Carol Taylor Fitz-Gibbon, 1938 – 2017

By Professor Rob Coe, Director, CEM

Carol Fitz-Gibbon

At the end of January, the educational researcher who influenced me more than any other, my formative mentor, an inspirational leader, and the most innovative educational thinker I have known, died.

And yet the name Carol Fitz-Gibbon may be little known to a generation of educators who have emerged in the last decade through blogging and Twitter, or the Westminster policy bubble, to be the thought-leaders of today.

When I first met her in the early 1990s, Carol was energetic and forceful in a scatter-brained, whirlwind, big-personality kind of way. She described herself as ‘a grandmother from the north’, and seemed to take pleasure in the way ‘men in suits from Westminster’ would sometimes appraise her small stature, Lancastrian accent and friendly, unimposing manner, only to be blown away by the force of her intellect and passion when they, with almost inevitable predictability, said something uninformed or contrary to good evidence.

She was a witty and engaging speaker, a kind and considerate friend and collaborator, highly principled in everything she did or said, very much Old Labour rather than New. Stories of her going out of her way to support junior colleagues could fill a large book.

Carol invented the idea that came to be called ‘value-added’, though, as with Newton’s invention of the calculus, similar ideas emerged independently at about the same time in other parts of the world. Unlike in the other manifestations, however, in Carol’s vision, systems were not led by governments or districts as part of a top-down accountability process; instead, the demand for ‘value-added’ was school-led, fed by teachers’ desire to have trustworthy, confidential information about how well they were doing.

As this demand grew, so did CEM. Carol was its Director from 1989 to 2003, during which time CEM grew from an exploratory research project involving five schools in the North East of England to a multi-million pound, international operation, supporting thousands of schools with purpose-made assessments and ‘value-added’ analysis.

In 1996 I left teaching to study full-time for a PhD at Durham, with Carol as my supervisor. I’m sure all PhD students learn a lot from their supervisors, but I feel very privileged to have had the chance to learn so much from someone so wise.

I remember one occasion in particular, when I needed to analyse a dataset and had found the literature divided between two distinct ways of doing so. I was unable to decide which was better and sought her advice. Carol’s answer was simple, if initially unwelcome: you have to do both. If they give the same answer you will know the result transcends the methods; if they differ you will know something important that you would not have known had you done only one. My debt to her is so deep I cannot begin to itemise it.

As well as pioneering value-added, Carol was ahead of her time in promoting a number of other big ideas. Unfortunately, she was probably too far ahead of her time to be contemporarily recognised as more of a leader than a maverick. Although many of these ideas are mainstream today, at the time she was almost the only voice against a tide of opposition; but within a decade of her retirement that tide had turned.

She wrote about meta-analysis in the 1980s before anyone in the UK was doing it in education. She advocated randomised controlled trials as a basis for ‘evidence-based policy’ at a time when all expert and influential opinion in education thought they were evil and misguided. She promoted the Rasch model and modern measurement theory when the UK was lagging behind the US and Australia in these methods.

A leader she clearly was.

Carol’s values and ideas are at the heart of everything CEM does today; her memory and influence live on.

A Vision for Enhanced Professionalism

The new professional body for the teaching profession, The Chartered College of Teaching is hosting their inaugural conference in London on Thursday 16th February.

The theme of the inaugural conference is ‘A collective voice’.

CEM Director and Professor of Education at Durham University, Rob Coe, speaks about evidence-based practice and his vision for enhanced professionalism.

Download the Powerpoint presented by Rob Coe.

The future of primary assessment: Learning first or accountability?

Professor Christine Merrell, Head Teachers’ Roundtable Summit, 2nd Feb 2017

Primary Children I was asked to speak about the future of primary assessment in relation to learning and accountability at the Head Teachers’ Roundtable Summit in London on 2nd Feb. The summit offered an opportunity to debate matters that enable schools to thrive and flourish, and was clearly an important forum, attracting over 200 delegates.

My focus was on looking ahead to ‘what could be’ in the realms of assessment in primary schools rather than what is probably likely to happen in the near future.

