2020 Exams Result and Bias.

The Department for Education released this press release on 20th March 2020 (click here).


2020’s summer exam series, including A levels, GCSEs and other qualifications, and all primary assessments, have been cancelled as we fight to stop the spread of coronavirus.

The exam regulator, Ofqual, and exam boards will work with teachers to provide grades to students whose exams have been cancelled this summer, following our actions to slow the spread of coronavirus.

What is the plan? GCSE, A and AS level examinations will be awarded based on the work that pupils and students have already put in; this will done through a process of teacher assessment and evidence gathering, as the DfE state:

“The exam boards will be asking teachers, who know their students well, to submit their judgement about the grade that they believe the student would have received if exams had gone ahead.”

"The exam boards will be asking teachers, who know their students well, to submit their judgement about the grade that they believe the student would have received if exams had gone ahead." Click To Tweet

Teachers will be taking into account the range of evidence they have at their disposal including,

  • Coursework submitted
  • Teachers Assessment (judgement/prediction)
  • Mock Examinations/Other internal Assessments

Then exam boards will look at this data along with the prior attainment (Key stage 2 SATS) and calculate a grade for each student. The calculated grades are due out before the end of July. These grades and certificates will be indistinguishable from other years so that this year’s students do not face a systemic disadvantage as a consequence of these extraordinary circumstances.

Students that feel they have been treated unfairly as a result of the procedures may appeal through a set procedure, and if they wish sit examination early when schools return in September 2021. From a school’s point of view, the Government will not publish any school or college level educational performance data based on tests, assessments or exams for 2020.

What are Stereotypes?

Stereotyping is the tendency to draw on overly simple beliefs about groups to make judgments about individuals. Confirmation bias is the tendency to perceive and seek out information that confirms one’s pre-existing beliefs, and avoid information that conflicts with those beliefs (Nelson, 2014).

Sterotyping is described by Kahnemann as ‘Anchoring’; This occurs when value is determined for an ‘unknown quantity’ before estimating that quantity. Anchoring is a ubitquitous and a perfectly natural human response; unfortunately this is an implicit process and as a result when it emerges through assessment it can be extremely problematic (Kahneman, 2013). I would reiterate here that anchoring and bias on the whole are completely natural processes.

Flow chart


A stereotype is introduced. Black and poorer people are less intelligent, aggressive and lazy when compared to the majority white population or richer people – these types of stereotypes appear during the first five years of life. This introduces two cognitive biases, the focalism (also know as the anchoring bias) and this is where the confirmation bias starts.

Focalism or the anchoring bias occurs when people are wedded to the constructs they encounter first. If I were to offer to sell you a board marker for £10 today, tomorrow I attempt to sell you the same product for £15. You would think that I am ripping you off. If I offer you the same board marker at £20 today, and then tomorrow I offer it to you for £15, you would think that you were receiving an enhanced price.

The only difference here is the order in which you hear the information. The price you received has not changed. Hence you anchor yourself depending on the first bit of information. In this case it is regardless of any other information i.e. is the board marker good value for money? What is the quality of the board marker?

In confirmation bias, once a bias is introduced people actively seek to confirm this bias. For example: Black people are more aggressive so toxic associations between black people and aggression, weapons, etc are formed. As you can see from the flow chart, the whole process is cyclical and concentric.

Everyone can be prone to these biases including academics. Both confirmation bias and stereotyping leads to over simplification such as ‘women are more risk adverse’. These assumptions are not well-informed in an empirical sense, but have been described repeatedly in economic literature as robust (Nelson, 2014).

“Many are grounded in the premises that stereotypes comprise invariant, homogenous, evaluative judgements of a given group (e.g. income, gender or ethnic group), and that stereotypes enable judgements of group members to be made quickly and with cognitive ease” (Hilton and von Hipple, 1996; McGarty et al., 2002. In Campbell 2015, p1).

Bias is commonly refered to as a habit of the mind; your brain is designed to skip information and rely on information and subsequently associations are quickly made. Therefore it is important to recognise that stereotypes are not an individual process rather they are systemic in nature and the consequences are systematic. Stereotyping processes respond to systematic principles that generalize across different specific instances of stereotypes, these processes are consistent over time, place and out group. (Fiske et al 2002) This is not about you as an individual, this is about how you have appropriated stereotypes through associations.

Bias is commonly refered to as a habit of the mind; your brain is designed to skip information and rely on information and subsequently associations are quickly made. Therefore it is important to recognise that stereotypes are not an… Click To Tweet

Like all dimensions of human psychology and the social sciences, none of this should be reduced to anecdotes or simple rules. Yes, people of colour are disadvantaged through our society however the intersections of complexity should not be ignored. This brings in inter-group dynamics which are often observed through people holding positive and negative stereotypes – pity targets the warm but not competent subordinates (rich to poor); envy targets the competent but not warm competitors (White to American Asian); contempt is reserved for out-groups deemed neither warm nor competent. (Fiske et al 2002).

Teaching and Stereotypes

By stereotyping, teachers can make judgements of pupils quickly and with cognitive efficiency through preconceived associations about the ability/attainment of lower socio-economic background, SEN, Black Caribbean pupils, and so on.

“The possibility, therefore, is that among the English teaching profession there exist normalised notional templates of pupil attainment, which are premised on pupil characteristics, inform judgements of each child, and skew assessments in line with these characteristics.” (Campbell, 2014. p519).

Teacher assessment, on the whole, is not reliable. Let’s start with some examples. This piece will concentrate mainly on race, however, the same pattern exists for disadvantaged pupils and the intersections between identities (for another day). Educators will be familiar with the terms disadvantaged, BAME, gender groups, FSM and multitude of other labels; the rhetoric in last decade has been about closing the attainment gap between these. However, through all of the key stages and phases, have educators been looking at the gap from a false angle?

Educators will be familiar with the terms disadvantaged, BAME, gender groups, FSM and multitude of other labels; the rhetoric in last decade has been about closing the attainment gap between these. Click To Tweet

That attainment indicators depend so heavily on teacher assessment invites the question of whether these apparent achievement gaps may to some extent be an artefact of the measurement method used. There is an enduring body of evidence which indicates that teacher assessments are subject consistently to a large and significant level of error (Brookhart, 2013; Eckert et al., 2006; Harlen, 2005) … and, more importantly, research also indicates that some of this error may be systematic (Harlen, 2005; Robinson and Lubienski, 2011) (Campbell, 2015, p518).

