DISADVANTAGE GAP: how (I learnt) to close it

In July 2015, I was persuaded by a colleague to use twitter to share my 40 years of research, teaching, learning and resources. In September 2015, I discovered 2 blogs written by Head teachers, John Tomsett and Tom Sherrington. Having been teaching and researching learning since 1974, I was fascinated and really interested in their reflections. In December, Tom Sherrington wrote two blogs entitled “The disadvantage ‘gap’ is a chasm” in which he attempted to analyse the factors contributing to the relative life chances and success of students. These were particularly interesting articles for me, since I had been researching and analysing this concern for over 40 years, but this was the first time I had observed a head teacher attempt it. In fact, it has motivated me to provide some of my analysis and findings that I hope will help address this concern.
“The gap is a chasm; children may share a community but they live worlds apart – so what do we do?” is how Tom’s second part began and this aptly reflects my own situation and thoughts as a teenager and a teacher.

I was born to a very non-academic working class family in the blitzed East End of London, just after the Second World War, so exam success came as a huge surprise. In fact we had never heard of A levels or anyone who had gone to university. When I was persuaded to teach (P.E. and Science) in my old secondary school I was keen to discover the factors that contributed to success, why I had achieved it and hopefully help many others.

Being a scientist driven by trying to analyse and understand everything, I began my research in the seventies by studying, experimenting and exploring the key factors in learning (I called it the ‘Science of Learning’). Teaching both P.E. and Science was a huge advantage as I had a wide range of learning opportunities to investigate. By the end of the seventies I was confident that I had discovered the “5 Learning Requirements” essential to learn anything.


I cannot overemphasise how significant the discovery of the 5 Learning Requirements became, since it so ubiquitous and simple. For example, in part one of Tom’s blog he outlines some key factors he believes are present in the “Strongly Disadvantaged student” that illustrates how each of the 5 Learning Requirements are so essential:
1. Low income family: -This can have a huge influence on the MOTIVATION of the students, my family were one of these and I found secondary school very difficult as result, finding numerous excuses to avoid the embarressment of admitting to this and never going on any trips etc.
2. Pressurised home circumstances & Barriers to home-learning: The ENVIRONMENT and FEELING SUCCESS in the home is a huge influence on ‘academic learning’. My parents had poor experience of school, my mother had low literacy and although they wanted to help me the lack of home-school communication and support meant there was an ‘absence of a family culture of learning – no role models for reading, studying, sitting quietly engaged in work, succeeding through academic learning’.
3. Negative community/peer influences : it is now probably accepted that teenagers brains are very susceptible to influences, especially those relating to peers, however the neuroscience to support this did not occur until the nineties. But I discovered in the seventies that the learning of students was clearly greatly influenced by WHAT MOTIVATES THEM (their peers) and their ENVIRONMENT greatly determined by their peers and their FEELING of SUCCESS largely determined by their peers. In recent years the term self-esteem is accepted to be basically motivation stemming from our self-awareness.
4. Lack of emotional maturity and resilience: These are actually key parts to the ‘skill of motivation’ but in respect of learning of they are integral parts of ATTAINABLE STEPS and FEELING SUCCESS, since the steps have to be smaller and the encouragement greater. This is much more obvious in P.E. where effective coaching and practice is essential.

Although it is now over 35 years since I discovered the 5 Learning Requirements, I still see few references to them or similar though ‘Accelerated Learning’ techniques tend to have them at their core. I’m confident that if Tom Sherrington was aware of them and their significance they would’ve greatly influenced his analysis. In sport, these 5 learning requirements can prove invaluable in identifying weaknesses in teams and individuals.

The introduction of this provided a real revelation for students, staff and parents as it helped identify why so many students were disadvantaged (or advantaged) in ‘academic learning and exams’. Consequently at the start of the eighties I had become aware that if disadvantaged students (I also referred to them as ‘Reluctant or Disaffected Learners or Vulnerable Young People)) were to be helped it needed a strategic approach much as Tom indicates in the second part of his blog.

“We have to work on the basis that the chasm of disadvantage is an embedded feature of our community and of an individual student’s life for the foreseeable future.”

However, in 1980 I was Head of Department (not a head teacher) and my strategy would require many steps or stages and take many years. My friends and colleagues were bemused by my approach and I introduced a phrase I’ve heard many times since then, to help explain it –“It’s a marathon, not a sprint”.

It is particularly encouraging to see Tom, as a head teacher, appreciate the significance of addressing each part of the 5 Learning Requirements (though he does not refer to them).

1. ‘Ambition for All’. Make this an explicit mission. Inclusion means having high expectations and high hopes for everyone. (MOTIVATION)
2. Community: Create an inclusive community where everyone belongs, is known, nurtured and celebrated. (ENVIRONMENT)
3. Academic Learning: Deliver a broad but strongly academic curriculum where teachers teach well in a disciplined environment with high expectations. (ATTAINABLE STEPS & FEELING SUCCESS)
To a great extent, if we’re successful in delivering on those three dimensions of school life, focusing on them explicitly and relentlessly, we’ll be bridging the disadvantage chasm as well as a school ever can. “

Tom also briefly mentions ‘the role of leadership’, this is actually extremely important but I did not realise this until I did my M.Ed. in 1990, since it was not until then that I fully understood the real meaning of leadership and the skills for it to be effective.
Like Tom, I’ve decided to have split this blog into parts, so that I can outline how my strategy evolved to address the closing of the disadvantage gap creating 21st century schools and society that greatly improves MENTAL HEALTH, SOCIAL MOBILITY & LIFE CHANCES of ALL CHILDREN.