Finding out what children know and can do

Let’s begin with the ‘Learning First’ part of the session title… Finding out what children know and can do is a crucial first step towards improving their outcomes.

From a research perspective, we actually know a lot about children’s development at the start of school 1 2 and their progress throughout the primary years. We also know quite a lot about interventions to help children’s learning. However, we could vastly improve our use of data and the integration between research and practice.

For example, from a review of studies which investigated the interpretation and use of assessment data, Debra Ackerman from ETS concluded that much more training and support is needed to increase the assessment literacy of teachers working in the early childhood years 3.

Intelligent use of assessment data, integrating and evaluating research-based methods

Anthony Bryk 4 has suggested that whilst the ever-increasing amount of available data is good for monitoring progress, it doesn’t tell you how to improve; whilst we have some evidence-based information about what works in the classroom we don’t have nuanced detail about how to make things work across diverse contexts and populations; whilst collaborative learning communities share information, this isn’t necessarily well specified or grounded in research findings.

The potential exists for the intelligent use of assessment data to monitor progress and inform next steps coupled with research-based teaching strategies to enhance children’s development and learning.

Anthony Bryk proposed a system in which educators are “active inquirers bound by structures akin to the scientific community”. In other words, researching promising methods for their own context and monitoring impact in a systematic way and adjusting ways of working in response to information.

Teachers already work in this way already but there is scope to enhance this.

Understanding the data

Accountability could involve ensuring that teachers are sufficiently equipped with knowledge and understanding to be able to implement an effective system of monitoring and intervention. That is, they really understand the data that they are collecting about children and using it to evaluate their own practice and children’s progress.

Checks that school leaders are using assessment data to inform their teachers’ professional development needs and resourcing. So Ofsted checks that a school is making intelligent use of data integrated with research-based teaching and learning strategies. Thus placing the emphasis on making sure that good processes are in place and supporting when they are not.

Educators as active inquirers

A cultural change is needed to enable teachers to enhance their assessment literacy and to develop their understanding of research methods so that they can assess the strength of evidence of promising interventions and to evaluate their effectiveness in their own context with more emphasis on time for learning and less on collecting huge swathes of evidence “just in case”.

Thus, as Anthony Bryk suggested, developing educators as active inquirers.

There needs to be more integration between academic researchers and practitioners in order for us to increase our knowledge of what works in various cultures and contexts. For this way of working to succeed, teachers need time within the working week to develop expertise, and this investment needs to be valued by the system.


Tymms, P., Merrell, C., Hawker, D. and Nicholson, F. (2014) Performance Indicators in Primary Schools: A comparison of performance on entry to school and the progress made in the first year in England and four other jurisdictions: Research report. Department for Education: London.

Tymms, P., Merrell, C. and Wildy, H. (2015). The progress of pupils in their first school year across classes and educational systems. British Educational Research Journal. 41 (3) 365 – 380.

Ackerman, D. J. (In press). Early childhood care and education workforce issues in implementing assessment policies. In C. Brown, M. McMullen, & N. File (Eds.), The Wiley Handbook of Early Childhood Care and Education. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Blackwell.

Bryk, A. (2015) Accelerating how we learn to improve, Educational Researcher, Dec 2015, 467 – 477.

Investigating Mathematical Attainment and Progress (IMAP)

Maths Image

Low attainment is acknowledged to be one of the most serious problems in mathematics education.

The proportion of the very lowest attaining students at the end of Key Stage 3 has roughly doubled since the 1970s. This group now constitutes about 15% of the Year 9 cohort and these students have difficulty answering even basic questions about core ideas from the primary curriculum.


Things getting worse rather than better

Evidence from the Investigating Confidence and Competence in Algebra and Multiplicative Structures (ICCAMS) study indicates that the problem of low attainment in mathematics is getting worse rather than better.

