Engineers use their creative problem-solving skills, their understanding of systems and their ability to work collaboratively in teams to solve the world’s great challenges such as climate change, feeding an ever-expanding population or developing clean fuels, and the world needs them now more than ever. Engineering is a fascinating, well-paid career with jobs at the cutting edge in machine learning, artificial intelligence and gaming, as well as the more traditional areas of construction and transport, but many countries around the world are finding it challenging to recruit young people to it. For a whole host of reasons, it seems that too many young people are put off studying relevant subjects such as science, computing, D&T or maths at school. So, for the past seven years, researchers at the Centre for Real-World Learning at the University of Winchester, have been working with teachers and professional engineers to find ways of embedding engineering more firmly within curriculum subjects to make it more ‘visible’ to pupils and parents/carers.
Drawing from research about generic habits of mind, and in collaboration with engineers at the Royal Academy of Engineering, we developed a model of six engineering habits of mind (EHoM) which we invited primary and secondary teachers to trial by incorporating the EHoM into their subject teaching.
Many teachers who took part in this research realised just how little they knew about engineering in today’s world, so the activities, reported in ‘Learning to be an Engineer’ opened their eyes to what engineers actually do and the skills and mindsets that are valued in this field. They also gained confidence in using active learning approaches such as tinkering and project work that required them to step back a bit and hand more control over to their pupils, with encouraging results; children became more fluent in their use of problem-solving techniques, they were more curious, asked better questions and were more prepared to learn from their mistakes.
 Hanson, J., Hardman, S., Luke, S., Maunders, P. and Lucas, B. (2018) Engineering the future: training today’s teachers to develop tomorrow’s engineers. London: Royal Academy of Engineering.
You can find out more about tinkering as a teaching method from our colleagues at the Science and Engineering Education Research and Innovation Hub (SEERIH) at the University of Manchester, who collaborated with us in the research.
As teachers became more familiar with ways of incorporating EHoM into lessons, ever mindful of Ofsted’s emphasis on curriculum impact, they began asking for tools that would help them establish how well their pupils were progressing in EHoM such as creative problem-solving or improving. One of the teachers developed a short Engineering Habits quiz, which when pupils answered a series of questions, showed them visually how well they were using each habit. This quiz has now been published by the Royal Academy of Engineering along with some highly imaginative teaching resources on the topic of ‘This is Engineering: Entertainment’.
The Student Guide includes the Engineering Habits Quiz and Badges to be gained for completing Engineering Challenges. The Teacher Guide is ‘designed to provide practical and contextualised applications where students and teachers can see the role that STEM-based learning plays in real-world engineering scenarios’ in the entertainment industry. Covering ages between 7-14, it includes activities and challenges that have curriculum links to maths, science, design technology and computer science.
Both guides and the quiz can be downloaded from the Academy STEM Resources Hub here: http://stemresources.raeng.org.uk/resources/enrich/this-is-engineering-entertainment/
Expansive Notes: Covid19 is a chance to…
Staying at home has made a lot of people think. Whether about coping, finding meaning, how to best use this time, or how we might look back on this extended moment fondly, there have been no shortage of responses.
Some people find themselves with time on their hands now; others are almost literally twice as busy. There have been suggestions that we adults use this time – if we’re in the first group – to learn something new. Or perhaps this period isn’t one in which to develop new habits, but to reinstate those ones that slipped by the wayside.
Much advice focuses also on how we should take time for ourselves. ‘Me time’ has positive connotations to some readers, but ‘keeping active’ can be an unwelcome challenge to others. So this post shan’t give advice. Instead, it looks at some educationally focused commentaries on how we might see this time at home as an opportunity.
The inspiration for this post was a positive video from The Social Co that was subsequently removed for copyright issues. It prompted watchers to think whether we, too, can see a day when we might look back more nostalgically, to a time ‘when all the entrepreneurs had a moment of stillness and creativity, and all the children remember nothing, but a time when all the mums, and dads, were at home drawing and playing ball games’. The reality may be a little more fraught at present, but it’s a nice sentiment.
Journalist and author Douglas Murray suggested that as we are all entrenched in our homes waiting for this to pass, now might be the time to ask ‘How do we spend our time well?’ For atheist Murray, he believes the answer might well be found in ‘the places where meaning has been found before’. Faith, music, reading: ‘what has seen our forebears through, and nourished them, will see us through and nourish us in turn’.