I began the first part of this blog by thanking head teachers, John Tomsett and Tom Sherrington for their blogs, since they have inspired me to write my own blog. This second part responding to Tom’s “The disadvantage ‘gap’ is a chasm” blog provides me with an opportunity to outline the essence of my 40 years of teaching and researching that evolved into my vision, passion and obsession to show how our society and schools could (should) close ‘the disadvantage gap’, greatly improving the mental health, social mobility and life chances of all our children in the 21st century.
I apologise if this blog presents me as being very confident or even arrogant but having spent so much time and effort researching and addressing this concern that the solution seems obvious to me such that now I’m in my sixties it has become my mission in life! When I began teaching in 1974, I believe my situation provided me with some key factors that helped me have a huge advantage in my research that most would not have.
1. I had probably been a ‘disadvantaged student’ as a child –so had an unusual insight into the problems in these homes and how it relates to learning in school.
2. I began teaching in the school I had attended as a student, I’d even been a school keeper there for 14 weeks, to help fund me for university-so had a particular insight into the community.
3. My degree was in chemistry, providing me with a high level of analytical skills and scientific thinking.
4. I was teaching both P.E. and science, so had opportunities to study academic learning and developing practical skills.
5. I became head of department in science within a few years providing me with opportunities to experiment a great deal.

Tom stated that there should be 3 key strands to his strategy.
1. ‘Ambition for All’. Make this an explicit mission. Inclusion means having high expectations and high hopes for everyone.
2. Community: Create an inclusive community where everyone belongs, is known, nurtured and celebrated.
3. Academic Learning: Deliver a broad but strongly academic curriculum where teachers teach well in a disciplined environment with high expectations.
My strategy in the early eighties had similar strands.

1. PRIORITISE MOTIVATION –similar to Tom’s ‘Ambition for All’.
My background was invaluable in my research as it was clear that I came from a culture where there was little interest in literacy, study, academia or exams (I had little interest until I was almost 16). When I began teaching I was amazed that so many teachers seemed to assume their students would be motivated to study (I still am). Therefore, it is essential that this becomes a priority for all. So much of education and schools is based on the 19th century (‘grammar/public’) school values which does not relate to the ‘disadvantaged’.
Although most parents ‘want what’s best for their children’, it had become clear from my research that what this actually meant was a mystery to most. If these students were to be really supported they would need parents and staff who had a much better understanding of how to help them, so it is key that parents and staff are supported (developed) to so that they can become more effective.
By the early eighties I don’t think I’d received any advice on how we learn, yet learning is central to us. My experiments and research in the seventies showed clearly that when students are helped in becoming more effective learners their achievement increased greatly. The ‘Science of Learning’, especially the 5 learning requirements, became a key part of all my teaching and support/development of staff and parents.
I was head of department in science in a school with a large sixth form so A and O level exam results were considered to be extremely important. In the seventies my research and analysis of the key factors for exam success had shown clearly that many students were disadvantaged because of they were poor at written exams. Even as a young child I had been fascinated by statistics (prompted by my father’s attempts to win the pools) so I collated as much data as I could and studied numerous exam papers in a variety of subjects and levels. By the early eighties it had become clear that students needed to be developed in the 6 skills (activities) essential to exam success.

Strategy Into Action 1980-90

From the start of the eighties I put this strategy into action with a wide variety of steps and approaches.
1. Personal, Social Health Education
In the late seventies a subject was introduced in some secondary schools “addressing key issues of relevance to their personal development and helping them acquire the knowledge and skills that they would need after leaving school.” Even as a student in school in the sixties I was unable to understand why school only seemed to focus on ‘strange, old-fashioned exam orientated subjects’ which seemed to be irrelevant to my life. So when this subject was introduced I thought finally students might actually have the opportunity to learn some of the stuff important to them, especially disadvantaged ones like me. I began teaching it as soon as possible and immediately used it to experiment and research the strands of my strategy.

2. Research and Reading
In my first 10 years of teaching although I had continuously experimented and researched in my lessons (and out of them) I had not read any books or carried out literary research on teaching and learning. This was to change dramatically in 1984, as part of my strategy I applied for an INSET course (my first) and began a two year part-time evening class Dip.Ed. course in P.S.E (Health not included in the title). I not only thoroughly enjoyed the discussions but it transformed me into a ‘learning geek’, with the ‘Science of Learning’ becoming an integral part of my life (it still is). Later in this blog series I will focus on some of the key research and books that I think all staff involved with developing children should be aware and essential to in closing the disadvantage gap.

3. Exam Skills
Passing the 11+ in 1963 initiated my bewilderment with exams, but I know now that being fascinated by statistics and curiosity as a young child were major factors which did not occur until my research in the seventies discovered that success in written exams was largely dependent on 6 key activities (or skills).
IN EXAMS, students are being assessed when
• sitting on their own,
• at a desk,
• in silence,
• studying printed material,
• for at least an hour.

