ResearchEd 2018: The revolution continues.


September is a cruel month in many ways but one if its more established delights is that ResearchED is at the beginning.  The jewel in the edu-geek’s conference crown.  2018, what a fantastic spread of speakers, themes and topics, all under one roof.  What a way to start the year!  This year is bigger than ever with over 1300 teachers, researchers and educationalists in attendance.

Our hosts were Harris Academy St John’s Wood, who occupy a fantastic new-build off the Finchley Road (albeit the layout and class numbers are rather labrythine to a newcomer).  Nonetheless, it is a place of beauty, a cathedral of learning- something we all should have.  I was a bit anxious as I had not really made my choices or plan B options for the day, in previous years I had a carefully constructed route plan.  This year, I was more serendipitous and made choices session by session.  The problem was there was too much choice – thousands of possible routes through the conference.

Sadly, I arrived too late for Tom’s address and the keynote as there was a trespasser on my train track, so I will have to leave others to fill in those gaps.  Anyhow, here are my notes and messy thoughts on what I managed to see.  Any errors and omissions are mine and not had time to fully reflect on some of the big questions but perhaps fuel for later blogs.

Deep S. Ghataria: Session 1: Measurement for schools and departments: Can we really measure progress?

Deep carefully laid out the challenges of tests and testing.  There is no such thing as a valid test, it is more about what we do with it, what inferences we make and how they inform our learning conversations.   The teaching community is obsessed by issues of curriculum but we are still trying to make sense of assessment.

Our measurement of student progress should avoid Byzantium number systems like flightplath.  We need a sound model of students progression in the learning of the subject matter.

There are many problems with tests which make tracking progress tricky.  Not all tests are the same level of difficulty, achieving 70% is not twice as good as 35%, we need to realise there are different sized gaps between grades.

Deep reminds us that there are four levels of measurement; nominal, ordinal, interval and ratio ands the challenges of collecting meaningful educational data.   Comparative judgement is useful bit it only collects ordinal data.

Deep suggests the solution to mapping pupil progress is to use the Rasch model which makes interval data out of ordinal M/C questions.  I need to do some more reading about this but if it works in the way that Deep describes then this may well be the future.

Session 2: Clare Sealy: What’s the fuss about a knowledge curriculum.

Clare starts with a description of her class learning about the Roman’s by making a Roman Road out of sand, clay and cat litter.  It was fun but very little learning took place, activity-rich but knowledge-lite.  Can you teach the same content but in a deep way? We need to give kids the bigger picture – fine detail is interesting but useless on its own.  When learning about the Roman’s students need the hinterland of the subject to be able to make sense of the details.

A knowledge-rich curriculum helps set students up for their futures and helps them understand key concepts. How can you teach fair trade if they do not understand trade?  By teaching Romans right we set them up for life?  As Christine Counsell recommends, we need to help them develop a hinterland!  We want children to be interested and interesting – they need this huge hinterland pouring into them.

Sometimes our pedagogy is activity rich and knowledge-lite, we are filling the timetable, fun with a hint of Romans.  Is this the right thing to do?  We did this because we did not know much about memory as a profession. There is no point in teaching too much as they will just forget it, so it might as well be fun.

A knowledge-rich curriculum is not just about drilling facts and passing exams.  A knowledge-rich curriculum should broaden minds and be enriching.  We should have a 3 year KS3 curriculum to develop hinterlands rather than just practicing GCSE style questions in Year 8 & 9.

No such thing as 21st Century skills, these skills are innate – creativity, communication, collaboration, critical thinking.  Do not need special lessons, because we do it anyway.  Critical thinking, creativity and communication are dependent on knowledge.  Declarative (knowing that) and procedural (knowing how).  Without a knowledge rich curriculum we over value the procedural stuff.Blooms taxonomy vs Sealy funnel … knowledge is not a lower order skills. You need them to be able to do the others.

