Are we falling behind?


This last week I have spent away from the Lords in the USA, first at a global education conference at Stanford University and then in Tennessee seeing how education innovation is rolling out on the ground. It was an inspiring week that reinforced my view that English education is in real danger of being left behind.

The USA is an interesting place for educationalists of all persuasions to visit. Like England it has some of the best and some of the worst schools. We are both home to the best universities. We have large attainment gaps between pupils from rich and poor homes. We both have examples of great innovation but show no sign of scaling that up to make a difference across our school systems. All of these factors make it an interesting and challenging place to compare notes.

First of all some old truths. In an inspiring talk, Geoff Canada, the highly effective Commissioner for Harlem, reminded us of two things. If you are turning around schools in a toxic community you will always be fixing failure until you also help turn around the whole community. Schools and teachers can’t be blamed for the ills of society but they can help make it better.

He also reminded us that no one is born equal, we are all born different and none of us will ever find the answer for what works for every child. We must keep learning and finding new answers. But every child is born learning. Before they get to school they have learned a lot and will carry on learning if it interests them. If school is boring they will use it to have a rest from learning, until they are allowed out again and can learn from what seems relevant to their world – good or bad.

Time and again private sector, public sector and not for profit educators stood up for the importance of teachers. Teachers need to be equipped with good training, with on going training, with as many tools as possible to help them with the diversity of children they are asked to keep interested in their learning and with both coaching and support.

Most teachers do a good job and we should celebrate their achievements. As I saw in Tennessee, we could be also be much smarter in our use of data to track teacher effectiveness. This allows teachers to be better supported by better equipped school leaders. It also allows those who are not suited to be teachers to be identified and helped into a job they would enjoy more.

I think we should revive the notion of teachers having a right to in service training for professional development, and in return a requirement to take up that training as part of a renewable licence to practice.

Of course, much of my week was spent discussing the role of technology in learning.

There are great examples of investment in technology to make schools more efficient and allow them to be run at reduced costs. Similarly there are examples where teachers’ time is freed to teach (an example was the launch of in the US last week). These are good reasons why schools all over the world are investing in technology.

Technology for learning is however more controversial.

At the less controversial end was the use of video conferencing and virtual classrooms that I saw in Tennessee. This is being used in a number of places to keep small schools open and offering a wide range of courses. It is helpful for pupils off sick, or who are not in school for other reasons. Many states now require all students to take at least one course 100% on line, in part because on line learning is a feature of training in so many future careers.

More controversial is whether technology improves learning. There is too much to say here but I was introduced to the work of Ruben Puentedura (see his blog His analysis of effective use of technology makes sense.

If it is used to just digitally enhance analogue methods it will have marginal impact. The real learning gains take place with modification and redefinition. We need the equivalent of Henry Ford using electricity to transform manufacturing a generation after Edison invented electricity – only we shouldn’t wait a generation to develop new pedagogy for the new technology.

The most interesting of these is “flip schooling”. The state of Oregon calls this mastery learning and is moving to roll it out across the state. Instead of teachers using valuable class time to deliver general instruction aimed at the median ability in the class, teachers set homework in advance of learning in school. Learners receive the generalised instruction online with some assessment so that the teacher then knows how each pupil is doing before they arrive in class. The classroom activity is then pitched more precisely to meet the needs of the individual pupils. This is proving highly effective and I am trying to get trials of these methods going in this country.

I got back from this inspiring week to find that Michael Gove wants to revive O Levels. What a contrast! Instead of shaping the future, he wants to return to a time when qualification choices determined life chances. The 1950’s worked for the minority who went into the professions, the majority left school unqualified and ready for factory work. That is not what we need to go back to. No wonder his comments were immediately trashed by experts like Lords Baker and Adonis.

23 comments for “Are we falling behind?

  1. maude elwes
    25/06/2012 at 9:22 am

    Well you can forget the on line assessment. The majority of Americans either, do the test for their kids themselves, or, get their secretary to do it. The secretaries also do their science projects and whatever else is needed to ‘pass’ their little ‘lets see where they are at’ exams. And don’t believe it would be any different here.

    And in cse you feel I don’t know what I’m talking about, currently, one of our family members is a head teacher in that same good old South you went to. Not to mention, that when I studied in the US, I learned how to surpass any and all testing papers oh so easlly. As a side barr, the teaching in the US state schools at the age of thirteen in a posh Atlanta district school, was giving out a regular history lesson, aged thriteen plus, written in Jack and jill big letter vocabulary, how Rosy Parks refused to sit at the back of the bus. This was considered a history lesson for bright children of early teen years.

    You have bought the American fancy footwork. How much did your workshop cost us?

    PS: If they don’t sell their line to you, they lose their jobs. All are salesman in US school hierarchy.

