A new model for post 18 education?

There is no doubt in my mind that schooling must change, but the same is equally true of post 18 education.

One of the many consequences of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is that the roll out of artificial intelligence will both de-skill and empower workers in new and unpredictable ways. The certainty of uncertainty creates insecurity and fear in people, especially in the periphery of the economy and society. The political consequences of that are playing out in the UK, elsewhere in Europe and in the USA.

An essential part of the policy response to this constant change has to be an agile, affordable and responsive adult learning system. We need adults to have the desire, self belief and capacity to keep learning and pivoting through multiple careers. How might we do that?

We first need a compulsory schooling system that nurtures a confidence in learning and skills as self directed learners. Education needs to be an engaging and enjoyable exploration, and not dull rote-based instruction dominated by tests. There needs to be a broad framework of knowledge from across the curriculum as a foundation to build upon, with a playfulness to learning that feels natural and sociable.

But what happens then? Two thirds of school pupils currently have an ambition to go to university. This is seen as the sign of ambition and aspiration. Schools sell themselves on the basis of their university admission data.

Cathy Davidson explains in her book “A New Education”, our model of universities was developed first by Harvard in response to the industrial revolution – it was no longer sufficient to educate clerics alone. What emerged was a system where academic selection created a talent filter that suited employers wanting higher level human intelligence. As technology has eroded the demand for lower skilled labour we have channelled more and more young people through college to an extent that the only way to fund it was through spiralling levels of personal debt.

The return on that investment is now starting to look shaky.

The Sutton Trust show that the earn as you learn model of higher level apprenticeships can develop the higher intelligences demanded by employers without the debt of university. Employers are also beginning to find that it is more efficient to employ someone straight from school and develop them that way, rather than having to get graduates to unlearn habits from academia that don’t work so well in the real world of work.

This could be a disaster for our universities. They have a business model based on research funding and being paid for teaching services, largely teaching school leavers. Many are also doing well as property developers. But what if apprenticeships really take off? And what is the sense of beginning a working life with a £50,000 student debt?

We need a new business model for universities. I think they should move to subscription services. These offer attractive recurring revenues and create room for better services. Why not offer employers subscriptions to both research and teaching services? They could also do so in partnership with FE Colleges as part of a new flexibility and outreach to peripheral areas.

Such a model would presume school leavers go straight into work. Their employer would then work with apprenticeship and other training providers to develop the skills that are needed to develop the individuals. They would identify those staff that would benefit from university courses, when they are intellectually and emotionally ready, and at all points in a working life. The learner can then continue to earn whilst learning. Employers could use a reformed apprenticeship levy to fund this professional development.

Such schemes could be offered by universities themselves so that they can meet their own needs to recruit academic talent for their research activity.

Such a system would need to be underpinned by an accreditation system that recorded this ongoing learning and the experience gained in work. That then allows learners to change jobs and take the value of their training with them. Such a learning ledger could be developed using blockchain technology.

The courses would also need flexibility. The four year Batchelors and the Masters degrees serve the needs of institutions but are becoming an anachronism. Degrees could instead become capstones across a multiplicity of different courses from different institutions, some online and some campus based. Assessment can then examine what the individual is capable of – not time served on a course as is too often the case, especially in the current apprenticeship framework.

We need a flexible new adult learning system that embraces part time, and new forms of assessment and accreditation. We need a vibrant university and college sector that interrelates to meet the needs of individuals who must keep refreshing their skills and knowledge to remain valuable citizens. This requires radical change.


Recent Opinion Pieces for TES on education.

I’ve recently been writing opinion pieces for  Here they are:

11th June: On the need for a government focus on teaching rather than schools.

19th June: About the trendy issue of the Growth Mindset in education.

26th June: the potential of pupil voice – if we listen

3rd July: the power of CPD to change – teacher led

11th July: on education innovation

17th July: a proposal for digital education

27th July: are personal devices in school too distracting?

6th August: we need a learning pattern to match the new working pattern


Berlin to Brazil – it’s all about teachers

Brazil is famous for great food, and great people.  The latter was in evidence for a rich discussion I led at the think tank, Instituto Fernando Henrique Cardoso in São Paulo on Friday.

I was asked to stimulate a discussion based on reflections on how to improve schools systems.  This was a great opportunity to pull together some of the thinking from my attendance at the World Education Symposium in Berlin and the Education Fast Forward debate two weeks ago, at the Oppi Festival in New York last week and now at Bett in Brazil.  In that time I had been lucky enough to hear from the likes of Howard Reingold, Andreas Schleicher, Randi Weingarten, Andy Hargreaves, Pasi Sahlberg, and Taylor Mali.

First, it is clear that the conflict between education and learning applies across the world.  In this rapidly changing world, people are learning in new ways outside formal education.  Schooling and qualifications are struggling to keep up and to keep learning relevant to the real world.

