Live Blog from ResearchED 2015

Posted on September 5, 2015


Okay, so here’s my first attempt at a live blog. Already an admission that I’m late and missed the first session because my daughter has her 11+ today and so, as always, life comes before education. 

But here I am now and already roped in as a helper (the perils of getting to know Hélène too well) to introduce a video of a Skype conversation between Tom Bennett and Daniel Willingham. Tech issues now resolved, here we go…

Session 2 – Daniel Willingham

“Learning and memory” the most important and “most relevant” aspects of cognitive psychology for teachers, alongside attention (without which it’s game over).

Once teachers have set their goals, science can help them distinguish between method A and method B. Teachers also need to be aware of what science hasn’t or can’t address.  “Education is a goal/driven exercise” and goal-setting is something that science can’t help with at all. 

Local school boards often set “all goals for all children” which is impossible. Professional knowledge can fill this gap. 

Motivation another field of psychology that is important for teachers. Child development and economics also relevant (although economists often see the classroom as a black box). 

“I would want teachers know the basics about how the operate, including basic and well-researched principles on working and long-term memory. This might help a teacher understand why a student is struggling with something.”

It’s about giving a teacher a “working construct” for what they do. 

“The domain specific knowledge working long-term memory is vital for the skills that teachers want them to master. Scientific thinking skills don’t stand alone independently of scientific knowledge. The two are really intertwined and you can’t separate them.”

It’s about doing content knowledge and skills “at the same time”.

Big problem in the U.S. is the autonomy and lack of connectedness of schools and the problems of cross-fertilisation of knowledge. 

“Extremely cautiously optimistic about the prospects of cognitive neuroscience contributing to education.” But problems with ‘brain-based’ education organisations taking some scientific neuroscience finding and “make a leap to behavioural findings” that just isn’t there and can be deterministic in its conclusions. 

Neuroscience often at its best where it works with well established behavioural theories. Outputs are behavioural and inputs are behavioural, therefore a translation needed at either point between behavioural theory and neural data. 

Willingham optimistic because it’s already happening (the connection between behavioural theory and neuroscience in education), especially in terms of reading and dyslexia. 

Question from Stuart Lock – Should Willingham’s simple model on memory be backed for teachers by greater complexity?  “I guess not.” Although he adds to this with greater nuance. Perhaps motivation could be included. 

The Testing Effect is really easy to observe and lots of evidence. Students ought to test themselves. Also a discussion about the importance of stories in learning. 

“If you’re going to look to science to be important to educators, we can tell you what students have in common, but ‘learning styles’ is looking for categories (within differences) – if you could pull that off it would be extremely useful for educators and you can see why it has such appeal – but no evidence of this.”

“Most teachers I know value and celebrate creativity. But non-creative teaching could be banking future creativity.”

Rene Kneyber – Flip the System

Twitter is a lovely place with lovely people. I now have a tether to ensure my battery makes it through this live blogging challenge. 

How could I not attend a session subtitled “changing education from the ground up”? This is so up my street that it’s parked in my living room watching Homeland with me and nuzzling up for a cost evening in. 

Judging from the lack of empty seats I’m not the only one looking forward to this session. I’m hoping it’ll be as good as Furedi two years ago at the inaugural researchED conference. 

Dutch educators with a plan for “flipping the system”. Yet another reason to love that country. 

Starting point in 2013 was the consideration of the question “where are the teachers in educational policy-making?”  Led to a book that created a landslide. Now teachers in the the inspectorate and the department for education actively involved in making policy better. “In 2015 education is the new sexy”. Now more positive stories about education in the Dutch press and discovery that positive stories about education sell newspapers better. 

“Very good for that stays of the profession. So what’s the story we presented.”

Previously government took a neoliberal ‘top-down’ approach, managing teachers and punishing them as necessary. Led to a bottom-up proving, not a good education system.

“Very personal dimension to everything we do in education. Focusing one what we can measure narrows, but good education is a broad thing.”

