Educationalists welcome my contribution to the debate about setting

April 4, 2018

A couple of days ago, I wrote this post The EEF were even more wrong about ability grouping than I realised which revealed that the Education Endowment Foundation, a government funded body looking at what works in schools, had through a series of mistakes and poor decisions, managed to turn a positive effect size of 0.12 for “ability grouping” into a negative effect size of -0.09 for “setting and streaming” and managed to obscure that they had done this. This figure was then widely shared with schools as evidence in favour of mixed ability teaching, for instance, headteacher Stuart Lock told me that the claim that the effect size was negative was shared with 150-200 headteachers at an event organised by a Regional Schools Commissioner.

Nobody has found any problem with the content of my analysis. The result was shared by schools minister Nick Gibb in this tweet:

In my experience it has been very common to hear from educationalists, those conducting education research or teacher training, that setting didn’t work. So how did some current and former educationalists react to a teacher revealing a factual error in the work of some researchers?

Well, here are some replies and comments about Nick Gibb’s tweet.


From a research fellow at a school of education at a British university:

Absolutely scandalous! Not because teacher research shouldn’t be respected, nor because EEF is infallible & above criticism, but because Gibb opts for a mere blogger whose views fits his own, rather than beginning with a professional research outfit who just might be competent.

To make this absolutely clear, I am outraged at where this politician chooses to focus his attention. I am not saying that EEF is always right, and I am not saying that no blogger can ever offer a valid critique. But my focus is on the politician in this instance, not the blogger.

Those seeking evidence-informed teaching surely focus on professional research! If EEF or any other set of researchers offer flawed work then it should be critiqued-usually by other professional researchers. Why on earth is Gibb spending time on any blogs in this connection?

Of course politicians should listen to teachers.. it’s scandalous that they haven’t for years! But Gibb looks to blogs for academic research – for sure some bloggers are strong researchers, but shouldn’t Gibb’s first port of call be professional research in professional contexts?

…. it’s a matter of where Gibb should be spending his time and attention. And *normally* complex robust research needs the kind of professional space and vetting that academic publishing should provide, rather than a blog.

I agree that politicians are entitled to ideology.. and indeed educators are so entitled too. What is unacceptable is muddling up what research allegedly supports with ideology, and attempting to give the result of the muddle some kind of official status

If Gibb has found academic research that he sincerely believes to expose flaws in EEF research, then that is what he might helpfully highlight in the usual way that we use to refer to such research, rather than a blog.. don’t you think?

It’s not me you should be thinking about, but one of our Education Ministers, and whether you think he would be guilty of ‘academic snobbery’ if he first looked to professional researchers rather than bloggers so as to inform his education policies.

Gibb knows that potentially his comment can be seen by many teachers and parents, and may reasonably be used by citizens as providing clues as to ongoing educational policy development. He’s not unaware of the possible consequences of his posts


From somebody who had previously been a PGCE lecturer:

Sir. Do you not think that in your position you should be a little more impartial in sharing your views? I increasingly believe that you share only only views that support your own beliefs and that you dismiss evidence that contradicts those.

… to give your backing to one controversial blogger who is renowned for being rude and dismissive and less that accurate in his assumptions is not compatible with a Schools Minister’s role…

The one marvellous thing about having met with you and been on the receiving end of some of your own prejudiced and unfounded attacks but now retired is that I can question with courtesy but without fear.

I am not actually even expecting neutrality. Just reflection and balance which – and I may be wrong – is not neutrality but a mature, professional and more honest way of working with teachers and formulating Policy..

But I think you have to be a little bit more careful, researched and balanced when you hold high office. You cannot pick and choose according to personal prejudice.

No one was actually criticising content. Not in my [timeline]. No one was criticising [Old Andrew] personally (tho I openly feel his attacks and use of language are sometimes inappropriate which can damage his credibility) but many are concerned that Gibb will not look beyond his own beliefs.

This is about a Schools Minister who In my first hand experience makes Policy based on personal prejudice and those of his own unofficial advisers. This is what troubles me. He is blinkered beyond what is acceptable in his position.

It was really about questioning the selective way in which a Schools Minister promotes some bloggers and ignores and dismisses others and many teachers and academics. Personally I am interested in fairness, balance, accuracy and courtesy.


From “Senior Associate Innovation Unit” with an OBE for services to education (no evidence was given as to how it was cherry picking):

The responses to this tweet from people who actually teach, or research, for a living, should be concerning. You seem incapable of impartiality when it comes to people who say ‘evidence shows’. So don’t be surprised when people cynically dismiss your cherry-picking


From a senior lecturer in primary mathematics education (and no she did not give any evidence of cherry picking when asked):

If cherry-picking at/of research to support a pre-formed position, refusing to acknowledge a clearly-stated population focus, and claiming rigorous research to be ‘really pretty terrible’ with no justification is “excellent engagement” I’m teaching my students all wrong…


From a former lecturer in media and education (possibly paraphrasing others, but elsewhere they said the concerns were “entirely valid”):

As I understand it …. the issues are twofold. First, the seemingly special relationship between a blogger and a schools minister. Second, how this relationship elevates personal research (however informed this might be) above peer-reviewed/professional?


Okay, I admit, I have cherry picked the responses. Several educationalists were far more positive (particularly those more on the quantitative side of things), but I think the above suggests a certain tendency within the education establishment to see teachers as very much the junior partners in the enterprise of finding out what works in education, or letting politicians know about it.


  1. I think it is much more than ‘a certain tendency’. Experience suggests that the educational establishment considers mere teachers’ views to be eminently ignorable most of the time.

  2. I seem to recall your post had a list of research that contradicted the EEF.

  3. I think we are observing what happens when academics are frightened that they will be stranded by one of Thomas Kuhn’s dreaded ‘paradigm shifts’. Tenure will protect their salaries and pensions, but freebies on the international lecture circuit won’t be much fun if they can no longer convince themselves that they are an anointed elite leading humanity to the bright new shores of an enlightened and more equal age.
    It can’t be a lot of fun to have your mistakes–and let us assume that is what they were–pointed out by one of the sans-culottes. Or even worse, by a schools minister..

  4. […] you’re not convinced then the reaction to Old Andrew should give you pause for thought. His blog post was Tweeted by Nick Gibb, a UK […]

  5. Andrew! So lovely to see that you have used so many things I have written to compose this article. Amazing really since you have blocked me, I have blocked you (mutual consent always best don’t you think?) and yet seem to have such easy access to my tweets. I guess my words must have saved you a lot of work tho. And are clearly important to you. Do let me know if I can be of any help with future writing. You are very busy and I love writing. Best wishes with future endeavours.

  6. […] criticism of schools minister Nick Gibb by an educational researcher for quoting a ‘mere blogger’ (Old Andrew) seems to have created a minor storm – and rightly […]

  7. Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

  8. […] minister Nick Gibb shared my blogpost on Twitter, and as a result, I was condemned by a variety of educationalists for daring to disagree with the experts. After all, we all know that a mere teacher could not be […]

  9. […] Educationalists welcome my contribution to the debate about setting […]

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