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Dylan Wiliam

I enjoyed one of the best training days in my career yesterday. Dylan Wiliam, Emeritus Professor of Education at the Institute of Education, did a lengthy presentation which had the following structure: firstly, he laid out a wide range of research evidence which leads to the firm conclusion that to raise standards you should focus on improving individual teachers, rather than schools. Secondly, he arued that teachers get better by using assessment for learning more effectively. He prefers the term formative assessment. Thirdly, he went on to present a range of ideas or tricks which can improve formative assessment and therefore pupil achievement.

Much of this will be familiar to those who have read any of Dylan Wiliams' articles or books. It was nonetheless a convincing argument which chimes with a gut feeling I have held for years, namely that it is not systems, organisation, academies, selection and the like which hold the key to improvement; it is getting teachers to be more effective.

A couple of observations, however: the current emphasis on assessment for learning is very useful, but it is not the only way of looking at teacher effectiveness. In the past there have other attempts to pin down what makes a good teacher. You can analyse, for example, the intervention types of teachers as well as the role of teacher personality. Ultimately, as Wiliam acknowledged, you cannot distill what makes a good teacher.

Another observation I would make is this: Wiliam relies on his vast knowledge of research and data to make his arguments. He compares education researchers to climate scientists and argues that our knowledge on pupil achievement is as settled as climate change science. I am not so sure about this. Is social science research as reliable as hard science? No. In twenty years from now we shall be saying more or less the same about climate change; I bet the same will not be true of education.

I recommend Dylan Wiliam's site:

http://www.dylanwiliam.net

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