The coincidence of the 21st century skills demanded by employers, and the learning styles that young people gravitate to is profound. This opportunity is being largely ignored because it is inconvenient for high stakes accountability systems as it is harder to test.  It also requires some new pedagogy from teachers.

The highest performing jurisdictions of Singapore, Shanghai and Hong Kong are, however, the most innovative. They are designing creativity into their systems.

Secondly, politicians are easily distracted by what doesn’t work at a system level.

Parental choice and new school structures are yet to work at a system level.  Chile, Sweden, the US and the UK show that, whilst there may be innovative schools, it is not raising standards at a system level.

Quality teaching is more important than class sizes or technology.

Thirdly, what is important is great teaching.

“We uplift the people we serve by uplifting the people that serve them” – Prof Andy Hargreaves

The jurisdictions that perform well focus on:

  • great initial teacher training, with recruits from a range of academic backgrounds
  • strong career routes for teachers, and not just into leadership
  • embedded professional development with time for reflection, feedback and collaboration
  • collaborative teacher networks
  • strong leadership of teaching

This is encouraging for my work at TES.  Our collaborative teacher network for sharing resources is growing all the time. Our  Courses are proving popular and are pioneering a new socially based online professional development.  I continue to think about how we might further develop those but also what more should be done on ITT, on teacher careers and leadership development.

And finally here is Taylor Mali performing at Oppi

2015-05-16 11.01.55 from Jim Knight on Vimeo.


Is Democracy Good for Learning?

As the UK woke up to the political earthquake of the General Election, I was in Berlin listening to the OECD’s education guru Andreas Schleicher. As the architect of PISA test and the TALIS teacher survey he regularly gives great new insights evidenced by data.

Andreas told us some of the things that work in the best performing school systems such as Singapore and Shanghai. Here there is significant investment in teacher capacity, rewarding them well, giving them time for preparation and training funded by larger class sizes, and running a longer learning day with more self directed learning.

He has clear evidence that this focus on teaching capacity works and yet these important findings are not applied in most Western jurisdictions. Incidentally, he also finds more evidence of innovation in the leading Asian systems.

It would have been inappropriate for him, as an OECD official, to point out that the successful Asian jurisdictions were less democratic. However he added a couple of other things. He said that short electoral cycles can be a problem and that politicians are more likely to do what is urgent than what is important. He also pointed out that school choice tends to make no difference because many parents are interested in more than just academic performance – such as school neighbourhood. Andreas was speaking at the inaugural world education summit organised by the Robert Bosch Stiftung.

The previous day I also took part in the 13th Education Fast Forward debate which discussed the challenge of developing 21st Century skills in schools (such as creative, collaborative, & presentation skills). Both discussions were coming to a similar conclusion.

Howard Reingold strikingly suggested in the EFF13 debate that there is a growing conflict between education and learning, that our qualifications and schooling are hampering the development of learning. He suggested that whilst in times of stability the older generation should be passing on what it knows to young people, at times of rapid change – like now – the older generation should be passing to young people the skills to direct their own learning.

This sentiment was reinforced in Berlin by speakers from Australia, India, the U.S. and Asia.

We can carry on trying to improve the system we’ve been tinkering with for the last 70 years, and nothing will really change. Or we can design a new system based around great teaching that at its heart coaches learning.

And so I came full circle in my mind. This change in teaching may be the right thing to do that ignites the fire of learning that we need for our children to thrive. If so it is really important. But implementing the change would take much longer than a five year electoral cycle and parents, employers and teachers would all need to be persuaded to support it to sustain it.

Meanwhile countries who don’t worry so much about democratic consent are just getting on with it and gaining a competitive advantage.

But I am first and foremost a democrat. Coming back to the UK, I have to accept our election outcome.

I congratulate Nicky Morgan on being re-appointed as Secretary of State for Education. My advice to her is to focus on what is important. In this case it is both important and urgent to address teacher capacity, especially recruitment and development. Here she can build on her record, learn from the best in the world, and many of us on the left of education politics will happily work with her on that vital agenda.


Blood Swept Lands And Seas Of Red

A couple of weeks ago I met my Mum at Tower Hill tube station. She was in her raincoat and trying to make her phone work when I found her.  We walked the few yards to get our first glimpse of the poppies at the Tower.  This wonderful installation, by Paul Cummins and my good friend Tom Piper, is an extraordinary spectacle.

IMG_2565Even so early on in the work to plant 888,246 ceramic poppies, the scale moved me. Each poppy was a life lost and by November the moat at the Tower of London will be full.  It is very beautiful and I will keep going back to see it unfold.