Having established these activities/skills as the conclusion from our research, we (using hundreds of students) gradually developed five questions that could be used to analyse ALL EXAMS.

The numerous discussions and surveys that I was able to carry out in school revealed that too few students had spent the hours needed practising these skills/activities, especially the disadvantaged ones. Consequently they clearly found ALL EXAMS difficult and struggled with them, most admitted that ‘silence’ was very rare in their lives and found it uncomfortable.
This analysis and approach in the early eighties brought a great deal of success (O and A level) to many students but sadly too few people were aware of it. Therefore another step in the strategy was to find ways of communicating it to as many students, staff and parents as possible.

4. Printed Notes
As a student, I had huge problems writing, like many from ‘disadvantaged backgrounds’, and expected to ‘copy down notes’. Writing is clearly a skill (an activity that can be learnt) and being an analytically thinking scientist, teaching P.E. in the seventies I realised that if teenagers have not already mastered this skill it will present a huge barrier to their learning in the traditional schoolroom. Even then (long before Anders Ericsson’s research) I knew that few teenagers would practice their writing sufficiently to master this skill so I was determined to find a way to isolate and remove this ‘skill’ as a barrier. Consequently with the help of my wonderful laboratory assistants we provided printed notes for all of the students between the ages of 11 -16.
Although this process took some time and effort, it proved to be very effective and provided me (later my department) with a radically different approach to teaching and learning. Since I was confident all my students had access to exactly the same written information, at school and at home, they did not have to spend (waste) time in lessons ‘copying down notes’ and the focus could be on ‘learning’.
This analysis and approach in the early eighties brought a great deal of success (O and A level) to many students but sadly probably too few people were aware of this. Therefore another step in the strategy was to find ways of communicating it to as many students, staff and parents as possible.

5. Developing Effective Learners
“The scientist is not a person who gives the right answers, he is one who asks the right questions.”
This quote from the 20th century scientist and philosopher Claude Levi-Strauss provides an insight to my approach to teaching, reflecting my desire to encourage difficult questions, discussion and deep thinking. These discussions helped to develop their skills and provided a learning environment in which the students were encouraged to ask questions, discuss and think more deeply. I’ve already explained the significance on agreeing and understanding our definition of science but the definition of success was also extremely significant. In trying to teach ‘science’ I began to question and analyse what science might actually be, and why it should be taught. Consequently, following a discussion relating to these questions with the class during my first lesson with the students we settled on this simplest and clearest definition:
“Science is the systematic study of anything through careful observation and experiment in order to understand it”

This definition helped to convey clearly to all the students that science was more about developing the skills to:
• think and study in a planned, organised way,
• concentrate and observe carefully
• analyse, interpret and understand the information (results and data)

Furthermore, because there are so many branches (areas) of science, (it does cover everything) a key area was what, how and why we learn, which we called ‘The Science of Learning’. This meant that the students, especially the ‘disadvantaged ones’, became more effective learners (I began measuring this skill in the nineties)

6. Assessment for Learning
Teaching and learning skills is central to P.E. which requires students to take responsibility for their own assessment (and others) so when I discovered the 6 exam skills I realised that I should apply the same approach to them. This immediately had a huge effect on the students as they were quickly (and accurately) able to identify why they were ‘losing marks’ and which exam skills to practice. Crucially this also meant they were able to ‘take control of their exam preparation’, and we stopped calling it ‘revision’ as that term now seemed inappropriate.
When the booklet, “Inside the black box”, written by Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam, was published in 1998, I had evidence to support my approach since it highlighted that students who learn using assessment for learning achieve significantly better.

7. Homework to Homepractice
While this was occurring with my science teaching, I had been experimenting furiously in my P.E. teaching (and sports coaching) where I was also applying my scientific analytical thinking. Analysing, isolating and practising the separate skills in sport was already occurring (but not widespread) and most of my sessions (in and out of school time) focused on this approach. My main objective in both science and P.E. (sport) was to provide an understanding and activities that my students could practice away from school to improve their skills. Early in the eighties I replaced homework with ‘homepractice’ with all my science classes, emphasising the main objective of developing their skills.

8. Strategic Parenting
Another crucial step in my strategy occurred in 1983 when my first child was born and I became a parent at the age of almost 31 years, I’d been a teacher/researcher for 10 years. With many friends who were already parents I had lots of learning opportunities to study parenting and child development first hand. I researched books on parenting (Penelope Leach being useful) none seemed to have a scientific approach or evidence. By this time my strategic, ‘Marathon, not a sprint’ approach was well established and I now had opportunities to experiment, study and research on a daily basis with my own children (my other daughter was 18 months later).
I was very surprised (and disappointed) to discover that I seemed very unusual in having strategic approach to child development and parenting. By the time I completed my Dip.Ed. course in 1986 I was confident that a key step in closing the disadvantage gap was that many (most, possibly all) parents needed help and support in understanding ‘what is best for their children’ in the long term (the marathon) and in making the decisions necessary to achieve it (and not go for the ‘sprint’).