This idea of ‘meaning’ is an important one. Meaning and ‘purpose’; the purpose of education, are educators’ concerns. What is education for, and why are schools instructed to teach what they do? The instrumental importance of some subjects is fairly clear, but there is more to a good education than being ready to work. And even if we do have the maths, do we have the critical and creative thinking skills?
Nonprofit US-based ASCD’s piece on finding the upsides in an uncertain time considered that the current crisis ‘may well signal a reappraisal of our education systems and processes and a newer more human approach to education.’ The National Curriculum in England and Wales looks the way it does for many reasons. That it wasn’t entirely the result of purpose-driven systems thinking was demonstrated a couple of years ago when the government set up an inquiry to determine ‘what is the purpose of education?’. Encouraging in its thoughtfulness, yet revealing in its driving question, this question has a number of answers.
One of the answers the Centre for Real-World Learning submitted, was that the purpose of education was several but, up front with some big contenders, was the idea of valuing childhood for its own sake. At a time when children are away from formal education, how can we stimulate their own innate, unique talents and interests, and nurture their passions. Can this time be one of ‘finding out’ what’s out there and what there is to know? There is adventure to be had in books: fiction and non-fiction.
The theme of slowing down and focusing less on productivity has been a common one. How this will go down with employers is hard to say. This piece, from the Chronicle of Higher Education, begins with the assumption that life will ‘never’ be the same again. In general, this may be true, and particularly for families where illness or financial difficulty have been obstacles, or even life altering. But for those whose job involves sitting at a desk and can be done remotely, the end of the pandemic may spell a return to normality, albeit in a different economic landscape. On the plus side, the newfound necessity of business organisations to conduct complex meetings remotely might, it may be hoped, prompt them to continue these practices beyond the crisis. Fewer hours spent in cars away from families and an associated reduction in spending and use of petrol would no longer be seen as incompatible with corporate life.
The author of that piece also claims that for academics ‘while it may feel good in the moment, it is foolish to dive into a frenzy of activity or obsess about your scholarly productivity right now’. It is hard to disagree with the idea that frenzy and obsession are bad. It has to be said, though, that the extra (frenzied) sorting out of the following day’s homeschooling plan can be an enjoyable challenge. And sometimes more achievable than more open-ended tasks that paid employment might require. The suggestion that, rather than try to be productive, you should ‘devise a strategy for social connectedness’, ‘clean your house’ and ‘wake up early’ for the purpose of exercise, might be less stimulating to some than the process of thinking about what they would like their children to learn and how they are going to teach it.
Matthew Syed’s piece Coronavirus: The good that can come from an upside-down world was insightful. Some social media made much of the fact that Syed had suggested ‘education is not about imparting knowledge’. Over the years there has been much written about the importance of underpinning knowledge, and clearly Syed’s statement was a red rag. But that ‘education is not about imparting knowledge’ may not have been Syed’s point, or even his contention. The statement was perhaps merely a game; something thought provoking that allows for creative thinking that can ‘disrupt’ the status quo. The opportunity Syed highlights is that we have the chance to try something new. For some, this might be homeschooling in a way that teaches content while teaching another ‘something’ that’s also important, simultaneously: empathy, careful observation, practising, performing, creative thinking, tenacity. Essentially, putting into practice the ideas in the Pedagogy for Change series Bill Lucas and I have been writing over the past few years. It is a real win when you see a young child want to try again because they know that they can do better if they work at something. The poem or painting or maths question might be forgotten, but this lesson will live on.
Expansive Notes: Our best reads for teachers (remote and
homeschooling!) this week
Blog by Ellen Spencer
At a time when teachers are working remotely from their pupils, and maybe even having to homeschool their own children simultaneously, many will be wondering how best to use this time and maximise its opportunities. With exams cancelled and much uncertainty, teachers can guide children and young people in ways that will make a real difference to their lives. Here are our thoughts on some ideas we have collated from around the web:
1) Rather than ticking over with subject-based worksheets, why not use this chance to focus on a weekly topic to spark an appetite for ‘finding out’ in pupils of all ages. Alex Quigley has suggestions on his home-school page that will build each week. This week he has been supplementing the school’s work with art-themed homeschool. In my house we’ve taken on a ‘travel’ theme for our daily homeschool, and learn about aspects of each country we visit that speak to parts of the curriculum we want to explore.
