P4C (primary) + CASE (secondary) = Raised attainment for all

Roger Titcombe's picture

Evidence that the title of this article should be taken seriously can be found here and here.

On 7 October 2018 I wrote to the Fair Education Alliance. This is the gist of what I wrote (italics).

It is important that pockets of low school attainment are effectively addressed. I refer you to this blog post from the internationally respected UCL Institute of Education and the comment from my colleague John Mountford. The IoE are right to identify the varying quality of parent/child communication in the home as a key issue related to language development and that this correlates negatively with social disadvantage. However, as John Mountford points out, it is very difficult and costly to implement effective social interventions.

For example, while ‘Sure Start’ provides valuable support for economically disadvantaged mothers, enabling their access to the workplace, the expected long term educational benefits have failed to become evident. Dr Christine Merrell of Durham University Curriculum, Evaluation and Management Centre, responsible for a long-term study into the effectiveness of Sure Start was reported in the Daily Mail of 19 April 2012 as stating, “Given the resources put into early years’ initiatives, we expected to see a rise in literacy and numeracy scores in schools. So it’s disappointing that there’s been no improvement”.

There is, in contrast, a huge amount of evidence in support of school-based interventions, but they have to be soundly based on genuine educational research, not the sort of deliberate statistical  misinformation regularly churned out by the DfE.

The problem is that the sort of market-based interventions favoured by the DfE, as proposed by The Sutton Trust, Social Mobility Foundation, the Education Policy Institute and the DfE’s  favourite Academy Trusts, while often appealing to ‘common sense’, actually retard deep learning and cognitive growth.

Put simply, the pressures applied to ‘low performing’ schools in terms of SATs and GCSE results, arising from league tables and OfSTED, incentivise cognitively retarding, rather than cognitively developmental teaching and learning methods, so resulting in the ‘Attainment Gap’ getting worse rather than better over time.

 In contrast, evidence strongly suggests that P4C rolled out in primary schools and ‘Cognitive Acceleration through Science Education’ (CASE) in secondary schools, would produce dramatic improvements. In our view, Local Authority schools and Multi Academy Trusts would be wise to support such developments in all their schools, starting with those serving the postcode pockets of lowest attainment.

What is actually happening is that the DfE is encouraging Academy Trusts to introduce cognitively damaging punishment/reward based interventionsthat will, in the long term, limit rather than enhance the life chances of children affected by social and economic disadvantage.

We must, however, be clear that measures that enhance the acquisition of  cognitive growth promoting deep learning will not ‘close the gap’. This is because, although P4C and CASE have been proven to significantly accelerate the cognitive development of slower learning students to dramatic effect, the most cognitively able students also benefit. Performance outcomes by humans in all contexts always lie on a ‘bell curve’ distribution. The reason for this is embedded in the nature and origins of  all life on earth, the evolution of which is driven by chance processes. Wherever there is chance, ‘bell curves’ will be found.

So, if the DfE wants our schools to turn out individuals that are uniformly talented and competent, then it is doomed to permanent disappointment, and a good thing too. Where would we be without the likes of William Shakespeare and Albert Einstein?

Section 1.3 of my book comprises a discussion on how human variation is compatible with equality and fairness.

Share on Twitter Share on Facebook

Be notified by email of each new post.


Roger Titcombe's picture
Thu, 11/10/2018 - 10:19

Has Amanda Spielman, head of OfSTED been reading my bloggs? She is quoted as follows in the Guardian article of 11 October.


“focus on data is coming at the expense of what is taught in schools”.

“For a long time, our inspections have looked hardest at outcomes, placing too much weight on test and exam results when we consider the overall effectiveness of schools.”


“Focusing too narrowly on test and exam results can often leave little time or energy for hard thinking about the curriculum, and in fact can sometimes end up making a casualty of it."

On BBC Breakfast she was asked if the current education secretary, Damian Hinds, backed the changed in emphasis. She said: “He agrees entirely with our analysis of the problem, and we are working closely with the department to make sure that these new proposed arrangements are both consistent with policy and preserve our independence to assess education standards.”


If these good intentions are matched by real changes in OfSTED approaches and judgements, this could be the most significant step forward since the dark days of Blair, Bunkett , Balls & Gove.

John Mountford's picture
Thu, 11/10/2018 - 20:00

Roger, I agree, the move away from the focus on data is welcome and certainly overdue. As you have often said, Ofsted is part of the problem of schools diverting teaching towards preparation for testing. It would have been even more interesting if she had accepted responsibility for the misdirection of Ofsted as an independent service. It is this fact that still bothers me greatly.

In saying that Hiunds and his cronies agree with the inspectorate's views sounds insincere. This feeling is made all the more potent when she admits, "we are working closely with the department to make sure that these new proposed arrangements are both consistent with policy and preserve our independence to assess education standards." What policy could she be referring to here? Is it the one currently championed with such heavy costs to schools and children by ministers and the whole education department, if so, there is little change worth counting on to make our education service fit for purpose. I am rather strongly convinced she is far more interested in fighting Ofsted's corner. However, I was never a lover of how the inspectorate has strayed so far from its more professionally directed role in the good old days.

Add new comment

Already a member? Click here to log in before you comment. Or register with us.