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The Personalisation by Pieces Approach

Dan Buckley 2010

The PbyP Approach – Dan Buckley

Executive Summary ......................................................................... 3

Central Direction and Purpose: The Big Picture.......................... 5
PbyP Tool #1 - The Big Question......................................................................6

Overarching Alignment Structures ................................................ 7

PbyP Tool #2 – SECRET...................................................................................8
PbyP Tool #3 – REORDER...............................................................................9
PbyP Tool #4 – T-route and P-route ................................................................14

The Change Process ....................................................................... 22

PbyP Tool #5: The Continuous Improvement / Learning Cycle .....................22
PbyP Tool #6 – Core Aims Venn Diagram .....................................................23
PbyP Tool #7 – Engagement Scale..................................................................24

Frameworks for Defining Progression ......................................... 25

PbyP Tool # 8 – Defining Separate Discrete Skills or Outcomes....................26
PbyP Tool # 9 – The Ladder ............................................................................27
PbyP Tool #10 – Ladders for Teachers............................................................28

Tools for evaluating progression and sharing expertise............. 28

PbyP Tool #11 – Structured Peer assessment ..................................................29
PbyP Tool #12 – Impact Assessment of Teacher Action Research.................30

Putting the PbyP Approach into Action....................................... 32

Learner Centred: Starting with the Learner ............................................. 33
Setting Goals....................................................................................................33
Collaborative Mentoring..................................................................................37
Active Researching (Work!) ............................................................................38
Peer Review .....................................................................................................39
Learners sharing outcomes and inspiring others:.............................................41
How Teachers Support Learners ............................................................... 43
Teachers Setting Goals ....................................................................................44
Collaborative Mentoring..................................................................................48
Active Researching (Work!) ............................................................................49
Peer Review .....................................................................................................50
Learners sharing outcomes and inspiring others:.............................................51
How schools support all learners............................................................... 52
Setting Goals....................................................................................................53
Collaborative Mentoring..................................................................................54
Active Researching (Work!) ............................................................................54
Peer Review .....................................................................................................55
Learners sharing outcomes and inspiring others:.............................................56

Using the REORDER tool for case studies .................................. 57

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Executive Summary
Personalisation by Pieces (P by P) is an approach to achieving large scale change
towards a more personalised system of education. The approach is to find tools that
are useful in their own right but together form pieces of an aligned and coherent
system of change.

The advantage of breaking the change into pieces is that each individual can
contribute meaningfully and the pace of change can be controlled more easily. The
disadvantage is that it is possible to lose sight of the larger purpose of educational
reform and the connections between the pieces. The role of leadership and vision is
therefore essential and PbyP is intended to provide simply a range of tools to assist
the process of change.

The PbyP toolkit grows and improves over time and where possible the principles
behind each tool should be applicable at every level of the education system
including learners, teachers, leaders and policy makers.

The following tools make up the current PbyP toolkit

Central direction and purpose

• Core Aims: Asking the right questions to agree the key purposes of

Overarching Alignment Structures

• SECRET: Aligning all core aims in ways that can be widely shared.
• REORDER: Ensuring that all aspects of the vision or plan are aligned.
• T-route and P-route: Summary scale for the range of personalisation

Change Process
• The Continuous Improvement / Learning Cycle.
• Core Aims Focus: Venn diagram approach.
• Engagement Scale.

Framework for defining progression

• Skills: Defining the discrete skills required to support learners.
• Ladders: Defining progression as a set of progressive steps.

Online tools for evaluating actual progression and sharing expertise

• peer assessment online for learners
• learner driven impact assessment for teacher action research
• peer assessment online for teacher action research
• system level monitoring and evaluation

Central direction and purpose

At all points in the change process there must be a clear reference back to core
purposes. This is true for all successful organisations and systems but is particularly
important in systems that are going through a process of change. As working

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practices become established they become harder to change, even when they no
longer align to the direction of the organisation. If there is a regular process which
requires organisations to reflect on how all of their working practices support the
central purpose of the organisation then it is much more likely that misaligned
practice will be recognised earlier.

A clear and widely shared central definition of purpose and direction: Core
Aims, are critical for all organisations. These must be in a form which can be
remembered and applied to real life practice by every stakeholder.

Overarching Alignment Structures

The Core Aims need to be ‘alive’ in the organisation and thread throughout all
aspects of operation. For organisations to be certain of this, it is essential that these
‘aspects’ are defined.

For learning systems and organisations and classrooms I have defined these
‘aspects’ of operation under the headings of Relationships, Environments,
Opportunities, Resources, Distribution of leadership, Evaluation practice and
Recognition, hence I have called this the REORDER framework.

For the learner I have defined the ‘aspects’ of success as Self management,
Effective participation, Creative thinking, Reflective learning, Enquiry skills and Team
working, hence I have called this the SECRET framework. Numeracy and Oracy
could be added to make this the NO SECRET framework. Either framework would
work as would any other combination providing such aspects are defined.

Change Process

Change has to be continuous and evaluative. The change process in PbyP is a cycle
which, like the ancient game of hoop and stick, must be kept turning through constant
attention. The pace of change cannot be faster than you can run and can’t be so
slow that its direction becomes changeable and erratic!

This basic principle is applied to learning, teaching, organisations and systems. As a

learner centred philosophy it begins with defining a ‘learning cycle’ for the individual
and extends this same concept to the organisation.

Change is simplified if processes are common to all and agile enough to be applied
to all contexts. Central to PbyP is this idea that young learners are not a separate
species from all other learners and we should attempt to make very clear links
between how learning is identical for children, adults and organisations if we are to
maximise the impact of role models and the need for empathetic relationships.

The alignment structures of REORDER and SECRET are used both at the goal
setting stage of the change process to define goals more clearly and at the
evaluation stage to check that the actual changes achieved were aligned to the core
purposes. Two additional tools are defined in this section to help set up any change
process with three clear interdependent goals and with the involvement with as many
community members as possible.

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Framework for defining progression

The process here is simple to enable it to be used in all contexts. The aims are
broken up into separate actionable, discrete pieces that can be described as a
‘Ladder’ of progression from most simple to most complex.

For learners this could be for example, from emerging skills to internationally
renowned expert.

For teachers engaged in action research this could be for example, from the
minimum impact on one group of learners up to an internationally copied case study
that impacts learning across an organisation.

For organisations this could be for example, from first establishing an improvement
cycle to having a role as a worldwide case study of sustainable transformed
educational system

For systems this could be for example, the baseline measurement for meeting
educational needs set out by the millennium goals up to the top of the global
educational system comparison tables across all measures.

Online tools for evaluating actual progression and sharing expertise

Starting with the learner: This section describes the tools developed to connect
learners in an international network of peer assessors. It explains the rationale
behind this approach and how learners can be supported at every point in their
learning cycle with a mixture of on line and face to face support.

The teacher as a learner: This section describes how teachers can be supported to
learn through using the same leaning cycle and same tools as their students with
additional tools to help them develop skills in collaborative action research.

The school: Finally the REORDER tool is proposed as a way for a school to align its
vision and structure and all of the work of teachers and other learners so that all are
pulling together in a common direction.

Through the practical use of this model it has been possible to change the power
balance in schools and move learners into responsible positions as qualified and
trusted co-developers and researchers. Harnessing the creative talent, ICT ability,
innovation and energy of all the school community enables true student centred
transformation to occur in parallel with improved standards.

Central Direction and Purpose: The Big Picture

The simplest way to find out what is desired by the community to be the central
direction and purpose of the organisation is to ask the right questions and engage in
open two way debate that allows the sharing of visions and passions.

The first tool is simply a question, designed to be rephrased and asked as widely and
to as many stakeholders as you possibly can.

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PbyP Tool #1 - The Big Question.

“If your school system could only deliver three things for your own child what
would you insist on them being?”

OR rephrased, for example…

“Imagine it is 2030 and you are giving an international presentation to your

peers. You have just enough time to draw out the three achievements of all your
learner that you are most proud of, which three would you choose?”

I have now asked this question of schools in 85 countries and to over twenty
ministries of education. The answer in each case is almost identical and has
remained constant since I was attending school myself.

Predicting the future of education is too risky. Who could have predicted the spread
of mobile phones or the impact of the internet, let alone the impact of the next ten
amazing innovations we don’t yet know about? Yet I would guess that the answer to
this question is likely to stay the same throughout my lifetime and so it is a sound
basis on which to set up an education system fit for the future

The complete list of all responses gaining more than one vote, from asking this key
question in 85 countries, is shown below

• Enjoys learning, un-learning and reflecting

• Is healthy and able to stay healthy
• Achieves progress every year
• Achieves Standardised qualifications
• Learns the subject knowledge in our curriculum
• Is prepared for today’s job market
• Is a confident, resilient person
• Contributes positively to all groups in their diverse society
• Is Literate and Numerate
• Is aware of bias and can question assumptions / think critically
• Is able to work collaboratively in a team
• Is creative and entrepreneurial
• Is Caring and compassionate with emotional intelligence

When pressed further and asked to choose three from these, the similarity is even
more striking. The following list shows all of the responses to this second task I have
ever received from group workshops.

• Is able to work collaboratively in a team

• Is a confident, resilient person
• Enjoys learning, un-learning and reflecting
• Contributes positively to all groups in their diverse society

This is the blue print for our education system and it is up to us to maintain this focus
as we find new innovative ways of using the tools available to us to achieve it.

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This process is often referred to as connecting to the ‘moral purpose’ or ‘core aims’ of
education and this tool is really more concerned with this process than the outcome.

So the first piece of advice in transforming a school would be to use this tool widely
with stakeholders in a systematic way. The response from each audience may be
the same as the one above or it may be different. The purpose is to make sure that
before transformation starts, the direction the whole community want to travel in is
uncovered. It is important that all views are presented. For example, three of those
shown in the list above have evoked passionate negative responses and excellent
debate. It is an important part of the process to allow such debates to play out.

For example in the case of ‘Is prepared for today’s job market’, the response is
frequently that preparing people for today’s job market is pointless in the 21st century
because the pace of change is so rapid that it will no longer be relevant by the time
school is completed. This debate uncovers the wider debate about how exactly do
you prepare people for a changing job market. If you observe trends such as those
reported by Levy and Murnanei, you may conclude that the best way to prepare
people is to enhance their creativity, collaborative skills and ability to adapt.

A second example is the case of “Learns the subject knowledge in the curriculum”.
Once again the debate centres around the fact that future learners are able to look
up any information they need in seconds using the phone in their back pocket so how
is information different from knowledge? Perhaps we turn information into knowledge
through debate and deep engagement, the very activities that are so often curtailed
because of the amount of content we need to cover in the curriculum. Can we know
the knowledge that will best serve learners in the future? Should we concentrate on
the process of finding information and converting it into knowledge rather than the
knowledge itself?

These are all deep and useful debates that would not be able to be engaged with in
such depth if they had not arisen from an open discussion.

I have sometimes altered this question to be “Imagine it is 2030 and you are giving
an international presentation to your peers. You have just enough time to draw
out the three achievements of all your learner that you are most proud of,
which three would you choose?”

This is particularly useful if trust levels in the audience are low and there is a fear of
change or a deep entanglement with current stressful problems. By placing it much
further into the future it forces people to contemplate the core of education despite
the reality of their current experiences. Interestingly, when it is phrased in this way
the list reduces and the four most controversial phrases tend to not appear.

Overarching Alignment Structures

Looking at the list of responses to this ‘big question’ it becomes clear that some
overlap and others are re-expressions of the same skills and attitudes. Many
counties around the world have debated this question of what is at the core of
education and the answers are very similar in each. For example compare the
current curriculum documents or draft documents for New Zealand, Scotland,
Australia, Trinidad and Tobago, Sweden, Colombia and so on.

