‘If I can see it I can do it’

Growth mindset in an education context



‘If I can see it, then I can do it
If I just believe it, there’s nothing to it

I believe I can fly
I believe I can touch the sky
I think about it every night and day (Night and day)
Spread my wings and fly away
I believe I can soar
I see me running through that open door
I believe I can fly’


So wrote and sang R.Kelley in 1996. He was talking about love but I am talking about learning. I have always been told, and believed, that if you believe it enough and work towards your goals, you can make them happen.

‘A new study led by Sherria Hoskins, called Changing Mindsets, will test its effectiveness using videos and quizzes developed by education company Positive Edge in year 6 classrooms while psychologists will train teachers for one day.

“Expectations change neurology; if you have low expectations of a child their brain starts to function worse,” says Sherria Hoskins, the Portsmouth University professor leading the study. “We’re not saying you can turn a child who is struggling at maths into a maths genius. The message is about getting better.”’. (The Guardian).

The study will look at ‘growth mindset’ and strategies for teachers to produce it in pupils.

The ideas are based on the work of Dweck who postulates that anyone can improve with application and high expectation. Equally, it appears the opposite is also true that believing you cannot succeed or you are likely to fail will create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

This puts the role of teachers and testing into the spotlight doesn’t it?

The obsession with scoring would seem to have a negative effect on all but the few who achieve results that they may be happy with?

How should a teacher react to statistical failure but an immense application, or outstanding SATS results in the face of no apparent effort? What are we judging by and what future effect does it have on the individual?

Thomas Westenholz, the Danish businessman who founded Positive Edge, reciprocates my view that there is too much testing, “There’s a complete obsession with testing in this country,” he tells me. “My interest is in improving long-term wellbeing, not a narrow focus on grades, but it is not possible to get funding for this.”

He says his interest in ‘growth mindset’ stems from personal experience when he and his wife refused to accept a bleak prognosis for their newborn son who was extremely ill, he says of that time “I saw in hospital how parents struggled who didn’t have a growth mindset,” he explains. “It’s about building resilience: how do you deal with things when they get really tough?”

I am well qualified to echo the veracity of this mindset as someone who went through a similar experience with one of my children and adopted the self-same positive attitude focusing on the outcome we wanted. I also reflected on how those parents with a positive attitude seemed to have the better results. I have wondered to this day why hospitals are not also coaching parents to have this ‘growth mindset’.

I guess most people would not argue that a positive mindset has a beneficial effect on learning but how will we be able to adapt our system to accommodate this mindset? Will we actually believe that we can create this environment and how will teachers implement this new idea in an ever-growing set of new theories?

Maybe those that have practical experience could coach those who don’t? It will be interesting to see whether we can leave testing behind one day, in favour of a more holistic assessment.

Written by Chris Heron People Communicate  

What if a city’s regeneration could be built on Further Education?


What is Further Education?


People who have not participated in Further Education, including policy makers, usually find this question difficult to answer!


Further education colleges are complex, ever changing and comprehensive local organisations of various sizes and shapes. The lack of uniform profile and role makes them difficult to understand, but their locally adapted solutions are their very essence and core strength.


Policy makers feel that they need to support and encourage FE colleges but they often don’t know how and why. However, the feedback from FE stakeholders continues to be positive despite the fact that they don’t have the prestige or respect from local communities that higher education enjoys.


The results from FE colleges are often unfairly compared with sixth form colleges though they outperform them if you account for the complex, social, economic and learning needs of the students for which they cater.


The low esteem is therefore, a bit of a legacy reputation, perhaps?


In marketing terms, they need to be able to communicate their brand values, particularly as their alumni don’t represent a strong lobby in the higher echelons of government or commerce.


Their relationships and contributions to local industry training still appear to be ‘lukewarm’.


FE colleges are the main adult education providers and fulfil an important role in supplying basic skills and a re-entry route to those who find it difficult to fit into other parts of education.


