was missing from Shanghai's PISA tests in 2012. This rather takes the shine off their results. A cynic might say the missing pupils were more likely to be disadvantaged ones.

The OECD found globally that 31% of disadvantaged children were 'resilient' and scored higher in PISA tests than would be expected given their socio-economic background. That means 70% of disadvantaged children are not. Yet teachers in England are constantly told they must raise the performance of disadvantaged children to the same level as advantaged children - there must be no gap between them. Anyone who says that education alone won't eliminate the gap is described as 'defeatist', 'enemies of promise' etc.

But the best way to reduce the gap is to take children out of poverty.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Tue, 10/02/2015 - 11:39

Janet - It is rare that we disagree, but we do here. There are many reasons why a child from an impoverished home background may not be able to answer PISA or GCSE test questions. Some may certainly relate directly to the impoverishment - eg too hungry to concentrate, poor attendance, family related distractions etc.

However it is also likely that the child 'just doesn't get it' (as depicted on the cover of 'Learning Matters'). This latter is a cognitive development related issue that can only be addressed by the school through appropriate pedagogy. In the absence of cognitively developmental teaching, no amount of economic or social enhancement of the circumstances of the child will make any difference. The late Princess Diana failed to achieve a single GCSE grade at C or above. Had she attended good comprehensive primary and secondary schools that adopted the pedagogic approaches set out in Part 5 of my book, she is likely to have done better.

This is what I write in Section 2.6 of my book.

The English experience of expensive and essentially social programmes like Sure Start has certainly been disappointing in terms of measurable educational outcomes. Dr Christine Merrell of Durham University Curriculum, Evaluation and Management Centre, responsible for a long-term study into the effectiveness of Sure Start was reported in the Daily Mail of 19 April 2012 as follows. She said: “Given the resources put into early years’ initiatives, we expected to see a rise in literacy and numeracy scores in schools. So it’s disappointing that there’s been no improvement”.

The Bell Curve authors were familiar with similar outcomes from the American Head Start programme on which Sure Start is based, so their pessimistic view of the ability of expensive social welfare interventions to raise educational standards is unsurprising.

Even if this is true we should not underestimate the social value of positive social outcomes.

It is therefore only schools that can address cognitively developmental issues relating to pupils, 'not getting it'. 'Plastic Intelligence' is at the heart of the argument.

Relative poverty therefore does not lie at the core of the issue, although it plainly does not help. I am not saying that poor home background doesn't disadvantage children's learning at school. I am saying that the quality of such learning, which is crucially important, will not be improved just by social or economic measures.

A good comprehensive school can also address social and economic disadvantage. My school (which served some of the poorest electoral wards in England) had a well attended Breakfast Service (on Friday mornings a staff/student musical quartet 'did a turn'). Our school discretely provided uniform items and places on school trips. All pupils had access to free musical instrument tuition including loan of instruments. We provided free expert dyslexia tuition through an arrangement with the Barrow Dyslexia Association for which we provided rent free accommodation in the school Basement (OfSTED raved about it). Most important of all we had a superb 'anti-bullying policy' involving peer counselling, assertiveness training and participation in our School Council. Our SEN department provided every necessary learning aid and resource.

And that was before the 'Pupil Premium'. It should be easier now.

All of these things are possible in a properly funded comprehensive school system in which it is the developmental needs of each child drive that drive the ethos of the school.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 10/02/2015 - 12:45

Roger - I wasn't talking about the 'child that doesn't get it'. You're right that good quality education would help those. And of course schools can made a difference to disadvantaged children.

But even this might not be enough to close the 'gap'. Schools can't overturn every disadvantage.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Tue, 10/02/2015 - 13:14

No, but that depends on the nature of the disadvantage. I don't believe that 'The Gap' exists in the form that it is currently presented and understood by the government and the media. I explain this in the blog on my website. I have made the same arguments many times on LSN.

Contrary to popular belief, children are in general performing in accordance with their CATs scores, regardless of social deprivation. This is a fact supported by evidence held by NfER and GL Assessment (former and current providers of CATs) and my own (and many other) studies of school performance related to CATs and social Deprivation data

The correct implication is that on average, children from poorer homes get lower CATs scores.

This is a fact that the left often finds difficult. I address this in Sections C1.4 and 4.8 in my book. It is not because of 'fixed intelligence deficits' and it can be addressed by schools given the right pedagogy. It would not be significantly affected by giving poor families more money.

John Mountford's picture
Tue, 10/02/2015 - 23:53

Roger, you started out by saying: "There are no measurable limits to individual attainment, but no largish group of humans will ever all achieve to the same standard unless the task is impossible, in which case everybody will fail completely and equally, or unless it is utterly trivial and easy, in which case everybody can do it (by definition)"

I totally agree with your views about the plasticity of intelligence. In line with this, it is unquestionable that effective learning experiences that promote cognitive development will effectively help make all children more intelligent, improving the quality of life for everyone.

I accept that identifying the impact of effective teaching on attainment is one of the things Schleicher is making a case for in his analysis. I can identify with his seven myths. I have more of a challenge accepting some of the conclusions he draws.

What I don't accept is that there are no measurable limits to individual attainment. You seem to share this general idea with Schleicher. You seem to be saying, setting aside medical or cognitive impairment, that every individual has the same potential. It occurs to me that that is the logical conclusion to there being no measurable limits to individual attainment.

but it seems to me to be a step too far to
Having read 'Learning Matters' I believe you view human potential very broadly.

John Mountford's picture
Tue, 10/02/2015 - 23:55

Please ignore the last two lines of my latest comment. Apologies.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Wed, 11/02/2015 - 10:27

John - All I am trying to do is take issue with schools that promise to, 'ensure that pupils reach their full potential'. How is anyone to know the 'potential' of any child? I understand that Albert Einstein was very unpromising at age 11.

I am not saying that anybody can achieve anything if they try hard enough and are taught well enough, just that there is no limiting maximum attainment that can be specified in advance. However things turn out, natural variation will also be stirring the pot.

A CATs score at age 10/11 is an IQ snapshot. Mean CATs scores of intake cohorts are the best predictors we have of future exam success, but even then some schools do better than others.

Predictions for individual pupils are much less reliable, so I don't see how they can be used to define an individual child's academic potential. As for CATs scores so for KS2 Levels (for which the correlations are poorer) or any other measure. Specifying a potential attainment for a child anticipates a later 'IQ test at 11 - based judgement'.

But if intelligence is plastic then there is clearly no basis for such a judgement.

What schools should be promising is a developmental approach individualised for each child.

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