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In 2006 I took all such systems I could find of which there were 54 at the time ranging
from the Oxfam Education for Global Citizenshipii to the Tasmanian essential
learningsiii and tried to combine them into one framework. I found that I achieved the
best fit of categories with the following six areas

PbyP Tool #2 – SECRET

Summarise the responses to tool 2 into a common language. Make it simple and
memorable for all ages in your school community to be able to use

The following SECRET is the set that most fit all these criteria for my purposes.

Effective Participators
Creative Thinkers
Reflective Learners
Independent Enquirers
Team Workers
I originally included numeracy (use of number which is often also associated with
problem solving) and oracy (written and verbal communication including between
languages) which created the words ‘NO SECRET’. I have since separated these
out because they are more likely to be defined as competencies that underpin the
other six. It is hard for example to imagine an effective team worker and participator
in society who is unable to communicate by some effective means with others.

The general point here is that it is important to take the next step from having defined
your core aims using tool #1 to focus in on the minimum full description of those core
aims in a way which can be shared easily and widely with your community. The
PbyP approach is to define common language across all levels of learning so
whatever the result of the consolidation, this set of aims should be as relevant to
teachers, managers and parents as it is to learners. For this level of shared
understanding we need to define our terms more clearly such as with the SECRET or
similar memorable shorthand.

A framework of all of the aspects underpinning learning helps to define the core aims
and achieve this common language. The next framework required is one which
ensures these SECRET aspects are being promoted and progressed in all aspects of
the work of the school. For example if it is a core aim to promote team working and
yet the environments in which learning happen have fixed benches in rows there is a
misalignment between the aims and the practice at a fundamental level which will
jeopardise the success of the change process

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I formulated the REORDER framework by looking at large scale projects that had
failed. I researched the reported causes of failure to determine what was missing
that caused them to fail.

PbyP Tool #3 – REORDER

In brief, the REORDER model states that for a larger goal or vision to be realised it
must take account of all of the following aspects.

Distribution of Leadership

I will explain these in detail in a moment but the following small scale example is a
simple illustration of the model. When I was at Eggbuckland school a group of
learners came to me to me wanting to set up a school shop.

I explained the importance of …

R = having a good relationship with the dinner supervisors,
E = finding an environment that was safe and easy to manage queues,
O = working out the rota of possible opportunities for opening it,
R = working out the budget and what they would need to buy,
D = working out who would take responsibility and how they would organise
E = finding out if they were making money and were meeting expectation
R = making sure they found ways of recognising the effort each were putting in so
that it had a long term future.

If we now consider a whole school transformation, the REORDER model helps to

ensure all of the projects are aligned to a common purpose by raising the following
questions that require consideration.

A description of how all relationships may need to change for the goals to be
achieved. This includes changes to …
• The relationship between teachers and learners,
• The relationships between learners and the community
• The relationships between the school and the local community

For example if the goals of the school were to enable greater independent working
then it would be essential to gauge the level of trust between teachers and learners

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and what would need to happen to give teachers the confidence to allow greater
learner autonomy.

If the goal is to provide a more positive environment then the role models provided by
everyone in the community are critical to improving relationships. Do people practice
what they preach and ‘live’ the school vision?

Schools may need to actively engage the community through helping in nurseries
and care homes as well as promoting good news stories to the local newspaper if
they want greater trust and engagement in the local community through work
experience for example

The internet brings new relationships and virtual connections. How does the school
role model these and give training in their use? Is the virtual world seen as an
influencer in the school day and school community?

A recent survey suggested that 87% of teachers in the UK were confident that the
learners knew more than they did about technology yet over 80% said their
relationship to learners was expected to be that of an expertiv.

Clearly for greater uptake of ICT in the classroom this discrepancy in expected
relationships has to be addressed first.

Architects often talk about the ‘feel’ of a space. Environments tell stories about who
holds power, who is trusted, what behaviour is expected and what should take place
in the space.

Environments have a direct impact on mood as well as effecting people’s ability to

learn, concentrate and collaborate.

I was once invited in to observe a teacher who had set herself the goal of getting
more group discussion to happen in her classes. I had to stand in the classroom
during the observation because there were so many learners, chairs and tables in the
room it was impossible to move. When learners started discussing the lesson the
noise level became uncomfortable very quickly. This is one illustration of how, even
when all of the other elements are aligned, if the environments are not right the
project may fail for all the wrong reasons.

In the UK ‘Building Schools for the Future’ programme, research (Rudd et al 2008v)
in Bristol showed that new buildings had a profound effect on the self esteem,
behaviour and achievement of learners.

One of the most frequently missed elements of environments is ownership. If you

walk around offices in which people have just a small booth to work in you will often
find it crammed with personal pictures and posters because of this need to feel
ownership and identity in working spaces. I visited a school in Birmingham that
recognised it would be difficult to get learners to take ownership of their education if
they were spending all day in spaces they did not identify with. The school decided
to make a rule that all work done by learners should be displayed. This turned the
walls from whitewashed formal spaces to chaotic jumbles of personal creativity that
raised the level of ownership overnight. The school remains consistently in the top

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ten performing schools in the UK despite drawing learners from a very deprived area
of the city.

Social networking sites have realised this issue of ownership and go to great lengths
to allow users the freedom to customise and modify.

Often countries fill their curriculum full of facts and content which are forgotten very
soon after leaving school and which most of us prefer to look up on our phone. The
time spent learning all of this material often places serious restrictions on the time
available for true reflection and engagement. With such little time available for non
curriculum content are your goals achievable without considering the whole set of
opportunities available?

Which curriculum structures and learning opportunities will be used to build the skills
needed for the school’s goals and ethos to become a reality? How will freedom of
route, personalisation, choice of pace or content be achieved through these

How do you ensure that the competencies, skills and attitudes for successful lifelong
thinking and learning are integrated meaningfully into all opportunities with clear
progression of challenge?

How are opportunities to improve learning outcomes through the use of technology
integrated across the learners’ work and modelled by teachers?

What opportunities exist for teachers to continuously improve as learners as well?

All goals require resources of some description, even if it just your time. Which IT
resources, human resources and materials will be needed for the team goals or
whole school goals you are considering? How will the resources be distributed and
used effectively to maximise the value gained from them and help you achieve your

Most changes need to be achieved through existing resources and so it is critical to

develop realistic goals that are not dependent on new resource or at the very least
have a ‘Plan B’ should resources not become available.

How is continuity of resources and refreshing of resources built into the long term
planning? How is cost-benefit analysis used?

Distribution of Leadership
In terms of schools, goals are normally set around raising achievement. So if the
goal works, how will you scale it? Equally, the more good ideas are pursued the
greater the chances of success so how do you create opportunities for more
individuals to strive for more goals with more support? The answer eventually comes
down to the capacity for leadership in the organisation at every level.

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How will leadership skills be fostered, grown and practiced so that gains can be
sustained? How will teachers share leadership to create sustainability and how will
learners get progressively challenging leadership possibilities as their skills are

Learners can provide an exceptional pool of developing and engaged leaders and
the role of learner voice and participation is critical here to grow capacity. What
opportunities for developing leadership in others can be built into the pursuit of your
own goals and how much leadership capacity will be needed to sustain them?

How will independence with interdependence be modelled and developed?

Throughout the internet traditional hierarchies are being changed leading to more
direct action and engagement. How are learners and teachers helped to navigate
and engage in these new opportunities for community leadership? How are the
skills of questioning and bias developed so that leaders respect and negotiate with
the people they are attempting to lead?


How will you be certain that you have met your goals? It is critical that this is
considered BEFORE embarking on any project because it is important to know what
progression has been made as a result of you achieving your goals. Across a
school, how can teachers be certain that their innovation and practice is achieving
progress for learners and the school vision? How will managers know? How will
learners know?

What kinds of evaluation processes will change this knowledge into shared
continuous improvement by all? How can ICT be used to move closer to real time
evaluation and greater responsiveness to the views of more people? How might ICT
be allowing opinions to be backed up by evidence?

None of these are easy questions to answer and often we fall back on measuring the
things that are easy to measure rather than those that are valuable. There has been
a disproportionate number of studies comparing a whole range of outcomes for girls
verses boys and I suspect this is mainly because sex is one of the only definite
measures in education!

This century will see much more sophisticated ways emerge for measuring
progression and central to this will be ways of measuring all those aims that
internationally are considered to be most important such as creativity and teamwork.

Art work and other media have long faced the problem of how to assess them,
particularly their monetary value and popular acceptance. In these cases, peer
review has been used extensively and effectively. The cost of a Van Gogh is what
people will pay for it in open auction and there is no formula or computer generated
algorithm that can predict this.

The PbyP approach has always been to use this mechanism to measure progression
in school. Progress is evaluated by ‘expert’ peers in other schools and a consensus
is reached within this community as to whether the learner has progressed or not.
This will be described later but think for a moment about how your policy would

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change if you could measure the impact of projects on the creativity of your learners.
This is the kind of evaluation techniques required if we are to break free of gauging
the success of 21st century learners using 19th century testing methods.

It is central to the PbyP approach to believe that learners will only continue to be
motivated to learn in those areas where the gain for them or their team is similar to
the effort they put in.

Schools particularly, have to manage this environment by providing recognition that

is trusted as valuable by the community. If you are achieving a personal goal you
need that recognition at the end and if you are managing a larger scale project then
you either need to establish a strong team ethos so everyone benefits from the effort
of a few or your need to construct ways in which effort and achievement are
genuinely recognised.

Some key questions to consider may be;

• How will learners be recognised for their achievements and their contribution
to enhancing the vision and values of the school?
• How will managers and teachers and parents be similarly recognised.
• How will this recognition fuel public sharing, praise and learning?
• Many school core aims are based on competencies such as student ability to
reflect, collaborate, participate be creative etc – how will progression in these
core aims be measured, recognized and rewarded?
• How can IT manage e-portfolios of evidence?
• Will peer recognition be given status in terms of peer review and peer
• How will the skills of students be recognized if they are higher than those of
the teacher?
• How will the introduction of new teaching practices and successful
development be recognized and qualified?

The two alignment strategies of SECRET and REORDER are useful for determining
that there are no gaps in the process but there may still be misalignment in terms of
the basic educational philosophy in the school. For example, if a core aim of the
school was the promotion of leadership then depending on your educational
philosophy you may feel the best solution is to teach a course on great leaders or
you may feel the best solution is to provide all learners with experiences of leading
projects. You may equally well have a mixture of both.

The solutions required do depend on the philosophy chosen and there are too many
educational philosophies to simplify. Also, schools in a state of change are often
switching between philosophies and may have staff on both sides interpreting the
core aims in very different ways.

For all these reasons there needs to be a tool which is easy to apply and able to be
used as a rough measure of educational philosophies in use so that misalignment
can be seen and accounted for. I developed the following tool for this purpose.

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PbyP Tool #4 – T-route and P-route

The model I developed was to define the two ends of the educational spectrum as T-
route, in which the educational route the learner takes is controlled, decided and
evaluated ultimately by the Teacher, and P-route in which the route that the learner
takes is controlled, decided and evaluated by Peers (or Pupils if you prefer).

There is flexibility in both of these extremes and in both cases there may be
negotiation but the final word in terms of what route is engaged upon for learning is
either that of the Teacher or that of the Pupil

The tool is very crude but I have found that it is instantly useable by learners, teachers
and school leaders and helps enormously with the job of explaining the role of
educational philosophy in the change process

T-route and P-route in Brief

T-Route P-Route
1. Teacher Led 1. Peer / Learner Led
2. Knowledge ‘delivered’ 2. Knowledge created
3. Learners consume media 3. Learners produce media
4. Competitive 4. Communities of learning
5. Teacher assessed 5. Peer and Self Assessment
6. Distinct from informal 6. Formal, informal continuum
7. Pace of the class 7. Individualised challenges
8. Single course 8. Multiple pathway
9. Predominant learning style 9. Choice of approach
10. Restricted age range 10. Peer and multi age working
11. Personalised by teacher 11. Personalised by learner

Personalisation of education is a good example to consider in terms of a T-route

response and a P-route response. In terms of T-route philosophy, personalisation
would be interpreted as:

The teacher personalising FOR the learner

This means that the teacher would need to know the learner well enough to decide
what is best for them in terms of their learning and formulating an individual route.