2) From experience this week, web chat meetings can be chaos. I’ve witnessed this as a parent and a student. This may improve as hosts learn to find the mute button (!) but, until then, safeguardinginschools consultant Andrew Hall suggests pre-recorded webinars would serve the purpose better. He also raises the question of which pupils may be left behind, if access to broadband technology, a spare computer, and undisturbed tech space becomes a requirement for learning.
3) Don’t forget the practical subjects! The Design&Technology Association has a series of helpful lesson plan resources – free at the moment to members, and available to non-members for a fee. You will need access to some materials, but some will be everyday objects found in the home. With online retailers still fulfilling orders, and technology that allows school to take online payments from parents, can your school or community of teachers find ways of bulk-purchasing and mailing out to pupils any unusual small bits of equipment they might need? Here are some D&T activities one school in Essex is suggesting for its K21 and KS2 children.
4) For educational technology, EdTech is a one-stop resource curating online learning resources on a daily basis.
5) Many teachers will be thinking about how they can help mitigate the detrimental effects of confinement upon children, particularly those who are vulnerable or do not have access to the outdoors at this time. For many young people, it might be that focusing on a healthy lifestyle is most important right now. An article published this month in The Lancet on mitigating the effects of home confinement is worth a read.
6) The National Gallery are using multiple social media platforms to make their collection of European art accessible at this time. My children were ‘visiting’ Venice yesterday for our day of homeschooling, and the National Gallery’s Twitter thread on painter Titian was timely. Titian painted the Virgin Mary with the Angel Gabriel in Annunciation, a painting displayed in Venice. We dropped by on what happened to be the church’s annual celebration of this event, which definitely brought our learning to life! The Gallery’s clever use of photos on a Twitter thread allows learners to take a virtual tour of the Titian: Love, Desire, Death exhibition. Check out the hashtag #MuseumFromHome
7) The Chartered College of Teaching is a site to bookmark for live updates on news, teaching resources, and wellbeing.
8) One of our favourite resources for bringing the outdoors in comes from the Scouts. See #TheGreatIndoors on social media. Activity Dear Future Me is a great idea for getting children of all ages to use their imaginations and empathise with their future selves. ‘Imagine your dream job … write about what you did to get there’ is one idea that helps children to think through the steps that might be needed for success in any sphere of life. We can imagine how this might spark conversation and research about possibilities. How about taking this one step further and challenging children to set themselves a realistic timed goal that they can achieve from home?
9) UKEdChat has a ‘CPD Bookcase’ of suggested books for your teacher development. Its 8pm #UKEdChat Twitter chat can be useful for staying in touch with other professionals. Article 10 things that teachers can do when forced to work from home is worth a read.
10) Finally, in all that you’re planning to teach, whether remotely or as a homeschool teacher, consider how you can infuse your plans with opportunities for children to develop their learning dispositions. At a time when mental and physical wellbeing is paramount, a lesson needs to deliver more than worksheets. Pick a learning habit and think about how your lesson will help learners grow in creative thinking, grit, or empathy. What about attention to detail, zest for learning, or collaboration (that will surely need some creative thinking at this time!). How can you incorporate the use of drafts and a goal of excellence in work that you set for pupils? My book with Bill Lucas Zest for Learning reminds teachers to think about good learning habits like ‘building relationships’, ‘embracing novel experiences’, and having a chance to ‘perform’ what you’ve learned. At home I’m trying to develop lifelong learners who want to find things out, do what they can’t yet do, and take pride in what they produce. When I’m planning late at night, thinking about how I can build in learning habits helps me remember why I’m doing this.
We plan to curate ideas like this regularly. To stay in touch, please follow @Pedagogy4Change on Twitter.
Bill Lucas and Janet Hanson
Along with project-based learning and approaches sometimes characterised as enquiry-led, problem-based learning is increasingly being seen as a valuable pedagogy in FE and work-based learning (and, to a lesser extent, in some schools). Problem-based learning (PBL) began in medical and health education as a means of ensuring clinicians were better prepared for dealing with patients in the real world (as opposed to the imagined settings of their text books).
The problem drives an inquiry process in which learners use self-directed learning and problem solving skills, often in groups, to identify solutions to a problem (Hood-Cattaneo, 2017). The curriculum context in which the PBL is used is often interdisciplinary and requires learners to integrate knowledge from different disciplines, with the aim of promoting life-long learning (Savery, 2006).