Qualification, subjectification, socialisation are three key domains in education and a focus on just one delimited opportunities and outcomes in the others. 


“I think the English system needs a lot of flipping”.

Conclusions – Trust, and importance of governments gaining trust of educators. Raising public confidence with teachers, parents and children. Engagement in discussion but taking action based upon the findings. 

Teachers being involved in thinking about the purpose of education. 

Importance of striving for professional honour – personal and collective. Quality indicators and regulation to be in the hands of the profession or politicians will politicise this. 

Collaboration as key in a system that was an ‘eggbox’. Leer Kracht instrumental in this. 

Need to have support. Connecting initiatives by teachers into the wider education system. An innovation fund has grown from 5k max euros for projects up to 75k max. 

Mentions the importance of time and gets the knowing noise from the audience. Would be nice to know how the Dutch system has responded to this. 

A guide to flipping the system – start smoking (or take up other networking opportunities). Meddle obnoxiously with policy (and keep going – an unstoppable force of obnoxiousness). Connect with teachers online and blog. Rethink the purpose of education. Write an English ‘Flip the System’ (hmmm – anyone fancy this?). 

Q – Have you written ‘reverse accountabilities’?  In Holland the gvmnt decide what and we decide how. In England? Gets laughter!  Now Dutch teachers getting more involved in the ‘what’ as well as the ‘how’. 

Part of a flipped system is that some schools are evaluating their managers. He thinks more should be doing so. A school in Utrecht is self-governed with teachers as the board who oversee the work of school leaders. 

Session 4 – James Murphy – Research, Myths and Hidden Gold

Really looking forward to this one. Many others are too – standing room only. Actually, scrub that, there isn’t even standing room anymore. 

A lot of research isn’t gold so how do we pick out the nuggets that are there? 

James begins the session by challenging some of the lazy myths about ed research (eg it can say anything you want, you can’t measure learning and that it doesn’t speak to classroom teachers). 

“Not only can you measure learning, but if you do so you can even influence it.”

This is as busy as a top-notch student party, minus the red light bulbs and four-packs of cheap and potent white cider. 

Takes a potshot at Progress 8 and its pseudoscientific (numbers and decimal points) but which is based on so many unscientific measurements. “And my career will be judged upon this?!?”

Engelmann’s theory of instruction. Not many here know him but James asserts that in 100 years time he will be considered one of the most influential educational thinkers. 

Three main criteria for evaluating theory. Does it explain effectively, predict effectively and is it parsimonious (does it rely on few assumptions). 

Three areas to analyse when considering how teaching should work. The knowledge we want to impart. The presentation of that knowledge.  The response of the learner to instruction. 

Often teachers only focus on one of these. Rarely all three. 

This all leads to ‘direct instruction’ which he points out has an effect size of 0.99 (one year) in Hattie’s meta study. 

And now I know what a domestic cat is and isn’t (you had to be here, but you weren’t). And kakariki. 

There are teaching procedures we can use where it is almost impossible for students not to learn. The design of these processes, and repetition of them, is crucial. Leads to mastery because student are not moved on until they have learnt it. 

Precision teaching – measurement system with fluency as the clearest discriminator of performance. Not accuracy, but doesn’t stop there. 

Stages of learning – (uses examples of gears in cars) acquisition, accuracy, fluency (to the extent that you forget how hard it was to learn in the acquisition stage), retention, generalisation, adaptation (so fluent that you can do new things with what you’ve learnt).

Q -How much DI? Not intended to be 6 hours per day. 

Q – What about the intensity of DI and impact on students? Should be a form of instruction that is rooted in observation of students, so should be spotted. If not, DI not being done right. 

Session 5 – Amanda Spielman – Exam Marking and Remarking

Another full house and this time it’s me who is standing (or rather sitting on an upturned table on a cupboard in between Muso Tim and David Didau – lucky me). 

Always admire the bravery of someone from Ofqual standing in front of a group of teachers, but Amanda also has niceness on her side. 