  • At Year 9 (age 13-14) there has been an overall decline in students’ understanding since the mid-1970s in algebra and ratio.
  • Around two thirds of 14 year olds in 2008/9 had difficulty with the most basic ideas of ratio. Around two fifths have difficulty with basic algebra.
  • Only 17% of current 14 year olds can identify the correct calculation for the following problem:
    22 litres of petrol cost £4.86. What calculation would I use to calculate the price of one litre?

Jeremy Hodgen (Professor of Mathematics Education, University of Nottingham) is leading a collaborative project designed to study the causes of and solutions to low attainment in secondary mathematics.

The collaboration involves Rob Coe (Director of CEM and Professor of Education at the School of Education, Durham University) and CEM colleagues, Dr Lee Copping and Dr Karen Jones, as well as Professor Margaret Brown from King’s College London.

Quantitative and qualitative methods

Funded by the Nuffield Foundation, the IMAP (Investigating Mathematical Attainment and Progress) project will develop a new test targeted at low-attaining secondary students’ knowledge of number, multiplicative reasoning and algebra.

A new computer-based test will be used alongside student and teacher interviews, to examine the mathematical concepts that low-attaining secondary students understand and to profile their particular strengths and weaknesses.

The project began in September 2015 and will end in December 2017. It aims to provide evidence to inform policy and practice directed at narrowing the achievement gap in mathematics, improve the teaching of secondary low attainers, and inform the design of appropriate interventions.

The project will use CEM’s MidYIS assessment which assesses students in four key areas (vocabulary, mathematics, non-verbal and skills) to gauge the ability range of Year 9 pupils. The project will also include a systematic review and meta-analysis of the existing literature about classroom strategies addressing low attainment in mathematics.

Potential causes and solutions

The IMAP Project will examine multiple potential causes of low attainment and attempt to quantify their relative contribution to maintaining the attainment gap. These include:

  • Demographic factors – including gender and socio-economic status
  • Instructional factors – including curriculum and teaching strategies
  • Individual factors – including arithmetic ability, conceptual understanding or signs of cognitive delay

Current progress

The computer-based assessment contains 91 items in total and can be administered comfortably within a 50-minute session. It has been trialled and validated and is currently being used to gather data in a large number of primary and secondary schools across the country.

So far, about 90 interviews with pupils have been carried out, exploring various areas within number and pre-algebra and also pupils’ perspectives on learning mathematics.

A systematic search of the literature has been conducted and a large number of existing meta-analyses relevant to low attainment in secondary mathematics have been identified.

How can I find out about the results?

Findings from the project will be shared with teachers at the Association of Teachers of Mathematics conference and the Mathematical Association annual conferences on completion, and subsequently in workshops with teachers.

Research papers and a full report will appear in due course.

Education systems can only be accountable for what they can influence


Professor Peter Tymms, Director of iPIPS, CEM and School of Education, Durham University

This week’s PISA results show that England’s performance has hardly changed since the last round of assessments in 2012. Indeed, England’s results and the results of most other countries have remained pretty stable since PISA was introduced by the OECD in 2000.

Re-examining education systems

Changing a country’s PISA results is a bit like trying to turn around an oil tanker: the tanker needs a planned approach over miles coordinated by a knowledgeable team. In education it takes decades of work and a consistent evidence-based approach to education policy. An approach that is at odds with the way that policy is handled in England with a new secretary of state for education bringing in new, often ideological based ways of working, regularly.

There will be a lot of interest across the world in the latest results; many countries experienced a ‘PISA shock’ following the release of the first results prompting a re-examination of their education systems and attempts to address their position in the rankings.

Baseline needed

But there is a fundamental problem: PISA results are not directly related to what is taught in schools; they are designed to measure how students use their educational skills in various situations. These ability-based skills are a product of the individuals themselves, their families, schools and society as a whole, not just the education system. And yet the results are often interpreted as indicators of the quality of schooling. To know how effective an education system really is, we need to know where children are when they enter school and what progress the schools are responsible for. To start with we need a baseline.

iPIPS international comparative study

Our iPIPS research project has started to provide such a baseline and to create a fuller picture: so far we have assessed pupils at the start of school in Russia, China, South Africa and Brazil using the international iPIPS assessment. Developed from CEM’s previous work it is now available in a dozen languages and the iPIPS international comparative study is steadily expanding (

Best predictor of later success

The developmental work was able to draw on around 3 million assessments of children at the start of their school life and one year later in England, Scotland, New Zealand and Australia. We believe that amongst the many baseline assessment across the world iPIPS is the most robust, the most accurate and the best predictor of later success and difficulties.