One definition of problem based learning notes that it ‘places the learner at the centre of the educational activity where a problem stimulates information retrieval and the application of reasoning mechanisms’ (Jerzembek and Murphy, 2013, p.206). Others build on earlier definitions from seminal works by Savery (2006) and Barrows (2000) to recognise the importance of it being a student-oriented approach requiring learners to do research, combine theory and practice, find practical solutions for a defined problem and bring together their knowledge and skills from different experiences and disciplines (Demirel and Dagyar, 2016).
In higher education, where most of the research into PBL is located, the approach has been found to be more effective than traditional lecture based programmes for skills development and long term retention of knowledge, while being less effective for short term content acquisition (Wilder, 2015). These findings have been fairly consistent across a range of subjects including computing, engineering, teacher education and nursing, as well as medicine (Walker and Leary, 2009).
At secondary level the evidence is also less compelling for short-term content acquisition but more secure for capabilities and personal skills development, which makes it a promising approach for developing employability skills but less promising for passing exams requiring short term memory recall (Jerzembek and Murphy, 2013).
Although there is almost no robust research into the use of PBL in further education as yet, the indications from the research in other sectors suggest that PBL would fit well with work-based learning in FE, particular when problem scenarios are created in collaboration with employers.
Wilder (2015) describes the structure of PBL as including six distinct steps:
- Students collaboratively consider the posed problem, clarify all unfamiliar concepts, and then define the problem
- Students brainstorm ideas while incorporating prior knowledge and hypothesize the solutions
- Students elaborate on the proposed solutions and formulate learning objectives
- Students exercise self-directed learning guided by the learning objectives and share the findings with the group
- The step-by-step format of this process allows for a PBL problem to be solved over several class sessions, and the steps may be repeated, if necessary, multiple times
- Once the solution is finalized, the students share their findings with their teacher and other groups.
So when delivered rigorously following this structure, several myths about PBL can be dispelled:
- Students do not just do anything they want, nor are they left to their own devices.
- Teacher input is required from the beginning, not just at the end.
- There is no place for students to ‘hide’ in the group learning situation, providing the assessment strategy is robust.
The challenge for teachers is to recognise that it requires them to play a different role with learners.
Key lessons when using PBL
- Where possible work with learners and employers to identify an authentic problem
- Spend time understanding the problem
- Explore what learners already know about the problem
- Be clear what knowledge and skills students will need to be able to tackle the problem and, where necessary, specifically teach this if it is not yet present
- Think about the different group roles needed and prepare students to be able to play these
- Encourage group critique of work in progress
- Create support structures for learners who may find some aspects of this less structured learning challenging
- Provide multiple opportunities for reflection
- Think creatively about how students can share their findings as authentically as possible
- Ensure the summative assessment process matches the intended learning outcomes and allows students to demonstrate the full extent of their learning
- Play the role of an informed facilitator and coach throughout the process.
Prof Bill Lucas and Dr Janet Hanson of the University of Winchester’s Centre for Real-World Learning are currently exploring problem-based learning with the support of the Royal Academy of Engineering and Comino Foundation.
Barrows, H. (2000). Problem-based learning applied to medical education. Springfield, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.
Demirel, M. and Dağyar, M. (2016). Effects of Problem-Based Learning on Attitude: A Meta-analysis Study. Eurasia Journal of Mathematics, Science & Technology Education, 12(8).
Hood-Cattaneo, K. (2017). Telling active learning pedagogies apart: from theory to practice. Journal of New Approaches in Educational Research. 2017, 6(2), 144-152.
Jerzembek, G. and Murphy, S. (2013). A narrative review of problem-based learning with school-aged children: implementation and outcomes. Educational Review, 65(2), 206-218.
Merritt, J., Lee, M.Y., Rillero, P. and Kinach, B.M. (2017). Problem-based learning in K–8 mathematics and science education: A Literature review. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-Based Learning, 11(2), 3.
Savery, J. R. (2006). Overview of problem-based learning: definitions and distinctions. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem Based learning, 1(1).
Walker, A. and Leary, H. (2009). A problem based learning meta-analysis: Differences across problem types, implementation types, disciplines, and assessment levels. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-based Learning, 3(1), 6.
