Category Archives: Inequality in Education

PISA-envy, Pearson and the private education market…

Education as Market? - image....
Education as Market?

Early last year the New Internationalist published an interesting analysis, by Adam Unwin and John Yandell, on the development of international testing in education and how the process has afforded interventions for profit into new markets by large corporations.

Entitled PISA-envy, Pearson and Starbucks-style Schools, the Unwin and Yandell argument looks at how  the intense focus on test scores is a vital, and neccesary, element ‘…in the neoliberal vision of education‘.

Since 2000, they argue, more and mores countries have engaged with the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests, which are administered by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

‘PISA-envy inspires governments to look to higher-performing countries for solutions, ways of addressing their own schools’ perceived shortcomings’.

Panic develops, they argue, when educational entities begin to slide down the league tables created by an essentially competitive system. Whether in Singapore or Maryland, the contextual landscape, for both learner and institution is rendered redundant, they argue.

‘This is a pretty daft way of developing education policy….’

The authors do recognise that PISA has and is changing however. For 2018, PISA contracts are being awarded to the global conglomerate Pearson. Their critique is rendered at Pearson, who, as a body corporate operating for profit, are influencing educational policy and providing solutions for the problems it ‘recognises’. Thereby fostering the self created conveyor belt of continuous cash.

The article authors dwell on the role of Sir Michael Barber, a Blairite adviser, who developed an uncompromising, outcomes-focused market-based approach to public policy.

The article authors argue that an out of the box, vertically measured, performance driven system, that assumes the vast superiority of private entrepreneurship and solution creation of perceived ‘problems’ in education,  is the apotheosis of the neo-liberal project.

In summary, Unwin and Yandell state that if…

… education is a commodity, deliverable with the aid of scripted lessons and the rest of the paraphernalia of an ‘Academy-in-a-box’ and measurable through a few simple standardized tests, then there’s probably nothing to worry about.

If education is something else, however, then policy and practice may need to change to overcome this self-prescriptive solutions machine.

Read the full article on-line here.

Turning the tide – making a difference

The Right to Education

 The University of Glasgow – a ‘mooc’ point in the making…


Glasgow University have a new massive, open on-line course (MOOC) under way, courtesy of the FutureLearn network. It seeks to engage educators, adult learners and those broadly interested in the countering of inequity in the provision of education.

Entitled The Right to Education: Breaking down the barriers, there is much to support the aims of IETT within its modules. Particularly useful is the course delivery of international perspectives from educators, policy makers and other contributors to the on-line debate  around the globe.

The work of the Univerity lead educator, Dr Margaret Sutherland (Senior Lecturer: Social Justice, Place, and Lifelong Education), and her team, delivers this pan-global perspective to help contexualise the relative educational  riches and the deficits whch we enjoy in the UK.

The Unesco Education for All programme had promised that all children would have access to school by 2015. This progress had halted by 2008, as can be seen from the UNESCO video below…

Today there are, it is estimated, some fifty eight million children not in school. That is one in ten of all children who are denied access to schooling, with that earlier target of universality extended now to 2030.

Half the educationally deprived children live in sub-Saharan Africa. They are predominantly poor, female, already at work whilst young or are excluded by a disability. The supply side of the educational equation has equal paucity, as some 27 million teachers will be needed, it is estimated, to fill a new full demand by 2030.

So we are able to see that, despite the constraints and inequalities, both social and economic, that dog education in the UK, in the global, aggregate view conflict, caste, faith and gender can all drag a child away from life affirming educational experiences.

You can take a look at the brief programme details here, or you can register with FutureLearn to be notified when the next iteration of the course from The University of Glasgow is available. See more here.

On this evidence, there is by 2030, perhaps, still much for all of us to do globally?

Turning the tide – making a difference


Forty Years On – Callaghan and education

Prime Minister James Callaghan made a speech to an audience at Ruskin College in Oxford on the 18th October, 1976. A speech that, some would argue, launched the Great Debate about education.

James Callaghan - Prime Minister image
See his biography on Wikipedia…

Certainly some of the issues and challenges, that James Callaghan raised that day at Ruskin College, remain as pertinent and telling as ever today. Callaghan emphatically stressed, in his speech, the value of the Trade Union movement, not a view often embraced by a Prime Minister today for sure, but also lucidly saw children as delivering an endowment for a future society.

Speaking on that day in 1976, a detailed reading of the full text saw Callaghan giving long credit to Trade Union education energy, highlighting the role that unions and social activists play in energising human capital, often sailing against the pre-dominant elitist and exclusive educational cultural wind.