PISA results are very hard to make sense of without a baseline of the quality provided by iPIPS.

Professor Tymms will be discussing these issues in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday 9th December 2016 – join the seminar at 4pm GMT here.

Reasons to be optimistic about assessment

This blog post is taken from the first part of a presentation Stephen Tierney (@leadinglearner) gave at the Learning First Conference in Sheffield on the 5th November 2016, with an introduction by Rob Coe.

Rob Coe

“I already knew about Stephen from his blogs and twitter posts, so I had high expectations before I first heard him speak. I was not disappointed. He was able to make something that was fundamentally quite complex and difficult seem really simple and obvious.

He has quoted me in this piece as saying that what we need is ‘teachers with greater wisdom.’ For me, he is a shining example of that wisdom: someone who has a deep, critical and connected understanding of theoretical issues in assessment, but is also working in schools to apply and connect that knowledge to things that real teachers are doing daily with real pupils, with all the constraints that make real life different from theory.

It is always easy to get depressed about things in education: government policy, funding cuts, workload, or any number of other triggers can reliably dampen the mood. But I can always get a boost of optimism from recalling that working in our schools we have people like Stephen, bringing energy, moral leadership, passion – and wisdom. We are delighted to be able to host his thoughts on the CEM blog.”

(Rob Coe November 2016)

Principled assessment in practice – Stephen Tierney


Stephen Tierney

In talking about principled assessment in practice and why we should be optimistic, I want to focus on the central assessment concept of validity from three different perspectives.

1. Validity

If we are going to move assessment forward in our schools, we must understand the central concept of validation; “the process of establishing what conclusions are warranted and which are not” from the evidence we have (Wiliam, 2014).

Dylan Wiliam asserts:

This is important, because it means that a question like ‘is this test valid?’ is meaningless. Asking whether a test is valid is to commit what Gilbert Ryle described as a ‘category mistake’ (Ryle 1949) – ascribing something a property it cannot have, like asking whether a rock is happy.

Take for example the construct of “high quality teaching”.  For well over a decade inspectors and school leaders have drawn substantial, unwarranted conclusions from the flimsiest of evidence.  Observing twenty minutes or one hour of a lesson and then making conclusions on the quality of teaching, and by implication the quality of the teacher, now seems bonkers to many of us who have done it hundreds of times.

The latest red herring is the book review – remember, this only tells you so much.

The elusive search for a single, simple, quick assessment indicator of the quality of teaching will remain just that; elusive, since it doesn’t exist. Great teaching is so much more complex.

2. Being Informed

CEM Director and Professor of Education at Durham University, Rob Coe, asks:

What makes great teaching?…we don’t know as much about it as we’d like to. We get glimpses at the moon through a cloudy sky – snippets that give insight.

We try and bind them together, but we have a precarious grasp of something that is very complicated …what we really need …is teachers with greater wisdom.

Teachers who know the research evidence and debates…and can integrate this into their own experience, skill base and practical repertoire, so their teaching is more creative, individualised…the problem is this could be taken as a license to say whatever feels good, is good.

The dilemma is too much freedom vs too much constraint. Neither quite works. Somewhere in between is right.

Coe, 2016

Similar challenges are faced when holdiOptimistic Teacherng schools accountable for the quality of education provided. In helping develop the Headteachers’ Roundtable Alternative Green Paper, Schools that Enable All to Thrive and Flourish, we called for an end to the use of attainment outcomes.

The most valid conclusion which may be drawn from attainment outcomes relates more to a school’s intake than its effectiveness. Our call for a three year contextual valid added measure would be a major step forward, if adopted.

The new Progress 8 measure makes this a possibility for secondary schools but we are years away from developing a reliable and valid measure for primary schools.