In terms of P-route philosophy, personalisation would be interpreted as:

The teacher facilitating personalisation BY the learner.

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This means that the teacher would be focussed on the competencies of the learner
and their peers so that the learner’s ability to decide what is best for themselves in
terms of their learning would be continuously improved and the support in doing this
from their peers would also increase.

The following pages explore this distinction in greater depth

1. Personalisation For the learner: The T- route.

In this model the teacher constructs the learning for each of their
students. The focus is vey definitely on the effective delivery of the
curriculum content with the route chosen by the Teacher (T-route).

The following reasons are commonly given for the use of this model;

Reason 1 – It pushes learners further: Commonly teachers say that

they have to break up the learning and deliver it in different ways because
otherwise their students would not be able to understand or they would
not be motivated to do it themselves.

Reason 2 – It is much more efficient: Without a carefully planned route

the learners would not be able to cover the curriculum in time

Reason 3 – It utilises teacher expertise: The teacher is the learning

expert. They should direct the learning experience because they are the
ones most able to understand the process.

2. Personalisation By the learner : P- route model

In this model the teacher still plays an active role to construct learning
experiences. The focus, however, is to try and use any content delivery
as the vehicle for improving the competencies that underpin learning so
that the learner is more able to do the process of personalisation

Similar reasons are cited by those supporting the use of this model.

Reason 1 – It pushes learners further: This approach supports the

learner when the teacher isn’t there and gives them tools to be a lifelong
learner. Learners can be stretched/ challenged/ excel in terms of
competencies too.

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Reason 2 – It is much more efficient: There is wide research agreement

that although initially more time is needed for the learners to engage with
information and know their own methods well enough to convert this into
knowledge, in the longer term they are more able to work with the teacher
and retain more of the learning.

Reason 3 – It utilises teacher expertise: The expertise required to

progress learner’s competencies and set up the right conditions for
nurturing them in parallel to delivering content, is much more considerable
than those required for content delivery. It is partly this fact that has made
school transformation so difficult to achieve at scale because the training
required for teachers is considerable.

I believe that these views need not be opposing and that there is a way to describe
the intersection between them if we look more closely at the role of the teacher in
both cases

The teacher has responsibility for maximising the chance that, whatever goals are
set, are achieved. Let us ignore for the moment that there may be separate goals for
every learner they teach and ignore that the goals may have come from a national
curriculum or from the learner’s own interests and choices. For simplicity we will
imagine one teacher, one learner and one goal.

The teacher’s role could be simplified into the following two strands

1. Ensuring that the content is understood and remembered.

Examples of the content may be
- Rulers of ancient Egypt
- How to do mouth to mouth resuscitation
- How to be a good goal keeper
- Mastery of Algebra. etc

2. Ensuring that the competencies of the learner are progressed including all
things that are not content specific to the problem, such as behaviours,
capabilities, attitudes and aptitudes. More specifically we may include the
following skills in this strand:
- Creativity, Self confidence, Motivation
- Passion for learning, Ability to work with others
- Self management, Effective participation, Problem solving

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The role of the teacher is a balancing act between these two aspects of the goal and
making sure that they help the learner progress in both, through the right mix of
support and challenge.

In schools with a clearly stated philosophy that places them far over into the T-route
there are often very talented teachers working towards P-route by ‘delivering’ the
content that is required whilst also extending the competencies through the ways in
which they structure and present work. It appears, however that the greater the
emphasis on the content the more challenging it is for the teacher to get this balance
right. This problem is compounded by the assessment system which is often
focussed on the remembering of content and so leads the teacher towards further T-
route practice and leads the school towards recognising such practice and
encouraging it.

The following two sources illustrate this well. The first is a research paper by Robyn
Ewing (2010)vi of the University of Sydney in which she reviews a wide range of
research pieces in an attempt to determine the role of the Arts in learning and
concludes that it has a significant positive impact on not only the academic
performance of the learners but also of their underlying competencies. One of the
papers she cites is the following piece of research that illustrates this conclusion.

The second source is from a 2010 OECD report on the expected reasons for the
success of Shanghai China in the 2009 PISA international educational comparison
tables of literacy, numeracy and science.

“Teaching and learning, in secondary schools in particular, are predominantly

determined by the examination syllabi, and school activities at that level are very
much oriented towards exam preparation. Subjects such as music and art, and in
some cases even physical education, are removed from the timetable because they

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are not covered in the public examinations. Schools work their students for long
hours every day, and the work extend into the weekends, mainly for additional exam
preparation classes...private tutorials, most of them profit-making, are widespread
and have become almost a household necessity."vii

Ewing’s paper was intended to combat the threat of a reduction in the Arts which
have been increasingly under threat since international comparison tables omitted
them. Interestingly the paper used increased academic performance as a key
argument for retaining the Arts. For those competencies which progress without a
significant impact on academic scores the battle is frequently lost. A good example
of this is the Origin-Pawn work of DeCharms (1965)viii and Jackson (1976)ix.

DeCharms demonstrated that if teachers were taught techniques for encouraging

greater ownership in their students then there was a significant rise in self and peer
responsibility, peer working and peer ownership. Jackson demonstrated that
although this did not have a significant impact on their academic scores, it
significantly enhanced the chances of success in later life. Aspirations were
significantly higher, engagement was higher and the learners were more likely to take
an active, responsible role in society. Similar findings emerged from systems that
engage learners in dealing with social dilemmas. Although time consuming and with
negligible impact on academic success they have a profound effect in terms of
cohesion and team competencies.

Beneficial outcomes of the P-route often emerge many years after the learning
experiences and so a long term coherent and pedagogically driven strategy is
required. Finland is an excellent example of this as demonstrated by the fact that it
shares the top of the PISA tables with Shanghai.

In Finland a P-route, learner centred approach has been strategically pursued for
many years including considerable investment in the training of teachers to enable
them to facilitate the environments for learning that develop learner competencies
over the content, The content is in fact able to be determined locally and the
assessment of it does not involve grades, nor is it used for comparison with other
schools directly. The quality assurance checks are around the action research
abilities of the teachers, hence the requirement for Masters level study. The
following quotation is also from the OECD referring to the 2009 PISA scores

“Finnish classrooms are typically described by observers as learner-centred.

..Students are expected to take an active role in designing their own learning
activities. Students are expected to work collaboratively in teams on projects, and
there is a substantial focus on projects that cut across traditional subject or
disciplinary lines. [Students] are expected to be able to take sufficient charge of their

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own learning to be able to design their own individual programme…There is no

longer a grade structure; each student proceeds at his or her own pace within
[modules]. Every student constructs his or her own study plan, which consists of
different courses in various subjects according to each student’s individual choices.” x

Finland and Shanghai share the top of the PISA tables for maths, science and
literacy and to achieve this are using the teacher’s expertise in similar ways but
critically the underlying competencies are being progressed in vey different ways.
The following table is an attempt to summarise this and the following two pages
illustrate examples using the REORDER aspects.

T-Route P-route
Teachers role in Fundamentally the role of the teacher is the same
Progressing Content in both models
Teachers role in Role of personal tutor or Role of creating
Progressing parent for every learner. stronger peer networks,
Competencies Breaks down in higher distributing the learning
teacher: pupil ratios through peer support

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Personalisation For the Learner (T)– Some Common Features

REORDER Common Features
- passes required to leave classrooms,
Relationships: - Majority of work is done alone and often quietly
Power largely held - Copying work may be used to regain calm
by the teacher - Closed questions more common than open ones
- Teacher area with exclusive resources
Environments - limited variation of furniture in any location,
Facilitate information - same number of seats as students,
transfer - limited movement possible (eg rows)
- Adults own spaces that learners use
Opportunities - Timetables with short periods of time
Mainly same age, - Shorter tasks set with higher structure
- Lesson starts, middle and end
pace and style
- Questions directed mainly to teacher
Resources: - Permission to use resources granted by teacher
Operated and - Resources chosen by the teacher to fit the task
- Resources can be restricted by the teacher e.g.
regulated by teacher
blocking websites and limiting use of phones
Distribution of - Teachers manage their own classroom
Leadership: - Different rules in different classrooms, decided by
- Learners are directed and not usually given
delegated roles
- There are limited opportunities to practice these
Evaluation: - Examination scores are the primary source of
Examination based evaluation data
- Other delivery measures are used such as time
online, Attendance and punctuality
- Gender differences and race difference measures
are analysed in terms of exam and numeric data
- Competencies are generally not tracked but may
feature in reports to parents as anecdotal pen
- Setting and streaming is used based on data
Recognition: - Top achievers recognised
High academic - Selected work displayed
- Certificates for effort, motivation, improvement in
achievement praised
terms of effort and behaviour
- Teachers recognised for achieving high value
added scores.

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Personalisation By the Learner (P) – Some Common Features

REORDER Common Features
- Collaborative working
Relationships: - Universal rules applying to adults and children
Negotiated without privilege or exception
democratic - Calm negation, non threatening role models
- Positive language and ethos for all groups
- Teachers move rooms more often than groups
- Staff and learners have equal quality social spaces
Environments - Qualified access to areas
Variety of spaces - Negotiated expenditure on décor and furnishings
and functions, - Learners can choose between environments
shared ownership - Larger spaces so teachers collaborate
Opportunities - Longer periods of time to allow for deeper
Diversity of routes engagement and self organisation
- Mixed age and stage working
- Programme changes weekly or to fit projects
- Frequent negotiation to set goals and set route
Resources: - Open access to most resources
Maximising learner - Multi function rooms and spaces
- Learner controlled access to some spaces and
resources based on earned responsibility measures
- Access to multiple teachers in any task
- Some student controlled budget for resources
Distribution of - A clear programme for progressing learners
Leadership: leadership skills through managing real life services
and projects
Driven towards
- Learners co-developing and co-running services
widening leadership - Distribution of budgets is wide and includes some
at all levels learner led groups and organisations.
Evaluation: - Competencies such as leadership and participation
Examination based are measured in terms of progression
- Attitudinal surveys and open debates are used to
directly and openly influence decision making
- Professional learning communities allow for
evaluation and feedback on teacher practice
- Whole school aims which are the basis of annual
Recognition: - Peer assessment is given high status
High academic - Aim to display or perform all work
- Certificates awarded between peers, peers and
achievement praised
teachers and recognising equal right to recognition
- Variety of methods for recognising competency

Having defined the macro structures of SECRET and REORDER, the next step is to
look at the actual implementation of change. What processes can be used to bring
about change?

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The Change Process

The process of change must be continuous at every level, must be similar for all
audiences and must have simple reusable tools that are understandable and
adaptable. I have developed the following tools in order to meet these needs

PbyP Tool #5: The Continuous Improvement / Learning Cycle

The game of ‘hoop and stick’ is one in which a person rolls the hoop and then runs
alongside it. They have to keep the hoop moving continuously. This takes a lot of
energy but to keep it going the longest you need to make sure you don’t push it faster
than you can run but you push it hard enough to keep moving forward.

Like the hoop, the learning cycle for a student, teacher or institution has to be
sustainable and continuously moving forward. The first section is devoted entirely to
the question of goals. The following sections define tools and processes to help first
learners, then teachers then the organisation to achieve a continuous improvement
learning cycle

Whilst it is true that all learning could fit into this model, if we want peer assessment
to be a fundamental, the goals chosen initially must be recognised by all parts of the
system. This common framework of goals is the ‘big picture’ underpinning PbyP.