Burgess and Greaves (2009) look at the teacher assessment versus actual attainment of external exams of 11-year old across 16557 schools, 3 subjects and 4 years. This showed that the past performance of a specific ethnic group directly impacted on the current teacher assessment.

It is worth stating before we go on that key stage 1 SATs are completely based on teacher assessment and are marked in school. Key stage 2 and 3 SATs are, and were marked externally through a process formally known as quasi-blind i.e. with the names of the pupils known to the assessor.

Key stage 2 and 3 SATs are, and were marked externally through a process formally known as quasi-blind i.e. with the names of the pupils known to the assessor. Click To Tweet

The way society is structured you would expect external markers’ implicit bias to lower the marks and outcomes of pupils of colour. This may skew results positively towards white pupils and those with euro-centric names as they do not have the benefit of an intimate daily knowledge of the pupils themselves.  

However, precisely the opposite was found; pupils of certain groups were found to be assessed lower than others by their own teachers rather than external examiners.

English Key Stage 2

Ethnic groupTA < External ExamDifference compared to White pupilsPercentage discrepancy compared to White pupils
Black Caribbean17.2%4.80%38.7%
Black African18.3%5.90%47.6%

In English, all pupils who do not ascribe to the white label have a higher percentage of teachers assessing them lower than via the external test. The rate at which Pakistani pupils are under-assessed (vs their external SATS grade) when compared relatively with white pupils is at a rate of 62.9%. That means you are 62.9% more likely for your teacher to think you are working at a level below which you are actually are.

Campbell (2015) found that pupils had a lower probability of their teachers rating them ‘above average’ for reading for lower income pupils, boys, pupils with SEN, pupils of all Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Black Other, Black African and Black Caribbean, male and EAL pupils.

Campbell (2015) found that pupils had a lower probability of their teachers rating them ‘above average’ for reading for lower income pupils, boys, pupils with SEN, pupils of all Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Black Other, Black African and… Click To Tweet

This has obvious implications for pupils of colour, the impact of the Golem effect being pertinent; day to day their teachers have lower expectations of them. Similar patterns (but exactly the same ethnic grouping) with Maths and Science were also found (please do head to this previous piece for further analysis).

What is the impact of Key Stage 2 predictions on the pupils?

Wilson et al (2006) show the difference in Key Stage 2 teacher assessment extrapolated to GCSE, versus actual grades at GCSE using white pupils as the comparison. This is impact is significant as the figures for most group are vastly different and with Black Caribbean British and Black Other British pupils bucking the trend. Which is interesting in itself.

This leads us to the secondary schools setting.

“Research not only shows some persistent patterns of poor educational outcomes for pupils from low socio-economic groups, minority ethnic groups and boys, studies also indicate differentiated experiences of schooling and the over-representation of these groups in low attainment sets” (Gillborn and Mirza 2000; Demie 2001; Singh Ghuman 2002; Mamon 2004; Connolly 2006) (in Muiji and Dunne, 2010, p393).

Muijs and Dunne (2010) analysed setting in Maths and English across 12 local authorities in England and randomly sampled 100 schools and completed a quantitative analysis of the composition of their sets.

Muijs and Dunne (2010) analysed setting in Maths and English across 12 local authorities in England and randomly sampled 100 schools and completed a quantitative analysis of the composition of their sets. This is what they found? Click To Tweet

They found that white students are statistically significantly over-represented in high sets and conversely that Black student are statistically under-represented in higher sets. Across the Asian subset the only significant result is Bangladeshi pupils being under represented in the high sets.

 SampleLow setsMiddle setsHigh sets
Black Caribbean6.

Wilson et al (2006) presented work from the CLASS thinktank. There are various reasons that black boys spike at 16 years and some of them are covered later – I would be remiss if I were not to point out that the GCSE exams are the first time that pupils are assessed completely anonymously.

Answers on a postcard. Why is there a spike at the 16 for Black pupils? Click To Tweet

University Predictions

16% of A Level pupils achieve their predicated grades and 75% of pupils are over-predicted, with the average student being over-predicted by 1.7 grades. When we look at socio-economic status, pupils from the lowest group who achieve the same grades are under-predicted in comparison, as are higher achieving pupils from state schools in comparison with private school pupils. (Murphy and Wyness 2020).

After describing the impact of the Pygmalion effect earlier, being under-assessed has a day to day impact on pupils with a low socio-economic status (Campbell, 2015; Murphy and Wyness, 2020; Burgess and Greaves, 2005).

After describing the impact of the Pygmalion effect earlier, being under-assessed has a day to day impact on pupils with a low socio-economic status (Campbell, 2015; Murphy and Wyness, 2020; Burgess and Greaves, 2005). Click To Tweet

High achieving, but under-predicted candidates are 10 percentage points less likely to apply to the most selective universities, and 6.9 percentage points more likely to enrol in a university in which they are over-qualified (have grades higher than their fellow peers). It should be noted that the nature of the university attended has been shown to be linked to a students’ eventual earnings (Belfield et al, 2018, in Murphy and Wyness, 2020).

Overall, Black pupils had the lowest percentage accuracy with only 39.1% of grades accurately predicted. This group also had the highest over- and under-prediction rates (53.8% and 7.1% respectively). This under-predicted statistic may seem interesting and to a certain extent seem to cancel out the effects of under prediction, we have to remember you cannot over predict a pupil who achieves an A grade (and now an A*).

Black British pupils of all three categories, Caribbean, African or Other (within the 2009 chort) are predicted A grades a minimum 12% percentage less than white students (this trend is similar for Bangladeshi and Pakistani pupils). This is also mirrored in achievement, with Black British Caribbean and Black African students gaining the lowest rates of A grade (in 2009) at 15.2% and 17.9% with similar rates for Bangladeshi and Pakistani pupils. (Everett and Papageorgiou, 2011).

This is also mirrored in achievement, with Black British Caribbean and Black African students gaining the lowest rates of A grade (in 2009) at 15.2% and 17.9% with similar rates for Bangladeshi and Pakistani pupils. (Everett and… Click To Tweet

Looking at socio economic background, Everett and Papageoriou (p. 20) found that:

‘The Higher managerial group had the highest percentage of accurate predictions of grade A at 69.5% while the Routine group had the lowest percentage at 53.4%. Grade C was the least accurately predicted for all social classes, apart from the Routine group which saw B grade prediction to be the most inaccurate (35.8%).’

