The 2020 Vision report calls for personalised learning to be designed to reduce the ‘persistent and unacceptable gaps in average attainment between different groups of pupils’.

The Teaching and Learning in 2020 Review Group was set up with the remit to give a clear vision of what ‘personalised learning’ might look like in schools by that year. In 2020 children who started this school year in Reception will be entering higher education or employment and although concerned with the whole range of pupils, the report’s proposals are likely to be particularly helpful to SENCOs in promoting an inclusive curriculum with teaching and learning approaches adapted to individual needs.
The report argues that the education system will need to act now if it is to transform the experience of children starting school today. It says that schools, local and national government need to work together towards a society in which:

  • a child’s chances of success are not related to his or her socio-economic background, gender or ethnicity
  • education services are designed around the needs of each child, with the expectation that all learners achieve high standards
  • all children and young people leave school with functional skills in English and mathematics, understanding how to learn, think creatively, take risks and handle change
  • teachers use their skills and knowledge to engage children and young people as partners in learning, acting quickly to adjust their teaching in response to pupils’ learning
  • schools draw in parents as their child’s co-educators, engaging them and increasing their capacity to support their child’s learning.

Areas needing urgent action

The report considers that if the gaps between the average performance of different groups of pupils are to close, there are two areas where action is most urgent.

Ensuring a strong focus on progress for all pupils

Once pupils have fallen behind their peers they are less likely to make good progress. As certain groups of pupils are more likely to be low attaining and to make slow progress, the result is widening gaps in attainment as children and young people move through school. This leaves them increasingly at risk of being unable to access the curriculum, of losing confidence in their ability to succeed, and of disengaging, either within schools or by failing to attend altogether.

Identifying those falling behind early on, through assessment for learning and tracking their progress, together with a rapid response are key if schools are to help such pupils, for example, lower attaining boys, keep up with their peers.

The report notes that currently, the government’s targets place a stronger emphasis on thresholds and average attainment levels than they do on the progress of individual pupils. For example, focusing on the percentage of pupils gaining five A*-C at GCSE can hide marked distributions of attainment within schools, so that underachieving pupils go unnoticed and those whose achievement is already secure are not challenged sufficiently.

It notes that a significant minority of children and young people do not make even one level’s progress between one key stage and the next. Shifting the focus towards the progress of every child would not only be in line with the central importance attached to progression as part of personalising learning; it would also contribute to narrowing the gap between different groups of pupils.

Any such move would need to take account of the progression of those children and young people with special educational needs who are not currently working towards the main National Curriculum levels, for example, by recognising their progress in relation to P scales.
Towards the end of compulsory schooling there is currently no formal recognition of achievement for pupils who gain a pass below C at GCSE, despite the fact that these provide evidence of real progress across key stages.

To address these issues the report recommends that:

  • The government should use the opportunity of the 2007 Comprehensive Spending Review to introduce a national and school-level aspirational target for there to be no ‘stuck’ pupils. This should provide a focus for increasing the rate of progress between KS1 and KS2 (thereby reducing the number of children leaving primary school with below expected levels of attainment) and between KS2 and KS3.
  • Schools should identify all those pupils and groups of pupils not making progress in any key stage and as a result put in place progress plans designed to overcome barriers to learning.
  • The national qualifications framework should recognise young people’s achievement of level 1 and entry level qualifications across all 14-19 learning pathways, graded as distinction, merit and pass. In such a model, GCSE passes at grades D and below would go towards a level 1 qualification.

Establishing an entitlement to personalising learning

Ensuring that all children and young people are able to progress, achieve and participate requires schools to take seriously their entitlement to learning, which is already expressed through the National Curriculum.

As most schools recognise, securing this entitlement requires additional support for children and young people most at risk of falling behind. Focusing additional provision on low attaining pupils reduces attainment gaps, particularly when lack of progress is tackled early. Doing so is central to personalising learning.

The concept of entitlement in the context of personalising learning, particularly for children and young people at risk of not making good progress, means combining additional provision with the capacity for pupils and their parents to shape the way they access that provision.
The report draws attention to two issues in this context, which are especially relevant to the work of SENCOs:

1. Not all pupils who could benefit from additional provision currently receive it. While there is already an array of measures to tackle low attainment, the range of school-level interventions falls short of guaranteeing provision to all those most in need of extra support. Resources tend to be concentrated in schools where overall attainment levels are low or overall levels of disadvantage are high. However, a significant proportion of low attaining pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds do not attend such schools.