Colleges also provide access to learning for disadvantaged groups, the elderly, those needing ESOL training and a route into higher education for non-traditional learners.


Their hidden benefit is their effective, flexible support to social services for which they provide essential skills and facilities.


For local communities they provide social and sports facilities and public spaces.


Since the early 1990s colleges have been developing as strategic partners, for a network of providers, to support economic development and community regeneration.


Despite providing learning to more than three million people their role in supporting society is not completely understood. But with the right support they would be in a unique position to solve many of our most important problems.


FE has proven its ability to adapt in an ever-changing political landscape.


So can we imagine the possibility of FE colleges being at the centre of city regeneration and learning in our society?



The Challenges for Further Education



Two recent reports, by McKinsey and The Centre for Economic Inclusion 2015 UK, starkly highlighted two associated problems, a large number of unemployed young people and a shortage of people qualified for the jobs which employers have available.


In their report of 2012 ‘Education to Employment: ‘Designing a System that Works’,

McKinsey say


‘High levels of youth unemployment and
 a shortage of people with critical job skills. Leaders everywhere are aware of the possible consequences, in the form of social and economic distress, when too many young people believe that their future is compromised. Still, governments have struggled to develop effective responses—or even to define what they need to know.’


In their report, published in July 2014, The Centre for Economic Inclusion gave a definition of this problem for the UK.


The consequence of not meeting this challenge by 2022 will be:


  • 2 million low skilled people chasing 3.7 million low skilled jobs – a surplus of 5.5 million low skilled workers with an increasing risk of unemployment
  • 16 million people with intermediate skills will chase 10.2 million jobs – a surplus of 2.4 million people
  • Employers will struggle to recruit to the estimated 14.8 million high skilled jobs with only 11.9 million high skilled workers – a gap of 2.9 million.
  • This could restrict economic growth if employers cannot recruit the skills and capabilities they need. We have calculated that in 2022 between 16% and 25% of growth could be lost by not investing in skills. This means that up to £375 billion of output is at risk.’[1]


The Government response to the above problem is ‘The Innovation Code’ has been thrown at further education supply the skills needs of local employers on a bespoke basis.


The Skills Funding Statement says, ‘The Code can form part of a bespoke and quick response to a skills gap, such as in the City Deals, whilst the broader principles of the Code – of delivering responsive training before a qualification is accredited, and of employers and providers working collaboratively to design and decide the best training solution to an identified need – will be critical if we are to have a truly employer-driven, responsive skills system in the future.[2]


This strategy is fraught with problems the first being the present relationship with employers largely ‘lukewarm’.


Secondly, the framework of subjects falling under the ‘Code’ does not cater for the skills outside the curriculum, which employers are actually looking for.


Thirdly, it does not suggest how these new courses will be created and taught.


It could be said that everyone was confused by how this could be done with the Skills Funding Agency and the Department for Business Innovation and Skills came out with a statement saying that they would explain further!


The key concept in the ‘Code’ is ‘employer-driven’ training but to support this laudable idea is going need a radical rethink of further education, its role, strategic model and the skills of its staff.


When you consider the £375 billion impact of this problem over the next six years, compared the annual budget for skills and vocational education of £3.8 billion perhaps there is a sound case for an increase in funding?


Here is how it might work


We are fortunate to have a case study that illustrates that it is achievable and clarifies some of the potential issues in delivering a modern ‘employer-driven responsive skills system.’


In The Netherlands in the 1990’s, there was a poorly achieving vocational college located in a former shipbuilding and steel working area, called Dordrecht, with a population of 300,000.


The region had low skills, high crime, high youth unemployment and a negative view of education. It did, however, have job opportunities for mid and higher-level technical employees but these were not being filled because the local population didn’t have the right skills.


Max Hoefeijzers and his team took over The Da Vinci College in Dordrecht in 2004, creating a new learning environment designed according to the principle of living, learning and working.