Wilder, S. (2015). Impact of problem-based learning on academic achievement in high school: a systematic review. Educational Review, 67(4), 414-435.
Why Ofsted’s new emphasis on intent is helpful to schools promoting expansive education
It is four years and many reprints since Guy Claxton and I published Educating Ruby: what our children really need to learn.
The good news is that the world is moving towards our vision of what young people need to learn, with national curricula increasingly, according to the Brookings Institution, incorporating some or all of Ruby’s 7Cs. PISA 2021 will even test one of these Cs, creativity (creative thinking) in 2021.
In England a surprise opportunity has arisen with our accountability body, Ofsted, requiring schools to focus more on offering a breadth of curriculum and describe their Intent, Implementation and Impact of what they plan. Helen Martin, headteacher of Graffham and Duncton Schools in West Sussex, has developed an engaging and imaginative graphic to express her Intent to build a curriculum around the 7Cs:
The inner ring shows Ruby’s 7Cs and the outer describes the vision within which these are cultivated – learning rigour, high aspirations and cultural capital, courageous advocacy, children as global climate ambassadors, Leadership as child level and child-led.
The key to implementation will be detailed integration planning, a split screen approach, showing how these expansive 7Cs will be embedded in every subject discipline as well as in extra-curricular opportunities. The Royal Yachting Association, for example, has shown just how they can be cultivated as children learn to sail:
And if schools are looking for ideas as to how they might track the development of Ruby’s important dispositions, then here are some ideas Ellen Spencer and I have developed in Teaching Creative Thinking.
Rating of products and processes
Authentic tests, e.g. displays, presentations, interviews, podcasts, films
Reliable, validated online tests
Bill Lucas urges us to move on from the rhetoric and focus on the evidence
It’s a characteristic of human beings to want to look ahead and think about what might happen next. Indeed our capacity to anticipate and plan for new experiences is, at least in part, why we have evolved as a species so successfully.
So it was entirely natural that, as the year 2000 dawned, with all the extra bezazz of it being a millennium milestone, the futurists got to work. Buoyed up by the potential for the so-called ‘millennium bug’ to shut down virtual civilisation as we knew it and driven by genuine uncertainties about the opportunities afforded by the invention of the World Wide Web in the 1980s, speculation about what this might mean for society in general and schools in particular was rife. In 1998 Google was invented and the two decades which followed saw the birth of Facebook (2004), Twitter (2006) and Instagram (2010). Surfing on this wave of human inventiveness were and are the many tech companies which enable these digital breakthroughs to flourish. It was and is in the interests of such companies to suggest that their products provide solutions which bricks and mortar schools cannot. The marketing device to create the necessary sales climate in education was the idea of ‘twenty-first century skills’.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary the first use of the phrase ‘twenty-first century was by novelist Dick Barton in 1964. But with the sense that it has when linked with ‘skills’ its earliest outing was by the Royal Society of Arts in London in its journal in 1980 in the sentence ‘Everyone in the country must adapt to twenty-first century living and working patterns.’
For the last four decades the phrase ‘twenty-first century skills’ has become ubiquitous. At its core, twenty-first century skills suggests three things:
- that there are some skills that are especially relevant to the twenty-first century
- that, by implication, these skills are different from those which we needed in the twentieth century, and
- that these skills are somehow relevant for a whole century.
Over the past decades ‘twenty-first century skills’ has become widely and uncritically accepted, an educational meme. The phrase has gathered many associations with it including ideas that:
- a digital, technology-driven world requires some pupils to learn new skills
- classrooms in schools no longer have walls given the global reach of technology
- with technology knowledge is much less important if it can be acquired by searching the Internet
- direct instruction by teachers is no longer relevant
- in a world with so much data available knowing too many things might be a waste of cognitive space
- that learning is life-long more than it is school-based.
The idea of twenty-first century skills both delights and infuriates.
As a thinking frame for considering the role of schools in rapidly changing times, it seemed helpful at first, seemingly inviting educators to ask profound questions about education. Four decades on the phrase is increasingly irritating. Its refusal to distinguish between skills which are eternally useful as opposed to those which are legitimate responses to the world we live in now is lazy. And it distracts from a much more interesting question: what makes a good learner?