However, even if we can move towards a multi-year progress measure many would argue that this gives a very limited view of what a good school should be.

Both the process of lesson observations and inspection of schools fail to provide valid conclusions about good teaching or effective education, respectively, as the assessments are too small to measure the actual construct. In technical language, they suffer from construct under representation.

3. Moving beyond ethical to humane

As John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York (2016) states education is about both educare and educere. We are much better at assessing the first rather than the latter.

What do we mean by ‘education’? There are two latin roots for the word: educare meaning to ‘bring up, to train, and to teach’, and educere, meaning ‘to lead and draw out that which likes within’.

Together both meanings provide a helpful picture for what education should be. But I believe we now need to place greater emphasis on the educational qualities expressed in the word educere.

Reasons to be cheerful

The great possibility; the reason to be cheerful about Principle Assessment in Practice is we become empowered to ask better questions and better understand the limitations of the answers.

This is all part of developing a deep knowledge and understanding of assessment. We can then start exploring and understanding the world of trade-offs.

Using the example above, it is possible to look at other important outcomes of education that we would want to see in a good school; we’d need to agree what they are, determine suitable metrics and then provide the time and funding to enable it to happen.

The question then is whether this would be the best use of the time and money available in improving schools.  What are the alternatives?  Should we pursue these alternatives in preference?

We can take this thinking into the classroom.  It is part of becoming an evidence based profession.


Wiliam, D. (2014) Redesigning Schools – 8: Principled Assessment Design, London, UK; SSAT

Coe, R. (2016) SSAT meets Professor Rob Coe: Part 1 – Proper research is what identifies great teaching. Available:

Archbishop of York (2016) Nurturing the heart, mind and soul: the spiritual context of education. In: Chambers, P. Schools for Human Flourishing. London: SSAT. 84-90.

Read Stephen Tierney’s book Liminal Leadership.

Read his @leadinglearner blog and follow him on Twitter @LeadingLearner.

Making a positive primary to secondary transition in Music

Child Playing Music

Moving from Key Stage 2 to Key Stage 3 can be a big upheaval for many pupils. Schools work hard to ease the transition with a range of policies, plans, mechanisms and strategies. But do they always work?

Research findings published this week in the British Journal of Music Education, suggest that the potential benefits that good quality music education can have on children, may be compromised if the transition to secondary school is not supported effectively.

The study, ‘Pupil voice and attitudes to music during the transition to secondary school’, conducted by lead researcher Dr Dimitra Kokotsaki, from the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring (CEM) is part of a larger project funded by the Nuffield Foundation, aimed at sharing ideas about how the primary-secondary transition in music can be improved and supporting the professional development of teachers through the sharing of expertise.

Enthusiasm and anticipation

Dr Kokotsaki’s study is based on qualitative data gathered through 97 focus-group interviews and questionnaires from pupils in schools in the North East of England. The data was gathered over a two year period and explores which components of pupils’ school music lessons seem to contribute to them feeling happier about music at the beginning of secondary school.

Kokotsaki’s research indicates that Year 6 pupils are enthusiastic about the opportunities of studying music in secondary school. However, these positive pupil attitudes typically felt in the first term of Year 7 decline as the year progresses.

Importantly, this paper specifically highlights the factors which seem to increase pupils’ levels of satisfaction towards music by allowing their voices to be heard at the beginning of secondary school.

Pupil voice research has been recognised in the last fifteen years for its potential, among other benefits, to establish a more collaborative style of teacher-learner relationship.

Exploring pupils’ views

Dr Kokotsaki conducted semi-structured interviews with pupils. Questions were based around key themes, but pupils also had the opportunity to raise any issues that were important to them. The interview questions covered:

  • Pupils’ enjoyment of music in their primary and secondary schools
  • What musical activities pupils were involved in
  • Whether pupils were looking forward to their music lessons
  • What their expectations about music were
  • What they would change if they were given the chance.

Increased expectations

Dr Kokotsaki’s exploration of pupils’ thoughts and feelings about music at the start of secondary school revealed their enthusiasm and positive anticipation about music in their new schools.

