When Ruby met Ofsted

Why Ofsted’s new emphasis on intent is helpful to schools promoting expansive education

Bill Lucas

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:

blog pic

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.


Real-time feedback


Self-report questionnaires


Peer review

Group critique




Criterion-referenced grading

Rating of products and processes

Structured interviews

Performance tasks

Capstone projects


Expert reviews

Gallery critique

Authentic tests, e.g. displays, presentations, interviews, podcasts, films



Reliable, validated online tests

Digital badges



Bills blog: Why we need to stop talking about twenty-first century skills

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:

  1. that there are some skills that are especially relevant to the twenty-first century
  2. that, by implication, these skills are different from those which we needed in the twentieth century, and
  3. 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:

  1. the increasing complexity of problems such as climate change, global migration and growing resistance to life-saving drugs
  2. the ubiquity of data; it was never possible for schools to teach everything and these days they are selecting from an ever-expanding menu
  3. the proliferation of knowledge sources from the Internet and wider digital world
  4. the increasing interconnectedness and global nature of our relationships
  5. the potential of automation via Artificial Intelligence and its impact, often contested, on life and work
  6. increased self-employment
  7. 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:

  1. complex problem-solving that is frequently multi- and inter-disciplinary by nature and always ethically driven
  2. critical thinking and high level project- and time-management
  3. digital literacy, design and computational thinking
  4. intercultural collaborative problem-solving and emotional and social intelligence
  5. creativity, adaptability, meta-cognition
  6. creativity, communication, adaptability
  7. 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

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

·  Reasoning

·  Innovation

·  Intellectual openness

·  Work ethic

·  Conscientiousness

·  Positivity

·  Communication

·  Collaboration

·  Responsibility

·  Conflict resolution


·     Motivation

·     Perseverance

·     Self-control

·     Metacognitive strategies

·     Social competencies

·     Resilience and coping

·     Creativity


·  Perseverance

·  Self-control

·  Trust

·  Attentiveness

·  Self-esteem and self-efficacy

·  Resilience to adversity

·  Openness to experience

·  Empathy

·  Humility

·  Tolerance of diverse opinions

·  Engaging productively in society


·   Critical thinking

·   Creativity

·   Metacognition

·   Problem-solving

·   Collaboration

·   Motivation

·   Self-efficacy

·   Conscientiousness

·   Perseverance


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.

Why knowledge isn’t enough

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.


West Sussex Deputies Network

As part of a new series of posts we are reporting back the progress made on the Joint Practice Development Projects that ran last year.  Shortly we will be sending out details of how you can request a JPD partnership this year with WSDN support. More details will be out via email shortly but for now here is the first of 3 blogs sharing the cross-school collaboration that defines our network and makes WSDN a unique and vibrant example of effective  and purposeful networking.


 The Weald decided to utilise the WSDN JPD Project opportunity in 2013/4 to support the cross phase development it has started earlier that year. It lent a context and purpose to the work that was already underway and meant that all parties involved could take advantage of the training from Professor Bill Lucas and membership of Expansive…

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Why local authorities can still matter

In recent years it has become fashionable to knock local authorities. They are, so the argument goes, inefficient and an unnecessary brake on school autonomy and innovation. It would be better to free schools from their ‘interference’. That local authorities are a bad idea when it comes to coordinating schools has become an accepted orthodoxy. Given the challenging financial times we have been in this has also meant dramatic cuts to any remaining local school improvement capability with many authorities able to little more than ensuring adequate school places are available and dealing with safeguarding issues.

Collaboration between schools where it occurs these days is most likely to be through membership of a chain of Academies – potentially spread across England – or via voluntary working with a body such as SSAT or to our own Expansive Education Network (eedNET).

