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Published in January 2007, the Teaching and Learning in 2020 Review describes the hallmarks of Personalised Learning.

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It is interesting to note that "Personalised Learning" is identified on what is often referred to as "The Standards site" as a sub-division of " Inclusion".  "Inclusion" is often associated in many teachers' minds as a shorthand for the strategies employed to raise the standards of under-achievers.  Although there is mention of "gifted and talented" pupils, nevertheless teachers recognise (in spite of all the rhetoric about helping pupils to achieve their full potential) that there are no "brownie points" for turning out "over-achievers".  The focus within most schools, especially inner-city schools struggling to counteract social and educational deprivation, is on reaching minimum targets.



The Warnock Report in 1978, followed by the 1981 Education Act, radically changed the conceptualisation of special educational needs. It introduced the idea of special educational needs (SEN), "statements" of SEN, and an "integrative"—which later became known as "inclusive"—approach, based on common educational goals for all children regardless of their abilities or disabilities: namely independence, enjoyment, and understanding.  It is claimed (Select Committee on Education & Skills - Third Report, 2006) that the "various Acts and legislation that have followed demonstrate the progress in attitude that has taken place since the Warnock report towards the aim of trying to include all children in a common education framework and away from categorising children with SEN or disabilities as a race apart."



The Education Reform Act (1988) established the National Curriculum (and the dreaded "league tables"), putting the onus onto schools to bring all pupils up to prescribed levels of attainment.   It might reasonably have been expected that things should have got better for pupils at lower levels of attainment as there would be increased motivation for schools to raise their levels.  It might be claimed that what has actually happened is that the concept of "special educational needs" has been broadened to include a wider range of pupils exhibiting social, emotional or behavioural difficulties - perhaps in a bid to excuse schools from making sufficient progress with such pupils.  (Baroness Warnock, incidentally,  described things as getting "far worse" for SEN pupils.)



What no-one seems to have had the bottle to consider is whether it is the most appropriate strategy to expect all children to aspire to specific levels of achievement or whether there ought to be some measure of differentiation that takes account of natural inequalities in ability.  Maybe it needs to be recognised (and specifically stated) that "All men are NOT born equal".  This is not to suggest that we are not all of equal worth - rather that we do not all have the same predispositions, talents and abilities.  Such a recognition would not necessarily mean that any individual child would be deprived of opportunity to make the most of their potential - but that the diversity of potential would be acknowledged and catered for.  (It is perhaps significant of a shift towards this more balanced point of view that "Equal Opportunities" policies - with their inherent misunderstanding that providing individuals with the same opportunity was equivalent to providing them with equality of opportunity - have been re-birthed - or was it merely re-branded - so as to recognise "Diversity".)



It may be the rallying cry of Government that "Every Child Matters" - but there appears to be an intrinsic assumption that some children (those who manage to reach prescribed attainment targets) are in some way "of more value to society" than those who fail to attain those target levels.  League tables do more than damage the morale of teachers in so-called "failing schools" - they also chip away at the self-esteem of those children who attend them.



Perhaps the Personalised Learning agenda might more profitably focus its attention not so much on differentiating teaching and learning strategies in order to get all pupils "up to par" - but on differentiating the outcomes to more reasonably reflect the diversity of skills and abilities that exist.  The goal of Personalised Learning (as expressed on the Standards site) seems to focus (as always) on measurement and assessment - as if merely knowing an individual's position on a performance chart will help to improve on it.  (No matter how much you weigh a pig, it won't get any fatter!)



It might prove to be a more socially profitable approach to seek to discover the range of talents and abilities of each individual child (and not just their "academic" ability) - and to enable them to maximise their "personal potential" - instead of trying to cramp them into a "one-size-fits-all" Standards system.


  So - what SHOULD "Personalised Learning" look like?  How can it recognise the "personality" of each individual?  Would a different agenda do anything to improve the skills base of the population (so woefully lamented of late)?