Influencing Policy? Part 1 – PEN & Dylan Wiliam

Parliament Sunset by G4EGK on Flickr

First of a two part reflection on my Easter events.  I recently blogged about the Progressive Education Network after they invited me to an event at the House of Commons.  They subsequently invited me to a seminar led by Dylan Wiliam at the Institute of Education in London, conveniently the evening before Becta-X (see part 2 of these posts) I was pleased to be able to attend.

Dylan Wiliam is Deputy Director and Professor of Educational Assessment at the Institute of Education, University of London.  Formerly of King’s College London, Dylan was a co-author of Inside the Black Box – a seminal publication on the role of assessment as a formative element in learning.

Dylan Wiliam: Improving Education, why it is a national economic priority:

Dylan spoke passionately about improving education, why it is a national economic priority.  He argued that in the current economic climate the only effective way for us to continue improving the standard of education is to improve the quality of the teaching.

His seminar was backed up with high quality data, data that is available to all of our politicians.  He showed that low skilled jobs continue to vanish at an increasing pace (especially in times of recession).  He showed that investment in education was money well spent, public money spent on education is efficiently translated into improved economic output.

Looking at three generations of school effectiveness research he said:

  • Raw results approaches
    • Different schools get different results
    • Conclusion: Schools make a difference
  • Demographic-based approaches
    • Demographic factors account for most of the variation
    • Conclusion: Schools don’t make a difference
  • Value-added approaches
    • School-level differences in value-added are relatively small
    • Classroom-level differences in value-added are large
    • Conclusion: An effective school is a school full of effective classrooms

Delving more deeply into the variance of the data he showed that it doesn’t matter very much which school you go to, but it matters very much which classroom you are in.  More specifically it matters which teacher you have.

One particular area of interest for me was when comparing private and state schools around the World.  I had often heard that when you factor out the socio-economic differences between these schools that state schools are more often than not shown to have better teaching and better results.  This often show up in Contextually Value Added scores in the UK and interests me as I work in Trafford, one of the last remaining LAs that has a Grammar School system.

Comparing State & Private Education

This slide from Dylan’s presentation compares the two after socio-economic factors have been factored in (like using CVA in the UK).  I forget the exact x-axis units, forgive me.  A pink bar stretching farther to the right than a purple bar shows state education out-performing private schools.  Notice that the Conservative’s favourite school system in Sweden doesn’t come out too favourably here.

After concluding that the most cost-effective and time-effective way to improve our education was to improve our teaching staff we discussed CPD.  CPD of the current workforce (changing entry requirements etc to the profession take a generation to filter through and have little proven effect).  I asked if Dylan thought that there was time in a teacher’s year to improve their CPD.  We know what a busy life filled with paperwork the average teacher has already.  Dylan replied that there was time, but it is the responsibility of school leaders to make that time available.  This may mean asking staff to stop doing good and effective work in order to make time for training in turn making their work even better.  Something that is difficult and courageous for leadership to do.  It was also argued that CPD should be directed to some degree by research findings.

Discussing CPD, Dylan stated that improving practice involves changing habits, not adding knowledge.  That’s why it’s hard and takes time!  We also discussed Performance Management and how we could start to divorce some of the CPD from this.  Effective CPD needs to be something tailored to an individual that they have chosen to work on, not something inflicted upon them to tick a box.  Dylan suggested asking every member of staff “Do you want to improve as a practitioner?” and suggested 95% would honestly answer yes, and that the rest probably need removing from post asap!

To quote his final slide:

  • What is needed from teachers:
    • A commitment to the continuous improvement of practice; and
    • A focus on those things that make a difference to students
  • What is needed from leaders:
    • A commitment to engineer effective learning environments for teachers :
      • creating expectations for the continuous improvement of practice
      • keeping the focus on the things that make a difference to students
      • providing the time, space, dispensation and support for innovation
      • supporting risk-taking

I think these are salient points for all teachers and leaders.  Also for those of us who have a habit of using technology for technology’s sake – the learning has to come first.

Progressive Education Network – Influencing Policy:

I was interested to meet some of the PEN and to get a better feel for their objectives.  To quote them again:

Generating clear messages that build, nurture and give a real voice to a coalition of school leaders, teachers and governors is core to how Progressive Education Network will be different and distinct in its approach and work.

We believe that education and our childrens’ futures demand that we place the partnership of our frontline school leaders with government at the heart of policy making. We cannot afford a retreat to the old style politics of division and the domination of the ‘expert’ and the powerful.

There are influential figures involved with PEN who do have the ears of policy makers at Whitehall.  This then had me wondering about my involvement, the words politics and policy are a little alien to me.  I was not sure if it’s my place to influence these things.  Well, why not?  I’m not going to be out campaigning for this and that, but I do feel that future education policy needs to be considered and based on solid research and data.

PEN – Engaging online:

I was asked towards the end how I thought PEN could engage more effectively on-line with the various communities.  They are keen to have more involvement from staff on the front line and I guess a blog and Twitter network of 600+ makes me something of an ‘expert’?!

Thinking about this I’d say it’s relatively simple:

Engage with educators on Twitter: There is a PEN Twitter account, either via this, or possibly with individual members accounts, get involved in conversation – @reply people.  Set up some Twitter searches on the key topics you want to discuss and get involved in those conversations.  Twitter networks build quickly when you give valuable opinions back.

Encourage discussion on the PEN website.  Get those survey results out and enable comments somewhere no the website.  Again, encourage the conversation.

I don’t think there is any easy way for a group or company to ‘buy/promote’ there way into social media, you need to add value to people’s networks.

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One Comment

  1. Dan – thanks for the write up and the support. We are aiming to get to as many practitioners as we can possibly reach and your support and blog is really helping us.  Good to have met you at our event and looking forward to seeing you at our next event, whatever that might be!  Deryn – Co Director PEN

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