For my Mum it was particularly moving.  Almost one hundred years ago to the day her father joined up.  Unlike his brother George, he survived, but he never recovered his health following the gas attacks in the trenches.

A member of the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women awaits the beginning of a Lights Out WWI remembrance ceremony at the Bevis Marks Synagogue (from The Guardian)


Then last week I met up with a friend for dinner.  We had a lovely meal, I had yellow fish curry, at Granger & Co in Clerkenwell Green.  We were talking about the centenary of WW1, and she told me that she had been involved in some of the events in the Jewish community.  The Lights Out remembrance ceremony at Bevis Marks synagogue sounded particularly  special.

Naturally our conversation went on to discuss the impact of the awful events in Gaza and Israel.  Sadly too many people struggle to see the difference between the actions of the Israeli government and Jewish people generally.  There is an awful rise in anti-semitic attacks in this country as a result.

That in turn reminded me of a conversation I had two weekends ago at a party on a boat in the Lagoon at Venice.  I was a guest of the Kinnernet Italy conference organised by Yossi Vardi. Yossi and I were having a quiet chat in between the food, wine and dancing.  He was encouraging me to come to Israel to visits some of the schools he supports for Israeli Arabs.

It is too long since I last visited Israel and Palestine, and saw for myself the dangers of taking sides in the conflicts there.  Watching BBC2’s wonderful The Honourable Woman this weekend also reminds me of the layers of complexity in the region, and the pitfalls for those who try to stay neutral.

This weekend I have also been dragged back into  There I find more on the war records of my relatives.  I have found out a little of what I think is my wife’s grandfather who also fought and survived in the trenches.  I think I have found his pension record showing an honourable discharge on health grounds from the Royal Sussex Regiment after three years service.

But there is another member of Anna’s family I found out about through Ancestry.  Marks Cohen was her great grandfather.  He was born in Russia, the son of a rabbi.  He escaped forced conscription into the Russian army aged 14 and arrived in London speaking only Hebrew and Russian.  Fourteen years later he too signed up and was one of those many Jews who fought in the British army during the Great War.

All of these stories are reasons why I was so pleased when my friend Hannah asked me to help with the education programme for the Blood Swept Lands installation at the Tower.  By researching our own family stories of the war we can reconnect and remember their sacrifice, but we can also remember what binds us together.  The terrible conflict in the Middle East is so divisive, and yet commemoration of the Great War can also remind of us that however different each of us is, there are bigger things that bind us.


digital, education

Tech is all very well but the inspiration comes from the people

I have been in Atlanta since Friday night for the ISTE conference.  It has been a great chance to catch up with new and old friends, make some business contacts and reflect on this education business I am working in.

First thing is that maybe the US is getting civilised! They have given so much to the world, for better or worse, but it is nice to see the Americans importing some great things.  When I lived in Detroit 30 years ago you had to work really hard to find any decent beer – I had to go to Mexico to find good dark beer.  But now, even in Atlanta the home of Coca Cola, they have so much really good local beer from IPA to brown ale.  Where there is good beer, football is not far behind and this country is currently World Cup mad! We’ll see at 4pm local time how long that last when the USA plays Belgium.

In between soccer games I have also been having an extended discussion about teaching and teachers.  Last week I was part of an Education Fast Forward debate on the latest OECD TALIS results.  I led a session on this here at the conference yesterday.  This survey of over 100,000 teachers in 34 countries told us a lot including:

  • the esteem of teaching is very variable and correlates to higher student achievement, and…
  • most teachers value 21st century pedagogies but teaching practices don’t always reflect that, and..
  • the more teachers collaborate with each other the higher is their self esteem and job satisfaction, and…
  • appraisal and proper feedback improves teaching, and…
  • behavioural issues equate to lower job satisfaction, but class size doesn’t

On Sunday I also led a discussion on how we get a common narrative across the Atlantic on digital education.  We had started this in London as I sought to bring together the eLearning Foundation and the One to One Institute, and were delighted that Brian the head of ISTE invited us to continue the discussion here. Thanks to Intel we also had dinner together and were lucky enough to be joined by Guy Hoffman.  Guy’s TED Talk on robots with soul has been watched over 2.4 million times.

Guy’s work in giving robots body language is telling us so much about ourselves.  He gave me so much to think about with his inspirational technology, and how he is relating it to people.

But probably most inspiring in this sea of education technology has been the people.  The great thing about ISTE is the thousands of teachers giving up time to be here.  This is best encapsulated by the VW Camper Van positioned as you enter the exhibition area.

The very simple technology of wipeable pens is capturing what teachers think education will look like in 25 years.  Plenty see it being student centred, 24/7, schools without walls, teachers as facilitators etc.  Always positive and always believing in children.  And then my favourite:

it will be what we make it, so let’s get cracking!!

What better way to sum up why we are all here.