    • lordknight
      25/06/2012 at 10:34 am

      I wondered how lon before someone asked. My visit cost the taxpayer nothing and I funded most of the cost.

      There is certainly a lot of problems in US schools so I’m not surprised if you know of horror stories, but there is also interesting innovative stuff too. The world is not black and white.

      • Lord Blagger
        25/06/2012 at 11:51 am

        My visit cost the taxpayer nothing and I funded most of the cost


        Who funded the other part?

  2. Lord Blagger
    25/06/2012 at 9:28 am

    Time and again private sector, public sector and not for profit educators stood up for the importance of teachers


    Time and Time again, those same teachers get up and say, its not us Guv.

    It’s parental attitude.
    It’s the intake, innit. We get crap 4 year old kids in, so you can’t expect us to teach them to read and write. …

    • maude elwes
      25/06/2012 at 3:31 pm


      The customer is always the problem. If only it wasn’t for them, everything would run perfectly. And all would show how brilliant we are for the amazing sacrifices we make on behalf of the country.

      • Lord Blagger
        25/06/2012 at 6:17 pm

        Teachers can’t have it both ways.

        1. It’s teachers who make all the difference
        2. It’s parents, or the local economy, or …


        Time and again private sector, public sector and not for profit educators stood up for the importance of teachers

        So if that is true as Jim Knight thinks, then there are hundreds of teachers who have failed kids in the UK. After all, if you can’t get a substantial proportion of your kids past 5 GCSEs, then you’ve failed them. Since its down to teachers, its teachers who are at fault.

        Or is Jim Knight going to claim that teachers are responsible for the successes, but parents or the kids or the environment responsible for the failures, but not teachers?

      • ladytizzy
        25/06/2012 at 10:53 pm

        “…school leader…”? Pre-1988 there was one school secretary, the rest were teachers. What do school leaders have today that yesterday’s teachers didn’t?

        Flip schooling is a new term to me but is reminiscent of marked homework being returned to the student. I can’t quite see how 25 or more students who, as you say, are all different, can have all their needs addressed in one time period but I am willing to listen.

        I am rather pessimistic that today’s teachers will be receptive to such stuff. One robustly advised a student not to consider work experience with me because I required either a small one-off project or a little homework each night.

        While I’m on a roll, although you may believe children are not born equal it should be noted that Catholics believe that all children are born evil, as good a reason as any to stop public subsidy of faith schools.

        • maude elwes
          02/07/2012 at 12:55 pm

          Oh, now Lady T, that is interesting. Doesn’t Dave Cameron have his kids in a Faith school? Not to mention Clegg?

          How many more of them do you think manoeuvre that way out of the system they set up for the rest of us? And the balance send their kids to independent top notch place for £30,000 + per annum if they have the guts to face ridicule. All in it together, I’d say.

          However, what is so decadent about sending your child to a Faith school? Do you think it denies them full sexual education and that as a result they will be limited all round? Especially as large portion of the regular attenders of state school are illiterate but know how to mate splendidly on leaving. Good training for the lap dancing career they plan for I suppose. And of course the Faith school may deprive them of this benefit.

  3. MilesJSD
    25/06/2012 at 3:43 pm

    “Teacher”, “Innovation”, “Learning”, “Education”, “Training”, “toxic community”,
    all need considerable particular and contextual clarification

    as does focally
    “right (versus) need (versus) requirement (versus) duty (versus) privilege”
    (of a teacher, to learn subject facts, teaching skills, duties, resiliences, and
    above all The Human Race’s present and future sustainable & sustainworthy Place and Limits, in Life on Earth).

    For instance, before you can formulate a “right” you must have clearly defined, and agreed, the particular “need” it is rooted in;
    and also agreed how that need may (best) be met;
    then you can legislate a “right” to go about satisfying that particular “need & how”.
    If any of the following were to be included in today’s androgogic as well as pedoagogic curriculums, and learning/educational methodologies,
    they would instantly impact on the public, and on the education-sector as a whole, as being


    when in truth they should have been assimilated at the time they were published,
    and pursued at all levels of adult learning and certainly within the mainstream of schools and universities.