9. Head of Year/Director of Learning
In 1987, I finally managed to prize myself away from my first school to become a Head of Year at a new school, which was a very important step in my strategy. My Dip. Ed. Course and researching parenting had a huge effect on my self-awareness and after many years as the Head of Department in Science I decided I should focus much more on the holistic development of children. I was fortunate in being appointed to a very innovative Head of Year post. This role meant I was largely responsible for the development of about 250 children from the age 11 through to 16 years at school. This was a great opportunity to carry out longitudinal scientific research to a large cohort of students over 5 years. Furthermore, daily sessions of these students with their tutor (my team) provided opportunities to experiment, study, research, develop and measure the skills of these students. By the mid-nineties I was confident I had a clear understanding of how to close the disadvantage gap.

10. Developing Skills
As a child I constructed activities and games to develop my sporting skills, which became a central part of my teaching and coaching sports, gradually I applied this approach in all my lessons. The effectiveness on exam success of focusing on “the 6 exam skills” provided some very useful evidence for me of the need to focus more on developing and measuring skills. In the mid-eighties, the term ‘skill’ (defined as ‘the learned ability to do something well’) was basically only used for practical activities and schools tended to measure on reading ability (in primaries) and possibly cognitive abilities (C.A.T.) on entry to secondary school. Consequently, a key step in my strategy to ‘close the disadvantage gap’ was to research and experiment in developing and measuring the skills children needed to succeed.
This extract from page 1, of the Department of Education and Science (UK) 1989 publication, “Personal and social education from 5 to 16” Curriculum Matters 14 was very helpful.
“Personal and social education is concerned with qualities and attitudes, knowledge and understanding, and abilities and skills in relation to oneself and others, social responsibilities and morality.”
The variety of terms used, “qualities, attitudes, knowledge, understanding, abilities, skills” reflects my difficulty at the time.

11. Skills Reports and Profiles.
Since my role as Head of Year/Director of Learning meant that staff and parents wanted my support in helping them with the difficulties the young people may be exhibiting, I created simple reports (profiles) for the staff, parents and students to complete to help with identifying (measure or assess) their strengths and weaknesses.

These reports allowed me to refine my research because I now had lots more data to analyse and discuss with staff, parents and students, as well as having over a period of time (several years), some longitudinal research data on individual students. By the start of the nineties I felt I had sufficient evidence for me to confident that I had identified some of the key factors in determining the vulnerability of young people and it was clear that focusing on developing them, with the help staff and parents, was central and key step to closing the disadvantage gap.

12. Measuring Skills
Few teachers and parents probably have little experience of measuring skills effectively and in the eighties, the term was rarely used. I wanted to collate and compare the skills from the ‘Student Interim Reports’, so I constructed a Likert scale, A-excellent to F-very weak.
This Likert scale allowed me to research the criteria that could be used to identify the skills relating to vulnerable young people. I was able to use these reports in my discussions with staff, parents and students and I could see that many (most?) began to understand how these skills underpinned their difficulties (I often referred to them as symptoms, behaviours or outcomes) and would clearly be a key step in how to close the disadvantage gap.

Strategy Into Action 1990-95

13. M. Ed. In Educational Research and Evaluation
I found the part-time Dip.Ed. course so enjoyable and useful that in 1989 I began a two year part-time, Master of Education In Educational Research and Evaluation course. Although my particular focus was ‘Teacher Effectiveness’, the course gave me further access to discussion groups and books for learning, The numerous interviews, discussions, observations and research I carried out as part of the course lead me to focus on ‘Teacher Effectiveness and Staff Development’ (becoming a ‘Teacher Coach’) which would be crucial in helping them understand how to close the disadvantage gap.

14. Employability Skills
I had been aware that the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) have complained at the poor development (skills) of the A level and degree students since I began teaching A levels in the seventies.

In 1990 the Creative Education Foundation listed the following skills desired by Fortune 500 companies in order of importance:
1. Teamwork
2. Leadership
3. Problem Solving
4. Goal setting/Motivation
5. Interpersonal Skills
6. Writing
7. Oral Communication
8. Organizational Effectiveness
9. Listening
10. Computation
11. Personal/Career Development
12. Reading

This list has barely changed in the 25 years since then but few staff or parents are aware of this and still believe the skills relating to academic achievement are most important to employers. Consequently, a key step in closing the disadvantage gap is to develop staff, parents and students to prioritise these most important skills.

15. Developing Effective Independent Learners
“I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think”                         Socrates
“The greatest sign of success for a teacher… is to be able to say, ‘The children are now working as if I did not exist.’                                                                                Maria Montessori
“Enforced learning will not stay in the mind. Let your children’s lessons take the form of play.”                                                                                                                                               Plato

My M. Ed. Course helped me to appreciate the importance of the message behind these quotes, since I realised I needed to prioritise developing my students in the skills they would need for adult life and become an effective learner independent of the teacher. The disadvantaged and vulnerable students were invariably more dependent on the staff for their learning. Throughout the eighties I had lots of evidence showing how the disadvantaged students in my lessons and department had greatly improved by learning how to use the resources effectively. I realised that with the huge improvements in technology meant that I needed to convince staff and parents that their children would benefit greatly by helping them to learn to use the excellent resources become less dependent on the teachers (and tutors)

16. Success Feelosophy
At the start of the nineties I began using the term ‘Success Feelosophy’ to integrate the four strands of my strategy to close the disadvantaged gap. I used posters, lessons, discussions, interviews, reports, tutorials, assemblies INSET, presentations etc. to try to help students, staff and parents understand that:


This simple approach was to be a very important step, so much so that in 2010, my social enterprise and website were called Success Feelosophy. It has helped numerous (thousands) students, staff and parents to understand that:-
Motivation must be the priority in any learning and achieving success.
Staff and Parents needed development in supporting young people effectively with the Science of Learning and how success in exams can be achieved being central to it.