Trouble with the word ‘skills’ – used to mean different things

Procedural knowledge
Dispositions – resilience
Generic skills – problem solving

Generic skills are not generic dependent on specific declarative knowledge – they do not transfer.  Learning to play chess makes you better at chess but not necessarily any cleverer.  Latin does not make you think more logically.  General problem solving, building spaghetti towers does not necessary help.

E.g. explanation … not good at all types of explanation depends on context.

Scientific explanations Vs Historical explanations

Scientific observational drawing Vs Artistic observational drawing

How transferable are skills from one domain to another?

Understanding is not separate from knowledge; it is connected to knowledge


I know that I am an open door in this area but it was fantastic to hear Clare knit it all together.  I am ashamed of some of the things I have done in the name of generic skills building and wished that I had this at the beginning of my teaching career.

Session 3: Becky Allen: The pupil premium isn’t working.  What next for the attainment gap?

Watch it here.

The pupil premium is not working – what next?
School admissions policies help middle class families keep ahead. Instead of tackling this successive Government’s have used cash to try and help disadvantaged but this has not worked, because of the constraints and assumptions that have been made.
Increase in funding for FSM pupils started in New Labour, pupil premium was the icing on the cake but comes with obligations for auditing and tracking
What has happened?  How do we know what has happened?

Problems with the data.

Attainment gap is not really closing, although given the recent changes it is difficult to make meaningful comparisons.  The comparison measures may not be that useful as they are dependent on how we scale the grades – new scale disadvantages lower attaining students – how we measure progress 8 depends on what goes in each bucket.
Recessions tend to close the attainment gap.
More likely to be on FSM in primary as only one parent works … by secondary both may work and the disadvantaged group become further detached from the mainstream.
FSM may not even be the best measure of the most disadvantaged.  It is based on an arbitrary benefits system that misses many of the working poor.  Large number of children in poverty but not able to have FSM.
Size of the attainment gap at school level is a product of your community. Gap between fsm and non-fsm.  The pupil premium does not target our lowest income students.  Fsm is a poor proxy for social and educational disadvantage.
Schools that serve disadvantaged communities need more money as greater pastoral needs, attendance and building cultural capital.
How should we spend money to raise attainment. Firstly, identifying pupil premium and non pupil premium is not helpful. Pupil premium students cover the range.
We are drawn to stereotypes about pupil premium students but the reality is that they exist in all attainment groups – we should beware the stereotypes.
Shuffling teachers – does this help?
How do we ensure students have access to good teachers?
Can pupil premium money be used to buy good teachers? Only about a fifth of inequalities are to do with access to good teachers the rest is down to the school.
Do most experienced teachers only teach top sets? – evidence – slight difference not significant.
What do we do with pupil premium?
You have to evidence spending and evidence impact – short term view of how to spend the money. TAs, breakfast clubs, etc … does this help?
Does marking them on seating plan and tracking help?
They have to mention it – but never say how to use it. They sometimes ask for an external review .. fueling an industry of consultants and conferences.
Governors – are they the right people to track it?
The act of ring-fencing money and providing an impact statement distorts how we spend the money.
We target an arbitrary group of kids – maybe not the poorest, but those who have an arbitrary entitlement based on benefits.
We do not spend the money effectively.
How should we spend the money?
Recognize the barriers students have – no desk and space? Silent and supervised study might be helpful.
Money has a poor track record in raising educational standards. No evidence or correlation of how to spend money.
Government ringfences how to spend money .. iWb, sports, pupil premium schools not trusted to spend it themselves.
SLTs expanded during New Labour but has not increased educational outcomes.
Schools do not spend money in ways which increase test scores.
Smaller class sizes – no evidence all the benefits accrue to the teacher?
Most significant inequalities are between kids in the same classroom. They experience the classroom very differently.

What conclusions can we draw?