A legitimate concern about what skills students might need today has gradually morphed into a mantra and, more recently, into an uncritical movement. The danger with this mutation is that the words have acquired an evangelical fervour and started to put off the very people who need to be considering their role today, the majority of thoughtful teachers across the world. For this group twenty-first skills can seem jingoistic, simplistic or distracting.1964—1980
Reaching a consensus as to what is and is likely to be different in the coming years is contentious territory. But most commentators agree about some of the main trends. These include:
- the increasing complexity of problems such as climate change, global migration and growing resistance to life-saving drugs
- the ubiquity of data; it was never possible for schools to teach everything and these days they are selecting from an ever-expanding menu
- the proliferation of knowledge sources from the Internet and wider digital world
- the increasing interconnectedness and global nature of our relationships
- the potential of automation via Artificial Intelligence and its impact, often contested, on life and work
- increased self-employment
- an ageing society.
In direct response to each of these elements it can be argued that the kinds of capabilities, competencies or dispositions that we need are likely to include:
- complex problem-solving that is frequently multi- and inter-disciplinary by nature and always ethically driven
- critical thinking and high level project- and time-management
- digital literacy, design and computational thinking
- intercultural collaborative problem-solving and emotional and social intelligence
- creativity, adaptability, meta-cognition
- creativity, communication, adaptability
- learning to learn.
While each disposition broadly maps onto its equivalent number it is not so simple; the categories are much more permeable.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) response over a number of years now has been to describe the kinds of skills needed as follows, Figure 1:
Figure 1 – 16 skills for the twenty-first century (World Economic Forum, 2015)
Framing skills or dispositions as applying to a whole century is irksomely lazy. If an underpinning argument is that we are in turbulent, fast-moving times and need a changed set of skills then it is plainly silly to assume that what we need to learn now is the same as what we will need to learn in 10 or 30 or 80 years from now.
While the debate about twenty-first century skill has been going on, a quiet consensus has been emerging about the kinds of dispositions which young people need to get on at school and beyond. The five lists on the next page are indicative, Table 1.
Each of these seven or so wider skills or capabilities frameworks have been drawn from research, research from fields spanning employment, technology, education, psychology, education and the learning sciences. There are many more and these five are illustrative only.
The point of including them is simply to show the considerable overlap which exists.
Whatever we call ‘twenty-first century skills’ there is growing agreement that there is a set of near timeless dispositions which, taken together, make a powerful learner. These are expansive, valuable ideas for all schools to focus on.
The debate now needs to move on to how we do it not whether they are important. And in answering this question we need to draw on evidence and not rely on technologically inspired rhetoric. That’s where we at the Expansive Education Network come in, by helping you to frame action research questions designed to help you embed valuable expansive dispositions into your teaching.
|European Key Competences for Lifelong Learning, 2007||Pellegrino and Hilton, 2012||Gutman and Schoon, 2013||Heckman and Kautz, 2013||Lamb et al., 2017
|· Communication in mother tongue
· Communication in foreign languages
· Digital competence
· Learning to learn
· Social and civic competences
· Sense of initiative and entrepreneurship
· Cultural awareness and expression
|· Critical thinking
· Information literacy
· Intellectual openness
· Work ethic
· Conflict resolution
· Metacognitive strategies
· Social competencies
· Resilience and coping
· Self-esteem and self-efficacy
· Resilience to adversity
· Openness to experience
· Tolerance of diverse opinions
· Engaging productively in society
|· Critical thinking
|Table 2 – Skills for a lifetime of learning|
This blog draws on a much longer article published by the Centre for Strategic Education, Melbourne, Australia.
Gutman, L., and Schoon, I. (2013). The Impact of Non-Cognitive Skills on Outcomes for Young People: Literature review. London: Institute of Education, University of London.
Heckman, J., and Kautz, T. (2013). Fostering and Measuring Skills: Interventions that improve character and cognition – NBER Working Paper No. 19656. National Bureau of Economic Research.
Lamb, S., Maire, Q. and Doecke, E. (2017) Key skills for the 21st century: an evidence-based review. Sydney: Centre for International Research on Education Systems.
Pellegrino, J. and Hilton, M (eds) (2012) Education for Life and Work: Developing transferable knowledge and skills in the twenty-first century. Washington: National Research Council.
World Economic Forum (2015) New Vision for Education: Unlocking the Potential of Technology. Geneva: World Economic Forum.
European Parliament (2007) Key Competences for Lifelong Learning: European Reference Framework. Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities.
