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Still in the dark about personalised learning

Researchers say schools remain confused about the meaning of the flagship initiative.

SCHOOLS STILL do not know what "personalised learning" means nearly four years after ministers adopted it as one of their major education policies.

A government-commissioned report by Cambridge, London and Sussex universities has found that confusion about the approach persists in schools, even though researchers spoke to those most interested in it.

The study found that teachers saw personalised learning as a way of "endorsing current activities or providing a means to further develop existing ones".

More than pound;1.3 billion of school funding has been earmarked for the approach between 2006 and 2008. Ministers have been promoting it since autumn 2003.

But researchers, who surveyed 347 schools, found "widespread uncertainty"

about what was meant by the term.

One response from a primary school said: "Personalised learning does not seem to be clearly defined and seems to mean different things at different times. It would be good to have a clear definition to work from."

Instead, schools tended to adopt and develop a wide variety of their own definitions. They ranged from giving pupils the widest range of options at 16, to having individual targets that each child knew and understood, to even vaguer concepts.

One secondary school described personalised learning as "a way of thinking", while a primary with 70 per cent Asian Muslim pupils said it had personalised the school environment by putting up bilingual signs.

Some schools welcomed the lack of clarification as a stimulus for debate and feared that a single definition would restrict them.

The Department for Education and Skills has defined personalised learning as having five components: assessment for learning; effective teaching and learning; curriculum entitlement and choice for pupils; changes to the organisation of a school, such as workforce remodelling; and going "beyond the classroom" into the community through initiatives such as extended schools.

The department has also embraced the simpler definition, published in the Gilbert review in January: "Focusing in a more structured way on each child's learning in order to enhance progress, achievement and participation."

Andy Hargreaves, an expert on school leadership and professor at Boston College, Massachusetts, was due to say yesterday that personalised learning had not gone far enough.

In his address to the National College for School Leadership's annual conference in Birmingham, Professor Hargreaves planned to say that personalised learning was "degenerating into customisation", with teachers giving pupils off-the-shelf lessons based on their apparent learning styles.

"Existing teaching and learning are not being transformed but simply accessed more flexibly and individually - like selecting design options for one's car," he was scheduled to say.

Professor Hargreaves was especially critical of the way schools had been seduced into focusing on improving their test statistics.

He said this "threatens to turn our schools into the anticipatory surveillance systems of communist Berlin".

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