This level of inaccuracy seems to pervade age as shown in Muijs and Dunne (2010) study of Year 7 pupils. When looking at attainment via setting, they found that pupils from higher socio-economic status (analysed through the use of ACORN and free school meals measures) are more likely to be assigned to higher sets and less likely to be assigned to lower sets.

The model of pupil self efficacy, pygamalion and teacher bias through stereotype seems to be an unending cycle. Pupils from lower socio-economic backgrounds are less likely to attend a high tariff university than their richer counterparts, even when they have similar prior academic attainment (Wyness 2017). After accounting for degree class, graduates from richer socio-economic backgrounds are more likely to become a professional and consequently higher earnings growth. (Crawford et al, 2016).

What are the possible reasons for this, other than the stereotype model (Behaviour and perception, confirmation and anchoring bias) suggested by Burgess and Greaves 2009? Well, within the same study Burgess and Greaves note that when teachers who assess pupils are the same teacher that teaches them,  this will cause issues such as teaching to the test. This leads to teachers focusing on certain pupils, as they know that teacher-pupil day to day interactions can improve the external grade with greater transmission of knowledge (T Campbell, 2015).

Sievertsen (2019) in Murphy and Wyness (2020) studied a reform which led to some students’ grades being recoded and ultimately their GPA (Grade Point Average) being downgraded. They found that students who were downgraded by the recoding performed better on subsequent assessments, indicating the importance of incentives. The only reason to keep the current system is that these students react more positively to predicted grades, although this incentivising could be problematic on a number of levels. (Murphy and Wyness 2020). This does not fit stereotype model but heralds questions around high stakes accountability around exams for teachers and leaders alike.

Wilson et al (2006) investigate non-stereotype factors on two national cohorts after delivering and analysis across four key stages:

  1. Ethnic minority pupils go to worse schools than their white counterparts.
  2. Language acquisition of EAL pupils, meaning pupils catch up as their language does.
  3. Does the disadvantage start in the early years so school has little impact on the result?

Ethnic Minorities go to Worse schools

Wilson et al’s analysis of their results were found to be pervasive (across the whole school cohort). Ethnic minorities do not segregate in school nationally.

‘Over the country as a whole, attendance at substantially mono-ethnic schools is not the norm for members of the non-white groups (though it is for whites in many areas). Half of all non-white secondary students in England attended schools where more than 75 per cent of the total enrolment comprised whites’ (Burgess et al, 2004, p1)

As pupils of colour go to wide range of schools in the main this not a huge factor in the phenomenon.

Language Acquisition

This may be a factor, due to the fact that as pupils who speak English as an additional language become more and more proficient, their attainment in school assessment increases. Demie and Strand (2006) found in their paper which looked at 10 secondary schools in the inner London borough of Lambeth that bilingual pupils who are proficient in English performed better than their than solely English speaking peers on average (although their finding was not statistically significant).

Both Demie and Strand (2006) and Wilson et al (2006) both found that pupils make better than expected progress during key stage 3 and 4. Wilson et al interestingly found that pupils of colour with English as an additional language were found to have on average around 0.9 extra GCSE points; both EAL and non EAL pupils of colour gain 3 GCSE points when compared to the white population. Wilson et al (2006) suggest that the impact of language acquisition accounts for up to a third of ethnic minority rise at Key Stage 4. There are still 2 thirds unaccounted for.

Ethnocentric Testing

Yes, there are arguments around ethnocentric testing typically against Black students and poor students (Gipps, 1992; Murphy & Pardaffy, 1989 in Burgess 2009). I wholly agree there are issues with the content of external assessment, however, this would lead to teachers inflating pupils over the external examination. This is not the case as the converse is true.

Behaviour and the Perception of Behaviour

Muijs and Dunne (2010) completed a quantitative analysis of the composition of classes. Leaders were presented with a qualitative survey about the rationale behind their setting choices.


Words in Rationale Percentage of Surveyed
Attainment or Test Results72.8%
Attitude and Behaviour (+Other)4.5%


Words in Rationale Percentage of Surveyed
Attainment or Test Results88.7%
Attitude and Behaviour (+Other)2.3%

Even within schools there are inter-department variations on the basis of setting. This raises questions about bias being introduced through an ideological basis. Bearing in mind that ability (through teacher assessment), Test results and attitude and behaviour (teacher perception) are all prone to bias. Attitude and behaviour are critical in the day to day experiences of pupils and teachers in the classroom.

Can the behaviour of pupils impact on teacher assessment? We know that a disproportionate amount of British Black Afro Caribbean pupils are diagnosed with SEMH (Social, Emotional and Mental Health needs); a social construct which judges pupils’ behaviour against a standard set of expectations.

“A frequently proposed explanation for the over-representation of Black pupils with SEMH/MLD is an inappropriate interpretation of ethnic and cultural differences including teacher racism, low expectations and a failure of schools to provide quality instruction or effective classroom management” (e.g. Artiles et al, 2010; Waitoller et al, 2010 in Strand and Lindorf 2018).

Even when controlling for socioeconomic difference (this only explained 50% of the disparency) Strand and Lindorff (2018) found that Black Caribbean students have an odds ratio of 2.29 and mixed White and Black British Caribbean student have a slightly lower ratio of 1.94; this means that if you are a Black Britsh Caribbean student you are 2.29 times more likely to be diagnosed with a SEMH than a white British student. 

“Is it that these young people from this [Black British Caribbean] ethnic group are more confrontational with their teachers because of gang culture or is it a perception of their behaviour?”

(Professor Strand, BBC, 2019.)

"Is it that these young people from this [Black British Caribbean] ethnic group are more confrontational with their teachers because of gang culture or is it a perception of their behaviour?" (Professor Strand, BBC, 2019.) Click To Tweet

Behaviour (well, perception of behaviour) is impacted along racial lines and this is likely through the process of toxic association and positive prototypes (more here). Is there evidence that this impacts on the teacher assessment?

‘We divide the 61 neighbourhood types into the poorest third, middle (omitted category) and least poor thirds, and introduce indicators for these in the analysis. The results suggest the same factors at work’. (Burgess and Lindoff, 2009, p. 16).