The language chosen for these terms are, intentionally those of the learner so that
people at all levels of the system remain mindful of the similarities listed below;
• The setting of goals and targets are common to learners and organisations.

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• Learners seek support to challenge, question and guide, so too do effective

educational systems look outwards for examples and guidance from others.
• In the same way that learners submit work there is a need for systems to
effect actual change and put in place real change
• Peer assessment and peer review is essential and country systems often look
towards external review from the likes of OECD and others to verify or
evaluate their achievement using people who have achieved similar levels of
expertise in other areas and are therefore ‘expert’ peers.
• All valuable learning if shared, fuels further learning. This is as essential at
the system level as it is at the individual level.

For an organisation, the set goals need to be SMARTER: specific, measurable,

achievable, realistic, timed, evaluated and recognised. There also needs to be a
limited number of such goals so that the overall clarity of the picture is not lost.

Research by OFSTED in the UK has identified that a key feature of long standing
success is the restriction each year to three or four whole school aims. ( Twelve
Outstanding schools: Excelling against the odds. 2009xi)

These are often drawn from the school’s core aims and schools may even define
only three core aims in the whole of their vision so that the same three can be
focussed on continuously. The following tool has been found to be an effective
visualisation that is easy to share within the school community

PbyP Tool #6 – Core Aims Venn Diagram

This is a simple yet highly effective tool. When the three core aims of the school for
this year have been agreed (perhaps through the use of PbyP tool #1), create a poster
showing all three overlapping.

School core aim 1 – School core aim 2 –

for all learners to for all learners to
improve….?? [enter core improve….
aim 1 here]
Some activities
the school does
this year will
impact on all
three of these
core aims

School core aim 3 –

For all learners to

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The next tool has been adapted from the work of Hart (1992)xii and the work of
Arstein (1969)xiii. It is to help schools in the process of sharing these core aims to a
wider audience in ways that drive ownership and engagement. This ‘engagement
scale’ fit the PbyP approach in that it charts the progress towards learner centred
working but can also be used throughout the school and with any audience. It is also
a progression ladder which allows a school to take smaller steps towards greater
engagement rather than large unsustainable changes that can then not be

PbyP Tool #7 – Engagement Scale

I adapted the following tool from the work of Hart and the work of Arstein.

The ‘Informed’ stakeholders you share information with in a one way stream – 1
Those ‘Asked’ have chance to give feedback on the information you give them - 2
The ‘Consulted’ group see how their feedback was considered by you -
‘Listened to’ stakeholders give their feedback in person and argue their case.
‘Involved’ stakeholders ideas are then consulted on by other groups. –
Stakeholders can ‘Co-develop’ if they are given some authority to take their ideas
forward by for example being invited onto a project management board –
Stakeholders gain ‘Ownership’ when they are entrusted with the resources to drive
their ideas and effect policy - 7

For wide agreement and a set of core aims that are ‘alive’ throughout the organisation
there needs to be a systematic way of improving engagement by all stakeholders
gradually over time. It is better for an organisation to recognise that in reality it is
currently just informing learners about changes to their school rather than to pretend
that learners are actively involved. Recognising the current position and then taking
steps to move up the scale over time is more sustainable and measurable than
attempting to achieve engagement through a number of one-off events and initiatives.

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Frameworks for Defining Progression

For the learner the question is

How can we support the learner to collaboratively set goals that will help them
progress in all the competencies which are fundamental to our model of

For the teacher the question may be

How can we support the teacher to collaboratively set goals that will help them
set up learning experiences that help their learners progress in all the
competencies which are fundamental to our model of education?

Each of these questions can be broken up into separate discrete actions at

numerous levels of progression.

Reading trough the process so far…

• We have connected to the core purposes of education
• We have defined a set of alignment strategies for how these translate into the
aspects of success for all learners (SECRET) and all of the aspects of
operation of the school across which the vision must be ‘alive’ (REORDER).
• We have defined a change process that is continuous and cyclical and a
number of tools to ensure each cycle is defined in an achievable way
involving a wide audience.

The next step is to put the change into practice. This is the most critical step and if
the planning process that goes before it is taking so long that the energy is being
drained then Michael Fullan (2010)xiv suggests it is better to ‘Ready-Fire-Aim’ so that
actual experimentation can occur that can raise the questions which lengthy planning
may have eventually led us to.

In order to make the process of implementation rapid and continuous, I have

developed a common starting point for all learners in the form of a set of ‘Ladders’
that define what we mean by progression in all of the SECRET skill areas. This is a
categorisation into separate discrete skills and then research into what a typical five
year old learner may understand by that skill to determine the first rung of the
progression ladder. The top rung is what the most skilled adult would understand by
that skill.

Ideally learners would determine this progression collaboratively and set common
goals and common rungs towards them. I have used this method for teachers but for
the learners, the current level of understanding of the educational process, numbers
involved and diversity of contexts and ages required an initial compromise of setting
this up as a universal generic framework so that it could be used as the basis of
international peer assessment against the same set of skills and rungs.

The general process of constructing the ladders is simple to enable it to be used in all
contexts. The aims are broken up into separate actionable, discrete pieces that can
be described as a ‘Ladder’ of progression from most simple to most complex.

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I used the following process to define the ladders for learners of all ages

PbyP Tool # 8 – Defining Separate Discrete Skills or Outcomes

For each core aim arrived at in tool 3 – define it in terms of all the specific skills that
make it up. The easiest way to do this is to apply a set of categories. I use Social,
Emotional, Cognitive and Strategic but Gardiner’s set or any others are suitable as
long as the constituents of each skill are clear.


General core aims are not enough on their own. Define the component discrete
skills within each area as best you can given the inevitable interrelation.

An example for one way of defining SECRET into separate skill types is shown
Skill Area Discrete Skills
Think Work it out Feel it Share it
Be Go for it, Manage
Self Managers Manage Risk
Organised Finish it! Emotions
Persuade Find Identify
Effective Participators Others Solutions Issues
Get Involved
Creative Thinkers Imagine Make Links Creative
Set Yourself Plan-Do- Invite Share
Reflective Learners Challenges Review Feedback Learning
Explore a Evaluate Stay Reach
Enquirers Question Evidence Objective Conclusions
Take Manage the Build team Evaluate the
Team Workers Responsibility team strengths team

As a simple example, for effective team working you need someone who manages
the timings, checks people have the right paperwork and keep to task etc. In short
there is a skill set around just managing the team. You also need someone to lead
the team, taking responsibility for enthusing it to a common purpose. You need
someone to coach the members, praise strengths and deal with the emotional needs
of the group and finally someone to be aware that the team are a social group that
need identity and a sense of being in a team. Hence, teamwork can be split into a
social team worker skill set, and emotional set, a strategic set and a cognitive set.

If you break all of the SECRET competencies into discrete and identifiable skills then
you find that these social, emotional, cognitive and strategic categories tend to
appear in all of them.

I have given short titles to each of them in order to keep them accessible to both
adult and young learners.

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I have found this model to be quite a resilient framework that applies well to other
contexts. For example, in the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence model the matrix
divides as follows:
The Four Capacities PbyP composite skills
Think Work it out Feel it Share it
Explore a Stay
Evaluate Reach
Responsible Citizens Question,
Persuade Others Identify Issues
Set Yourself Plan-Do-
Invite Share
Successful Learners Challenges, Review,
Feedback Learning
Imagine Make Links
Get Involved,
Take Solutions, Build team
Effective Contributors Responsibility Manage the strengths
Evaluate the
Go for it, Manage
Finish it!, Emotions,
Confident Individuals Manage Risk Be Organised
Take Creative Question
Risks Assumptions

After defining the discrete skills the next step is to define progression in these.

PbyP Tool # 9 – The Ladder

All goals should be part of a continuum ‘Ladder’. This should have examples that
would be meaningful to the most advanced adult practitioner at the top and examples
that represent a meaningful goal for a young child at the bottom. Each step should be
an achievable progression that can be chosen as a meaningful goal.

For motivation to be maintained, people need a sense of progression. Communities

have built-in milestones to help people get a sense of progression and shops thrive
on people’s need to have the ‘next trend’ or latest version of technology. So setting
core aims is not enough. You need to have some way of showing that you are
moving forward.

The concept of the ladder is very simple. You define a starting point, an end point
and steps in the middle so that achievement towards the end point can be in
manageable stages.

For self – managing learners, typically ages 5 to 105, I defined the lowest rung of
each ‘standard’ ladder to be based on someone who was aware of themselves and
others and able to upload ‘evidence’ onto a website. I defined the highest rung of the
ladder to be the most skilled adult that anyone I spoke to was currently aware of.

For pre- self managing learners I defined ladders that went from birth to the base of
the ‘standard’ ladders described above.

Take as an example, the skill of being able to present to an audience. The top of the
ladder, lets call it rung number 9 or level 9, is the highest level of achievement you
can imagine any adult progressing to. In the example of presenting to an audience, it
may be a TED presentation or a similar conference of international standing.

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The first level of this ‘standard’ ladder would be how a typical five or six year old
would view the skill of being able to present to an audience. ‘Show and tell’ is when
children bring something in from home and tell their classmates about it. This is what
level 1 of presenting to an audience is all about for young learners if you ask them.

An example of a complete ‘standard’ ladder is shown later in this document.

For teachers taking part in action research and organisations moving forward on
targets we have found that no generic set can be drawn up. The sense of ownership
felt by the institutions and the need for detailed self direction within a context of
government regulation have made the process of creating example ladders very

The approach I have therefore taken is to provide a set of tools that help the school
and the teachers define their own ladders that are specific to their needs.

PbyP Tool #10 – Ladders for Teachers

The school agrees on a core aim. For example, improving learners ability to
work in teams. Teachers are then divided into teams to agree the minimum and
maximum they could personally do to help achieve this core aim.

Level 1 = the minimum any teacher could do over the next ten weeks with one
group that would help improve the learners ability in the chosen core aim.

Level 9 = the maximum that any teacher could do over the next ten weeks to
improve learners ability in the chosen core aim

Teachers construct the levels between 1 and 9 by debating together. Every

teacher then chooses one of these levels as their personal goal for the next ten

This process has proved to be highly effective in helping schools define clear
progression within their aims for the year. It also allows teachers to chart their own
personal progression in this area and, as we shall see later, helps to put teachers in
touch with others all over the world who may be working in similar areas.

Tools for evaluating progression and sharing

True sustainable transformation must be measured by the number engaged in the
process of continuous improvement of the learners and the continuous improvement
of teams and organisations in their community.

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The scale of individual personalisation imagined is incredible and it is hard to imagine

how the success of such a system could be evaluated and improved without
evidence gathering at the individual level for all those involved.

The amount of evidence required challenges the traditional model of the teacher as
the gateway to assessment and knowledge. In this new model, the needs of each
learner are for personalised and diverse support. This is only scalable if a peer to
peer model is developed.

Starting with a very basic system in West Park Community School in Derby, UK back
in 1990, I have now developed a system that spans thousands of learners over
numerous countries and supports authoritative peer assessment, peer learning and
peer mentoring.

Given that this online system of tools is only available through an annual licence fee
currently I will not describe it specifically in this document as I am certain that
numerous systems will eventually be developed to support peer learning in a way
which can be evaluated and wish to describe the principles rather than the specific
software in this document but in the absence of other models currently available I will
need to use the current online tools as an example of how such methods can be put
into action. For further details visit the site at

Peer assessment online for learners

• Using common generic frameworks of ladders and skills, learners are
instantly connected to those working at similar levels on similar goals all over
the world
• Examples of successful work at each level can be viewed to help inspire
• Evidence of progression can be sent by the learner to others who have
already achieved this level of excellence so that they can act as ‘expert’ peer
• Teachers can moderate 10% of the work for feedback within the system.
Accurate assessors are praised and their judgement can hold greater
• If every learner is also an assessor the system is entirely scalable
• Work can always be assessed by someone in a different school to the
learner, thus enabling international bench marking
• The self direction of learners means their progression routes are personalised
and may be different from those around them but the international connection
between schools means that they are always supported
• By providing structured mentoring the 1:1 ratio of peer mentoring and
reflection on learning can be achieved.