Re construction started in 2004, with a budget of €180 million funded by the Da Vinci College, local government and commercial investors, such as property developers, building companies, investment funds and local businesses.


The architecture and building standards are of a very high quality and the large campus has retained an intimate and cosy feel. Before the redevelopment, the old schools were poorly maintained and were covered in graffiti. The new Leerpark buildings look brand new, even after nearly 10 years of use. A survey amongst students showed that buildings contribute to feelings of being valued and secure, and by making students communally responsible for the learning environment, individual ownership, and motivation increase.


The principle of integrating learning into the fabric of the site extends beyond its construction and buildings. Learning and work areas are not classrooms, but real places of employment, bringing state of the art professional best practice into the vocational courses. There is a hairdresser, a shop, a garage, a restaurant, a fire station, a department in a hospital and a sustainability factory, or FABLAB, (built on the same principles as Massachusetts Institute of Technology), for incubating environmental and high-tech engineering start-ups. Notably, the FABLAB is oversubscribed and has paid for itself in 10 years!


Living on campus is part of students’ personal development. The direct reward of being offered the chance of living in a shared new apartment, in return for continued achievement and progress in training, is a powerful tool to create motivated responsible citizens working for their own futures.


The courses themselves are built within real job situations and are competency-based. They are linked and assessed by government standards for vocational qualifications and students are paid for the work they do.


The two unique components are that the student can find their own path through the course by carrying out tasks for companies. They can do this in any order required by real workflow-governed requirements.


Skills assessments are matched against curriculum statements so that learning paths can be personalised for each student and company commercial situation. This creates a system, which satisfies the individual needs of the learner as well as creating the ‘employer-driven’ training required.


A good example of a project was working with a supplier to football stadia to make an innovative three-sided rotating floor for football stadia.


Students from a technical university, higher education, and vocational education worked together, managed by staff from the contracting company, to deliver the project.


Science students developed the concept of a floor that has three surfaces, grass for football, a hard floor for concerts and events, and when not in use for sport or entertainment, one side composed of solar panels to generate energy.


Higher education students produced the drawings and detailed calculations, and the vocational students made the prototype. They then worked together on testing and final modifications.


This example illustrates how Leerpark uses cooperative learning to develop individual and team skills in multi-level learning spaces with real business tasks.


Courses are integrated with commercial projects and students can create their own learning paths according to the tasks set by the companies they are working with. Small local companies and multinationals, like L’Oreal, Siemens, Philips, IHC Holland Shipbuilding, Krone Altometer, Damen Shipyards, are all involved.


As part of a course, each student has to fulfill social assignments for the community, to learn social and life skills. Some of these are international assignments in developing countries.


Leerpark is famous in Holland and its founder Max Hoefeijzers is now spreading the lessons learned through the whole education system.


Leerpark has firmly put education at the heart of their community and seen the economic and social benefits:

  • Youth unemployment from 17.8% to 11% in 10 years resulting in the eradication of gang cultures
  • The local economy and community have benefited by a general improvement to the local environment and have gained an
    • Aparthotel
    • Sports hall
    • Gymnasium
    • New fire station
    • 4 new schools
    • A restaurant,
    • A Rotterdam University faculty
    • 450 new apartments with social housing
    • A park
    • Scope for many future developments.
  • Leerpark has benefited by becoming the preferred supplier to local industry and has produced a state of the art training facility, largely funded by local commerce.


There have been many innovations in the learning and business model, which have contributed to the success of this project:


  • The creative and flexible education system, built on flexible learning paths, has led to a dropout rate of less then 7%
  • The close relationship with employers, and the high satisfaction level, has led to Leerpark becoming a preferred employment supplier in the local area
  • The consequent relationships have resulted in 93% of FE learners either going in to employment or higher education
  • The use of real-life learning on the job has motivated students, improved learning and satisfied employers
  • The all round life skills taught in addition to the course has been valued by employers
  • The business model and the public private partnership has produced investment to finance the project
  • The close relationships and shared visions have continued to grow.