This is reinforced when pupil bodies groups in schools are in smaller numbers, as this means that the association has not been built from numerous interactions but from wider society. These stereotypes are standalone and intersectional; hardly surprising considering the nature of toxic stereotypes.

What behavioural factors are involved in under-assessment looking at self reporting from pupils?

  1. Reporting praise from your teachers is significant negatively correlated with probability of under assessment in all subjects.
  2. Pupils who report working hard and like school also less likely to be underassessed (but there is not a statistical significance here)
  3. Causing trouble in more than half of their classes leaves you 3.5% more likely to be underassessed.

Suggested from non-age specific analysis (Burgess, 2009).

The survey data suggest that non-academic factors impact teacher assessment and adverse behaviours have a greater impact on teacher assessment.

“In summary, whilst the survey data shows that student behaviours and attitudes do have an influence on the likelihood of under-assessment, such adverse behaviours are if anything more common among white pupils”.(Burgess 2009, p.23).

“In summary, whilst the survey data shows that student behaviours and attitudes do have an influence on the likelihood of under-assessment, such adverse behaviours are if anything more common among white pupils”.(Burgess 2009, p.23). Click To Tweet

There is no open and shut answer. But is there a systematic underassessment of pupils of colour and those of lower socio-economic background? Yes. Is there a bias when assessing pupil behaviour? Yes; of course the factors involved here are complicated, and Burgess describes the conclusions as having a two fold impact:

1. Pupils disengaging from school as a result of teacher interactions as they feel under valued

2. This undervalue reciprocating by under valuing education and qualifications (as per the earlier flow chart).

Critics of setting, point to the possibility of harming a student’s self-concept when that student is put into a lower set, to the fact that it is extremely difficult for teachers to have high expectations of low set classes, and to the loss of opportunities for lower-achieving peers to be peer-taught by higher achievers in the subject (Muijs and Reynolds, 2005. in Muij and Dunne 2010). 

The stereotype model is based on a wider view of the factors and as you can see both of these factors are cyclical. I would as a practitioner like to add that teacher expectations can contribute hugely to pupil achievement and so can the converse, as per the Rosenthal and Golem effect again; all feeding into a cycle where certain pupils do not feel valued, teacher don’t expect as much, the pupils disengage and the teacher is vindicated in their original stereotype through an anchoring and confirmation bias.

That is hard data, research and literature on teacher assessment being biased heavily, and this is maybe caused by the perception of behaviour. This already has an impact on the self efficacy of pupils leading to disproportiante exclusions.

Intersectionality – Multiple Disadvantages

  1. Special Educational Needs
  2. Eligibility for Free School Meals within the past 6 years
  3. Maternal qualifications
  4. Parental engagement in the young person’s education (based on whether they discussed school reports, attended parents’ evenings and talked about the young person’s plans for future studies).
  5. A measure of the relationship between the main parent and child based on the frequency of arguments between them.
  6. Whether the young person had access to an internet connected computer.
  7. Ofsted rating of the young person’s school

These were defined as the linear factors by the EEF in their report into multiple disadvantages. The impact of each factor is shown below.

There is a linear relationship between the factors, so having more means you have a greater attainment penalty as a result. Although race is not disaggregated into the report, it does state that,

‘Young people whose ethnic group is Pakistani were more likely than White students to have three or more disadvantages and two or more disadvantages. Young people from the Bangladeshi, Black African and Black Caribbean ethnic minority groups were also more likely than White students to have two or more disadvantages.’

It could be argued that every factor could be exacerbated by a teacher stereotype model.

What is in Current Legislation?

The broad range of elements include teacher assessment and prior attainment. These are both biased against pupils of colour and disadvantaged students. What does the law actually say about discrimination? Well, the Equalities Act 2010 states that race is a protected characteristic, and any public sector body is bound by the public sector equalities duty. This means that any public sector body should not discriminate directly, indirectly, harassment or victimisation against groups which hold the protected characteristics. Indirect discrimination is normally enacted through the medium of policy, criterion or procedure (PCP).

Socio-economic status is not a protected characteristic, however, section 1.1 of the Equalities Act 2010 clearly states that.

“An authority to which this section applies must, when making decisions of a strategic nature about how to exercise its functions, have due regard to the desirability of exercising them in a way that is designed to reduce the inequalities of outcome which result from socio-economic disadvantage.”

Unfortunately, consecutive governments have failed to bring the section into commencement.

I know I may be jumping the gun here and being overly cynical as the DfE guidance suggests that a fair and robust process will be developed. The fact this guidance was released late afternoon on Friday, when the Secretary of State said:

‘We have a preferred method for examinations but that will be released tomorrow on Radio 4 on Thursday 19th March 2020.’

Was that delay to stem out roar? To stop a coordinated counter protest? Is the guidance deliberately vague for a reason? One thing is for sure, this conversation needs to start.

The Government Guidance and what can School leaders do?

“How will you address the fact that students from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to have their grades under-predicted?”

We are not awarding students their predicted grades. Ofqual, the independent qualifications regulator, will develop a fair and robust process that takes into account a broad range of evidence, including teacher assessment and prior attainment. Ofqual will make every effort to ensure that the process agreed does not disadvantage any particular group of students.

Pupils who do not feel their calculated grade reflects their performance will have the opportunity to sit an exam, as soon as is reasonably possible after schools and colleges open again.”

The immediate concern is the grading for cohorts in year 11 and 13 and this is an urgent concern. The only controllable factor is teacher assessments, as predicted grades, schools and pupils’ prior data is out of the locus of control.

I am currently in discussion around assessment models and universities admissions around an equitable approach. I’ll keep you updated.

If you enjoy this piece of writing please do consider support us here.