PbyP Tool #11 – Structured Peer assessment

In the PbyP online tool,

1. learners read the ladder statement,
2. view examples from other learners and then
3. decide how to construct their own evidence. This can be video, documents, audio
recordings or any other way in which they choose to evidence it.
4. They upload their evidence into the website

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5. The evidence is automatically sent to someone not in their own institution who
has achieved this ladder level already; an ‘expert’
6. The ‘expert’ must say what they like best about the evidence and how it could be
7. On receiving the work back, the learner provides feedback on how helpful and
positive their ‘expert’ was so that each person has an assessor rating.
8. If the expert says the work passed then the ladder level colours in and the learner
can progress to the next level up.

Learner driven impact assessment for teacher action research

• If teachers are attempting to drive up progression, a separate international
benchmarked measure of progress can provide authenticity to action
• The analysis of the impact happens within a common framework so that like
can be compared to like. This allows comparative measures of the impact of
teacher projects and school based project.

PbyP Tool #12 – Impact Assessment of Teacher Action Research

In the PbyP online tool,

1. Teachers collaborate to create a ladder explaining how each core aim of the school
could be progressed by their own ‘projects’ in their own classrooms or
2. The ladder is uploaded into the tool and matched to generic categories
3. Each teacher decides on the level of difficulty of the project they will do and
enters: The group, the core aim and the title of the project
4. They start the project
5. They are instantly connected to other teachers trying similar projects and case
studies of past practice
6. A questionnaire goes out to all learners in the group they have identified. This
takes a snapshot of their current achievement and asks attitudinal questions
7. At the end of the project a similar snapshot and questionnaire is gathered
8. The project now has before and after data from which to estimate impact
9. The teacher decides if they want to post their project and the analysis data that
goes with it as a case study
10. The international benchmarking and learner feedback on projects builds into a
peer assessed database of what has impact in education.

Peer assessment online for teacher action research

• Every project and innovation conducted by teachers can be presented
together with the impact assessment data so that teachers are instantly
connected to an authoritative database of practice and professionals.
• The framework categorises the work of schools and teachers so that
connections between them can be much more efficient

System level monitoring and evaluation

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• A common system for learners, teachers and organisations opens up

considerable new opportunities for data analysis and impact assessment.
• The current system links these back to the core aims to aggregate impact at
the local and regional level.
• Personalised learning requires such a structure to enable system wide live
evaluation of impact.

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Putting the PbyP Approach into Action

The following section shows how the approach is applied at each level of the

Starting with the learner and looking at how the learning cycle can be facilitated for
them in terms of
• Learners being supported in their setting of goals
• Learners engaging in collaborative Mentoring
• Learners Actively Researching (work!)
• Learners Peer Reviewing and Peer Assessing
• Learners sharing success and inspiring others

After these have been discussed from the perspective of the learner, the same model
is applied next to, facilitate the role of the teacher in terms of them setting goals
through to sharing successes
• Teachers setting goals based on how they facilitate the learning for their
• Teachers engaging in collaborative mentoring within professional learning
• Teachers using action research techniques as part of their work
• Teachers engaging in peer review and peer assessment
• Teachers sharing what works in ways that connect, support and inspire others

This same model is applied finally to the facilitation of school leadership creating
continuously improving, ‘learning organisations’
• Schools setting clear goals in the form of core aims that align the work of the
community around common purposes
• Schools networking with other schools and setting up collaboration and
mentoring opportunities
• School leaders managing risk to enable experimentation and learning through
focussed action as part of a strategic plan
• Schools evaluating their performance and being open to feedback from all
elements of the community.
• Schools appreciating their role as part of a global system of learning in which
they have a responsibility to share what works with the proviso on its
accuracy and methodology, so that the inspiration they gain from others is
qualified and builds long term trust.

Finally, case studies of current practice that illustrates some of these features have
been added to the section directly after this.

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Learner Centred: Starting with the Learner

The tools in the previous section were used to define the framework of goals that
underpin PbyP. The next step is to build the system around these core aims starting
with the learner, given that it is a learner centred model.

Starting with the continuous learning cycle (Tool 1) we need to ensure that learners
have access to all of the elements without the need for schools, given that most
learning happens outside of school and this is certainly the case for adults.

The next step would then be to add in the support of specialist teachers to enhance
and accelerate learning. Then move out to look at how schools could be structured to
best support teachers in their support of learners

Finally to look at the wider education system to see how it could best support

The following section describes each of the elements of the continuous learning cycle
as a check list to ensure that the model proposed supports all the elements of

Later this is used as a tool for teachers to check that all the elements of learning are
in place within the learning environments and opportunities they provide.

Finally it is used for schools to check these structures are in place for both teachers
and learners.

Setting Goals
How can we support the learner to collaboratively set goals that will help them
progress in all the competencies which are fundamental to our model of education?

An example of one of the ladders used for this purpose in PbyP is shown below

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Evaluate the team

Recognise the efforts and achievements of others and praise them. The role of quality control
is essential in most modern settings. People who work with your team will come to expect a level
of quality from you and it is vital that this is maintained. Your role is also to celebrate what has
gone well and make sure there is some shared identity in your team

1 I can say 'well done' to other people when they have done something well.

In my team I can praise each person for something they did really well. They would agree
2 with me.
I can praise each person in my team of 4 using their names and I can tell what I did well that
3 helped the team and what I did badly?

When someone in my team has a complaint about me, I listen to what they have to say,
make lots of eye contact and see if I can agree with anything. I thank them and don't get
4 cross. I praise each person in my team very specifically (say exactly how and what they did
well) and am honest and open about exactly what I have done well and badly.

I can look at the whole team and suggest ways we could all work together better using
positive suggestions. If I think there is a problem, I can only raise it if I have a suggestion.
5 Evidence could be an evaluation of how well the team has met its targets and why or how
well the team delivers its service.

People who have worked together on a big project need people to appreciate them. At the
end of a project I produced a report/presentation/video that shares our successes with
6 people outside our team and also makes the team feel proud of the work they have
achieved. It must also hint at improvements needed for next time?
Even though it is essential people feel praised and valued after a big project, there will have
been mistakes and problems and it is just as important that these are recognised and not
7 repeated. My skill is to report on the successes and the lessons learnt together. The
balance is difficult to get right and I know I need to find ways of being sensitive and
supportive with positive suggestions.
When working in a group that I was not leading, I recognised the things people (including
me) did that caused distraction and lack of focus. I found ways to describe these to people
8 and describe my own failings so that I was able to reduce the distractions caused in the
group without taking any control from the group leader.
I have worked in the fields of QUALITY CONTROL or INSPECTION and have produced
reports/presentations/media based on evidence I have collected. My reports have helped
9 team leaders make decisions about how to move forward. I am balanced in my praise and
criticism. All criticism is constructive with specific suggestions for improvement and sensitive
to the feelings of the team and the need for people to be motivated and happy in their work.

The set defined as default for PbyP contains 24 skills each with 9 levels. Each
learner can target the area next in their own personal progression and can view this
as a table with successfully evidenced levels ticked and shaded in. A screen shot of
the blank profile is shown below.

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The online version, of course, adds the flexibility needed to update the ladders as we
receive comments, place different sets of ladders for those who don’t like the way I
have set out the discrete sets and alter the number of levels. It doesn’t have to be 9
levels but we have found that this number provides about the right amount of
challenge between levels to make it workable.

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This example shows you one use of the ‘Ladder’ tool but of course the website allows
any ladder to be shown and lots of schools have written their own. The key purpose
is to determine competencies that are important to all ages and communities then
break them up into a set of achievable steps: a Ladder.

At this point it is vital to make the point that we are not suggesting that this grid
should be used to assess children or even to assess any learner’s progress. It is
breaking up a whole set of completely interrelated skills into suggestions for ways to

The ladders must be owned by the individual and so each level is written in language
appropriate to that level of competency where possible and video versions are being
developed to avoid language and literacy issues being a barrier.

The skills framework helps to give structure to learners and is not a traditional course
in which a teacher can say ‘today we are doing imagination level 5!’ If seen in this
context then the ladders and levels would be ridiculous as it is clearly impossible to
define something as imagination or creativity. What the ladders are intended to do is
provide the learner with ideas and stepping stones.

In the full online version we have achieved this by placing thousands of examples of
work behind each ladder level statement so that the individual learner can read the
initial statement in the ladder then click beyond to see all of the examples of what this
means in practice. These examples are from all over the world and from many
different ages and contexts. It may be possible in the future to remove the ladder
level description entirely and let learners get the idea of what the level means
through just observing this diversity of work.

The PbyP online tool is provided here as an exemplification of the approach. It is the
concept behind this that is important and there are many ways of building online
repositories of exemplar work without needing a licence to our online tools. I present

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the particular online tool as an example to demonstrate and will use the other
functions it has in a similar way as an illustration throughout this document.

A key next question is how to build a database of authenticated examples of work at

each level of your ladder in a sustainable and cost effective way. How do you assess
if a piece of evidence as being an example that should sit in the ladders. Our current
tools deal with this by automatically sending the work to peer assessors who have
already achieved this level of competency in a different school. Their peer
assessment also determines if the learner should progress to the next level up.

Collaborative Mentoring
The need to arrange learning in collaborative teams at every level is highly
compelling. Schools networked together are generally more successful as are
teachers working in professional learning communities and learners of all ages
working in peer supporting teams. The support, mentoring, coaching, challenge and
skills transfer achieved through collaborative working is significant.

Methods for achieving this at a structural level are discussed later in the teacher and
school sections but in terms of the learners, to support the individual at scale is
difficult as mentoring is dependent upon regular learning conversations which are
much more effective as part of a face to face relationship between mentor and
mentee. Research into this area suggests the meetings should be around ten
minutes each week and guided by the learner themselves. Scaling a ten minute one
to one weekly engagement is extremely difficult if the mentor is a teacher. For this
reason mentoring, where it does happen tends to either be with special focus groups
that are felt to need additional support or this role tends to be mainly provided by
supportive parents, work colleagues or peers informally.

In 1998 I began experimenting with the idea of producing a mentor meeting that was
so structured it could allow learners as young as eleven to sit together and have
meaningful learning conversations. Occasional meetings went well, supported by
printed guides and structures but it proved incredibly hard to provide the mentor with
enough information to both challenge and support their peer on a weekly basis.

In 2007 I tried structuring this meeting using a step by step walk through of available
up to date data on the mentee in which both would sit next to a computer screen and
have a supported meeting. Initial trials went well and the model was successful

Version two of these tools are inside PbyP online currently and, although numbers
involved are currently not of research significance it would appear from these small
numbers that…
• Peer mentoring does not happen spontaneously because peers are not
initially convinced of its usefulness
• Once established peer mentoring is sustained and found to be valuable by
those questioned although it is still small numbers at present
• The computer being present in the face to face meeting helps rather than
hinders the conversation.
• Mentors as young as ten have been effective. I am convinced that it is just
the manageability of the tool and language used that is preventing this from
being effective at younger ages
• Schools largely appear to be very dismissive of peer mentoring and this view
is noticed by the learners

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• Parents have used the tools intended for peer mentoring to good effect and
there is positive feedback from this sector
• We still have extremely small sample sizes and very limited analysis to base
these conclusions on but the tools developed so far appear to have the
potential to be an effective and scalable solution to extending mentoring to all.