  1. It is hopeless and inequality is innevitable.
  2. Not hopeless but solution is one to one tuition and it is expensive.
  3. We can do something in the classroom.
Hidden lives of learners. Graham Nuttal.
Ability in class – cognitive variation in children.
Neuroscience trying to measure differences in cognitive function between socio economic groups.
Cognitive functions are not fixed in students but we need to deploy instructional methods that give our students best success?
We should worry about variation in working memory and cognitive load.
We should think about how we give instructions?
Paying attention is The outcome of the instructional methods. We have a limited attention – we should aim to provide optimal conditions.
What has actually been learnt – Nuttall.
We observe children doing well in tests and we assume that it is our teaching – what did they really know?
Does measuring or monitoring the attainment gaps close them?
Don’t ring fence the money?
Give teachers the time and culture to think about why students learn different things?
I really liked this session.  Hopeful without idealisation, practical without ignoring the politics.  There is more we can and must do to address the attainment gap.

Session 4: Christine Counsell: Understanding and improving curricula: what can and can’t research do.

Watch it here.

Do we know what we are doing with curriculum?  Do senior leaders know?

What does evidence based practice mean in curriculum development?  Do the external goals of education distort or interfere with scholarly goals?  Teachers are not just conduits of curricula, choices of topics are meaningful and contestable.

We lack a model of what senior curricular leadership looks like in schools.  What do these people need? What research do we need?  We are stuck in constant confusions about assessment and data, CPD and subject knowledge.

Pull of generic training is understandable but unhelpful as schools try to be led as coherent enterprises.   To climb ladder of leadership one has to give up subject specialism.  Subject specialism leadership has always felt transient.  No two subjects are alike.  We lose sight of the curriculum at leadership level.  SLT need to be aware of the curriculum that sits behind the data.

Curriculum hides itself as we look at proxies – progress data.

Without curriculum, pedagogy is in a vacuum.  General pedagogy may not help – the how to teach is a curricula issue.  SLT cannot be master of 15 subjects – we need a language that helps us probe curriculum and what research would help?

7 types of question.

  1. Objective and subjective knowledge.  What do they need to know.
  2. Indirect manifestation of knowledge.

Curriculum as narrative over time (Latin curricula).  Not just about sequencing but about the generative properties of knowledge.  What difference does it make if this happens in Y7 or Y9.  What knowledge lies beneath it?

  1. Is the subject cumulative or hierarchical?

The status of what is learned depends on if it is cumulative or hierarchical.

  1. Is this disciplinary or substantive knowledge?

Curriculum is read as pedagogy.  Are SLT aware of the architecture of curriculum knowledge?

  1. Recontextualisation of academic knowledge.

How, Where and for What purposes has recontextualisation taken place.  School version of a subject Vs the academic version.

  1. Inter-disciplinarity

Compared to crazy cross-curriculum activities.

Inter-disciplinarity is better when we have deep understanding  of a subject.  Curriculum can it be bigger than the sum of its parts.

  1. Temporal character of curriculum — coherence of lesson sequence rather than seeing one lesson as a unit.

I am not sure I have captured the depths and delights of Christine’s talk.  I would urge you to seek the real thing but I loved this session.  Probably, my favourite … the return of curriculum to centre stage in school life.

Session 5: David Didau: Making Kids Cleverer

A return of Swindon’s answer to Stewart Lee.  I missed David last year and it is a welcome return to an edutwitter favourite.  There was even a funny reference to people sitting at his feet … the man, the myth continues.  He did promise to leave time for us to pour scorn at the end.

Alongside this being a shameless self promotion for his recent book, the session gave as a useful tour through recent debates and evidence-based findings.  Didau offers a manifesto for closing the advantage gap.


  1. Purpose of education.
Everyone agrees – happy, healthy, safe, creative, critical thinkers, problem-solving.
Question is how do we achieve it?Answer:  Try and make children cleverer.


2. It’s evolution stupid

Future? Unlikely to be that different. The Lindy Effect – the longer an idea has been around the more likely it is to be true.
Evolution has shaped us to find it easy to be creative, critical thinkers, collaborate, solve problems. They are Stone Age skills … no children struggle with these skills.
It is not that they cannot solve a maths problem they just don’t know enough maths. They can come up with creative excuses about home work. They can collaborate to play in the playground.
We have not evolved to find it easy to learn reading, writing, maths and science.
EducAtion – schools are the best system we have for teaching kids – the Lindy effect makes this true.