    Just look at the publication dates to see how they are being neglected :-
    1937 “The Thinking Body” (Todd),
    1955 “Effort” (Laban & Lawrence);
    1985 “Six Thinking Hats” (de Bono);
    1974 “Method III (Gordon);
    1989 “Wisdom of the Body Moving” (Hartley);
    1981 “The Centered Teacher” (Hendricks);
    1988 “The Success Factor” (Stanton)
    1972 “Awareness Thru Movement” (Feldenkrais);
    1977 “Your Body: biofeedback at its best without instruments (Jencks);

    the List of similarly avoided, neglected, repressed works continues apace –

    a few more:
    1996 “Critical Thinking For Students” (Brink-Budgen)
    2003 “50 Self-Help Classics” with additional shortlist, total 100 (Butler-Bowdon);
    2011 “Mindfulness Meditation” DVD (Williams);

    and especially needing to be comprehended and integrated, effectively as positively and constructively radical-reform works actually replacing the now long-obsolescent “Reinforcement Theory” and “Fixed Mindset career-model” :-
    1970 “Mindset” (Dweck et al);
    1970 “Perceptual Self-Control” (Powers et al).
    Yes, we not only are falling behind
    we have already fallen, far behind.

  4. Twm O'r Nant
    26/06/2012 at 8:58 am

    We need the equivalent of Henry Ford using electricity to transform manufacturing a generation after Edison invented electricity

    Or Mill owners using gas light to enslave children to 18 hour working days a generation after the invention of the gas light by Murdoch and Davy?

    The comparison of systems of education is stultifying in the extreme. De-school society!

    There are one or two interesting ideas in the later paragraphs. At least one 100% online course for school bound students is
    useful. (Incidentally the PGCE for intending graduate teachers in UK, can now be studied 100% online. If my memory serves me right, it was merely a question of handing out the certificates to Grads after some attendance at Training college, so presumably they will be handing out online now!) It was alaways a question of conformity.

    Learners receive the generalised instruction online
    I should hope that competent teachers have been doing this for about ten years by now, in this country. Well organized, it would be very effective.

    It is worth rememebering that we went through all this Educational technology once before in the 1960s with limited success ….
    Audio-visual language learning in schools.

    It is finding the programmers to sort out the school computer system properly, which may be the biggest problem of all, and at what wages?

    I heard of one school (some time ago now) which tuned in to online porn if they were allowed any where near the computers, so they gave them up, until a programmer could be found to prevent their misuse.

  5. Twm O'r Nant
    28/06/2012 at 9:12 am

    Dear MOW FLPUS

    Former Ministers of War should be banned from working with children ever again, don’t you think?

  6. maude elwes
    29/06/2012 at 5:11 pm

    What I find so extraordinary in about this thread is, why would people in government here, MP’s or Peers, go to a country that has consistently expanded poverty, violence, teenage pregnancy and illiteracy in their education system, yet expect to learn there how to improve our system? As our governments slavishly followed the US into this travesty in the first place, and now finding that policy exacerbated the situation here, where on earth do they get the idea the will be able to throw light on the mess they sold to us?

    Yet, we hear that in Europe, twenty miles from our borders, they have a system that does not promote violence, teenage pregnancy, or, illiteracy, but our peers decide not to go there to research into how Europe managed to keep their children from overwhelming harm is not on the agenda? Doesn’t that strike you as perverse? It does me.

    This idea we will learn how not to follow the US school system is peculiar thinking. What is this fetish our Parliament has with the Americans? Where is the logic behind train of thought? Why are our people always wanting to sop up the horrors of that country to the point of our demise?

    These are school protests in Europe.

    I tried to find violence and horror of any kind when looking in the European schools section on videa. I could not. Now wouldn’t it be a good idea to learn why that is?

  7. Lord Blagger
    01/07/2012 at 10:05 am

    It’s simple. Government decided to incentivise the behavior you don’t want by giving people money.

    However, given the debts, its all going to change and that bad behaviour is going to haunt those because they are screwed by it.

    No skills, because they didn’t learn.

    No money from the state.

    Competition from economic refugees.

    • maude elwes
      02/07/2012 at 1:05 pm

      And relatively few jobs for those who managed a degree.

      Ah, yes, LB, we need a clear out of all parties. That is the only way we will ever get change. Maybe n English Salmon is the answer.

      What we need is a splash of good how to books, explaining the method of promoting a new way for political change by setting up a trust to fund it. One with a completely different ethos for the voter. Make a killing in the market that would.

  8. Lord Blagger
    02/07/2012 at 3:25 pm

    Ah, yes, LB, we need a clear out of all parties. That is the only way we will ever get change


    And the way that will happen is when the debt chickens come how to roost.

    ie. You won’t get a state pension. You certainly won’t get a state second pension. Civil service pensions will be subject to massive haircuts.

    Blatently obvious if you work out government debts.

    ie. It’s already on the route to a Greek mess, and there is nothing they can do about it.

    That is the catalyst for change.

    • maude elwes
      03/07/2012 at 10:58 am


      Don’t fool yourself into believing they can do nothing about it. Of course they can. They just refuse to do so. Too much personal interest doesn’t allow their sense of survival to make such a decision.

      Lookie here. This video gives a good reason why they don’t want to fix it even though they know how to. This has been going on for eternity and yes they can fix it.