Current structure of the PbyP peer mentoring online tool:

Each section has suggested discussion starters that the mentor can ask about the
learning that the mentee has engaged in since their last meeting
1. A space for notes against each section so that both can maintain a record if
2. A linear set of screens that can be navigated back and forth. Providing a
single step by step approach if required.
3. Access to the mentees online PbyP portfolio by them giving permission in the
form of entering their password.
4. Examples of work from learners all over the world that the mentor can draw
upon to help understand ways of helping.
5. An excess of information so that the meetings can focus on different elements
each week and bring in diversity.
6. Access to anyone to be a mentor regardless of their licence status in PbyP so
that learners can invite parents and friends depending on who they are most
comfortable with.

Active Researching (Work!)

Setting a goal and talking it through with a supportive mentor is of little use unless
there is the opportunity to try and achieve it. We have found that learners are
generally good at finding examples in their every day life in which they practice and
demonstrate the essential skills defined earlier. Most have access to basic phone
cameras, videos and internet to capture this evidence and submit it to their own
social network or a computer.

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The models of education and school organisation that provide more opportunities for
doing work of this kind are described later in the teacher and school sections.

In terms of online assistance, I have described how the ladders can form the basis of
a database of examples of work and also how learners can use this database to
produce their own examples.

Learners are operating in an extremely diverse set of environments and home

conditions which is why the internet can be so supportive because of the diversity of
examples and contexts it can illustrate.

Deconstructing learning to a set of tasks to complete can often disempower the

learner and make the process seem detached from reality. Setting a broad problem
with limited guidance but allowing creative solutions often has the opposite effect.
The aim of PbyP is to ensure that the goals learners set for themselves have the
correct balance of challenge and achievability. The ladders described earlier go
some way towards providing this in that only if a learner has completed a lower level
can they continue. This means that by definition they are not going to come across a
challenge that is more than one step up from their existing achievement.

We have found that providing an achievable step, at the level of competence of the
learner, general enough to allow them to provide their own content and supported by
examples from similar context is enough to sustain motivation from learners.

In the absence of structured progressive challenges of this kind, learners still

progress in challenges such as memorising facts about dinosaurs or completing
computer game levels or collecting friends on social networking sites. What the
additional structures do is to focus this need for challenges into routes that extend
further and into wider opportunities whilst tapping into the same desire for personal
challenge and collaborative sharing.

Peer Review

Having defined a progression in terms of ladders that are understandable to the

learner themselves, how does the learner know they are progressing up it?

This is achieved in the model using peer review, a practice widely used in other
spheres. In the scientific community, for example, your work is sent to a list of
reviewers who are unknown to you. This list is constructed from your peers and in
particular, those that are working in a similar field of study, at a similar level. In the
art world a similar process of reviews is followed. Peer review is also the fastest
growing use of the internet and is forming the basis of the newly launched ‘Internet
2.0’. Before the internet was made public in 1991, it was used by the science
community who developed it mainly for the purposes of peer review and collaborative

The practice of peer assessment in education is also widely spread both in terms of
teachers peer assessing each other, headtechers working in teams and learners
doing paired reading and peer review.

In High Tech Highxv, in the United States the school already has a curriculum which
is peer assessed. Learners work on longer projects in response to a set of problems
and then have to present their final work to their peers who assess it.

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The research around peer assessment identifies it as an extremely effective strategy

that is even more useful for the assessor than it is for the person being assessed. It
raises engagement and drives reflection and depth into the process. On the other
hand, teacher assessment and examinations based assessment are by comparison
much less effective and in some studies, damaging to both self esteem and feelings
of progression.

Peer assessment increases reflection and collaboration as well as ownership and

engagement but it needs to have structures that are unambiguous:

1. The learner decides on the level they are trying to achieve

2. They compile their evidence or presentation
3. Peers at a similar or higher level of competence have clear guidelines given
to them so they can accurately assess and give positive feedback

In all of our studies this methodology has been effective providing that,
• the criteria is well defined and clear to the assessors,
• the assessors have passed the criteria themselves and so are relatively
• the feedback is entirely positive and constructive
• training in how to provide constructive feedback has been given
• there is a positive ethos in which the teacher is respectful of the final authority
of the peer assessment and does not override it.

Occasionally, problems of objectivity can emerge through the relationships between

peer assessors but these can be largely dealt with through understanding of the
group dynamic.

Having used this method effectively for many years, I faced problems when I tried to
scale it out to 20 schools. In reality, not all classrooms have a positive constructive
ethos and teachers are frequently either not expected to or able to give equal
weighting to peer assessed work. There is also a time lag in which the ‘experts’ have
to be in place and it needs to be the teachers who assess the first wave of ‘experts’
which sets the power relationship up incorrectly at the start making it difficult for
peers to regain ownership.

We have found that moving this process online has largely solved all of these issues
and has been an incredibly effective way of not only assessing progression but also
highlighting and correcting the need for greater reflective and critical skills in the
learners at all ages including professional adults.

Once again the PbyP online solution to this is behind the licence payment so is
presented here as an example of how systems can be constructed to work if based
on these principles.

In the PbyP online tool:

1. learners read the ladder statement,

2. view examples from other learners and then
3. decide how to construct their own evidence. This can be video, documents,
audio recordings or any other way in which they choose to evidence it.
4. They upload their evidence into the website

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5. The evidence is automatically sent to someone not in their own institution who
has achieved this ladder level already; an ‘expert’
6. The ‘expert’ must say what they like best about the evidence and how it could
be improved.
7. On receiving the work back, the learner provides feedback on how helpful and
positive their ‘expert’ was so that each person has an assessor rating.
8. If the expert says the work passed then the ladder level colours in and the
learner can progress to the next level up.

It has proven to be a highly effective method with reliable results, demonstrating not
only that peer assessment can be self moderating and scalable but also that the
skills which are so hard to assess by any other means can be assessed by an
international community of ‘experts’ in the same way that art, music and film are
currently assessed.

As a final stage, successful pieces of work join the bank of examples from where
they can be further rated and voted for. Each time the ratings happen, if they agree
with the original ‘expert’ assessor then their personal rating increase so the system
learns which examples from different contexts are considered to be the most helpful
and inspiring pieces.

The fact that the original stimulus was a simple descriptive statement is thankfully
lost in the rich and diverse set of examples that bubble to the top, each showing how
the skills are interrelated and connected.

Learners sharing outcomes and inspiring others:

Can you think of anything valuable you have learned that you have not shared with
others? Learning is a communal act and the feelings of progression required to
sustain it come from feeling you have contributed in a way that is recognised by
others. This is true for learners of all ages and true even if you have made no
progression yourself but feel attached to a team who has been successful that is then

Like never before, learners have a world wide audience available to them and the
transformation in people’s behaviour in relation to this has been quite stunning.

Phenomena such as Wikipedia, rate my..(anything really), Twitter and the plethora of
help sites in which a question asked to the world can be answered by a seemly
endless group of people who just want to share what they know. Sites such as that allow anyone to publish stories and have them rated and
commented on and hundreds of home made reviews and YouTube videos of
everything you can think of.

This unstructured and engaged sharing of learning on a world wide scale is just a
fraction of the unseen peer learning that is part of everyday life.

Whilst hundreds of people are willing to review work that is entertaining, it is harder
for learners to structure progression in other areas and receive useful, measured and
supportive advice. The PbyP tools I have described earlier, provide a framework for
this as do gaming communities, fiction communities, instrumental learning
communities and a host of other progress based sites currently available.

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For once in history it is not the provision of these sharing opportunities that is a
challenge for schools but rather finding ways of aligning their use with opportunities
in the curriculum. There is the now famous story of the 14 year old child who wrote a
version of harry potter which was reviewed online by JK Rowling herself. In her
English class she was reportedly incredibly poor at handing in homework. You can
imagine the dilemma, “Do I write an essay for my teacher on a subject chosen by my
teacher or write an essay on anything I want and publish it to the world?” Tough

Recent steps to provide learners with control of a school radio stations, TV, website
and performance spaces around the school and lunch areas is extremely welcome.
The example of high tech high has already been mentioned and further examples of
how schools create spaces and opportunities for learners and teacher learners to
share are discussed in later sections.

This is perhaps the most appropriate time to turn attention to the ways in which the
teacher and the school can support learning.

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How Teachers Support Learners

To summarise from the first section, in order for the teacher to facilitate their
continuous progression, learners require the following:.

1. Goals :
Recognition that the goals they have set themselves are valuable and
worthwhile. Given that we have started from a common position of what are
the core aims to focus on, we have the learners selecting goals from ladders
which, in the views of most learners, teachers, parents, ministers and
employers are the core aims for success. Hence, this is likely but cannot be
assumed. Teachers who are under pressure to deliver content based or
subject based target may be dismissive of aims that, although clearly
important, may not be on their current priority list. See the role of the school

2. Collaborative Mentoring: A positive environment in which collaborative

learning and peer support is the norm. Teachers need to actively promote
collaboration in their lessons. This is the kind of learning environment that
can drive up peer support and shared learning. They also have a role to
actively promote positive role modelling in terms of the skills of mentoring
such as listening and engaging with the learning of others.

3. Active Researching: Creating space where possible to allow learners to

explore and take an active role in the direction of their learning. If learners
have set diverse and personalised goals there should be a number of
opportunities within their lessons for them to attempt these independently.
This may require tolerance towards trial and error, experimentation and
creative freedom of expression.

4. Assessment : Respecting the collective view of the learners in the group

and setting up supported opportunities in which learners can peer assess and
review each others work. This may also be modelled in neutral ways by
asking for review of the work of learners not known to the group or review of
web based materials. In terms of role modelling, the clear role is for teachers
to be open to peer review of their own practice. This is a good indication of
the level of trust between the group and is a difficult position for some
teachers to adopt.

5. Sharing and Inspiring : Opportunities to publically display, share and praise

the achievements as learners achieve their goals and share their journeys.
The teacher will be experimenting also and so should have the opportunity to
gain the feedback when the system works and the learners feel they have
made progress as a result

The main problem that strikes you when looking at this list is that most teachers
currently do not have the freedom to engage in this sort of working nor the training.

Taken together this model is one of teacher as action researcher, continuously

improving their own practice by gaining feedback from learners on how effective their

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ideas have been. The diagram below summaries the interactions in such a
classroom in which the teacher sets up activities or environments that maximise
student collaboration and knowledge building.

Summary Model for Teacher as Knowledge Builder

Input stimulus, Teacher Research

guidance, outcomes,
direction, analysis,
opportunities Continuous improvement conclusion


Knowledge Knowledge

A PbyP approach to this radical change in practice would be to make this form of
learning level 9 in a ladder for the teacher, their current practice level 1 and then
debate the steps required to transition from one to the other. By this method the
teacher could determine a goal that is appropriate for them. We would then work
through the other aspects of the learning cycle to ensure support was in place for
them to both be successful and recognised for that success.

This is discussed in greater detail in this next section.

Teachers Setting Goals

Teachers do need to set goals in terms of subject content and examination targets.
This role of the teacher is likely to remain the same in any new system of education
because regardless of what the ‘content’ is or who decided it was necessary and
regardless of how it is examined, it is appropriate that the subject expertise of the
teacher continues to be used.

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Good teachers, however, deliver much more than subject content and examination
success. There is a second role, that of progressing the competencies of the
learners. Here also there should be clear goals that the teacher is pursuing such as
attempting to improve the learner’s self confidence or ability to work in a team for

In this sense the teacher’s role is still seen as “maximising the chances of a learner
achieving their goals” but the goals include higher order thinking and competencies
as well as the subject specific skills and content.

South Korea is the latest high performing country to announce a national shift in the
balance of what they want teachers to emphasise on whilst Finland is seen as a
world leader in having transformed its education system to enable teachers to
change their focus towards these underlying competencies and less on the content.
Both elements are still present but the shift in emphasis from subject content to
underpinning competencies will, in my view, continue to accelerate.