17. Understanding Intelligence
“The measure of intelligence is the ability to change”
“The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.” Albert Einstein

The term ‘Intelligence’ is possibly one of the most misunderstood words in the English language which has probably contributed to the demotivation of many (most?) students. The tests and perception of intelligence created (by Binet) at the start of the 20th century is still shared by many, despite the vast evidence to the contrary, as reflected by Einstein’s quotes. An essential step in closing the disadvantage gap is to ensure that students, staff and parents have a thorough understanding of intelligence, especially Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences and Robert Sternberg’s, ‘Triarchic Theory of Intelligence’. When students, staff and parents grasp that there are several intelligences (like skills, abilities, capabilities etc.) which can be learnt with practice they invariably become more motivated, which is invaluable to the disadvantage students.

18. Emotional Intelligence
‘We define emotional intelligence as the ability to reason with emotion.’                                                                                                John Mayer and Peter Salovey

U.S. psychologists, John Mayer and Peter Salovey published the first formal definition of emotional intelligence in 1990, claiming that it might be possible to assess and measure a person’s emotional intelligence, which I discovered in 1992. They believed it to be a “subset of social intelligence, involving the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions”. This scientific approach to emotions was really helpful since it indicated that poor development in a person’s ‘emotional intelligence’ could contribute to the characteristics in the interim reports Organisation and Planning, Concentration, Communication, Understanding, Motivation, Determination, Self-discipline and Self-esteem.
The term, ‘Emotional Intelligence’, became widely known with the publication of Daniel Goleman’s book “Emotional Intelligence – Why it can matter more than IQ” which provided a very good overview of the research in this area, and an understanding how the development of this intelligence is crucial to our health, happiness and success, supporting for my research and the analyses, profiles and reports I had been using. Therefore, this became a very important step in the strategy.

19. Learning Organisations
The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization is a book by Peter Senge (a senior lecturer at MIT) published in 1990, focusing on group problem solving using the systems thinking approach in order to convert companies or schools into learning organisations. “A learning organization is one that seeks to create its own future; that assumes learning is an ongoing and creative process for its members; and one that develops, adapts, and transforms itself in response to the needs and aspirations of people, both inside and outside itself.”
When I read this book in the early nineties I realised immediately that if schools are ideal to become learning organisations and it would be a brilliant and crucial step in the strategy to close the disadvantage gap.
However, the very first thing needed to create a learning organization is effective leadership (Jim Collins’- Level 5 leaders), which is not based on a traditional hierarchy, but rather, is a mix of different people from all levels of the system, who lead in different ways (Senge 1996) and 25 years later this is still very rare.

20. S.U.P.E.R.Learning (for Exam Success)
In the 21st century, throughout the world, education and schools are still perceived by most people and societies to be predominantly about focusing on academic studies, and achieving examination success, despite the extensive international evidence emphasising the need to prioritise the development the 21st century (or The 8) skills.
Creating S.U.P.E.R.learning in the nineties provided an approach (a process) which many (thousands) have found extremely helpful in understanding and improving their effective learning skills. In essence the SUPER is an acronym to help people learn more effectively, which is outlined below:

_1_SUPERlearning for success

Although S.U.P.E.R.learning is designed to particularly develop the skill of effective learning, it is extremely motivating for all (especially disadvantaged) students, since the students (staff and parents) realise HOW they can learn more effectively and WHY they have struggled to learn effectively previously.
Ten years later, I began providing a 90 minute extremely popular presentation for parents, staff and students, ‘SUPERlearning for Exam Success’, and delivered it over 50 times in 4 years.

Strategy Into Action 1996 –

21. 21st Century Subjects
Creating Success Feelosophy and S.U.P.E.R.learning in the mid-nineties helped facilitate another crucial step in the strategy in how to close the disadvantage gap, by trying to modernise the traditional subjects so that they can develop and measure the skills that matter whilst also helping students to achieve exam success. I was able to spend several terms in with in lessons and with teachers in English, Modern Languages and Humanities to add to my research while teaching in the Science, Maths, P.E. and PSHE departments. The INSET sessions that followed produced aims and objectives for the subjects that related much more to the skills and knowledge needed in the 21st century. Providing this relevance for students (staff and parents) of the subjects was extremely motivating for students (and staff and parents), especially for the disadvantaged ones.

