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5th January 2007 at 00:00
Pupils should have greater involvement in the way they are taught under proposals for 'personalised learning'

THE CONCEPT of "personalised learning" has been repeatedly touted by ministers for more than three years, but only this week was it given an official definition.

The 2020 Vision review group, set up by the Government to explore how the practice could be promoted in schools, said it meant "focusing in a more structured way on each child's learning in order to enhance progress, achievement and participation".

Central to that is high-quality teaching with a "relentless focus on pupils keeping up", involving regular monitoring of progress and rapid responses if they begin to fall behind.

Dialogue and collaboration between teachers and pupils should encourage them to explore their ideas, listen, and both ask and answer questions, the report said.

There should be "judicious use of whole-class teaching, as well as one-to-one, paired and group".

All this might seem obvious to teachers. But the report warned: "Many pupils report that their experience of school is still marked by long periods of time listening to teachers copying from the board or a book.

"Personalised learning involves changing - and challenging - such routines."

Setting and reviewing individual targets in lessons and frequent feedback is encouraged, as is a focus on learning to learn, peer tutoring and study support and out-of-classroom learning for disadvantaged pupils.

The report calls for more "assessment for learning", using information gained from pupils' work and responses to inform future teaching.

This approach involves techniques such as open questioning, giving pupils more time to think before answering questions, and comment-only marking, indicating strengths and how to improve without providing scores.

These ideas have been popularised by academics Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam since 1998. But the report said that richer data now means it has become a "more important and sharper tool". It warned that it remains one of teachers' weakest areas and that good practice is not widespread.

It recommended encouraging pupils to provide feedback on lessons, review teaching methods with their teachers, and be involved in staff selection.

It also called for more access for parents to information about their children's education.

Cramlington high, headed by review group member Derek Wise, already invites parents to target-setting discussions.

Pupils at the Northumberland secondary also take a year's learning to learn course when they arrive and are encouraged to discuss their needs with teachers.

The report could eventually result in much wider changes, as local authorities are called on to consider personalised learning when planning school buildings.

It predicted that by 2020 schools will have to cope with greater variation in the size and age mix of classes.

It also wanted Ofsted, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and a panel of heads to report by September on how the national curriculum and testing can be developed to support personalised learning.

But although it suggested allowing pupils to be tested when they are ready, its authors are clear that the majority should still be tested at the current ages and that league tables would remain.

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