Monthly Archives: November 2014

Engaging with educational research

To what extent do we make decisions in school based on evidence? How can busy teachers keep up-to-date with current research? Here are some ideas…

Institute for Effective Education
Best Evidence in Brief newsletter:
Better: Evidence-based education (research summaries)

Summaries of research about interventions
Education Endowment Foundation – Teaching and Learning Toolkit:

Evidence 4 Impact:
Best Evidence Encyclopaedia:
What Works Clearinghouse:

Other research organisations
Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring (CEM), Durham University @CEMatDurham
Nuffield Foundation: @NuffieldFound
York Science: @York_Science


Daisy Christodoulou, Research and Development Manager at ARK schools @daisychristo
Professor Rob Coe, Director of the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring (CEM), Durham University @ProfCoe
Dylan Wiliam @dylanwiliam


Rationale for teaching mathematics (Grant McWalter)

For my first assignment as part of my initial teacher training course at the King Edward’s Consortium, I was asked to consider the question “What contribution does mathematics make to the educational experience of pupils?” I took the question to be asking about the ultimate aims of mathematics education. Mathematics and numeracy is now developed across the curriculum, and ideally is supported by further learning outside the classroom. However, I restricted my research to identifying the ultimate aims of teaching the mathematics curriculum within schools. I took the definition of an aim to be a ‘declaration of intent that gives direction and shape to a scheme of work or teaching programme’[1]. This provided the rationale and motivation for my research – without reflecting on the aims, the direction of a scheme of work is unclear, and it is impossible to adequately assess to what extent the teaching programme has been successful. I drew my findings from a number of sources, including statutory guidance from the last thirty years, with particular focus on the 2014 national curriculum, as well as mathematics education literature, conversations with pupils and staff at my school and the work of Brighouse[2] on justifying education by maximising pupil flourishing.

I split the aims into five categories – ‘mathematics for life, employment and the study of other subjects’ – covering the learning of mathematical techniques to be applied outside the mathematics classroom; ‘mathematics for qualifications’ – focussing on the importance of ensuring pupils get the qualifications they need to flourish; ‘mathematics for the appreciation of the importance and beauty of mathematics’ – covering the teaching of mathematics in order to help students develop an interest in mathematics; ‘mathematics for general self-development’ – centred on the generalised thinking skills picked up in mathematics lessons; and ‘mathematics for maintaining mathematics’ – in which I argued that mathematics education as a whole contributes towards the maintenance and furthering of the body of human knowledge.

I concluded that these aims ultimately fell into two camps: one with the emphasis on the pupils learning mathematical techniques and knowledge, which can be applied in other subjects, adult life and exam situations, and the other with the emphasis on demonstrating mathematics to be a creative endeavour which values the process of conceptual problem solving.

I argued that a balance of these two camps is important. All pupils have a right not only to be taught how to use mathematics to their advantage, and how to get a qualification, but also to get the chance to develop an interest in mathematics and develop themselves through the learning of mathematics. For society as a whole, a balance is also required in order to produce good problem solvers, who are not only interested in mathematics, but also well informed and qualified mathematicians to maintain and continue the body of human knowledge.

[1] p.5 Department for Education and Science (1979) Mathematics 5 to 11: A Handbook of Suggestions London: HMSO. Available from: [Accessed 12 October 2014]

[2] Brighouse, H. (2006) On Education. Abingdon: Routledge. Available from: [Accessed 12 October 2014]

Rationale for teaching history (Alex Mason)

The new national curriculum for history has generally been received poorly by history teachers. I want to assess why this is in the case by placing it into the context of the wider aims stated in the national curriculum document. Therefore, I will first explore the aims of education, and specifically of history, as stated in the curriculum document, before discussing their implications.

Since 1999 it has been conventional to include in the national curriculum a set of aims which seek to answer the key question of why we even bother with a state education system in the first place. Unfortunately, the aims stated in 1999 were skeletal, and none of the subsequent attempts have put any serious meat on these bones. Indeed, the new national curriculum aims are even less substantial than those of 1999. The only aim stated is that

‘The national curriculum provides pupils with an introduction to the essential knowledge that they need to become educated citizens. It introduces pupils to the best that has been thought and said…’[1]

This aim is repeated in the context of the history curriculum, which focuses on the attainment of ‘knowledge and understanding’[2] of the history of Britain, the wider world, key terms, concepts, methods and perspectives.

It is this focus on knowledge which has particularly irked many teachers; however, the reasons for this need not be repeated here. Instead, I would like to explore the implications of these aims. In specifically highlighting knowledge of ‘the best’, both generally and historically, the curriculum makes an implicit argument about the role of history, of education and of knowledge in our lives. It is implied in the curriculum aims that simply by having knowledge of ‘the best that has been thought and said’, pupils will become better people; that the purpose of education is to expose pupils to the good of humanity so that they might attempt to emulate it. This begs several questions; most importantly; what is it exactly that we define as ‘the best’ of humanity? And more importantly; who decides? Given the nature of the discipline, historians are well placed to understand that the very act of selecting ‘the best’ is an interpretation of humanity; an interpretation that is going to be shaped by the selector’s own moral, political and social ideals. Given the detailed provisions set out in the curriculum, not least in the history curriculum, there is little room for schools to select the best of humanity for themselves; they must teach the prescribed morality of the state. In the history curriculum, there is scope for choice, but the choices have to fit into broad chronological and interpretative frameworks, which focus on the ‘development of church, state and society in Britain…’[3] This framework puts the Whig interpretation of history front and (slightly right of) centre. The aim of education, then, according to this curriculum is not the creation of ‘educated citizens’, but of indoctrinated ones.

