Measuring success in education

hatThe new school year is here. Teachers are firing up the teaching synapses that have been dormant for 6 weeks, trying to remember logon details, facing new classes, new kids and an influx of new colleagues. There are a whole new set of names to learn, personalities to discover and new opportunities to make that difference.

The kids are excited to see each other and catch up, whilst those who’ve just arrived at “big school” are nervous and quiet, hidden deep within the oversized uniforms bought with longevity in mind.

As this period of excitement and inquisitiveness dawns upon us again, it feels right to pose a crucial question; what are we actually trying to achieve with education?

You’d be excused for thinking that academic achievement is all that matters. The Department for Education’s performance tables show many charts on academic achievement alongside one table on pupil absence and one on post-16 destinations of secondary school pupils. The OFSTED inspection framework considers achievement alongside the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils, but the latter four are monitored irregularly through inspections alone against a bewildering 35-page guidance document.

A quick tweet asking for views on what schools should be striving to achieve for their pupils led to many interesting thoughts. A fantastic SSAT report makes the case for pro-social (cultivating attitudes of a good friend/neighbour/citizen) and epistemic outcomes (the qualities of mind required to be a powerful learner – yes, it’s an addition to my vocabulary as well!) and sets out 8 principles around which schools could be re-designed to drive these outcomes. @jamesanoble of NPC points out that most theories of change in education focus on aspirations, confidence, self esteem and quality of relationships. @dajbelshaw makes the case for happiness and flourishing.

Elsewhere, Nicky Morgan, the new Secretary of State for Education, points out in a letter to her opposition, Tristram Hunt, that education should prepare young people for “a happy and fulfilling life”.

So, it’s clear that although examination success is one of the factors of educational success, it is not the only factor. Even as I’m writing this blog I’m delighted to see Estelle Morris’s piece in the Guardian 3346044174_4f1a6a3945_owarning that there is undue focus on exam results alone.

So, painful as it is, we need to admit that we’re not measuring or valuing success in education in the right way. And, what’s worse; until we do, we will never get better at educating our young people.

In fact, it would seem we’re falling behind the curve as a nation in considering wider educational outcomes. Countries including Singapore, New Zealand, Australia and Ireland are re-designing national educational outcome frameworks to include personal qualities.  For example, Singapore now focuses its education system upon supporting young people to become confident, self-directed learners who are active contributors. It looks like a global education revolution is starting without us.

So, step forward the brave souls who are willing to try and set out what a complete framework of outcomes for young people might look like. Enter NPC (with the Journey to Employment Framework) and The Young Foundation (with their Framework of Outcomes for Young People), whilst Impetus-PEF are about to launch their Ready for Work framework, which sets out the soft skills that will be essential to finding and thriving within employment.

None of these frameworks claim to be definitive (and none of them are) but what they do make clear is that we need to quickly understand how we develop the social, emotional, cognitive and physical capabilities of young people if they are to reach their potential in school and their lives beyond.

Entrepreneurial social sector organisations working in schools, including the likes of Teach First,Place2Be and Greenhouse, already recognise the role of these capabilities in driving outcomes for young people (including exam success), and keenly focus their practitioners on developing these skills. But, this approach needs to become part of the mainstream.

So where can we go from here?

Well, the first step is to admit that our current measurement of educational success is one dimensional and not fit for purpose. Once we’re through that, let the conversation commence as to how we make it better. But let’s make it quick, as next year another group of kids will arrive looking small in their oversized uniforms and we owe it to them to have upped our game by then.

by Graeme Duncan – Entrepreneur in Residence, Nesta Impact Investments

Speed dating brings edtech ventures together with investors

Speed dating is not for the faint hearted but at our first ever edtech speed dating evening we helped to make over 430 introductions in under 3 hours! The event was in partnership with Edmix and Emerge Venture Labs, and 36 edtech ventures from across the UK gathered to ‘date’ our panel of twelve investors at Google Campus. With only 3 minutes to make their pitch, the pressure was on the entrepreneurs to really hone their message and get to the heart of what their product could do.