Callaghan saw the wide and emphatically important debate abroad in the country in his time about the economy, political or otherwise, but ventured to say ‘…not as important in the long run as preparing future generations for life. RH Tawney, from whom I derived a great deal of my thinking years ago, wrote that the endowment of our children is the most precious of the natural resources of this community. So I do not hesitate to discuss how these endowments should be nurtured‘.

Source: ‘A rational debate based on the facts’ James Callaghan, Ruskin College Oxford,
18th October 1976 (Full text) –

Fiona Millar, writing in The Guardian in December 2016, has revisited the 1976 Callaghan postulation and has teased out many facets of the Callaghan analysis that often leaves the contemporary liberal, educated, education-aware reader in despair, when education is viewed down the long telescope of history.

‘Do we have a curriculum that promotes basic standards while allowing a child’s personality to “flower in its fullest possible way” as Callaghan put it?’

‘Would he (Callaghan) have envisaged systems of oversight so fragmented and convoluted that some headteachers can become proprietors of small business empires from which they directly profit?’

‘Would Callaghan have wanted good heads and teachers suffocated by hyper-accountability, wrestling with what is best for their schools against what is best or their pupils, while the less scrupulous boost performance by weeding out the most challenging pupils?’

Millar has chosen a good time to revisit this educational clarion call from a Labour Prime Minister who, on a detailed reading of this speech, represents the gold standard of education analysis and is deserving of perhaps a kinder view from history than he was previously afforded.

Source: Forty years after the Ruskin speech, education needs another moment
Fiona Millar, The Guardian 13th December 2016 –

The great debate continues, we would argue…we commend the Callaghan speech to you and we await our ‘Millarenian moment‘ too!

Turning the tide – making a difference

Computer Science Education Week

This is Computer Science Education Week. Across the globe, and in the UK too, children and young people are taking part in the Hour of Code.

An attempt to harness fresh interest and excitement, as well as understanding, of the basics of web and code literacy. Important knowledge to have in the skills basket, as the world moves ever more closer to technology.

Whilst such initiatives do not address the core issue of access to this technology, for those who have a route to a point of contact with a keyboard, the enthusiasm is evident.

The lack of women entering STEM continues to be part of the science and education debate. That there are gender role-models for young wormen is celebrated in a recent on-line article from Microsoft.

17 for ’17: Microsoft researchers on what to expect in 2017 and 2027‘ – this article focuses on a recent OECD report on gender equality Where are Tomorrow’s Female Scientists? Despite the paucity of female scientists and engineers coming forward, Microsoft argue that with the right recruitment and professional development policies, companies can allow female science graduates to prosper…once the  engagement and recruitment hurdle has been crossed.

…women and girls who, while representing roughly 50 percent of the world’s population, account for less than 20 percent of computer science graduates in 34 OECD countries,

17 for 17 allows seventeen female computing professionals, from a variety of academic backgrounds and interests, the opportunity to express their vision of how the world of computing and code will change society by 2027.

Microsoft in Cambrdidge, UK has members of its team illustrating the future advances in biological computation, artificial intelligence and machine learning, human centred computing and accessibility, as well as security and privacy forecasts.

Despite some pessimism about the political landscape of education, it is always welcome to see gender affirmation and success in an often difficult,  male dominated arena.

The barriers may be coming down at last.

Best wishes to our readers for the forthcoming festive holiday…

Turning the tide - making a difference
Turning the tide – making a difference

Rally to Oppose New Grammars and to Support a Fair Education For All

Thursday 22 September, 2016 7pm-8.30pm
Venue: King Solomon Academy, Penfold St, London NW1 6RX

Join us next Thursday for a gathering to show our collective support for comprehensive education and our opposition to the creation of new grammar schools.

This will be a positive rally that will involve a number of inspirational speakers, a chance to find out what happens next and the opportunity to share any ideas you have to try and win the argument in public and in parliament. It should also be great opportunity to meet others who share your concerns about the Green Paper.

Confirmed speakers include:
Fiona Millar, Writer and Founder of Local Schools Network
Becky Allen, Director of Education Datalab
Joanne Bartley, Kent parent and chair of Kent Education Network
David Weston, Founder and Chief Executive of the Teacher Development Trust
Laura McInerney, Editor of Schools Week
Melissa Benn, Writer and current Chair of Comprehensive Future
Katrina Black, Regional Director – Europe, Teach For All
Louka Travlos, Impact Strategy, National Citizens Service
Ndidi Okezie, Executive Director – Delivery, Teach First

This event is free but you must sign up for a ticket to secure a place. Please sign up here:

80% of teachers oppose grammar schools. Join them by signing this petition:

Lewis Iwu, Director of the Fair Education Alliance

Organiser of Rally to Oppose New Grammars and to Support a Fair Education For All

Turning the tide - making a difference
Turning the tide – making a difference

A matter of life and death?