Takes on the issue of reliability and argues that there are legitimate differences and that we probably don’t want a multiple choice approach to all exams.  Tolerance at GCSE and A-Level up to 6% between markers. 

Over 70% of scripts now marked online (why not all? Why not visible in real time to teachers?). Explanations of the advantages of this.  

Enquiries. 1% of grades are changed, but 4 of 5 within tolerances and therefore part of “legitimate differences”. Despite this Ofqual have run experiments on three alternatives to the existing review process.  

Current EAR model generally performed as well as the alternatives, other than double blind marking (but this was more challenging re marking capacity). 

Q – Plans for real-time access to online marking?  None. Would be controversial.  

Q – what are the quality thresholds we are looking at for service provision for exam boards?  Things in the works but not anything substantive yet. 

Session 6 – Unofficial, extended break. 

Confession time. Pooped from the day so far so nipped out of the session but had lovely chats with various members of the once-virtual, now-tangible Twitter community. 

Final session – Sam Freedman -Government policy

“A pretty depressing talk” in which he might “gibber incoherently”. Sam sets his self-expectations high! 🙂

School-led system – how far have we got? Not one where schools have complete autonomy. Not well explained by the gvmnt. The ‘how’ is the important element of a SLS. 

“Has it worked?  We don’t know.  This is going to be a common theme.”

Too early to tell with Free Schools too, but some doing things he’s never seen in other schools. 

No systematic evaluation of Teaching Schools yet. Or of School Direct.  

Principle of SLS Has been shown, but largely about good deployment of good people. But harder than gvmnt realised.  “Obvious with hindsight”. Nowhere near 5-10% of schools ready to be system leaders.  

“Can we move from occasional success to a system solution?  Don’t know but can’t go back to what went before.  

5 big challenges. 

Resources – Five year squeeze “and it’s going to fall a lot more”. Back to the 1980s. Will divide schools based on rising or falling rolls.  Also FFF will divide urban and rural schools.  25% to 40% cuts modelling taking place.  Will hit FE or EYFS. Cuts to LA will also have a knock-on effect.  “Schools are going to think very carefully about how they make these cuts.”  Importance of Heads getting teachers to spend ensuring teacher time is used effectively.”

Infrastructure – RSCs role expanding significantly in new bill going through parliament.  Going to have to expand in numbers or in terms of sub-regionalist.  Sponsor capacity building is needed in order to fill SLS expectations.  

Teacher Supply –  Recruitment targets missed again this year.  “I think it’s worse than the official figures are saying – a perfect storm is on the way”. Crude incentive system with complex application process.  Sam would remove student loans and tuition fees for ITT. And simplify the recruitment process such as a central application route. 

Leadership – Retiring Heads “a real problem in simply finding enough people to be Headteachers”. Not enough able to be a CEO of a chain. Need to do a lot more work on bringing people in from other professions. Accountability system punishing the schools that need the most help and not recognising the strengths of these schools. 

Expertise – “Woeful lack of high quality PD”. Feels that things are changing and it will take a long time to get them right. Previous system of top down gvmnt reforms de professionalised schools and therefore removal of things like levels has left us with “a huge gap”   Chronic lack of management expertise in schools.  “Leaders resorting to prioritising results ahead of teachers.” Need to bring in outside expertise to support Heads and other leaders.  

Plenary – Tom Bennett

Like an eternal first-term PGCE student, Tom is entrusted with the Brain Gym starter and Exit Ticket plenary. Having missed the former I’m looking forward to seeing him at his ebullient (a word best enjoyed in a Scottish accent) best. 

He’s seen just one session. Cameras, toilet rolls and lasagnes have dominated Tom’s researchED experience. 

Trending tops 5A*-C any day and #rED2015 has been trending all day in the UK. 

“Nobody was paid for their time today. Nobody asked. Everybody gave. For the good of the profession. A level of altruism I haven’t seen in any other profession.

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