3. Is intelligence the answer?

General mental capacity – not just academic – broader sense of being able to make sense of the world.
Iq correlates with …
Creativity – 0.4
Leadership – 0.3
Conscientiousness 0.4 – 0.6
Victim of violent crime. -0.5 (less likely)
Happiness 0.5
Mental health 0.7 (schizophrenia)
Longevity 0.7
Educational outcomes 0.8
Likelihood of wearing glasses 0.4
Which way around does IQ cause high educational outcomes or the other way around?


4. Nature via nurture

We are not born equal we are simply born different – Adam Rutherford.
Differences between us are about habits, beliefs and customs … Adam Smith.
5. Can we get cleverer?
Is the brain like a muscle – when you exercise the arms they get better at all arm related activities.
When you exercise a brain activity you only get better at that activity … you can practice individual mental skills and you will only get better at that. (If you play chess …)
Fluid intelligence and crystallised intelligence.
Fluid – ability to reason and solve problems.
Crystallised intelligence – ability to access and use the information stored in long term ability.
Growth mindset is improbable but you can improve crystallised intelligence
The more you know the cleverer you are, the more links you can make, more problems you can solve, the more you can analyse.


6. How memory works.

Long term memory overcomes the limits of working memory.
Correlation between working memory and fluid intelligence.
Schema theory

7. You are what you know

Knowledge is both what we think with and about.  We cannot think with or about something we don’t know.  The more we know about something the more sophisticated our thinking.  What you know determines who you are.


8. What knowledge?

Without powerful knowledge children are dependent upon those who have it.  Powerful knowledge transcends and liberates children
Shared and powerful knowledge enables them to cooperate and work together and is ultimately the foundation for democracy.
But – what knowledge?  There is always an opportunity cost, with limited time difficult choices have to be made.
True cost of a choice is:
Explicit value of chosen option
Minus cost of chosen option
Minus implicit value of foregone alternative.
We should choose to do the things that are most powerful and culturally rich.

9. Practice makes permanent

Lots of knowledge can be automised.  Experts and novices think differently.


10. Teaching kids to be Cleverer

We know about effective instruction.
Cognitive load
Theory of disuse
Shifting the bell curve.
Murray – no point you cannot shift the bell curve.
Who benefits if we raise the intelligence of all children ?
Still a gap but people at the bottom benefit more.
Making kids cleverer is a social justice argument.

Session 5: Paul Kirshner: Don’ts and Do’s in Teaching and Learning: An Evidence-Informed Approach to Teaching and Learning.

Watch it here.

Paul gave clear instructions that we were not allowed to type or look at our laptops as it causes cognitive overload and inattention.  So here are the ones I surreptitiously took when he was not looking.  He had a fantastic T-shirt with Research Legend written on it, deservedly so.  I am very familiar with Paul’s work so probably should have looked up another speaker but I just wanted to hear it all again.  His Masters Voice.

Good Teaching & Learning.

Effective Efficient Enjoyable

Success leads to more motivation and not the other way around.

What does the evidence say?
Advance organisers
Elaboration theory
Information processing
Dual coding
Direct instruction

Advance organizer (David Ausubel)
The most powerful influence on learning is what you know already know.
Anchor – conceptual framework.
Describe or compare prior to learning
Assimilation and subsumption

Prior knowledge
New information
Learning activities are the exchange between the two.

Meaningful learning – constructing meaning from new information.

Elaboration. Begin simple work towards complex. Begin broad and then go narrow.



I had to leave before the end but huge thanks to Tom and Helene for another fantastic day.  Chicken soup for the teaching soul.  I feel refreshed and renewed once more with lots of questions buzzing around my head.  The revolution continues and this one is being televised.