An open letter to Damian Hinds MP
Dear Secretary of State,
Congratulations on your new appointment from all of us at The Expansive Education Network.
We hope very much that you will wish to combine your passion for creating chances for all young people to excel with a desire to ensure that schools focus on much more than academic success.
Putting character and capabilities back into education
In 2014 the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility which you once chaired reminded us that children who come from the least disadvantaged contexts need to develop some key capabilities if they are to thrive.
As your committee put it:
Research findings all point to the same conclusion: character counts. People who overcome adversity and realise their full potential tend to exhibit many of these traits. In simple terms, these traits can be thought of as a belief in one’s ability to achieve, an understanding of the relationship between effort and reward, the patience to pursue long-term goals, the perseverance to stick with the task at hand, and the ability to bounce back from life’s inevitable setbacks. These various attributes all fall under the broad heading of Character and Resilience.
The Department for Education’s relentless interest in ‘academic’ success in schools, as exemplified by its focus on measuring Progress 8, has shifted the debate away from character and resilience towards something much narrower to do with certain subjects on the curriculum. Perhaps unintentionally a determination to class some subjects as academic (maths and English, for example) and others as not (such as music), has further polarised the debate about what counts in school.
Making excellent progress in core subjects is, of course, crucial, and nothing I am saying here seeks to take away from that fact.
But cultivating character is equally important and, as the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility reminded us, especially so when we are looking at factors which will influence the life chances of those who are least well off.
Can you help us change the tone of the debate as we all try and improve schools? Simply by using the conjunction ‘and’ in your speeches and writings you could do this, by talking about the need to improve standards in numeracy and resilience, academic success and character.
With Guy Claxton, I have been making the case for character for several decades. Recently, in Educating Ruby: what our children really need to learn, we imagine an imaginary girl called Ruby and describe a world in which she might be acquiring seven important capabilities at school – creativity, curiosity, collaboration, craftsmanship, confidence, and commitment – as well as the seven or more subjects you would expect to see on a typical timetable.
We wrote this book for parents and so, for ease of impact and memorability, we chose words beginning with the letter C. In the Expansive Education Network we use a more technical and educational language drawing on research to show how perseverance, self-regulation, self-belief, empathy and creative thinking matter and how schools can cultivate these in their students.
What’s the true purpose of education?
Almost exactly two years ago the Education Select Committee asked this question. At the Centre for Real-World Learning we worked with nine national bodies to see if common agreement could be reached – Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), City & Guilds, Comino Foundation, Centre for the Use of Research and Evidence in Education (CUREE), Mercers’ Company, PTA UK, Royal Academy of Engineers, Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) and Schools of Tomorrow.
Of the suggestions we made, two seem particularly important at the moment, that education should
- see capabilities and character as equally important as success in individual subjects, and
- make vocational and academic routes equally valued.
Can you help us change the conversation so that we begin to talk about these two twin aspirations for education – success in any test of character and success in examinations, a focus on ‘hand’ and ‘heart’ as well as on ‘head’ – as being equally desirable?
Researchers from across the world have shown how have shown how character and resilience, the twin themes of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility report with which I began this letter, also contribute to success in examinations. And our own research into vocational pedagogy and apprenticeships has shown how, as you think about introducing T levels and developing more higher-level apprenticeships rigorous pedagogy will help to ensure high-quality teaching.
Avoiding false opposites
In short, can we try and avoid the over-simplification of education being either about knowledge and skills or about capabilities and character, academic or non-academic and focus instead high-quality learning to equip all young people to be successful throughout their lives.
Here in the UK we are at the forefront of thinking about the kinds of capabilities young people will need if they are truly to thrive. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility’s plea for character and resilience is an example of this. The fact that the OECD’s PISA test of Creative Thinking in 2021 will be based on work undertaken by the Centre for Real-World Learning is another illustration.
But at home such innovation can easily get drowned out by the noise of simplistic argumentation.
Please help us all to strike a more measured and balanced tone when it comes to talking about what schools need to do.
Professor Bill Lucas, Centre for Real-World Learning at the University of Winchester
Written by: Professor Bill Lucas | Published: 08 November 2017
With even PISA acknowledging the importance of creative thinking, there is an emerging consensus that ‘dispositions’ or ‘skills’ must be considered just as much as ‘knowledge’
Knowledge of all kinds is very important. We need to know about our world, about weather and migration, about warfare and peace, about languages and literature, about number and letter.