Edtech speed date

Kieron Kirkland, from investor the Nominet Trust welcomed this novel approach:
“It was a great opportunity to meet so many new ventures, and see how active the edtech sector is with great entrepreneurs and inspirational ideas that have the potential to make a real impact.”

So, what can we learn from this style of event?

  • From the investor perspective, speed dating is a great way of meeting a large number of ventures in a concentrated amount of time, after which you can follow up with those you have a connection with
  • We had more productive ‘dates’ with ventures that did their research on investors as they had background knowledge and an idea of the context to start off with
  • A product demonstration and a specific call to action really helped ventures stand out from the crowd
  • The edtech sector is a flourishing community that clearly thrives off the opportunity to get together, make connections and share experiences with each other. So, events like these can really work but make sure you plan and get the right ventures and investors in the room

Speed-dating – a new type of investor networking

hatThere’s no denying that the education technology sector is growing rapidly, and we, at Nesta Impact Investments, are passionate about supporting its growth and the ecosystem developing around it. Over £1bn has been invested in technology in UK schools in the last five years and there are no signs that things are slowing down. Indeed, the recent BBC Radio 4 series, My Teacher is an App highlighted the potential that technology offers education and how it could transform teaching.

So we are determined to find and back the best talent, the most innovative ideas, and the most effective products.

As part of this, we are delighted to announce we are co-hosting an event with Edmix as part of the Edtech Season that has recently been launched by Emerge Education, in partnership with Eton College and Saïd Business School.

Our Edtech-Investor Speed Date evening is dedicated to introducing Edtech businesses to investors, accelerators, and industry experts in the sector, to give them a more direct, personal way of connecting with them.  Just like traditional speed-dating, businesses will be given the opportunity to spend three minutes with each investor to present their business and swap business cards.

Investors attending include Nesta Impact Investments, Bethnal Green Ventures and Orange Start-up Ecosystem. There’s no prize or financial incentive; this is a chance for investors to connect with great teams and explore exiting new products.

We’re expecting high attendance, so anyone interested needs to apply. Please read the application procedure and get in touch as soon as possible to secure your place. Short-listing is on a first come, first served basis.

Look forward to seeing you there!

By Isabel Newman – Nesta Impact Investments

Guest blog: innovation in education

One of the outcomes our fund is looking to target is increasing the educational attainment of children and young people, which means we’re constantly on the lookout for, and meeting with, education entrepreneurs.  And what’s unique about us is that we’re lucky enough to have a team of education experts in-house at Nesta, who we work with closely along every step of the investment process, from the screening of deals through to supporting our portfolio with their expertise and networks.

One such expert is Oliver Quinlan, who manages Nesta’s Digital Education programme, and recently wrote about the importance of evidencing the impact of digital technologies in education:

NII_icons_RGB-03In the last five years UK schools have spent more than £1 billion on digital technology. From interactive whiteboards to tablets, there is more digital technology in schools than ever before. But so far there has been little evidence of substantial success in improving educational outcomes.

Technology is often transforming, and at the very least affecting, much of our lives. Yet often we have taken up the latest and ‘greatest’ technologies with little thought as to the impact it might have. At the same time, education communities in the UK are increasingly looking for evidence that developments that are implemented in our schools have an impact. This is happening at a research and policy level with reports such as NFER’s recent ‘Using evidence in the classroom‘, but also at a grassroots level with teachers organising conferences such as ‘ResearchED‘ to explore how they can make use of and carry out research as part of their teaching.

It’s time to ask some searching questions about how technology really affects learning and how the best learning we see in schools can be enabled and enhanced using technology.

It’s time to show those of us who are reluctant that the right technologies can make a difference, what those technologies are and what that difference is. Just as importantly, it’s time to make sure that those of us who are enthusiastic are spending our efforts and our money on technological initiatives that do make such a difference, not just those that generate superficial excitement. 