Pupils looked forward to the transfer with increased expectations about what secondary school music would offer, with many pupils being impressed by the bigger spaces, the range of musical instruments available in secondary school as well as the subject specialisms of their new teachers.

However, the study found that, regardless of the quality and breadth of their musical life in primary schools, pupils seem to like music less from the end of Year 6 to the end of Year 7.

What pupils most enjoy

Pupil interviews and questionnaires revealed defining components which, when present in music lessons, lead to greater pupil enjoyment and satisfaction.

  1. Pupils were eager to be actively involved in practical work in their music classroom, as opposed to ‘sitting and writing’. This involvement might include:

    • Singing
    • Composing
    • Performing
    • Playing a variety of instruments
    • Making music in groups.
  2. Pupils expressed a desire to be involved in the decision-making process where they felt they had an element of choice regarding the content and the nature of their musical involvement.

  3. It was not just the fun aspect of their music lessons that pupils focused on, but also experiencing a sense of progression and ‘to try to get better at what you already do’ was seen as an important factor.

The teachers’ role is crucial

Significantly, the role of the teacher is considered to be the key determinant of pupils’ musical experiences, as he/she would set the musical tasks to the right level for all pupils to make appropriate progress.

Pupils cited their appreciation of their ‘great, proper teachers’ and teachers helping ’if you get stuck’, as opposed to those pupils who felt they were ‘sent off with a piece of paper and have to do the rhythms but we don’t really get it explained’.

The importance of the music teacher in supporting pupils’ active musical involvement, giving clear guidance and an element of choice to the pupils is clear from this study.

Increasing opportunities for input, choice and decision-making have also been identified as enhancing an individual’s perceived autonomy, self-esteem and motivation, and can provide the most likely route to the enhancement of a student’s quality of life during the transition to secondary school.

Download the full report here

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Find out more

CEM’s latest research.

About the author

Dimitra is a lecturer at the School of Education and a member of the Education Evaluation Group at the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring at Durham University. She teaches undergraduate and postgraduate modules on the Arts in Education. She has been principal investigator or co-investigator in a number of research projects including leading the evaluation of the Restorative Approaches initiative in County Durham and a recent piece of research funded by the Nuffield Foundation about improving the primary-secondary transition in music education at the North East of England. She is one of the authors of the Sutton Trust-EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit and is currently the lead process evaluation researcher for the Calderdale writing intervention funded by the Education Endowment Foundation.

Her research interests include the identification and improvement of the educational, behavioral and socio-psychological conditions in schools with a specific focus on pupil creativity and engagement.

NEON 2016

Enabling wider access to Higher Education

In June of this year, a team of CEM researchers, at Durham University, travelled to Leicester for the NEON Summer Symposium. The National Education Opportunities Network (NEON) was founded in 2012 as a professional organisation supporting those involved in widening participation (WP) to higher education (HE).

Progress and challenges

University Student and TeacherThis year’s symposium brought together WP practitioners, academics, members of the National Union of Students, and government organisations to identify where progress is being made and where challenges exist in advancing and evaluating efforts to widen access to HE.

Researchers from the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring, Kirsty Younger, Dr Helen Wareham, and Dr Laura da Costa presented on their work as part of the Sutton Trust Common Evaluation Framework. The Framework seeks to provide a coherent and consistent means of monitoring and evaluating a number of the Trust’s widening participation interventions, which span a varied age range, delivery model, and audience.

Teachers implementing change

Kirsty Younger presented a qualitative exploration of interviews with teachers who have been on the Sutton Trust’s Teachers Summer School programme. The programme aims to increase the number of young people from lower income households and less advantaged schools and communities studying at competitive universities. Teacher Summer School participants are surveyed just after, and some months following the programme. The interviews provide further insight into teachers’ experiences of implementing change in their schools following the programme and the factors that facilitated or impeded this, including teachers’ level of influence at their school/college and conflicting priorities at the level of school management.