Flotsam: an occasional series of ideas from other places…

Bill Gates is in conversation with Nate Bowling,  the Washington State Teacher of the Year for 2016 in the US. In the dialogue, the teacher tells Bill Gates that for many students learning ‘…is a matter of life and death’.

“If my students are not successful in school, they end up in the prison-industrial complex.”

Source: Accessed: 26.08.2016

The conversation reveals that in the US public school system, half the students enrolled live in poverty. With more than 70 percent of students qualifying for ‘…free or reduced price meals’.

In a separate publication Nate Bowling had published a blog article which has garnered a lot of attention. In it he declares that ‘…America does not care what happens to poor people and most black people‘. The article, entitled The Conversation I’m Tired of not Having, Mr. Bowling goes on to decry the lack of simple political will, in the US,  to effect change and re-balance equity in educational opportunity and achievement.

‘Polite society has walled itself off and policymakers are largely indifferent. Better funding for schools is and will remain elusive, because middle class and wealthy people have been conditioned over the last 35 years to think of themselves as taxpayers, rather than citizens’.

Source:     Accessed: 25.08.2016

In both the conversation with Bill Gates, and in his own article, Nate Bowling has some profoundly strong and supportive comments to make about teaching as a profession and the nature of the role his professional colleagues play, in the disenfranchised school system he works in.

The narrative has a strong resonance in the UK, with the laborious ebb and flow of educational policy, coupled to outcomes that continue to widen, not alleviate, the inequality gap for the many.

Bill Gates conversation with Nate Bowling originally appeared in Gates Notes. Nate Bowling’s reflection on teaching and the development of his profession originally appeared in .

Read both articles to get insights into the US public shool system from the perspective of a black teacher. It is interesting, and provocative, to those who would press for the continuance of the status-quo.

Turning the tide - making a difference
Turning the tide – making a difference




Chain effects: ‘low-income’ learners

The Sutton Trust have been tracking the progress and effectiveness of Academy chains since the inception of the Academy programme in 2000. Chain Effects 2015 is the latest updated report, superceding Chain effects 2014, which looks at questions of effectiveness and service to disadvantaged pupils.

chain effects Cover Pic
View, print or download this 2015 report here…pdf

The 2015 report tells a patchy story of delivery, and how  Ofsted inspection grades actually mark a level of achievement that falls below excellent in many cases.

The report notes that, in an analysis of all secondary schools and sponsored academies, the academies achieve lower inspection grades generally. As educational entitites they are twice as likely to fall below the ‘floor standard’.

The findings across the two reports (2014 and 2015) also make noteable the contrast between ‘the best and the worst’.

It is clear that there are exceptional achievements, where schools with high attainment levels for their disadvantaged pupils have improved faster than the average,  in terms of supporting disadvantaged children. However, those chains who did less well, achieved significantly worse outcomes that comparable schools, using baseline data for 2012 as a starting point for the analysis.

Where data has been captiured for pupils with low prior attainment, it is true that academy chains have been successful in ‘…significantly improving the attainment of this group, an important demonstration of value’.

Using a ‘range of government indicators‘ for attainment, it is clear that most academy chains still underperform their mainstream average ‘competitors’ in supporting disadvantaged pupils.

The report makes six main recommendations for improvement to inspection, process and delivery. They are…

  1. The DfE should expand its pool of school improvement providers beyond academy sponsors, including developing new school-led trusts and federations…
  2. New chains should not be allowed to expand until they have a track record of success in bringing about improvement…
  3. Ofsted has had its ability to inspect chains extended but these fall short of the formal powers they enjoy over academies individually and other education providers. Ofsted should be empowered to undertake formal inspections of academy chains…
  4. Agreements for new sponsors should be shortened to five years from seven. Renewal of funding agreements should only be granted where improvement has been demonstrated…
  5. The DfE should include a measure of progress for disadvantaged pupils in their definition of coasting schools…applicable to all schools…
  6. Sponsor chains, with a demostrable need to improve, should seek out successful practice and reflect on what their own chain could learn from this experience…

Source: The Sutton Trust  Accessed: 10.07.2016

In order to map progress across the broader educational landscape you can find the detail of Chain Effects 2014  here.

Turning the tide - making a difference
Turning the tide – making a difference

IT in Education – in crisis?

science & Tech CoverImage
View or download this report here…(pdf)

A recent parliamentary report, by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, Digital Skills Crisis, looks at the state of IT in business, education and the development of a broader UK strategy.

The report contains not only the analysis, assessment and findings of the committee, but also looks at a variety of conclusions and recommendations for the sector.

The findings of the committee declare that there is a ‘digital divide’ in the UK, with up to 12.6 million adults lackiing basic digital skills. The report finds that there are probably still some 5.8 million people who have yet to use the internet at all.