22. Subject Skills Reports
Modernising the traditional subjects for the 21st century involved trying to develop and measure the skills that matter whilst also helping students to achieve exam success. For many years, I had been researching and experimenting the development of reports and profiles in Science (integrated and separate), Maths, P.E. and P.S.H.E. I have provided an example of one I used when teaching Maths in the nineties. Providing reports like these in various subjects was very effective in helping students, staff and parents understand how success is dependent on skill development, which is invaluable in helping to close the disadvantage gap.


23. Mental Health
As soon as I began teaching in 1974 I became concerned about the health of young people. It immediately became clear, teaching P.E. and Science, that many (most) students had little understanding of health education. At the start of the eighties I had become alarmed at the number of (adolescent) children that I encountered as a teacher researcher that had ‘symptoms of mental disorder’, (at the time I did not use this term), such as:-
• Extreme mood swings
• Excessive fear, worry, or anxiety
• Social withdrawal
• Eating disorder
• Sleep disorder
• Inability to cope with daily problems and activities
• Suicidal thoughts
• Self-harm
• Abuse of drugs and/or alcohol
• Hyperactivity
• Aggressive behaviour and anger

This is the World Health Organisation definition of mental health.
“Mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”

It had become clear to me from my hundreds of interviews with young people, research and analyses by the mid-nineties that schools and society needed to become proactive in mental health by developing and measuring the skills that can prevent or reduce mental illness. In the 21st century, the media and then the Government slowly began to grasp the magnitude of the mental health concerns with young people, so the effect of this step has been steadily increasing.

24. The 8 Skills
By the mid-nineties I had spent over 20 years researching the answer to the question “What do we really need to learn to achieve a healthy, happy, successful life?” The World Health Organisation definition of mental health basically raises a similar the question, “What do we need to learn to cope with the normal stresses of life, work productively and contribute to our community?” By the mid-nineties my research had into teacher effectiveness and effective leadership provided a set of skills (similar to those for employability and success in sport) that seemed to be assessed by how well we –

1. Learn and cope with new things? (Effective Learning)
2. Concentrate and communicate? (Communication)
3. Understand and solve problems? (Cognition)
4. Know ourself and what to improve? (Self-awareness)
5. Manage our feelings and behaviour? (Self-management)
6. Cope with difficulties and setbacks? (Motivation)
7. Show respect and empathise with others? (Empathy)
8. Relate and cooperate with others? (Relationship/Social)

If an individual has developed the 8 skills well they will probably have good health, well-being and life chances. In retrospect, this is probably the most important step since it actually identifies the key factors in what really causes students (people) to be disadvantaged, or vulnerable. The impetus in education in the late nineties with Multiple and Emotional Intelligence was a big help to me in trying to help students, staff and parents understand and accept the importance and application of these abilities, capabilities, competencies, habits of mind, intelligences, smarts, character, soft, noncognitive/cognitive, life, skills. However, it would take a few more years before the Government and media would really support it.

25. CPD for Parents and ALL Organisations Supporting Young People
By the end of the nineties, it had become clear that a key step in closing the disadvantage gap (or supporting vulnerable young people as I now referred to them) was to focus on developing ALL ADULTS. Schools were very influenced (constrained) by the media and Government (Ofsted) emphasis on exam results (‘standards’), hence they and the parents were struggling to see the ‘big picture’. Therefore, after almost 30 years of research, with my vision (and mission) now very clear, it was crucial to try to help EVERYONE understand what our children really need to learn to help them have good health, well-being, success, and life chances.
Over the next 10 years I provided hundreds of development (training or INSET) sessions for:-
• Conferences focusing on supporting children and young people and school improvement.
• Staff, parents and students in schools, colleges, children’s centres and children’s homes.
• Foster Carers and Adoption agencies.
• Local Government agencies
• Health, Social and Youth Workers.
• Charities supporting young people
• Employment organisations
• Charities supporting vulnerable people (mental health, addictions, eating disorders, self-harm etc.)

26. Learning Novels
The comment, “WHY DIDN’T WE KNOW ABOUT THIS BEFORE?” dominated the feedback from my development sessions from the start of the new century, reflecting the positive response and rarity of this approach. Although the delegates in these sessions were positive, it was clear that the message, research and procedure needed to be expanded, especially to reach the media and Government. Therefore another step in the strategy was to write a book that I hope would be accessible to all to do this, consequently I wrote and got printed, “A Wonderful Life?”, possibly the first ever ‘Learning Novel’.

WONDERFUL_LIFE_MENTAL_HEALTHThe people who have read this book have been extremely positive (1000 copies printed and distributed-no major publisher interested so far), so I believe they can be a huge asset in helping to close the advantage gap. Consequently in 2102, I wrote and had printed (500 copies) the sequel, “Miraculous!”, which attempts to provide a glimpse into how 21st century schools could be modified to help the vulnerable young people and close the disadvantage gap.