In my career I’ve moved from working in early years education, to teaching in primary schools, to lecturing in a University. In this time my thinking on learning technology has also moved from pure advocacy to an optimistic criticality. I’ve seen technology make a difference to the learning and opportunities of young people, but what is important is that we invest our efforts in the ways it can make a useful and sustained difference to the educational opportunities of as many as possible. I’m very aware that the phrases ‘useful’, ‘sustained’ and ‘educational opportunities’ mean different things to different people, which is part of the challenging nature of any work in education.hat

I’ve joined Nesta to work on our contribution to this, an area we are calling ‘Innovation in Education’. Specifically, I’m starting off with three research projects looking at the impact three different technology enabled projects make on the learning of young people in schools. More on those soon. Broadly, I’m working with the education team to explore what great teachers, insightful researchers, and creative entrepreneurs and technology developers can tell us about innovation in learning and teaching.

As I wrote in my recent book, ‘The Thinking Teacher‘, I see technology as a mirror, something that can show us things from a different perspective. There has been much discussion in the education community in the last ten years about technology becoming transparent, a tool that enables but doesn’t get in the way of learning. This is a laudable aim, but I’m also interested in what it makes visible. When we use technology for many tasks we often have to think about the way we perform them. This starts new thoughts and new conversations about whether the current way is the best way, and how other ways might be better or worse.

Bring this process to the task of learning and we have the basis for exploring the impact of ‘Ed Tech’.

What technology makes visible about learning and what we are discovering about using this to make informed decisions about its use in education will no doubt be the subject of many future posts.

By Oliver Quinian – Digital Education Programme Manager, Nesta
This blog was originally published at Nesta. Read the original blog.

Not another brick in the wall…

hatIt’s definitely September, feeling Autumnal and the new school year is under way. Across the country children and teachers are saying goodbye to summer and nervously beginning the term ahead.

Ten years ago this week, I was preparing for my first day with TeachFirst, entering a secondary school as a teacher for the first time. I was terrified. I only lasted two years as a teacher, and they remain the hardest two years of my career so far. One of the things that was apparent to me in that short period of time was that the best teachers never appeared to teach the same lesson twice. They were able to make each lesson personalised to the class and often the individual student by adapting what they did to reflect the existing skills, knowledge and learning style of each class, or each learner.

At a high level, personalisation of learning requires (i) detailed information about the learner – what do they already know and understand, how do they best learn; (ii) knowledge of the best methods for linking new educational content to a learner’s existing understanding; and (iii) sufficient time spent with the learner to apply (i) and (ii). Achieving this is extremely hard, especially for time poor, overstretched teachers in the UK state sector.

I regret that in my brief teaching career I never managed to deliver that level of personalisation; it remained a mysterious art practiced only by passionate educationalists with 10, 20, 30 years experience. The lack of personalisation in the school classroom is now driving a boom in private tutoring for the children of families who can afford it, growing further the gap in educational attainment between the wealthiest and poorest children in the UK.

This autumn term, rather than teaching I find myself looking at investment opportunities in educational technology.  It appears to me that technology may be beginning to offer personalisation of learning in an accessible, affordable and inherently scalable way. So called “adaptive learning” technologies appear to codify and automate that mysterious art of personalisation I observed ten years ago. Ventures like Knewton, Smart Sparrow, Sherston and the Open Learning Initiative have adaptive technologies that enable learners to receive content that is selected according to their learning needs, and educational content publishers like Pearson and McGraw-Hill are rapidly deploying their learning content through adaptive platforms. Whilst currently more prevalent in the US and in higher education, it can’t be long before these technologies hit the classrooms of the UK.

But really effective personalisation relies on having detailed information about the learner, and I’m not sure any of the tools out there yet have built rich enough data sets to do that, sitting as they appear to, as isolated systems. In other domains, from financial services, relationships, shopping, and increasingly health, organisations are working out how to capture and integrate data about users from multiple sources – who I am, my actions, behaviours and preferences  – and use that to serve up offers that appeal to me, or to influence my decisions and behaviours.

I think adaptive learning technology could play a major part in bringing personalised learning to all school students, but I’d like to see more attention paid to making sure teachers and technologists have really great data on what learners know and how they best learn.

By Joe Ludlow – Director, Nesta Impact Investments