The report identifies a recent Royal Society report into Digital Skills and notes…

‘If the workforce is to be future-proofed, education systems in the UK must be designed to equip everyone with strong literacy and numeracy skills, information literacy and a mind-set that is flexible, creative and adaptive. This will be crucial to preparing today’s young learners for a future economy in which the skills needed are not only unpredictable now, but will continue to change throughout their careers…’

In the Committee report it is concluded that Ofsted have found the impact of digital technology on education standards has been varied.  The variety of outcome, Ofsted argues, is due to a lack of standard investment across the sector, access to high speed broadband geographically and suitable teacher support for the cause of Digital Skills.

The report is generally praiseful of the changes to the ICT curriculum from September 2014, with stress placed on the input of industry experts and academia. However, only a third of teachers hold the relevant qualification for ICT and cites a report from the British Computer Society, which stated that only 25% of computing teachers felt conficdent delivering the revised curriculum.

Some, but not all, of the recommendations made by the Committeee include…

  • ‘The Government has set targets for recruiting teachers in Maths and Physics. They
    should also make a similar pledge for Computer Science’.
  • ‘We recommend that the Government request Ofsted to include the computing curriculum in their inspections…’
  • ‘The Government should encourage the uptake of existing available resources by
    schools, many of which are free.’
  • ‘We recommend that the Government work with the Tech Partnership to establish a regular forum for employers to raise and discuss their priorities for ensuring the computing curriculum and its teaching stay up to date, and to help ensure that other school subject qualifications provide a foundation for a broader range of digital careers.’

We recommend this comprehensive, clear headed and detailed report from the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee to all who are interested in education and the digital economy. See the full report here.

After Note:

Interestingly the RSA have recently published new research, which shows how, in the North of England, enterprise in the digital sector is booming. A veritable Digital Powerhouse in the North in fact.

See this RSA report here…pdf

Reading the two reports together, it is apparent that embedded in this second report from the RSA, is a development success in digital enterprise, that, it can be argued, runs across the grain of the pessimism of the Parliamentary report by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee above.

We offer the new work, Digital Powerhouse (.pdf), using as it does the digital economy of the north of England as both metaphor and research instance to examine and make suggestions for development in what is obviously a successful arena. In spite of, not because of, education if seen through the prism of the House of Commons paper.

We leave it to your judgement to decide. See the full RSA report here.

Turning the tide - making a difference
Turning the tide – making a difference

Equality: Making it happen

The Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education have recently published a 2016 version of Equality: Making it happen. This is a guide to help schools ensure that everyone is safe, included and learning.

…a succinct and user-friendly guide to help schools address prejudice, reduce bullying and promote equality holistically. Created with schools for schools, the guide is sponsored by the NASUWT, the largest teachers’ union in the UK, and has won an Innovative Practice Award 2016 from the Zero Project, for a world with zero barriers.

Source: CSIE Website –   Accessed: 17.06.2016

equality Poster Image
A free poster here…pdf

The work sets out to engage the whole school community, with a very strong focus on placing children at the heart of the safeguarding process. The resources included offer a range of good examples, audit tools and a wealth of links to more information to suppport project development.

‘Materials can be used for teaching and learning activities, assemblies, peer mentoring, school council, staff training, equality policy and whole school development’.

Get the full resource here...

Purchase the full resource from


Turning the tide - making a difference
Turning the tide – making a difference

Flotsam: Connecting with schools…

Flotsam is our occasional series of ideas, from other places, that can have impact on education, learners and can support change.

Discover more on-line here…






This U.S. based initiative marries the generosity of donors with the needs of an under-resourced public school system in the United States.

Started by a teacher of history in 2000, the project now has heavyweight supporters and has affected the educational lives of some 18 million plus learners. They have ‘mobilised’ over 2 million ‘citizen donors’ to support the work of the project in the intervening years.

Acting as a sort of Kickstarter for a resource hungry education system, vetted schools and teachers can seek supporters through the project web pages for classroom developmental projects. The DonorsChoose team mediate all donations, purchase of resources and their transfer to the  school.

Classroom projects are available on-line, with the often quite modest sums needed, and the web site flags those classrooms closest to the finish line, with the least days left to donate or who have the highest povery of resources.

This short film shows how the impact is achieved.

We liked the enthusiasm and detailed focus of the work. It allows donors to precisely target their donation. We can see that it can also build long term relationships with a school or classroom community and provide a range of enhancements and additionality to for children in an under-resourced sector. See more here

With perhaps a slightly different angle of approach, is there space in the UK for this attraction of modest donations to local classrooms in a professional, mediated way to bring additionality to the British classroom?

We think there might be.

Turning the tide - making a difference
Turning the tide – making a difference