School segregation in multi-ethnic England Burgess et al 2004

http://www.bristol.ac.uk/media-library/sites/cmpo/migrated/documents/wp92.pdf Published in Ethnicities 4 (2) 237-265 (2004)

Demie and Strand 2006


Daniel Muijs & Mairead Dunne (2010) Setting by ability – or is it? A quantitative study of determinants of set placement in English secondary schools, Educational Research, 52:4, 391-407, DOI: 10.1080/00131881.2010.524750

Campbell, T. (2015) Stereotyped at Seven? Biases in Teacher Judgement of Pupils’ Ability and Attainment. Journal of Social Policy, 44:3, pp 517-547. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0047279415000227

Richard Murphy and Gill Wyness Working Paper No. 20-07 March 2020

Minority Report: the impact of predicted grades on university admissions of disadvantaged groups, Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities (CEPEO)


Department for Business, innovation and skills. BIS, RESEARCH PAPER NUMBER 37Investigating the Accuracy of Predicted A Level Grades as part of 2009 UCAS Admission Procese JUNE 2011

Everett & Papageorgiou (2011), ‘Investigating the Accuracy of Predicted A Level Grades as part of 2009 UCAS Admission Process’

Claire Crawford, Paul Gregg, Lindsey Macmillan, Anna Vignoles, Gill Wyness, Higher education, career opportunities, and intergenerational inequality, Oxford Review of Economic Policy, Volume 32, Issue 4, WINTER 2016, Pages 553–575, https://doi.org/10.1093/oxrep/grw030

Julie A. Nelson (2014) The power of stereotyping and confirmation bias to overwhelm accurate assessment: the case of economics, gender, and risk aversion, Journal of Economic Methodology, 21:3,211-231, DOI: 10.1080/1350178X.2014.939691

Kahneman, D. (2013), Thinking Fast and Slow.

Lessof et al (2019), Multiple disadvantage and KS4 attainment: evidence from LSYPE2,

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/808591/LSYPE2_multiple_disadvantage_and_KS4_attainment.pdf accessed 29th March 2020

Wyness (2017), ‘Disadvantaged students and the university admissions process’

https://www.suttontrust.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Rules-of-the-Game.pdf accessed 29th March 2020

How to Home School.

This blog also appears here. This piece is from Prof. Colin Diamond of the University of Birmingham.

As the schools close for all but the most vulnerable children or those with parents and carers in key jobs suddenly you are the teacher. And your new job could last for many months. My guess would be that in England, we won’t see schools re-opening before September.

So, this situation raises lots of anxieties for adults who are staying at home and teaching. What’s the best approach? How can I be mum or dad and switch to being teacher? How can I become the best teacher I can be? Will I be good enough for my kids at perhaps a crucial stage of their education with tests and exams in the year ahead?

At the same time, our children are confused, frightened, disappointed and angry by what’s happening and you are likely the people they will look to both vent their frustrations and be supported and loved at the same time. Teaching in one-to-one or small group situations is intense. When pupils and students are in a normal class there is space for them to self-regulate their learning just as we do as adults. So they will have lots of mini downtimes, go for a walk in-class, talk with friends etc. And the class teacher is constantly scanning to make sure that everyone is on task for most of the time – that’s key, ‘for most of the time’.

Classes aren’t (or shouldn’t be) production lines. The best learning comes when the children are relaxed and they don’t learn in a linear, mechanical fashion.

For those with teenagers, there are a whole extra set of issues as they ‘individuate’ from parents and become young people in their own right whilst still needing enormous dollops of unconditional love. Their mood swings are likely to be intensified by feelings of confinement at a stage in their lives when they want to stretch their wings and leave the nest.

And those teenagers will probably know a lot more about the subjects they are studying than you do. There will be specialist areas that you won’t be able to help them with – don’t try! They have subject teachers whose professional lives are all about that distillation of knowledge.

Plus, things may have changed since you were at school. It’s not just about Google being the default to answering any question. Teaching and learning have become more sophisticated with the kind of performance metrics that you might associate with athletes and football players. It is all much more scientific.

Your children’s school will most likely be offering on-line learning activities and be guided by them in the first instance. They know your children best and will offer a balanced range of things to do based on the syllabus they are accustomed to in class. There’s lots of ‘celebrity’ content out there with some real quality but best use it as a back-up or reward after the school’s work is done.

Be wary of commercial on-line activities that may claim to turbocharge learning. In most cases, they won’t. There are snake oil peddlers in education just like every other walk of life. The commercial companies are seeing this as a huge business opportunity and social media is already awash with the ‘best ever’ products.

Finally, teaching is bloody hard work and it’s most stressful when you are learning your craft as a newly qualified teacher. Expect to feel tired, with highs and lows every day. Give yourself ‘me time’ and reward yourself if possible as you have taken on a professional job with 3 days notice.

Good luck – we might be signing you up for training at the end of this if you get an appetite for teaching. And you will certainly appreciate what your children’s teachers do day-in-and-day-out in school.

Twelve Top Tips
Here are some tips that should help your job induction: congratulations – you are now the teacher!

1. Routines are really important and your children will need them as the structure of their lives has suddenly been altered in a way they won’t have experienced before. Work hard to establish and stick to routines. Without turning your home into a military-style regime, start times, breaks and end times will help everyone. And they will become important boundaries for the months at home together. This will be a long haul.

2. Be clear when you are in your job as teacher – this will help. You can play the role with young children in lots of fun ways and negotiate with the teenagers, just like you do on normal boundary setting.

3. Set up a weekly timetable to get going. If you have printing facilities get it up on the wall so everyone can see it and you can take your children through what’s planned. Give it a week and review what’s worked and what didn’t. Build in a balance of the core subjects of English and Maths with other subjects, if you are confident. The school should provide the basic guidance here but you can find lots of model lessons online for free – many teachers are busy right now recording activities you will find on the school’s website.

4. Make sure your children have some physical movement during your lessons and when you change activities. It’s so important to keep the kinaesthetic movement going, even in the smallest of spaces. This means some level of physical activity to complement table-based learning. Dancing along to YouTube videos will work for both of you.

5. If your children are doing GCSE courses or similar, for most of the time they will receive detailed guidance from schools. Your role in most subjects, unless you are a physicist or geologist, will be limited. But you may be able to help with the quality of written tasks, testing out ideas and opening up to learning from them. You are a captive audience!

6. Praise, rewards and sanctions – we know that the golden rule is lots of praise and little criticism to motivate children in most circumstances. You can incentivise your children by praising their efforts and perseverance as well as the work they produce. Invent rewards that will work according to your children’s ages – from simple things like star charts you can print or draw to whatever works best with your teenagers. They will need to feel a bit grown up and definitely part of the solution when it comes to deciding what constitutes a fair reward and isn’t perceived to be childish.

7. Space – give your children space to learn within your flat or house. This means literally if you are able to set up class in one part of a bedroom or the kitchen, and also psychologically. Teachers will be working their way around the class like a honey bee seeking pollen, with a stop here and a stop there. So your children will not be accustomed to high levels of individual attention.