If the competencies listed in the first section (see SECRET) are those that are critical
to all learners then the goal of the teacher in this context is to provide opportunities
that will improve these competencies in their learners.

At this point I would like to define a ‘project’ as a piece of action research conducted
by a teacher in which they introduce one or more opportunities for their learners to
improve their competencies.

In order to make the model easier to explain I would like to, for the moment, define
this very specifically. Lets say that when a teacher plans such a project they should;
• Consider at least one group they work with
• Consider the next ten weeks
• Consider which of the SECRET competencies they wish to concentrate on
• Consider the support that they will have available to them
• Consider something they could do that they believe would provide one extra
opportunity for this group to improve in the area chosen

Teachers can arrive at much more appropriate ‘projects’ when they work together.
The following task has been extremely effective in creating such opportunities.

Imagine the whole school decides to improve teamwork for all learners, how do
you change this core aim into collective action? One way is to construct a

Every teacher is asked to identify at least one group that they teach. Then to identify
one core aim that the school is working on. Then they are asked to do something
over the next ten weeks that they believe will improve this core aim for the group.

Imagine the core aim is to improve collaboration skills for learners.

Teachers are given 40 minutes in groups of 4 to 8 to discuss the minimum that they
think they could do with one of their groups in the next ten weeks that they believe
will have a positive impact on that group’s collaboration ability (in this case).

Whatever the group of teachers agree becomes level 1.

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The next discussion is to identify what the teachers believe is the thing they could do
within the next ten weeks that would have the biggest impact on improving
collaborative skills in the school. It will probably be the case that no teacher will be
planning to do this project themselves but it is good to set the level 9 marker as
something ambitious yet just about achievable.

We now have levels 1 and 9 defined. Next debate level 2 as being something slightly
more demanding or having slightly more impact than level 1 and so on until all 9
levels have been agreed.

It typically takes about 40 minutes of debate to arrive at a set of goals for teachers
ranging from level 1 to 9. Here is an example of one produced by staff in a school in
the UK.

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Opportunities to improve outcomes for learners in collaboration

skills. (Goals for teachers)
The ten week team project my group does will involve learners from
different countries and cultures and will be presented as an example of
9 international collaboration in all schools involved. A quality outcome will
The ten week team project my group does will include learners from
different schools and states. It will result in a public outcome that will be
8 presented to parents. Learners will create the networks of learners
themselves through web tools.
The ten week team project my group does will include input from people
7 in different classes and the community. This will be arranged by the
teams themselves and will involve a public presentation.
During the next ten weeks the group will work in teams on a project. The
6 teams will manage their own time and organise their own groups. Their
classmates will assess them when they present their report.
Once in the next ten weeks I will set my class a problem that they need to
5 work on in teams for at least an hour and present their findings back to the
whole group. They will need to organise the teams themselves
For each of the next ten weeks I will set my class a problem that they need
4 to work on in teams.
Once every two weeks I will give one of my classes a problem to solve.
3 They must decide on their roles and how they will solve the problem.
Once each week I will include an activity in which learners have roles in
2 their team. Leader, Manager, Coach, Reporter. Teams will rotate roles
for the tasks.
Once each week I will include an activity which allows learners to work in
1 teams of 4. For example “Take 5 minutes in your teams to decide the
answer to this question”

The final stage is for every teacher in the group to commit to carrying out one of
these goals in the next ten weeks with at least one of their groups.

Some teachers in the group will choose level 1 as their contribution so it is important
that however minimal it is, teachers do believe that it will have an impact. It is vital
that no value judgement is placed on teachers choosing different levels. The most
important thing is that ALL teachers set themselves a goal from this ladder they have
agreed together.

If a teacher chooses a level 1 this time, then it may be because they are not
confident in this area, or have considerable other commitments. Over time they can
be encouraged to take on progressively harder challenges.

Agreeing common goals in this way has exactly the same advantages as the
common goals agreed by learners in the previous section in that it opens up the
scope for collaboration and professional sharing.

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Perhaps it is not surprising but the ladders that teachers arrive at through this
process correlate well with each other such that even if the wording is very different,
the level of change of a level 3 for example is pretty consistent across schools.

In the PbyP online tools we have used this fact to instantly connect teachers together
from different parts of the world. Once they have decided on their ladder, the
teachers enter it into PbyP then each teacher clicks on the group they will be working
with, the level on the ladder that they have chosen and the start and end date for
their ‘project’. Finally they give a brief description of what they plan to do.

If they choose to make their email address visible, they are provided instantly with
the email address and brief descriptions from any other teacher in the system who is
also focussing on improving collaborative skills for their group and has set
themselves a challenge at the same level, together with details of past projects and
ideas that were successful.

This leads nicely into the next stage of the learning cycle which relates to the support
structures around the teacher.

Collaborative Mentoring
The case for teachers working collaboratively is well established. Such teams of
teachers are often referred to as Professional Learning Communities or PLCs. The
definitions of what constitute a PLC vary from author to author but my own
perspective is that teams of at least four and no more than eight are most effective.

In the Microsoft Innovative Schools Workshops I brought together research evidence

rand a range of commentators’ views on the benefits of PLCs for the teacher, the
learner and the school community. The following piece of research from Bolam et al
(2005)xvi provides a good summary of these different perspectives

1. The idea of a professional learning community (PLC) is one well worth

pursuing as a means of promoting school and system-wide capacity building
for sustainable improvement and pupil learning.

2. An effective professional learning community (EPLC) fully exhibits eight key

characteristics: shared values and vision; collective responsibility for pupils’
learning; collaboration focused on learning; individual and collective
professional learning; reflective professional enquiry; openness, networks and
partnerships; inclusive membership; mutual trust, respect and support.

3. Pupil learning was the foremost concern of people working in PLCs and the
more developed a PLC appeared to be, the more positive was the association
with two key measures of effectiveness - pupil achievement and professional

4. Staff in more developed PLCs adopt a range of innovative practices to deal

with the inhibiting and facilitating factors in their particular contexts. Many of
these practices are potentially useful for other schools.

R. Bolam, A. McMahon, L. Stoll, S. Thomas, M. Wallace (2002-2004)xvii

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With PbyP the PLC has the added dimension of common skills framework for the
learners and a common teacher ladder of shared goals. This makes the common
focus of the group easier to establish and allows for a deeper common language and
shared direction.

If a PLC adopts a simple set of rules such as “never raise a problem unless you have
a solution” and “last one in buys the cakes!” it can operate effectively and maintain
these common goals. It is important that common protocols are established early on
and meetings are regular and professional with a clear focus on solutions.

The core philosophy of PbyP is to include learners in these professional learning

communities as partners in the learning process but I am unaware of studies that
have been done to confirm the wisdom of this so will fall short of setting it out as
advice. My personal experience is that the presence of learners on these teams
raises the level of professionalism and sharpens the focus providing the learners are
free to give up their position but feel valued enough to feel they are making a genuine
contribution. Visiting a nursery school in London using this approach with its learners
was an amazing experience and allowed me to see what was possible given the right
combination of school ethos and extremely intelligent adult construction of a learning

Active Researching (Work!)

From the teacher’s perspective, the scope for experimentation, the degree of risk
taking and the opportunities to change the curriculum delivery have been covered
during the construction of the teacher ladders. It is usual that teachers, when
constructing these ladders, take into account their current working conditions and the
degrees of freedom available to them.

Just as in the case of the learners, setting a goal and talking it through with a
supportive mentor is of little use unless there is the opportunity to try and achieve it.

It is in fact the teacher who is providing the opportunity for their class to working in an
active or researching mode and in creating this space they are in fact doing the
same! This overlap of aims should be maximised by the teacher by engaging with
the learners as co-developers of the opportunity.

At the basic level, this co-development involves the teacher just informing the group
that they are actually trying something new with them next week.

If the teacher develops this concept then they may take it further by asking the
learners for their views about if they think it will work or even afterwards if they feel it
has worked.

The ladder of participation is useful to use at this point to help decide how far and
how deeply to explore this concept of co-development of a learning experience in
which all parties are openly learning.

Learner Surveys.

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The basic idea here is to set up a questionnaire for learners before and after a
project to check that your own view of how impactful it was is matched by the view of

In the PbyP online tool, I have produced ready made questionnaires constructed
from those questions that have provided useful feedback in surveys such as the
TELLUS and TRIPOD projects. The questionnaires go out automatically when the
teacher signals the start and end of the project. Then the results are analysed and
fed back anonymously.

Earlier I described how this system links up teachers doing similar projects. There is
therefore the option of making this analysis public or not. The advantage of making it
public is that for the first time I believe in education, you can search for ideas that
have been verified by the learners themselves as having been effective.

Once again I offer this as a conceptual illustration of what is possible and currently
functional but the concept behind the tool is that learners should provide feedback on
how well projects are meeting their needs not only as valuable professional
development for the teacher but also to encourage learners to reflect on different
teaching strategies and what works and doesn’t work for them.

If learners have access to the internet at home then there are a number of free
packages on the web that allow for anonymous surveys to be constructed and sent
effortlessly. Survey Monkey is one such example.

Be careful to ask similar questions before and after the event and focus them on the
student’s perception of having made progress in the focus area of the project. For
example it would be useful to know if after a ten week effort on your part, how many
learners felt that their collaborative skills had improved.

Finally, never underestimate the powerful message that the teacher is practicing
what they preach and actually open to reflect on their own learning.

Peer Review
This is one of the key roles of the Professional learning communities. It is such small
focussed and trusted groups that can provide the kind of constructive assessment
and review that are needed.

In terms of PbyP there is an added dimension possible in that the evidence uploaded
by the learners during the project can be analysed in terms of quality, level and
frequency to provide further analysis for the teacher. This system of action research
and evaluation provides an impact assessment of the project which can be compared
with the attitudes of the learners and the feedback from colleagues to create rich
feedback to the teacher as a learner. Combine this with the rating by other teachers
online who read the description of the project, try to use it and give their feedback
and you begin to see how connecting teachers up through the internet in such
focussed ways is likely to impact enormously on the quality and specificity of
feedback available to the profession.

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Learners sharing outcomes and inspiring others:

The key question here is, who are the audience? Who will be inspired by the work of
teachers who move forward this transformation in practice? Which audience will be
considered to provide appropriate recognition from the perspective of the teacher?

The PbyP approach would be to combine such recognition for all learners in the
institution. Awards evening, certificates, public recognition, noticeboards,
opportunities to represent the school and other common forms of recognition need to
celebrate learning in all its forms. I can still remember the impact it made on my
friends when one of my own teachers appeared in an examination hall to collect their
candidate number and sit the same science examination as we were. I am sad to
say that even though they passed we could not convince her, try as may to, to attend
the awards evening. This is part of the hierarchy of learning that needs to be
addressed if learner centred is to be a term correctly applied in schools.

In the interim period schools need to think constructively about how they as teachers
maximise the opportunities to recognise success in their learners whilst at the same
time taking up opportunities to gain recognition for themselves as learners in a wider
community of teaching expertise.

It is only through active networks of shared experience that the capacity for
transformation can be accelerated and the knowledge for how to transform can be
captured and shared.

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How schools support all learners

To summarise from the first section and second sections, both learners and teachers
require the following from the way their school system operates.

1. Goals: A clear definition of goals which cut across all areas of the school, are
grounded in the core aims and common goals of the school community and
can be acted upon constructively by each learner and each teacher.

2. Collaborative Mentoring: Structures are needed which bring teachers

together in collaborative teams, maximising the time that they spend working
in this way by reconstructing meeting times or removing walls to combine
classrooms together. At the learner level, structures are required that respect
peer mentoring and maximise the range of opportunities for different teams to
work together collaboratively across age groups, ability ranges and subjects.
As the skills for responsibility and collaboration grow, learners should be
provided with new roles in which they can actively support others.