27. Websites and Social Media
In 2010, the success of my these two steps (CPD for all and Learning Novels) persuaded me to put in place another step to help close the disadvantage gap, particularly to address the comment “Why didn’t we know about this before?”, I set up a website. This required me to cease working for the Government (as a Learning Analyst/Consultant) to take my pension and start up a ‘Social Enterprise’. However, I did receive financial support from the Government since it was obvious I was helping vulnerable people (with ‘Chaotic Lifestyles’ as they called it) and NEETs.
The website provided the slides, videos (100+) and resources relating to my many development sessions and presentations showing how the 8 skills explains and can overcome concerns relating to
• Adolescence & Men
• Alcohol & Drugs
• Behaviour
• Bullying
• Employability
• Leadership & Teamwork
• Parenting
• Relationships
• Self-Esteem
• Stress & Depression
• S.U.P.E.R.learning & Exams
• Well Being & Happiness
• School improvement and success in school

In 2015 I decided to use social media to communicate and interact with parents, staff and young people via social media by using Twitter and write blogs (like this), to try to help people to understand … how to close the disadvantage gap.

Research and Books key to understanding how to close the disadvantage gap

In parts 1 and 2 of this series of blogs I pointed out that I came from a very non-academic disadvantaged background and I firmly believe that overcoming those difficulties has been a great asset in the long term (the ‘marathon’). Unfortunately this meant that I did not really start reading or doing literary research until I was over 30 and been teaching for about 10 years. However, my Dip.Ed. Course in 1984 changed all this and by the end of the decade I had become very keen on studying about learning, development and education. The introduction of the internet and search engines catalysed this interest into almost an obsession, which in my sixties is clearly my main hobby. Therefore, the final part of this series of blogs on how to close the disadvantage gap focuses on the books and research I consider crucial to understanding the evidence and research contributing to this solution.
The timeline for my discovery of key research, books or articles since the eighties complex but there are probably the most important ones that I would encourage anyone interested in developing and supporting young people should read or at least be aware.
1985-A Theory of Human Motivation by Abraham Maslow (1943). Discovering this research/book as part of my Dip.Ed had a huge effect on me since it was so simply explained, “What Motivates Us” and so has widespread applications. For the next 20 years I was amazed that so few people knew of it, which began to change only about 10 years ago.
1986 – “Frames of Mind: The Theory Of Multiple Intelligences by Howard Gardner (1983) – This book illustrated that the traditional view of intelligence is flawed and introduced an excellent modern definition as a ‘set of skills that make it possible for a person to solve problems in life’.
1991 – Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Restoring the Character Ethic by Stephen Covey (1989)–This self-help business book has sold more than 15 million copies, his analysis and application of ‘habits’ was key in providing me with the idea and inspiration that skills are central to our health and success. I have bought and given away numerous copies since then.
1991 Out of Crisis by William Edwards Deming (1982) This book by the ‘Father of Quality’ showed me how my scientific approach to teaching and learning could be applied in the business world, leadership and life.
“The aim of leadership should be to improve the performance of man and machine, to improve quality, to increase output, and simultaneously to bring pride of workmanship to people. Put in a negative way, the aim of leadership is not merely to find and record failures of men, but to remove the causes of failure: to help people to do a better job with less effort.”
W. Edwards Deming, page 248, Out of the Crisis
1992- The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization by Peter Senge (1990) – This bestselling business book was crucial in introducing me to the importance of systems thinking and the learning organisations in the success of individuals, groups and teams, ideal for schools and education organisations but still very rare.
1993 -Emotional Intelligence (article in Imagination, Cognition, and Personality) Peter Salovey and John Mayer (1990)- Their scientific approach to emotions was very helpful since it supported my own research so much in that poor development in a person’s ‘emotional intelligence’ could explain so much about their behaviour, characteristics, and difficulties.
1993 – Coaching for performance by John Whitmore (1992)
This bestselling business book was helpful in introducing me to coaching staff which at the time was a very innovative approach to supporting and developing school staff.
1994 – The Learning Revolution by Gordon Dryden & Jeanette Vos (1994)– This ‘encyclopaedia of learning’ provided me with an excellent overview of the ‘Science of Learning’ and confirmation that ‘We are what we learn’. In my opinion, it is still the best book to entice people into the potential and joys of learning, hence I’ve bought and given about 20 copies to people.
1995 – Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More Than IQ by Daniel Goleman (1995)– this very popular book was very timely in providing international publicity for the importance of the intrapersonal and interpersonal intelligences introduced by Howard Gardner 10 years previous and other researchers for several decades. This book helped others in understanding my approach and seemed to act as a catalyst for research and evidence increasingly supporting the significance of the 8 skills.
1996- The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance by K. Anders Ericsson et al. (the American Psychological Association, Inc.1993)– this article produced scientific evidence to support my own research on the importance of effective practice. Over 10 years later it received international support with the ‘10000 hours’ publicity.
1996 – The CEO’s Role In Organisational Transformation by William R Torbert and David Rooke. (1990) This article in the Systems Thinker publication introduced me to the importance of the stages of human development in succeeding in business and modern life.
2001 – Child Of Our Time, BBC. The TV series was introduced as a 20 year longitudinal study of 25 children born in the year 2000, with the Open University. It provides vast quantities of research and evidence on child development , which over the years illustrated that ‘we are what we learn’ and the significance of the effects of development of the 8 skills in early years.