8. Rites of passage – your children may feel cheated because they missed out on that Year 6 trip in June or the school prom. There will be lots of emotional pain because they didn’t expect to say goodbye to their teachers and classmates so quickly. This is not an area for the timetable you set up, but one to be aware of as it will surface, sometimes at unexpected times. You can plan for the future with your children when there will be opportunities to pick up some of these incomplete threads in their lives.

9. Learn together – you will do this instinctively with your children as they grow and it’s one of the best things about being a parent. Now you have the opportunity to build it into your teacher routines when you have set a project that will last a few days or weeks. Choose a topic that interests both of you and go for it!

10. Screen time – keep it under control exactly as they do in school. The internet is a tool for knowledge and learning, but not the end product. It’s technology that we teach children to navigate at school to learn what is safe and what is dangerous, also what information can be trusted and how to use it. Your children may be more sophisticated users of PowerPoint than you but they won’t necessarily have the skills to filter out the information they need.

11. Homework? This might sound like a bad joke in the circumstances but it’s a serious point! Your older children will be accustomed to long spells of working alone, particularly in the run up to exams. For those who have examinations in 2021, maintaining this habit will be important to build up more knowledge and deep analysis that modern GCSEs and A levels require.

12. And don’t forget fun. I always found that cooking easy dishes like pizzas and fairy cakes worked a treat with small groups. They enjoy the physical contact with the raw materials, can see it cook and there’s instant gratification when they eat the end product. Definitely something to have on your timetable, Miss or Sir.

Honestly, Honesty or being Honest with Yourself

Let me be honest; leadership is hard, I’m not referring the work, the hours or even the pressure. It’s the emotional burden it takes, rarely do school leaders talk openly about this element of the game.

Leadership is about direction, change and a relentless drive for something bigger than ourselves and more significant than the sum of the team. Change is hard, even if the environment is in disarray organisation will resist change because change brings uncertainty – and who knows it may get worse. No one said any of this is rational. 

Organisations will follow the path of least resistance (Fullan 2004) when any change process causes resistance; this risks leading to a stagnant static collective mindset. However, inaction is an action in itself, creating capacity and the act of change management are covered elsewhere on this site. 

I want to focus on the unease caused by leaders on their followers. Yes, this is sometimes necessary; however, leaders use the experience to foster a feeling of safety through an environment of trust. After numerous conversations with peers (including Kathryn Morgan who has a wealth of knowledge on this subject) about professional discourse (I’ll write about this later), I’ve come to the salient conclusion that trust is built solely through dialogue and communication.

As a leader, you steer and point the organisation toward its destination, the decisions you make are based on the information and experiences we have. This week has been hard for every level of school life, including our pupils. Uncertainty breeds anxiety, and when you don’t know, you create your own reasons in your head. To ameliorate this, leaders keep people in the loop, and you tell them the direction persistently, you let them know where you are on the journey, you build a common language, you create a familiar sense of safety.

Here is the question I want to really ask though:

Are leaders ever honest with themselves?

In the US and indeed, the UK, the idea of transformative leadership is a dominant feature; a leader presents a vision and manipulates the culture and builds sustainable change in schools (Grint 2008). Grint goes on to describe systemic level issues with this apparent model leader are often entirely out of the remit of the leaders’ control (more here).

How many times have you recognised that unease and pressure, that buzzing behind your eyes is not the coffee, it is not just the high powered job, but that it is anxiety? This week I have seen some incredibly brave decision in the absence of vision from above. Arrangements have been made through a necessity for followers; this is bravery; this is leadership. This is leadership at its best; making decisions based on your purpose, your experience and the information you have is all done to put your followers and vision right.

Back to another version of the question.

What do leaders do to put themselves right?

I will come back to this at some point. 

Have an awesome weekend everyone. I think we all need it.

Courage and Covid-19

Today’s piece is a collaboration between T’Challa Greaves and myself.

Courage is often misconstrued as the ability to walk into a burning building and rescue people, but often courage can be much more than that.

It can be a child’s ability to confront something new.
It can be an adults ability to leave the house when suffering.
It can be anyone rising to the expectation, the burden placed upon them.
A headteacher (sick, underlying health conditions) putting the needs of the staff and the children, ahead of their own and their own families.
A doctor, putting themselves at risk, daily.

Courage comes from being authentic, honest and open, continuing this daily, regardless of the obstacles. In education, this is the career that we have chosen. Do we class ourselves as courageous? No. Do we class ourselves as heroic? No?

I’ve been thinking long and hard about what courage is. There are various definitions but let us look at a pragmatic approach to the term. In the current week, the education world is in turmoil.

Rewind to pre-crisis and to our adolescents, to our formative years, well, yes, informed our minds and choices for the future. At which point that you decide that education was for you? What was it that made you think that teaching was for you? Think back and try and visualise that moment, now actualise how you felt at that moment. What was the reasoning behind the decision to step into the classroom?

My personal ‘why’ would be focussed around ‘giving the next generation the knowledge and skills to resist and to promote the systems and structures that form their societies’. This purpose is who I am.

The pupils (and your vision for them) whether that means difficult conversation with colleagues or dealing with sensitive human resources issues. This courage comes from belief, never thoughtless obedience. Your vision gives me the impetus to make decisions, sometimes difficult one because if it fits in with the mission and if it is right by the pupils in my care, it’s the right decision.

In these times, school leaders and teachers are living their values. Colleagues are risking their health and that of their families in an effort to stem the flow of Covid-19, this courage doesn’t come from wartime rhetoric it flows from directly from that very same core purpose.

With the news that teachers are expected to go in and support children of keyworkers, courage with vision, integrity, accountability, learning, sharing, resilience is classed as one of the seven pillars of leadership (Brian Solis). It’s an attribute that we all should have. Success is not final; failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.

It’s at times where we are all afraid, where society is afraid, that we’re forced to draw on the courage that we never knew, or thought was there.

I want to take the time to congratulate leaders in this time of turmoil, with shoutouts to Dan Morrow, Chris Dyson, Vic Goddard and Nikki Beniams (who I have seen do a lot of the heavy lifting in our community). At every layer of any organisation, anxiety arises through uncertainty; We all know, not knowing is often worse than the actual event. In the absence of information (this not a slight at any civil servant or government, all leadership is trying) it is hard to lead, and this week I have seen nothing but grit, determination from those entrusted with the care of our young people.