      Its a fraud, and presently a lot of people are afraid how the fraud is set up and looks as if it is going to be revealed by those cheeky bankers who are at the point of being burned at the stake. Diamond is in the mire big time and he knows it. So, politicians will do anything to keep them quiet. Hence, the reason there are no charges ‘yet’ against the movers and shakers of this outright chicanery you see exposed, at last, by our press today.

      One question that needs to be broached is, why are these dodgy fraudulent bankers and their political colluders not being extradited to the US the same way our simple citizens are? These people used the same internet the Nat West three did. Didn’t they?

      • Lord Blagger
        03/07/2012 at 4:09 pm

        The first step like any addict is to face up to the addiction.

        Politicians won’t do that. Hence the lies over the debt. I’ve been pushing Redwood and Carswell on the debts. Carswell is deluded that debt = borrowing, until pushed hard when he admits the government does owe more. However, he won’t quantify it. Redwood says look we’ve published it, but won’t say where the figures are to be found.

        Not a single Lord will discuss it. Too busy getting their cut before it goes tits up.

        Labour – far more interested in distracting from the mess they have created.

        Then you get the plonkers who don’t know the difference between deficit and debt, and think you can ‘pay down’ a deficit.

        It’s tipped. They can’t do anything about it bar defaulting, and they have stated. You’ve had 20 grand nicked off you. I doubt you noticed because they haven’t told you how much.

    • maude elwes
      03/07/2012 at 11:06 am

      And another point, you claim it’s because they gave money to keep the mess going. Well the mess continues in that great example I put up here, the good old US of A and they give no money at all, and haven’t for a very long time. And guess what, the system is getting worse, not better. No relief, leads to no relief.

  9. MilesJSD
    11/07/2012 at 8:41 am

    11 July 2012 after watching Battle of Passchendaele

    it recurs to my mind that all that destructive weaponry and deliberate carnage
    is prima-facie evidence of an utter abuse of the Divine Gift to humankind of Technology.

    ‘Tools’ are but extensions to the human-body.

    Therefore it is the blasphemous abuse of those gifts of ‘Tools’ that is the responsibility

    not of those who are compelled to dress in wasteful delusory uniforms and use them murderously, destructively, genocidally, extinctingly-of-other-lifeforms

    but of Governments, Monarchs, Establishments, Judiciaries, Civil and Public Servants

    and of course of Human Development Agencies such as Education, Religion, and Information sectors.

    In short, Human Civilisation is woefully short of human-development
    to the point of our human-race
    from the top downwards
    insidiously becoming ever more destructively Evil.
    Another evidence of this abuse of the divine technological Gift of Tools also appeared on my TV screen
    about the human business corporate captains deliberately causing ill-health and obesity to billions of trusting individual human-beings, through the Food Industry’s selfish profiteering motives in badly exploiting Sugar, Fats, Artificial Flavourings, in the mass-food markets of the whole world.
    it is flawed and un-holistic Education

    more so than its evil sibling, of over-blinkered career and job Training,

    that is the ongoing and in a real sense deliberate primary cause of these Evils ?
    A separate Lords Blog, and a public-debate in its own right, should be launched, to keep this Insanely Destrictive Evil on every-one’s table until it is either constructively resolved or sustainworthily reduced.

  10. 18/07/2012 at 3:22 pm

    I was delighted to see a blog about Lord Knight’s trip to the US and thought there was valuable insights for any one working in education.
    However, after reading some of the comments, I despaired and had to stop. Is there ever a time when someone can report on education findings elsewhere without such vitriol? The US might, indeed, have its fault (no room to list them all here…) but many creative, innovative systems have come from the US, who are quick to adapt to change a little quicker than the UK education system.
    For instance, a very important study by Carol Dweck on helping children to become “learners”, to see themselves as “learners” and to help teachers harness their new “learner” mindset came from the US and is proving invaluable in my work with schools. If Lord Knight is of a mind to revisit the US and has time to follow up on this study – I am happy to contribute as a tax-payer to his visit – it would revolutionise teaching in the UK.
    I think in future, I will just read the Blog and skip the comments – its all too depressing to see the rush to criticise any efforts made to research what is good about other systems. Because, of course, our system is just soooo perfect isn’t it?

    • Dave H
      18/07/2012 at 4:59 pm

      You’ve obviously not seen any of my rants about our education system as comments to other posts then 🙂

      Present subject matter that children find relevant and interesting and they’ll learn. Present stuff merely because current government policy says that it should be presented at this time and most of the children will be gazing out of the window or revising for their clown practical.

    • Lord Blagger
      18/07/2012 at 8:15 pm

      The question that needs to be answered.

      Who part paid for the trip?

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