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Vocational Pedagogy – what it is, why it matters and how to put it into practice

Lucas (2014) Vocational Pedagogy Forum for UNESCO

The 2014 Education for All Global Monitoring Report on teaching and learning reminded us that there is a global learning crisis and that the quality of education is at the center of it. The quality of education largely depends on good teachers. This is particularly evident in technical and vocational education and training, where TVET teachers have a distinctive role to play in improving the quality of education. Quality TVET teachers are those with both expert knowledge in their field and who have the ability to transfer this knowledge to their students. However, we too often forget to discuss this important question: how to teach TVET?
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Resourceful and creative learners or PISA success or both?

When English children are compared unfavourably to those in Finland or parts of China by their PISA test scores (as they frequently are), there is always a temptation for people to suggest that teachers should change tack.  ‘We must focus on the basics of English and maths and stop being interested in this wider learning capability stuff’, is the cry from some.
But such polarizing sentiments are deeply unhelpful and ill-founded. Doing really well at maths and becoming a powerful learner are not mutually exclusive goals. We can and must achieve both. It was in an attempt to reconcile these ‘false opposites’ that Guy Claxton and I coined the expression ‘expansive education’. In our recent book Expansive Education: teaching learners for the real world, we explore the underpinning research for this view (it’s strong) and share examples from across the world of teachers who want outstanding results but not at any price. For primary schools wanting practical examples, Building Learning Power  is an excellent starting point.
There are three strong arguments to be made here. The first is based in research, the second is a moral argument and the third requires us to be principled pragmatists.

1. Heeding the evidence
‘For 20 years it has been known that students with more elaborate conceptions of learning perform better at public examinations.’  Specifically we know that certain pro-learning capabilities improve attainment. Two powerful examples are emotional self-management (persisting when the going gets tough) and the possession of a positive or ‘growth’ mindset  as Carol Dweck has termed it. Such a mindset would include self-belief, willingness to practise, learning from mistakes, and an inclination to collaborate. John Hattie  has specified very clearly those aspects of learning and teaching which best correlate with raising achievement. These include formative feedback such as assessment for learning, peer/reciprocal teaching, and learning to learn strategies.

2. Making the moral case
Schools, we believe, have a moral duty to prepare children for a lifetime of learning. Doing well on tests is important, but it is only a part of a bigger educational and societal project. The outcomes we desire from schools include communal virtues – honesty, trustworthiness, kindness, tolerance and empathy, the virtues of self-regulation – patience, self-discipline and the ability to tolerate frustration or disappointment. And then there are the epistemic or learning virtues, those that enable one to deal well with real-world challenges. These include determination, curiosity, creativity and collaboration. (We know that will power, for example, behaves exactly like a mental muscle that can be strengthened by exercise ). Teachers should be consciously, persistently and systematically cultivating the habits of mind that will serve children well, adding to the harmony, prosperity and creativity of society.
The good news from this moral argument is that the development of almost all of the kinds of the virtues we list will help to improve the PISA results. It’s not an ‘either/or’.

3. Being pragmatic
For some primary teachers it can come as shock to realise that it is, in any case, simply not possible just to ‘do the basics’, to concentrate on subject expertise alone. For whether you are teaching maths or English or history or science, you will also be shaping the way learners see themselves. Will children be acting dependently or resourcefully in maths? How will children view their drafts in English – embarrassed by their mistakes or comfortable with their story-in-progress? Will dispositions like empathy and rigorous analysis be cultivated in history, or will they be colouring in and getting ready to regurgitate? And will they be thinking like scientists or in a lab devoid of first-hand experimentation?
Even if we were to want to, we cannot choose between PISA-focus and genuine learning. For whatever curriculum we teach our values will be on show and learners will see which kinds of learning counts for us. That’s what I mean by principled pragmatism. We all need to provide an apprenticeship for children that produces both powerful learners and great test-takers!

Bill Lucas is the Director of the Centre for Real-World at the University of Winchester and the co-creator of the Expansive Education Network. Find out more at http://www.expansiveeducation.net.

This article appeared in the May 2014 edition of Teach Primary