FSM Vouchers ALDI

First, let my say to school leaders I applaud you for supporting and serving all of our pupils especially those who have the greatest needs.

I have just been forwarded a link to Aldi voucher scheme (AVS) for FSM pupils. As they have no petrol stations and there is an additional opt-out for cigarettes, alcohol, etc. these may be a better option for the vouchers you choose to issue.

Aldi Voucher Scheme Leaflet


Aldi Voucher Scheme – Terms & Conditions 2020 (1)

Periods Don’t Stop for Pandemics: Order and Distribute your FREE period Products Now!

As we face these incredibly uncertain and challenging times, one thing is certain: periods will continue. 

Our organisations, the Red Box Project and Free Periods, have always fought to ensure that every young person has access to the period products that they need when they’re at school. But now it looks like schools will be closed, perhaps for some time. 

We need schools to take urgent action to ensure that their students continue to have access to essential period supplies. 

Since January 2020, all state-maintained schools and colleges in England have been able to order free period products for their students under a new Government-funded scheme. Guidance on the scheme and how to place orders is available from the Department for Education here. If you have any problems placing your order, you can call PHS (who are running the scheme) on 01827 255500.

We urge every eligible institution to order their free period products as soon as possible and to take action to distribute those products to their students – before schools close. 

Thank you for your support.

The Red Box Project 


Lose the Booths

Whatever your views on isolation, behaviour management and the way schools systems work. I’d urge you to reflect on the use of isolation booths.

Let start, picture a small, round, compliant brown boy. He is PP, FSM, EAL but is full of charisma and wit albeit a bowl hair cut, a ragged blazer and shoes that are too small for his feet betray his world outside of school.

I spent the keynote in quiet anticipation. This campaign and this conference started with a conversation over coffee in Edgeware, where Paul and I talked through the injustices around isolation booths and the consequent impacts on young people. Here we talked through the topics around bias, mental health, safeguarding, utilitarianism, the educational landscape as well the quality of cake at the museum coffee shop.

Paul kicks off introductions and goes on talk about extending your hand to all pupils, accenting the importance with those who are disengaged. In the knowledge that these pupils may reject it every single time but putting your hand there anyway. That act of knowing that someone was there, just knowing that someone tried was necessary for that boy.

A video of Jaz Ampaw Farr plays where she is visibly shaken when she talks through the impact of isolation. I’d seen this video before this showing; I feel no shame in admitting that I have cried every single time I’ve seen Jaz talk through her youth while struggling to hold the emotions in check. That brown boy is now an adult and thinking about the long-lasting impact of the experiences we have as children.

After having experienced isolation at school, let me talk from a personal position. Superficially that charismatic boy complied when in isolation, he served his various punitive sanctions and world was now a better place.

The real question here is what actually happened to that boy while he compliantly sat in silence? He lay his head against the wall or the desk. He got caught in an intrusive loop. The continual thought that the one place he thought that was a haven, a place that provided solace because someone cared. People had him no matter what had happened, didn’t care enough to talk through his turmoil. 

This time serve only to lock him in his head.

No one actually cares about me.

That’s okay, that because I’m not a good person.

I’m just not good enough. 

I deserve this.


No matter how people spin the reasons behind the conference. The aims were and continue to be:

  1. The removal of isolation booths in all schools
  2. The regulation and reporting of all children isolated for more than half a day
  3. Funding to support schools in shifting from Isolation booths to better practice

Yes, this matters. During every campaign, I plunge myself into a point of despair, is this going to make a difference? Are we all just wasting our time? This partly self-sabotage and self-protection because if I’m not good enough, the situation won’t bite as severely when the inevitable chaos ensues. All of this is ingrained. Sometimes consequences of what we do in schools as leaders and practitioners do not just lead to compliance but something more profound and longer-lasting.

The other keynotes came from Chris Dyson, who never fails to blow me away with his base of love for the children he serves. Steven Baker also talked about the neuroscience around isolation, I will not divulge any more as I know he has a book out in October 2020.

I delivered a session on bias, booth, and the issues around the subjectivity of sanctions, yes, of course, it was well-received (I’ll share that on another day). As I left my session, I thought about the impact of the day and the campaign so far; I was emotionally exhausted, and those doubts are starting to filter through. 

I have to shout out Mark Finnish here compere extraordinaire and the genius idea of the last session of the day being circular reflections.

I sat in a group and the reflection included,

I think we all just need to try a little harder.

I came as an advocate of booths – I’ve really have to think again.

We were on the way to a boothless school this has sealed it.

All activism must carry a grassroots element, and this final reflection told me that we are doing something right.

What is next you ask? Head over to www.banthebooths.co.uk to find out.

The Best of Both Worlds

This piece is part of a leadership archive from one of the most authentic school leaders I have met, Jeremy Hannay. Jeremy is currently headteacher of Three Bridges Primary School and his work can also be found here.

Whose cooler – Superman or Batman? Who would win in a fight – Wolverine or Cyclops?

Growing up, my eldest brother and I loved to read comic books, and these were the sort of questions I have fond memories of us arguing about, each taking an opposing stance. That was until our younger brother started to read comics and joined in the conversation. At that point something changed for me. I went from truly believing that there were only two possible positions, to understanding that, firstly, perhaps there was another option we hadn’t considered, and secondly, it might be possible that we were all correct.

The world is full of these false dichotomies, where two opposing ideas are presented as being directly opposed to one another – or the only two options – when in reality they aren᾿t at all

This paradigm has been proven to me over and over again as a class teacher, school leader and doctoral researcher; solutions are rarely as simple as one idea or the other, and very often the truth lies somewhere in between. And education has its fair share of false dichotomies.

I’ve met many early years consultants who stare seethingly at me when I suggest that we need to provide more formal opportunities for reading, writing and mathematics in our nursery and reception. “That is not the way they learn”; “They need to choose their own learning experiences”; “Research says…more play, more self-initiation, more child-led…; etc etc…

Suggesting that children in reception should sit at desks to write, or on the carpet for whole-class instruction, is met with frustration and cynicism. These people believe that teacher-directed learning and child-initiated learning are mutually exclusive.

But at Three Bridges, we don᾿t think it᾿s so clear cut, and believe that a balanced approach involving both priorities is what’s best for our youngest learners. Not only is our way or working supported by recent large-scale research, it provides our disadvantaged pupils (baseline: 93% below, 60% significantly below) with the social, emotional and academic capital they need to flourish as readers, writers and problem solvers. It’s the structure of learning that provides them with the freedom to learn.