Longer term tracking

Dr Helen Wareham and Dr Laura da Costa each presented preliminary findings on longer-term tracking of participants on Sutton Trust programmes using data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA). Helen’s presentation focused on the UK Summer Schools programme which is offered on a national scale, across 11 universities, while Laura presented on the subject-specific programme Pathways to Law, run across 12 universities in England. Both programmes have sought to increase participation in higher education for students who:

  • Are academically able
  • Are eligible for free school meals (FSM)
  • Would be the first generation in their family to attend HE
  • Attend a state school/college
  • Come from areas with socio-economic deprivation and low progression to HE.

The programmes have been running for almost 10 years, and data available from HESA provides the opportunity to track if students from the earliest cohorts have indeed gone on to participate in HE, complete degrees, and enter the job market.

Preliminary findings

The preliminary findings for both programmes suggest that the majority of programme participants do go on into higher education. While an encouraging finding, this is in line with findings from surveys, also run as part of the evaluation, that indicate programme participants are already highly motivated to attend university prior to starting the programmes.

HE progression was broken down further into the percentages per programme and cohort year deferring HE entry; attending Russell Group universities, top third HE institutions, and institutions offering the programmes; as well as more subject-specific findings such as percentages attending top 20 Law institutions and studying Law.

The presentations from CEM researchers were well-attended and generated great interest, underlining CEM’s position as a forerunner in the evaluation of WP activity. CEM researchers will now present the preliminary findings of the HESA analysis as an example of good practice in evaluation at a National Networks for Collaborative Outreach (NNCO) event in London on 5th October.

The National Networks for Collaborative Outreach scheme aims to provide a coordinated approach to outreach between schools, universities and colleges in order to improve awareness and access to higher education.

Reports summarising CEM’s analysis of the HESA progression data, as well as data from the Destination of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) survey run by HESA, will be disseminated in the near future.

For further information on the Sutton Trust Common Evaluation Framework, methods for tracking students through education, or their other widening participation evaluation work, please contact CEM’s research team at


Maths Anxiety

Do you avoid maths at all costs?

How do you feel when working out your change, splitting a bill between friends, or helping with your child’s homework?

MathsI’m sure we can all recall witnessing children avoid eye contact, squirm in their seats or completely freeze when presented with a maths problem. On the other hand, maybe this is your reaction.

Although it is clear that many children and adults encounter difficulties in maths, the underlying cognitive and emotive factors are unclear. Maths anxiety is a debilitating emotional reaction to maths, often giving sufferers a feeling of tension that interferes with how they solve problems in both academic situations and ordinary life (Richardson and Suinn, 1972).

What does Maths Anxiety look like?

What came first, the chicken or the egg? Does maths anxiety cause poor maths performance, or does poor maths performance elicit maths anxiety?

Alternatively, there is another theory: both aspects influence each other in a vicious cycle further affecting future feelings towards maths.

Teachers can observe specific indicators of maths anxiety, such as:

  • Feelings of tension
  • Fear and apprehension
  • Negative mind-set towards maths
  • Feeling threatened
  • Failing to reach potential.

We have to take great steps towards addressing maths anxiety, principally because in a culture where it is considered okay to say you are ‘no good at maths’ and still taboo to say you find the same difficulties in reading and writing, it may have implications for our future society.

What implications does this have for our future?

The avoidance of mathematical situations can have far-reaching consequences for the sufferer and ultimately wider society. A reduction in mathematical performance can result in avoidance of traditionally mathematical further study, such as STEM subjects.

For children, performance in maths is reduced because paying attention to these intrusive thoughts acts like a secondary task, distracting their attention.

Lower attaining children are often working significantly harder when solving problems, relying on procedural fluency rather than conceptual understanding. In other words, they are holding everything in their heads compared to their higher attaining peers, who are able to see the interconnected beauty of maths and use this understanding to their advantage.

What can teachers do to help?

Strategies to help children with maths anxiety involve:

  • High expectations from teachers for all
  • Instilling confidence in children by displaying the notion that ‘everyone can do maths’
  • Teaching creatively for enjoyment and exploration in maths
  • A focus on the development of a positive attitude towards maths.

