header image

Things must change to help every child learn

Schools need to change radically the way lessons are taught


Things must change to help every child learn

Schools need to change radically the way lessons are taught

Things must change to help every child learn

Schools need to change radically the way lessons are taught to prevent thousands of children leaving without a grasp of the basics, according to an influential report published by Graeme Paton, Education Correspondent 

The 2020 Review, chaired by Christine Gilbert, the head of Ofsted, said: "It seems clear to us that the education system will not achieve the next 'step change' in raising standards simply by doing more of the same: a new approach is required." The 60-page report acts as a blueprint for how schools should develop over the next 15 years and makes a series of recommendations the Government should implement to stop weak children falling through the gaps. 


The gap between boys and girls continues to grow, despite Government attempts to close it, according to the review. Boys already make up a majority of the 20 per cent of children who cannot read properly by the age of 11. Research shows that they are likely to fall further behind by the age of 16. Last summer, only 53 per cent of boys got at least five good GCSEs, compared with 63 per cent of girls. It means boys are seven years behind girls, only just catching up with the level achieved by girls in 1999. 

The Government has already ploughed money into extra literacy lessons for boys but the gap persists. The report said the weak performance of boys in key areas, such as literacy, was a "long-standing concern" which must be tackled. 
It recommended the adoption of different teaching styles for the sexes to motivate boys better. 

"Research into boys' and girls' motivation shows that differences appear from a very early age, with boys placing a greater value on believing themselves to be better at mathematics and science and girls at reading and art," it said. 

"Boys are more likely to attribute their successes to internal, stable causes (such as ability) and their failures to external, unstable causes (such as bad luck)." 

It said that, from an early age, boys would benefit from more "active" methods of reading, such as phonics, which focuses more on letter-sound relationships. 
The report also said that tests needed to be made more competitive for boys, recommending more "quick quizzes" and "sports coach"-style feedback, where the teacher suggests specifically what the pupil could do to improve his performance. 
It said that Ofsted, the education watchdog, should also flag-up schools doing well to buck the trend with boys and distribute their teaching plans to other schools. 


Pupils should be allowed to sit tests early if they are bright enough, the review said. At the moment, schools routinely allow pupils to sit GCSEs before the age of 16 but the same freedom is not exercised with other age groups. Schools still force pupils into exam halls at the age of seven, 11 and 14 because of the demands of school league tables, the report said. 

It called for a more flexible testing regime in which teachers judge when pupils are ready to sit exams. They would then have the ability to move up year groups. 
The report said that, in future, schools may be organised by "stage not age", with children and young people "not routinely taught with others of the same age but, instead, according to their attainment". 

In a similar move, the report called for more "all age" schools, abolishing the need for transition between primary and secondary school, when pupil standards normally suffer the most. The report also called on ministers to be more flexible with league tables, saying that Government targets were too focused on thresholds and national averages rather than the progress of individual pupils. Focusing on the percentage of pupils gaining five A* to C grades at GCSE failed to notice the progress of underachieving pupils, it said. 

It recommended that a school should be judged on the "progress of every child". This may mean that each pupil is given an individual target and a school's position on league tables would be judged on the number of pupils meeting the goal. 

The 2020 Review also recommended that children who do poorly at exams should be given greater recognition. It is suggested that pupils who gain a D-grade or below at GCSE should be given certificates and rewarded, rather than being labelled as a failure. "Once pupils have fallen behind their peers they are less likely to make good progress," it said. "This leaves them increasingly at risk of being unable to succeed, and of disengaging, either within schools or by failing to attend altogether." Ministers have already sought to make changes to the testing regime. Last month, Tony Blair backed the International Baccalaureate as an alternative to the A-level and said from 2008 a series of "vocational diplomas" would be developed, allowing children to gain a recognised qualification in areas such as media, construction and health. 


Schools have been criticised for offering a boring curriculum and failing to make lessons interesting for all pupils. Many children said that school was marked by "long periods of time listening to teachers or copying from the board or a book," according to the 2020 Review. The National Curriculum, introduced in 1988, was "never intended to describe the whole curriculum", the report said. However, many primary and secondary schools still perceive it as being "too extensive and prescriptive, with too little scope for local flexibility". 
The criticism strikes at the heart of today's review, which has been commissioned to recognise the huge numbers of pupils who are turned off by conventional schooling. 

The report does not call for the abolition of the National Curriculum, but said that schools needed to match teaching to the "different and developing abilities" of individual pupils. Lessons should be tailored to fit children's needs, with more "one-to-one, paired and group work" where appropriate. It recommended that pupils should work with teachers in "curriculum teams" to review the way lessons are delivered and suggest changes where appropriate. 

Every secondary school pupil should have a "learning guide" — someone who knows them, knows what they are studying and can help set them individual targets in one-to-one meetings at least twice each term. Pupils should also be asked to provide regular feedback through surveys and should even be allowed to sit on interview panels to pick their teachers, said the report. 
Teachers should also regularly monitor pupil progress and provide catch-up classes for those who fall behind. 

It says that teaching should not be in hour-long "blocks" but split up to be more appealing to individual pupils. The report also said the school week may be redrawn so that pupils finish early one day, allowing teachers to retrain. A term's sabbatical should also be offered to some teachers, allowing them to take additional courses and train to become heads. 


Schools should offer parenting classes to ensure that education does not suffer in the home, the report says. The link between poor education standards and parental support is already well established. But the Government has been stung by criticism over its approach to the problem. In November it unveiled plans to teach parents how to sing nursery rhymes to their children, a move ridiculed by political opponents. Earlier last year it threatened to force the parents of yob teenagers into parenting classes, which some commentators said was heavy-handed. Today's report calls for a more subtle approach, focusing resources on poor families. "Positive parenting styles can be learnt, and breaking the cycle of disadvantage is central," it said. 

It recommended that parents whose children are falling behind should get money to pay for extra weekend tutors. Schools should also be running "father and child" courses to promote fathers as role models. 

Overall, parents need to be better informed about school life, the report said. Ideas may include "phoning, sending text messages or emails to parents" when their children have done well. Specific days should be put aside each year to meet parents, rather than just in the evenings. 

"There should be a common core of building trust with parents, establishing a dialogue about their children's learning, and providing information on what they can expect from school and the progress their child is making," the report said.