[1] Department for Education (2014) National Curriculum in England: framework for key stages 1 to 4. Available from [Accessed 4 October 2014]; p. 6.

[2] [2] Department for Education (2014) National curriculum in England: history programmes of study. Available from [Accessed 4 October 2014]; p. 1.

[3] Ibid, pp. 2-4.

Rationale for teaching computing (Charlotte Whitehouse)

Computing is defined using three strands: computer science, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and digital literacy. To distinguish between these three strands, computer science enables pupils to develop key cognitive skills, ICT provides pupils with vocational skills that are valuable in higher education and employment, and digital literacy helps keep pupils safe when using technology.

Since the Education Reform Act of 1988, computing within schools has been through many changes. Brown and others (2014) detail the history of computing from the 1980s, where computer science was initially present, to the 2000s, where ICT became the main focus, leaving the option to study computer science available only to pupils at Key Stage 5 (KS5). This move away from computer science was due to the commercialisation of the computer and therefore the growing demand for ICT skills, where the focus was on teaching pupils how to use a computer instead of how a computer works. A basic comparison of computer science and ICT is that computer science focuses on teaching pupils how to create software and ICT focuses on teaching how to use the software.

During the past five years, there have been several developments that have emphasised the importance of teaching computer science and the need for changes within the ICT curriculum. The Next Gen report by Livingstone and Hope (2011) recommended implementing computer science into the national curriculum. The Royal Society report by Furber (2012) suggests all children should be able to learn computing at school. The Ofsted report (2011) described the ICT curriculum as unchallenging and inadequate for further study within the subject. Michael Gove (2012) announced that from September 2012 ICT would be withdrawn from the national curriculum, allowing schools to take a broader approach to the computing curriculum. After more than twenty years of no General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) in computing; AQA, Edexcel and OCR have provided a GCSE in computer science. The Computing at School (CAS) Working Group promotes the implementation of computer science within schools. CAS also has support from several leading computing industries, showcased by endorsements from the British Computer Society, Microsoft, Google and Intellect. Media coverage has detailed the recent developments of computing in schools, which has in turn provided a raised awareness for the subject.

To assess what contribution computing makes to the educational experience of pupils, each of the three strands will be considered separately. In terms of computer science, CAS (2012) define it as a discipline with long-term value. Computer science also develops computational thinking, a term first used by Papert (1996) and influential in recent developments by Wing (2006), which produces a set of transferable skills that can be used within other disciplines and daily life. For ICT, there is an economic case which suggests there is a growing demand within industry for employees with ICT skills. Finally, digital literacy ensures pupils understand the importance of e-safety alongside how to use technology; it provides pupils with the skills to be proficient and safe users of technology.

Rationale for teaching mathematics (KEC Mathematics Trainee)

Why should pupils study mathematics at school?
Mathematics is a core and compulsory subject studied at school, up to the age of 16.  This blog summarises different perspectives about what mathematics contributes to the educational experience of pupils, based on my findings from the reading I carried out.

What does the National Curriculum say?
The content and focus of the mathematics curriculum has changed over time and can be considered to have reflected the ‘spirit of the times’. For example, in the 1960s, ‘purist’ views appeared to be a key driver behind the curriculum; this is when topics such as set theory and number bases were studied for the first time on the secondary school curriculum, aiming to enable pupils to see the ‘rich structures’ within mathematics.

The National Curriculum, developed in the 1980s, was influenced by a more ‘utilitarian’ view, and the perceived needs of industry and applications.  When the National Curriculum was revised in 2007 mathematics was positioned, above all, as a useful subject.  Although it was acknowledged that mathematics should also be studied for its own sake, some critics believed that the joy and beauty of mathematics within the curriculum had been lost.

Despite the aims of the National Curriculum, in 2011 Ofsted found that around one fifth of young adults do not have the required numeracy skills when they start work.  In 2011, the UK government instigated a further review of the National Curriculum which included a consultation and revision process as part of a policy called ‘Reforming qualifications and the curriculum to better prepare pupils for life after school’.

Today’s National Curriculum for mathematics includes a range of reasons in its statement of purpose of study.  It describes mathematics as creative and inter-connected, developed over centuries, essential to everyday life and necessary for most forms of employment.  In addition, the National Curriculum acknowledges that the study of mathematics helps pupils better to understand the world and to appreciate the beauty and power of the subject in its own right.

