Articles and Other Publications

Is there a ‘Sweet Spot’ for Selection in Education? Presented at the HMC Annual Conference, Belfast 2 October 2012.

Little in education is more hotly contested than selection. At age 11 it carries a lot of emotional baggage, but at ages 16 and 18 it is readily accepted. But is this too late? Guided choices at age 14 could be the ‘sweet spot’.

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Unintelligent Design: Why Systems Matter Equity and Disadvantage, Australian Education Union, Professional Voice, 9(1), Spring 2012.

Too often countries and states attempt to improve the quality of their education by concentrating on individual schools without regard to the shape of the overall system. This can have important implications for social mobility. Designing the education system with equivalent opportunities for all pupils, with appropriate incentives for schools, is at the heart of equity in education.

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The inconvenient truth about the global ‘school league tables’ Parliamentary Brief, March 2011.

The Coalition government is making great play with the latest round of results from the OECD’s comparisons of the educational performance of 15-year-olds. Michael Gove continually refers to the UK’s placings – down since 2000 in reading from 7th to 25th, in science from 4th to 16th, and in maths from 8th to 28th. It is a very convenient narrative for the changes that the Government wants to make.

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An age-old debate has reopened as co-educational schools achieve dominance The Times, 4 February 2011.

When my daughters were growing up, the best local school was only for girls, and both went there. One loved it but the other hated it. She found it bitchy and was put off by the tears of girls who got only an A and not an A-plus.

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The blind spot in the system that ‘cannot see the children for the schools’ Parliamentary Brief, February 2011.

There is a lot to like in the Coalition government’s recent education white paper. The austere style signals a new approach. Gone are the glossy photographs and high-flown phrases. In their place, in black and white, we have the proposed changes along with an interpretation of the evidence. But there is a hole in its heart which will render it ineffective.

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It’s the right age: pupils will know their strengths The Times, 7 January 2011.

England is unusual among the 30 countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in not having clear routes for pupils in the later years of secondary schooling.

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Stained glass windows are wonderful – but we don’t need degrees in them The Mail on Sunday, 29 August 2010.

The names alone are enough to raise an eyebrow, if not two. Students getting their A-levels can choose from courses including surf science and technology at the University of Plymouth, hairdressing and salon management at the University of Derby and stained-glass window studies at the Swansea Institute.

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Letting schools do their own thing is a recipe for chaos The Independent, 24 June 2010.

I am warming to the new Government’s policies. Binning academic diplomas, Sir Jim Rose’s recommendations on the primary curriculum and the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency and the General Teaching Council all look good moves to me – provided they are replaced by something better. But I cannot see where the extended academies programme is going. Michael Gove has said many times that he has drawn inspiration from the charter schools in the United States and the Kunskapsskolan in Sweden. Some of the charter schools have impressive records. They have, however, tended to attract the better pupils, leaving other schools worse off. They have also tended to take fewer pupils with special needs and to have higher dropout rates. The apparent success of Swedish “free schools” is linked to home background.

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So, who will decide on the curriculum now? The Independent, 3 June 2010.

Few in the present economic climate will be surprised that the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency (QCDA) is to be scrapped. It has become overblown financially and has lost its way educationally. The current curriculum is full of vacuous generalities about cultural understanding, collaboration and inclusion, but leaves us little wiser about substance. But this government faces the practical realities of what, if anything, is to take its place.

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Why will no party be bold on school admissions? The Independent, 29 April, 2010.

Soon after I arrived at the University of Buckingham, the vice-chancellor affectionately dubbed me Comrade Smithers. On hearing this, an old friend snorted, “God, if they think you are left wing, what does that say about the rest of the university?” But in this election I find that I am to the left of all three main parties in wanting a simple, clear, centrally set structure for secondary education. The key to this is the admissions process.

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Targeting education: the experience of the Labour government 1997-2010 British Politics Review, Winter 2010.

The elusive quest. As the Labour government’s third consecutive term in offi ce comes to an end, it is a good time to take a close look at its most distinctive education policy, and ask whether it has succeeded.

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Why do the political parties have so little to offer us? The Independent, 7 January, 2010.

Am I alone in feeling gloomy about the prospects for education this year? It’s not just the cuts. Schools are to be protected to some extent, which of course is very bad news for the universities heavily dependent on public funds. What bothers me more is that an election should be a time for taking stock and making plans, yet the parties have little to offer.

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