2004 – Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership, and Change by Don Beck & Christopher Cowan (1996)- is based on the 1970s theories of psychologist Clare. W Graves, and provides an outstanding explanation of human development based on the premise that ‘we are what we learn’ caused by our changing life conditions so that we need to learn to adapt to our new environment and overcome the new difficulties.
2004 -Good To Great by Jim Collins (2001). -This influential book provides some excellent research and analysis of effective leaders, showing clearly that they (level 5 leaders) invariably have very good development of the 8 skills. Although Jim Collins did not know it, he is a big advocate of developing and measuring the 8 skills, in fact on page 37 it almost appears as though he is asking for it.
“The problem is not in my estimation, a dearth of potential Level 5 leaders.They exist all around us, if we just know what to look for.”
When I read it, I feel like shouting out to Jim to say:
“This is would not be a problem if developing and measuring the 8 skills became the priority of society instead of academia and exams!”
2005- Happiness: Lessons from a New Science by Richard Layard.(2005) Discovering a book that provided research evidence and treated happiness or well-being scientifically was very important, illustrating that development of the 8 skills is central to it. In January 2006 the BBC began a six part series ‘The Happiness Formula’ supporting this approach, invaluable to demonstrating how we can learn to be happy (by developing the 8 skills).
2006- Mindset –The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck. (2006) -This book provided scientific evidence to support the ‘Locus of Control’ explanation of how our skill of motivation can develop to determine our chances of success and well-being. Her research has been invaluable in helping to demonstrate how skills can be learnt effectively (and not), especially the skills of effective learning and motivation (including resilience).
2006 – Freedom’s Orphan’s: Raising Youth in a Changing World by Julia Margo & Mike Dixon.(2006) This IPPR report analyses evidence from across the world providing support for the need to focus upon developing the 8 skills in our children.
2008 – Status Syndrome: How Your Social Standing Directly Affects Your Health and Life Expectancy by Michael Marmot.(2004) This book is based on more than three decades of research by Michael Marmot that began with the Whitehall Studies in the 1970s and took him round the world as he discovered the relationship between health and social circumstances. His research evidence is crucial in illustrating that the health of individuals in developed nations is dependent on their learning of the 8 skills and the solution could be focusing on developing these skills.
2009 – A Wonderful Life? by Keef Feeley. This book aims to provide a clear enjoyable read to help everyone understand why so many young people are struggling to cope in the modern world and how they can be helped to develop the 8 skills they need to achieve good health, well-being and success.
2010 – Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell (2010) This very popular book focuses on the learning and development of successful people. I’m confident that if Malcolm Gladwell was aware of the 8 skills he would’ve referred to them, and any reader will see it as supporting them.
2011 – Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman (2011) Some particularly important research in understanding our thinking and self-awareness from the 2002 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences winner, Daniel Kahneman. He won this award for his work on the pyschology of judgment and decision-making. It provides decades of research to demonstrate that human judgment is frequently flawed and often very irrational, basically our 8 skills, especially self-awareness is poorly developed.
2011 – Flourish: A New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being – and How To Achieve Them by Martin Seligman (2011)– This book provides an overview of Dr. Seligman’s research on optimism, motivation, and character, supporting my own research on how the 8 skills are key to good health and wellbeing. Crucially he has helped to stimulate the need to develop these skills (referred to as character skills). On page 115, Martin Seligman refers to the work of Anders Ericsson on ‘deliberate practice’ and emphasises that expertise is dependent on the number of hours of deliberate practice. Reiterating my conclusion that if a person is to achieve lasting well-being then they will need to spend thousands of hours practising and developing the skills to achieve it.
2012 – Miraculous! by Keef Feeley (2012) This second learning novel is the sequel to “A Wonderful Life?” and focuses on showing how developing and measuring the 8 skills could happen to transform our struggling young people into healthy, happy, successful ones.
2012 – How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough (2012) This excellent bestselling book is the closest to one that I would like to write as it focuses on what creates successful children. Paul Tough argues that the qualities that matter most have more to do with character skills like perseverance, curiosity, conscientiousness, optimism, and self-control, which are part of the 8 skills. This book greatly supports my mission to change the priorities in our society, schools and parents to focus on developing and measuring the 8 skills.
2013 – Schools, Skills, and Synapses James J. Heckman (2008)
“Much of the neglect of noncognitive skills in analyses of earnings, schooling, and other lifetime outcomes is due to the lack of any reliable measure of them.”
James J. Heckman, Professor of Economics and Nobel Memorial Prize winner in economics (2000) His research with various experts has shown clearly that development of skills in early childhood heavily influences health, economic and social outcomes for individuals and society at large emphasising, like me, the need to measure the skills that really matter.
2013 -TED talk -“The key to success? Grit” by Angela Lee Duckworth
Angela was a key collaborator with Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterson in measuring the character skills which overlap greatly with the 8 skills. I feel her background as a teacher has been invaluable in this and the following extract from her TED talk ends with quoting a phrase I began using in the late seventies to emphasise learning the skills.
“Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hardto make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

2014-The Marshmallow Test: Understanding Self-control and How To Master It by Walter Mischel (2014) The now iconic ‘marshmallow test,’ one of the most famous experiments in the history of psychology, proved that the ability to delay gratification is critical to living a successful and fulfilling life: self-control or self-management not only predicts higher marks in school, better social and cognitive functioning, and a greater sense of self-worth; it also helps us manage stress, pursue goals more effectively, and cope with painful emotions.

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