Daily dose

A typical day for us involves a morning of more-structured English and maths programmes, characterised by whole-class and mastery-group instruction, followed by a free-flowing afternoon with opportunities for make-believe, experimentation and unstructured group play.


Our English programme includes a teacher-led session using the Sounds-Write approach for quality-first phonics, and an active and integrated Talk for Writing story time. We vary the activities that follow. There is a whole-group writing session, and break-out mastery groups for learners who need more-focused time with an adult. The idea is to bridge the gap between our high- and low-performing learners that is traditionally seen upon entry to Year 1.

Pupils start writing on individual lines, before moving on to four-line tramlines as the year progresses. This transition is supported with our custom-made whiteboards and books, and is guided by our teachers’ professional judgement. Pupils are encouraged to be independent and select their own writing tools, in addition to regulating their partner-talk using speaking frames, which foster talk in complete sentences. There is reading of high-quality and creative texts with a focus on reading for meaning, in addition to pupils engaging with books they can read independently.

In line with the rest of the school, our children learn to make inferences, predictions, and connections. They create mental images and identify text features. They learn letter-formation, handwriting control and the joy of being able to express themselves using the written word, all while building their vocabularies and creative voice through oral and written approaches deeply embedded within the Talk for Writing pedagogy. Our youngest people go on to leave our school among the best in our local authority.

Seeing the joy on their faces when they have taken an idea in their heads and purposefully written it down for someone else to read is tangible evidence of ‘literacy as freedom’.

Question time

In maths, we use adult-led instruction via the Singaporean method. It’s an approach we use throughout the school and one that complements our beliefs about quality-first pedagogy across all subjects. Children are introduced to a problem while sitting on the carpet, and through concrete materials and pictorial representations they are skilfully questioned in order to determine multiple solutions. They talk to each other and have many opportunities for oral formative feedback.


Then pupils work on practical, hands-on activities at tables, slowly building towards using more abstract concepts such as numbers and symbols, as preparation for lifelong learning. They discuss cardinality and ordinality, rational and irrational counting, number bonds to 10 and the use of 10-frames for numbers to 20. It is crucial that all of the children leave with strength in making connections, finding patterns, a well-rooted number sense and the ability to communicate and articulate their thoughts.

Our afternoons, however, closely resembles other foundation programmes. We have a strong emphasis on child-initiated activity, play, make-believe, art, music, and movement. Our children typically play at self-chosen activity stations or tables, both indoors and outdoors. This offers them a range of materials to stimulate language and cognitive development, with open-ended and themed activities such as finger-painting, sand and water tables, a dress-up area, a puppet theatre, blocks, cars and trucks.

Here, our teachers are primarily supportive rather than directive, engaging individuals or groups in conversations about what they are doing or plan to do. They introduce themes, often based on the children’s interests, and discuss key concepts such as numbers, shapes, colours and vocabulary that connect to greater learning.

Meeting in the middle

This congruence between thoughtful teacher-direction and child-initiation is seamless. And, most importantly, our children are happier than they have ever been. No love of learning has been lost – if anything, it is on a steadfast rise. Where we used to put limits on learning, they now have the freedom to express themselves and make meaning of the world using language and conventions.

For years we’ve been told it’s either teacher-directed or child-initiated learning – that you have to choose one or the other, that they’re mutually exclusive. But we must have both. When woven together by talented and passionate teachers, they operate in beautiful harmony. Our children often enter the school with limited social, emotional and academic capital, but they leave our early years setting from a position of joy, confidence and creativity.


They have a bank of nursery rhymes to draw on, a variety of stories and language features with which they speak and write, phonics and language skills to support reading and meaning-making, and the capacity to collaborate with each other and adults in magical ways, happily moving their learning forward as independent, courageous and talented young people.

Formal agreement

Four reasons to use Talk for Writing in the early years…

1. It provides secure start
Every early years child becomes a writer when they learn a story orally from beginning to end and intelligently investigate its components to form initial ideas about grammar, punctuation, and sentence level work.

2. Innovation is encouraged
After learning a story orally, children invent their own versions. The way in which they learn to copy, transform and combine ideas forms the building blocks for all creativity.

3. It᾿s great fun
Pupils absolutely love learning and retelling a story using actions and different intonations. Reenacting the giant from Jack and the Beanstalk or huffing and puffing along with the Three Little Pigs is engaging and effective for everyone.

4.  Research backs it up
This approach is rooted in recent and relevant research, considering both how we learn and how early years children begin to write (Chambers, Cheung & Slavin, 2016).​

Claiming Back £ – 3 ways.

Student Loan Repayments.

Did you:

  1. Teach biology, chemistry, physics, computing or languages (not including English) during the 2018 to 2019 financial year.
  2. At a school in an eligible local authority during the 2018 to 2019 financial year – check which places are eligible
  3. are currently employed as a teacher at a state-funded secondary school in England
  4. spend at least 50% of your contracted hours teaching one or more eligible subjects
  5. complete your initial teacher training (ITT) course in or after the 2013 to 2014 academic year

Then you can claim back the student loan repayments that you made while employed as a teacher in the 2018 to 2019 financial year (The financial year so this is April 2018 to April 2019).

This what you’ll need:

  1. The exact amount of student loan you repaid while employed as a teacher during the 2018 to 2019 financial year (get this from your annual student loan statement, your P60 if you only had one employer or all your payslips from this period). You should be able to access some of your information here also https://www.gov.uk/sign-in-to-your-student-loan-repayment-account.
  2. Your National Insurance Number
  3. Your bank account details
  4. Your 7-digit teacher reference number – you can get this from your school, the certificate you got when you qualified, or from the teacher qualifications helpdesk
  5. The academic year in which you completed your initial teacher training
  6. Your passport or photocard driving licence to prove your identity using GOV.UK Verify – if you’ve used GOV.UK Verify before, you’ll just need your sign-in details

Head over to if you are eligible and if not share with your networks.


Claim back £2000

While you are here if you taught maths or Physics in the same period you can claim £2000.



Sorry, if none of this applies to you. However, if you haven’t claimed your tax back (people are receiving cheques up to £600 back) on you union subs and chartered college membership do that here.