2. The involvement of pupils and parents in deciding how they access additional provision is limited. For some groups, such as children with special educational needs or those in care, specific mechanisms already exist for arriving at a shared view of learning goals and the support needed for pupils to achieve them. Yet few formal channels exist for the majority of pupils and parents to play a role, alongside the school, in identifying learning needs and taking decisions on how these should be met.

In tackling these two issues, the report recommends that:

  • the government should consider introducing an entitlement to additional support, over and above what should ordinarily be provided by the school, for pupils who are:
  • not achieving expected standards in reading, writing and mathematics during KS1
  • not progressing in English and mathematics between KS1 and KS2
  • not progressing in those subjects between KS2 and KS4.

An essential part of this recommendation should be a pilot to give pupils and parents a resource to direct the way in which they access some of this additional support. Pupils and their parents could be offered a range of options, some provided by the school, some by other approved providers. Pupils and parents would discuss choices with the school, probably with the learning guide or equivalent. It would be the school’s responsibility to report on numbers of pupils accessing support in its self-evaluation form.

2020 Vision: Report of the Teaching and Learning in 2020 Review Group: available online at www.teachernet.gov.uk/docbank/index.cfm?id=10783

Further recommendations

Teaching and assessment

  • All schools should reflect a commitment to personalising learning in their learning and teaching policies and plans, indicating the particular strategies the school is exploring to fulfil that commitment for all children. As part of the self-evaluation process, schools should consider and report how effectively this commitment is being fulfilled.
  • The government should take further action to ensure that AfL is embedded in all schools and classrooms so that its benefits are fully realised.
  • Ofsted should report on the practices of schools that ‘buck the trend’ in boys’ achievement.
  • Schools should identify their own strategies for embedding assessment for learning, reporting regularly to governing bodies on their implementation and effectiveness.
  • The secretary of state should commission a group, involving the QCA and Ofsted together with serving secondary and primary headteachers, to report as a matter of priority on the actions needed to ensure that the National Curriculum and its assessment develop in ways that are supportive of the vision set out in this report. Areas for consideration should include:
  • evidence for the impact of the National Curriculum and its assessment on schools and on groups of pupils (with an emphasis on underachieving groups and the gifted and talented)
  • evidence for the use of curriculum flexibilities
  • ways in which teachers should increase their use of summative assessment for diagnostic purposes
  • addressing ways in which national assessment should be revised in response to personalising learning, for example, increasing the scope of testing ‘when ready’ and developing formal metrics for ‘non-cognitive’ skills.
  • Schools should consider how best to ensure that their curriculum and associated assessment support personalising learning, making use of existing curriculum flexibilities and reporting on progress to their governing body.

Pupils taking ownership of their learning

  • Ofsted should provide clearer guidance on the expectation that schools’ self-evaluation should draw on pupils’ feedback, specifically on learning and teaching. In inspection, Ofsted should consider how the school uses this evidence to develop learning and teaching.
  • The role of ‘learning guide’ should be established in all secondary schools. All pupils should have at least one person in school who:
  • knows them, knows what they are learning and understands their learning needs in the round
  • jointly agrees targets for their learning (in the context of an individual learning plan) and monitors progress across a range of indicators including the development of ‘non-cognitive’ skills
  • meets pupils regularly – at least half-termly – for an extended formal review session, although this may be more frequently for vulnerable groups
  • uses knowledge of any wider factors having an impact on their learning and draws on the resources of other specialist guidance and support in order to help them progress
  • can act as an advocate for them within the school, particularly in the design of learning and teaching experiences.
  • Schools should consider how best to integrate ‘learning how to learn’ into the curriculum – focusing on the skills and attitudes pupils need to become better learners.

Engaging parents and carers in their children’s education

Schools should:

  • make information available to parents on what they can expect from schools and individual pupils’ progress
  • use appropriate languages and media, including technology, although with care not to extend the ‘digital divide’
  • provide mechanisms for parents to give feedback on the quality of education, for example through regular surveys of parental satisfaction.

National and local government should:

  • strengthen links between schools and family and parenting support services as children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds enter school and move through their primary years
  • focus attention on hard-to-reach families and those who may be unable to engage effectively in preparing their children for schooling or supporting their children’s learning
  • build the capacity of teachers and support staff to recognise barriers to learning for children and plan effective intervention, working with other services;
  • build the capacity of parent and family support practitioners and programmes to work with families as children enter school
  • take advantage of the co-location of Sure Start Children’s Centres and other services for children, young people and families on school sites, building on Sure Start approaches and extended schools.