Perspectives on the importance of mathematics
Findings from my reading suggest that mathematics develops skills that pupils will use in their further education or careers, and that creating successful mathematicians is crucial to the future growth of the UK economy.  However, there are contrasting views about the extent to which mathematics learned in schools prepares pupils for the world of work.

The reading I carried out largely supports my own feeling that mathematics is not only useful, but is an inspiring and beautiful subject to study in its own right at school.  In addition, mathematics provides pupils with the answers to many questions about the world we live in.

Finally, mathematics also makes a contribution to the spiritual, social, moral and cultural education of pupils.  At school, pupils are exposed to the wonder and awe of mathematics and its connection with the natural world.  Mathematics equips pupils to manage their own finances and make balanced and fair decisions in everyday life.

Rationale for teaching science (Kimberley Swann)

The essay
The purpose of this essay was to evaluate what contribution science makes to the educational experience of the pupils. Based on the definition that education is ‘what is left after most of what you have learned at school is forgotten’[1], I placed the contribution of science education, in the context of wider society and future use. To do this I used the five point rationale of science education, put forth by the committee of the British Association of the Advancement of Science (BAAS) in 1867[2] and incorporated evidence from the National Curriculum and my own research to justify the necessity of teaching science to all.

The five rationales of science education
(1) Science encourages the power of rational explanation by promoting logic, honesty and creativity, formulation of questions, interpretation of evidence and coordination of these with theories. Modern Society needs citizens who are skilled rational problem solvers in their daily lives. The ability to research, report, collaborate and communicate, whilst demonstrating ethical principles and negotiation skills, is beneficial for any career.

(2) Enquiry based science, through communication, has been shown to improve reading and writing abilities. Along with the general skills gained in literacy, numeracy and ICT, there are also cross curricular links with health and sex education, citizenship and sustainable futures. In addition there is an interaction between science knowledge and the ability to understand economic, sociocultural, religious, ecological and political connections.

(3) Sustainable development and healthy living are contemporary issues, which are central to solving economic, social and environmental problems. These topics are key concepts learnt in science education.

(4) Although the data from School A and School B is supportive for the rationale of enjoyment of science, it is difficult to decipher the reason for study choice from desire or as a bridge to a professional career.

(5) Science tells us about our past, helps us with our present and creates ways to improve the future.  It aids with the acceptance of new technologies and breakthroughs in society, whilst also encouraging the advancement of science by educating the next generation of scientists.

In conclusion, this essay justified the reasons for teaching science through research and DfE documentation. We teach pupils science to promote scientific thinking, to understand societal issues and to prepare them for their future careers. Due to the life skills and cross curricular links, science not only provides the knowledge for advancement of science, but essential life skills which are applicable to our daily lives and careers in any sector. The benefit of science to the educational experience of students, therefore, supports the historical viewpoint that science should be and remain, a compulsory core subject within schools.

[1] Haydon, G. (2013) ‘The School Curriculum and Society’. In: Capel, S., Leask, M. and Turner, T. (eds.): Learning to Teach in the Secondary School: A Companion to School Experience. Abingdon: Routledge.

[2] BAAS (1868). Report of the Thirty-Seventh Annual Meeting, Dundee 1867. London: Murray.

Rationale for teaching mathematics (Grace Talbot)

My essay explored the contribution that mathematics makes to the contribution of pupils’ educational experience, which was defined as the unique output gained as a result of the pupil studying mathematics.

Research was discussed which concerned the use of mathematics in everyday life, the use of mathematics in the work place, the concept of mathematics being a tool used to better understand the world, and the joy of mathematics.

It was discovered that some mathematics that is useful in everyday life for simple tasks such as telling the time is taught very early on in a pupils’ mathematical education. However, further connections were found when considering other instances of encountering mathematical language, such as when watching the news. It was concluded that mathematics adds to the educational experience of pupils by helping them to understand the mathematical language presented to them on a daily basis, and as such this helps them to become a well-rounded person.

When looking at mathematics in the workplace, it was initially found that the mathematics taught as part of the national curriculum was neither in sufficient depth or breadth to be of use for specific careers related to mathematics. However, when a broader view was taken, it was found that mathematics was vital for applications for higher education and that there were some key skills that employers considered essential for potential employees to have, and that more emphasis should be placed on highlighting the importance of these skills during lessons.

Next, research into the use of mathematics to increase pupils understanding of the world was considered. It was found that mathematics has the potential to increase pupils understanding of their own situation as well as the situation of other people around the world, by helping them to understand types of injustice that occurs and that while the fact that answers to many socio-political questions are difficult to find, mathematics helps to find solutions.

Finally, mathematics was considered as an art form. Research into the beauty of mathematics was presented, and links were made between this and pupils’ enjoyment of mathematics through finding simple answers to what originally look like difficult questions. It was found that it is natural for pupils to enjoy pattern making, and that relating this to solving mathematics questions correctly can increase both mathematical and self-confidence.

Considering the evidence, the essay concluded by stating that mathematics contributes to the educational experience of pupils differently depending on the individual, but that the potential to gain a satisfying sense of achievement through perseverance on a difficult mathematics question is one that cannot be experiences through the study of any other subject.