3. Active Researching : The leadership of the school need to manage risk

effectively so that they provide the correct environments for innovation and
exploration. Develop a continuous improvement cycle that identifies areas for
supported innovation and new developments. Establish the space in the
curriculum for experimentation and innovation in the classroom that is co-
developed with learners and evaluated effectively.
In terms of engagement, at least all of the teachers and in the longer term all
of the community should be actively engaged in working towards progressing
the school’s collective core aims. This requires support structures and clear
expectations built on a widely shared vision.

4. Assessment : If the core aims of the school are to improve the confidence of
every individual, how effectively they participate in society or how well they
prepare the leaders of tomorrow then it is vital that such important core aims
are measured. If a school has a central core aim to achieve progression in X
and at the end of the year they have no idea if they have achieved
progression in X then the whole vision and mission of the school becomes
little more than a paper exercise. If all teachers are working towards
progressing the school’s collective core aims then even if only by measuring
the attitudes of the learners there must be some clear assessment of the
progress or otherwise that has been made.

5. Sharing and Inspiring: The transformation of education is a world wide

phenomenon that requires a world wide collective effort. The honest stories
of schools that have made ground in this area and sustained this have to be
shared not only to fuel further learning in the school but to inspire others to
find answers to the challenge of achieving a personalised and equitable world
wide set of education systems.

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Setting Goals

Goals have to be clear, shared and structured in ways that makes them quick to
adopt without excessive planning and easily understood at all levels. Research such
as that conducted by OFSTED in the UK have consistently found that having no
more than four goals at any time is an essential rule of thumb at both the individual
and the organisational level.

Every teacher and often others in the school community will be doing projects this
year that will progress one or more of these core aims.

It is essential that teachers have as much creative freedom as is possible in terms of

what their project will be but by arranging the core aims in this way, teachers have a
tendency to choose projects that impact on more than one core aim at a time.

The simple act of displaying the core aims in this way drives teacher projects into the
middle space and thereby creates more opportunities for sharing experiences and

The Venn diagram tool described earlier can be taken a little further by asking
teachers to write their name in the space they feel their project sits. The poster then
becomes a visual guide to the range of activity taking place in the school as well as a
reminder of the collective core aims.

Overall School Vision

Example School School
objective 1 – Objective 2 –
Learners enjoy Learners are
learning and creative and
reflecting entrepreneurial

Example Project objective 3 –
by a member of Learners work
staff collaboratively

Overlap with the teacher ladders

Once the core aims have been decided, each of them will form the basis of a teacher
ladder (see earlier) so that these aims can be converted to achievable goals which
can be engaged with by all teachers and others.

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For learners, the grid of ladders and levels allows them to have an overview of the
whole picture and see where the gaps may be emerging. For larger scale goals
involving numerous people we require a more holistic tool such as the REORDER
framework mentioned earlier, to ensure the work of all involved remains aligned to
the bigger picture and nothing is missed out.

Collaborative Mentoring
The following list of suggestions is a work in progress for a more comprehensive set
of tools. The need for organising schools in ways that drive collaboration and peer
support at every level and outwards to parents is very clear. The range of techniques
and approaches for achieving this is very diverse and highly context dependent. For
example some countries have a long standing tradition of team teaching in which
teams of teachers work in large spaces with numerous groups, in other countries
there is no precedent and it would be seen as an offense for another teacher to enter
your classroom while you have a class.

Given the scale of variation the only true statement is in terms of moving in the
direction towards greater collaboration at all levels including some of the following

Change the structures in your school and in your personal learning to make working
in teams part of every day life. Set out expectations and model mentoring behaviour

a) Arranging desks in groups

b) Maximise group working
c) Set team challenges
d) Remove walls of classrooms to make teaching a community act
e) Value lunch and social meeting spaces
f) Provide training to help parents structure their support of their children
g) Provide positive examples of success at levels similar to what learners are aiming
for so that aspiration is raised and examples set.
h) Set up common language so that people between schools and between home and
school can communicate from a common starting point

Active Researching (Work!)

Schools in which learners are working towards collaborative knowledge creation by

making use of opportunities created by teachers who are involved in collaborative
knowledge creation need to mirror this same approach at the macro level.

There are many models of education available to consider and many sources of
educational writing to investigate. Experimentation can be managed in terms of risk
and expectation.

One area in which considerable change can be achieved whilst actually reducing risk
is the involvement of learners in structured ways to support the school as co
development partners.

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The PbyP framework allows for the school to qualify learners who achieve
progression in team working, active participation, creativity and all of the other
SECRET competencies. Such learners require greater and greater challenges if they
are to continue to be challenged and make progress. Co-development with such
highly competent individuals is of considerable benefit to the school.

The key message here is to develop and qualify leaders at every level so that
more of the leadership roles can be distributed resulting in change
accelerating on more fronts simultaneously under the control of competent

The engagement scale described earlier can be used for all stakeholders and can be
applied in distributing leadership to teachers but becomes much more
transformational when it is learners who are being developed over time to move
further towards a shared ownership model. It is important here to distance this from
the rush to learner voice that can thrust young learners into positions of influence,
leadership and representation that they are not prepared for and consequently are
less likely to achieve progression in the longer term.

In the model presented here it is actively encouraged that the first time around the
continuous improvement cycle for the school there should be a resolve to inform
learners and possibly ask some of them to be involved. In my own case it took me
four years to develop the leadership potential of learners in the school such that four
of them managed a project as co-developers and four won a bid independently to
install new equipment in the school and retained ownership of this project.

Peer Review
The key questions for the review process are
• Is there consistency between the core aims, the vision and the outcomes
• To what extent have the views of the learners been incorporated into the
review process?
• How many individuals are driving transformation forwards within the school
and is the number increasing each time around the cycle?
• How has progression in the core aims been measured or estimated?
• How effectively have other schools been able to progress as a result of
adoption or shared learning with the school in previous years and how has
this learning impacted on the projects this year?

In terms of PbyP the software enables a school to see the position of all learners in
terms of the SECRET competencies and see the number, scale and effectiveness of
projects conducted with the aim of progressing outcomes.

Perhaps the most important concept here is that of international benchmarking

between schools. If each progressive step taken by learners, by teachers and
through projects are peer assessed by others in different countries and schools then
the authenticity of the benchmarking and comparison is greatly increased. It is such
benchmarking and reviews of the core aims of the education system that are the
strongest candidates for us moving away from an examinations driven system to one
in which there is much more similarity with other forms of learning and a much
greater alignment between the reported core aims of the education system and
the measured outcomes.

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Learners sharing outcomes and inspiring others:

Numerous schools around the world are achieving transformation and sustaining this
change. It is vital that their experiences are shared in ways that empower and inspire
other schools to accelerate their own progress

Case studies are often constructed to tell all of the good news without sharing the
pain, hard work and failures along the way. The REORDER framework, described
earlier can be used as a more comprehensive common language for sharing school
innovation journeys.

The framework covers all aspects of alignment and so provides an insight into the
changes that were required to make holistic transformation a reality.

The following example is a case study of one such outstanding school.

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Using the REORDER tool for case studies

Using the REORDER framework to analyse a case study of a school so that easier
comparisons can be made and more in depth holistic questioning can take place

Hellerup is an outstanding school in Denmark which has a clear set of goals

focussed on preparing learners for the changing world in which they are likely to be
working in.

In the view of the school it would be impossible to expect all learners to be

engaged, independent, responsible learners after school if they were not given
training in terms of experiencing these relationships and these role models in
the school community. The high degree of learner choice and empowerment is
assisted by the excellent policies of the Danish education system over many years
but the school have gone much further in taking this philosophy into every area in
which learners could have a voice and choice. The learning spaces are open and
reconfigurable requiring teachers to work in co-ordinated teams.

The environment presents a challenge to this ideal in most schools because how can
the learners feel ownership and self determination if the building itself has been
predetermined and divided into subjects and owned spaces? In Hellerup the learning

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spaces themselves can be reconfigured entirely by the learners. The model allows
for learners to decide on the kinds of spaces they feel are best suited to the model of
learning they are engaging in and then reconfigure them by moving partitions and
equipment. This has the second desired effect of making sure that learners learn
how to adapt to and utilise new environments and modify their working behaviours to
match the task in hand.

The curriculum opportunities have had to be aligned to this philosophy and so

problem based learning has been adopted because it gives larger periods of time,
greater choice and flexibility. For some learners it is necessary to structure these in
greater depth but the overall structure means that this scaffolding provided by the
teachers can reduce as it needs to, allowing the learner greater responsibility as they
are able to utilise it.

The school is well resourced but a key resource is seen as the learners themselves.
The school goes to great length to make sure that expertise of learners is recognised
and made use of in team problem activities that utilise specialisation. This is true for
the resource of teachers who are continuously re-inventing and gaining expertise in
the process.

Not only are teacher teams provided with autonomy to allow for the development of
leadership but this philosophy is also employed with learners so that the leadership
capacity of the entire community is higher than would be expected in other schools.
This capacity has led towards a trend of increasingly wider distribution of leadership,
responsibility and autonomy over time.

Evaluation is enormously helped by the clarity of the four central goals and the way in
which each element has been designed to contribute. The level of autonomy and
leadership within the teams of teachers allows for a level of honest and trusted
continuous evaluation. This is an area in which the school has identified a gap and
are currently working to develop evaluation methods that involve greater alignment
with the progress that has been made in all of the other aspects.

Given the need for further work in the field of evaluation the school has been
extremely proactive in the field of recognition by applying a policy of positive
language in which all teachers and community members work to the ethos of praising
the achievement and maintaining language that reinforces positive attitudes in all
aspects of work so that they are modelling positive peer recognition and praise.

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Selected References and Further Reading

The New Division of Labor:How Computers Are Creating the Next Job
Market. Frank Levy & Richard J. Murnane
OXFAM – Education for Global Citizenship

Essential Learnings - a curriculum for the 21st century
BECTA Harnessing Technology Review 2008: The role of technology and its
impact on education.
Peter Rudd et al. The effects of the school environment on young people’s
attitudes towards education and learning. NFER 2008 .
Ewing, R. (2010). The Arts and Australian Education: Realising Potential.
Melbourne: Australian Council of Educational Research.

Bryce, J., Mendelovits, J., Beavis, A., McQueen, J., & Adams, I. (2004). Evaluation
of school-based arts education programmes in Australian schools. Melbourne:
Australian Council for Educational Research
Shanghai and Hong Kong: Two Distinct Examples of Education Reform in
DeCharms, R., Carpenter, V. and Kuperman, A. The Origin-Pawn variable in
person perception. Socimetry, 1965
Jackson, H. (1976). An Assessment of Long Term Effects of Personal Causation
Training. St. Louis, MO, Washington University
Finland: Slow and Steady Reform for Consistently High Results ,
Twelve Outstanding schools: Excelling against the odds. 2009

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1992, 1997, Hart, R. Children's Participation: From Tokenism to Citizenship.
UNICEF 1992 Hart, R. Children's Participation: The Theory And Practice Of
Involving Young Citizens In Community Development And Environmental Care
Arnstein, S. A ladder of citizen participation. Journal of the American
Institute of Planners,35:216–24. 1969
Motion Leadership The Skinny on Becoming Change Savvy , Ontario Institute for
Studies in Education, Centre for Teacher Development. 2010
Bolam, R., McMahon, A., Stoll, L., Thomas, S., & Wallace, M. et al. (2005).
Creating and sustaining effective professional learning communities (Research
Brief RB637). Nottingham UK: Department for Education and Science, DfES
Bolam, R., McMahon, A., Stoll, L., Thomas, S., & Wallace, M. et al. (2005).
Creating and sustaining effective professional learning communities (Research
Brief RB637). Nottingham UK: Department for Education and Science, DfES

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