Sometimes this can be relatively simple – why things fall downwards; sometimes much more complex – understanding the so-called god particle, for example.
Of equal importance is process knowledge, how to do an array of things from arriving at the correct lesson with the right books to using a map when we get lost; how to work out whether a special offer is good value or how to plan a complex investigation into a topic and distil findings for a class presentation.
Many schools teach these kinds of knowledge well. Student timetables make it easy for learners to know what to expect by organising life into subjects – English, maths, science, music and so forth.
But we also need more, students who know how to do things they have not yet been taught, who are able to operate effectively in situations they have not previously encountered.
Across the world a significant shift is taking place as it is increasingly being recognised that something other than knowledge is required. Australia calls them capabilities. Others call them “dispositions” or “habits of mind” or “attributes” or “competencies”. Key dispositions include creative thinking, collaboration, perseverance and self-perception.
We know from the work of Lesley Gutman and Ingrid Schoon (2013) and James Heckman (2014), for example, just how important these are for success in both subject-based tests and more widely throughout life.
Professor Guy Claxton and I have explored such dispositions in greater detail in Educating Ruby: What our children really need to learn.
Over the last few decades in England we have dabbled with introducing these ideas into schools. Personal, learning and thinking skills (or PLTS) as they became known were one laudable attempt. But too often these did not work well as they became “siloed”, with schools somehow imagining that they could be taught in the abstract in separate “skills” lessons. Over-keen advocates seemed to suggest that they were more important than knowledge and we quickly found ourselves in an unhealthy false dichotomy: skills versus knowledge.
Worse still they became branded as “21st century skills”. This latter notion became increasingly silly as we entered the 18th year of the millennium suggesting as it does that we have not yet worked out what they are and that, magically at the strike of midnight, we needed a different skill-set.
For dispositions truly to be embedded in schools requires a shift in our thinking. A secondary school such as Thomas Tallis in London shows us how this can be achieved. Talented teachers continue to focus on the subjects of the curriculum with which we are all familiar, at the same time as selecting teaching and learning methods which cultivate things like curiosity, perseverance and effective collaboration.
Initially it was necessary to highlight the dispositions explicitly. Gradually they become integrated so that, for example, as part of a maths lesson, students learn strategies for working their way through difficult questions or in science they are introduced to different roles which scientific teams play when conducting experiments (see further information).
Ellen Spencer and I feature schools like this from across the world in our new book, Teaching Creative Thinking.
Recently the importance of dispositions has been acknowledged by one of the “guardians” of global comparative standards, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). In 2021, as well as tests for 15-year-olds in English, maths and science, PISA will introduce a test of creative thinking.
I am honoured to have been appointed as co-chair of the PISA Strategy Group which will advise on the development of this test, based on our research undertaken at the University of Winchester.
Further corroboration of the importance of capabilities alongside knowledge can be seen elsewhere in the world by the explicit inclusion of them in the national curricula of, for example, Australia, Finland, New Zealand and Singapore.
Employers are increasingly making their voices heard on this matter, too. Often using the phrase “soft skills” to describe the kinds of dispositions listed earlier, the Confederation of British Industry recently called for an education system that develops determined, resilient, curious and creative young people who are also knowledgeable and skilful.
Put simply then, there is an emerging consensus. We need schools which embed capabilities in the formal and informal curriculum with just as much rigour and thought as when they focus on knowledge.
By Bill Lucas
In October of last year when I was in Australia I wrote a piece for The Conversation headlined How to praise your child: why simply saying ‘well done’ is not helpful. I was astonished by its reception. Within a month it had been downloaded 40,000 times and it continues to be well-read. This interest made me reflect that, some of what we take for granted in parenting and parental engagement needs a fresh pair of eyes.
In this case it was the surprising idea that praising your child might not be a wholly good thing. For most parents such a thought is deeply counter-intuitive. We are biologically wired to want to encourage our children and saying ‘well done’ seems a simple way of doing this. But once we realise that general praise such as this does not help our child learn anything about what it was that she was doing that we want to encourage, we start to see how we can be more helpful if we are more specific. ‘Well done for not giving up and trying other ways of planning that essay’ is so much more informative than ‘well done’. Feedback like this is much more likely to develop capable, resilient children, too.