The ICCAMS (Increasing Competence and Confidence in Algebra and Multiplicative Structures) Maths project aims to support teachers in engaging children to gain competence and confidence in maths. Making maths relevant to children using realistic contexts and representations can provide support and make them feel confident again in maths.

The future for teachers and children

Although maths anxiety remains elusive to define and measure, teachers can support children by early intervention and instilling confidence in maths through creative and engaging problems. It is also important that teachers engage with evidence-based interventions and research to see ‘what works’ for their children.

About the author

Stephanie Raine is a qualified primary school teacher (QTS) who enjoys working with children of all ages in exploring mathematics. Her passion for helping children to explore and feel confident in mathematics is fundamental to her past academic career as a lecturer in mathematics education. She taught trainee teachers while completing her masters and starting her PhD.

Stephanie’s PhD on Mathematical Thinking centres on examining the concept of mathematical thinking, namely how using representations and making connections across mathematics can help children in feeling competent and confident in mathematics.

Her present role as a researcher at CEM’s (Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring) research centre at Durham University is an exciting opportunity that serves to bring together the practitioner and academic elements of Stephanie’s passions.

Find out more about:
The ICCAMS project, and CEM research.

Summertime and the planning is easy

Summer Holidays

The summer holidays are finally here and offer a long awaited break after SATs, GCSEs and A-levels. There has been a raft of changes which have hit schools during the last few months such as examination reforms, new Ofsted frameworks and changes to baseline assessment in primary schools.

Despite all the uncertainty which schools are facing due to these issues, there is some breathing space for teachers to read around recent research and innovations and plan ahead during the holiday.

There is no shortage of summer reading, but it can sometimes feel overwhelming.

Despite this, there are some interesting trends which are worth considering – if only to add them onto a ‘to do list’ for September:


The evidence about early understanding of children’s learning is continuing to mount up.

Reports such as ‘Assessing Young Children: Problems and Solutions’ produced by CEM’s Director of Research, Professor Christine Merrell and iPIPS Director, Professor Peter Tymms, outlines the critical elements of assessment that provide a fair analysis of a child’s proximal development.

Research shows that the more teachers understand what a child knows and can do in reception, the better placed they are to help them.

While the Department for Education decided to take a more cautious approach to specifying what sort of reception assessment should be carried out, it is clear that using impartial assessment at any phase of education can really help professionals when they decide how to support their pupils.

Teaching Class

Teachers’ CPD

While professional development in education is widely supported, it is only recently that its full potential has become apparent.

Research such as the Sutton Trust’s report ‘What Makes Great Teaching?’, co-authored by Professor Rob Coe, and annual events like the Festival of Education continue to point out the benefits of sustained investment in CPD with real impact happening not with the traditional five inset days-a-year, but with regular, sustained sessions taking place over a longer time.

As Prof Coe states: ‘Studies show that people’s behaviour takes time to change. Sustained continuing professional development, that helps improve teaching, takes time and commitment.’

Less is more

The continuing tough financial conditions have become more and more apparent in schools, with funding failing to keep up with the increase in the number of pupils, and spending per pupil falling as a result.

The challenge now is to find ways of doing more with less.

While this is far from easy there is some research which suggests ways schools might be able to achieve this at least in some areas.

The Education Endowment Fund’s ‘Teaching and Learning Toolkit’ can offer some valuable help and advice. It is written as a summary which allows teachers to scan through different issues and teaching strategies and offers a range of tips about how to make best use of resources, as well as explaining the relative strength of the evidence base supporting particular interventions.

What is worth reading?

There is an ever increasing body of research on shared issues in school improvement, and pedagogy making the best use of resources.

Sadly, the challenge for teachers is often that they lack the time to find what is relevant to them. It is worth checking Professor Rob Coe’s recent CEM blog post, ‘What is Worth Reading for Teachers Interested in Research?’ – it offers a selection of useful and relevant reading at a glance.

Taken together these areas could make a real difference and support excellence in education.


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