So, it seems we could use further education to regenerate our cities by creating private public partnerships where education and employers work closely together to create one process from education to employment.


At Leerpark, that’s exactly what they have done and multinational, large and small local businesses have invested money, expertise, and intellectual property.


In return, they have received highly trained employees, exactly fitted to their culture and work environments. They have effectively invested part of their internal training budgets into FE learning and, in doing so, have saved on recruitment and overall training spend.


The community has also seen the benefits and The Netherlands has a new model for education.


Is this not a possibility for us too? Could we not also regenerate our cities using further education?


Carole Stott said in ‘Remembered Thinking’ [3] ‘The 1997 vision of FE at the heart of regeneration and as the ‘engine for growth’ is as crucial and as valid today as it was then.’


I think we can but we need a radical rethink of the role of further education

[1] The Centre for Economic Inclusion 2015 UK

[2] The Skills Funding Agency 2014

[3] Remembered Thinking 2015 FETL25588846503_b312a4173d

Smart Alec, or genius? Would you give him a job?

Smart Alec, or genius? Would you give him a job?

Here are a true question and answer from an exam set at Oxford University and found by assessor evaluating the marking scheme and marks awarded.

Needless to say, there was a long discussion about the merit of this answer and the conclusion was Smart Alec.

Neither the result or the mark was changed!

I wonder if this illustrates the poorer aspects of a one ‘fits all’ assessment system which depends on a formulaic and only one ‘right answer’ system?

Does this answer not display a greater knowledge and a higher level of thinking skills on the students part and a lack of thinking on the assessors part?

Was it a good question in the first place?

Lastly, would you employ this student or one of the hundreds who got the right answer right and who would be better equipped to learn fast in today’s fast moving and challenging job environment.  Even if you wanted to employ this student how would you find him as he probably wouldn’t have passed the exam and may have flunked his course? So, he would not even get into your job screening process if you were going by academic achievement?

Even if you wanted to employ this student how would you find him as he probably wouldn’t have passed the exam and may have flunked his course? So, he would not even get into your job screening process if you were going by academic achievement?

So, he would not even get into your job screening process if you were going by academic achievement?

If you are a teacher how would you view this type of answer, (in your own subject area), and what are your thoughts on assessment and how it is being used.

Do we need people who are taught to trot out the ‘right answer’ or those who can question the question and give a valid answer to the question which should have been asked, as this student was attempting to do?

I know which type of person I would and am employing and I guess I know who Richard Branson would probably go for too?!

This is a typical example, but what does it say about what we are trying to test in our students? It appears it is not thinking!

The Question


‘Joan went to the shop to buy her father and herself an ice-cream. The sizes are shown below.

‘Joan went to the shop to buy her father and herself an ice-cream. The sizes are shown below.

On her return home the ice-cream melted. Will the melted ice-cream fit into the cone?




Please show all calculations. You can ignore the thickness of the cone.

Correct Answers

A large number of candidates had calculated the two volumes and achieved full marks. But then I came across this one……..

I could attempt to answer this question by a simple volume calculation of the sphere and the cone, but it would seem to be a waste of my time as this would not satisfactorily answer the question for the following reasons:

  1. 1  Any liquid is greater in volume when it is frozen. I have no idea what this % difference would be with ice-cream.
  2. 2  My experience of these types of ice-cream cones is that they will soak up some of the liquid. As I am told to ignore the thickness of the cone it is reasonable to assume that I am at liberty to also ignore any absorbed liquid but what I can not ignore is the fact that in becoming wet the cone will distort and lose shape. Any change of shape will have a dramatic effect on the volume of liquid it can hold.
  3. 3  If I ignore all the points above I still have a large problem. To make this type of ice-cream ball one uses a scoop. The problem is that in scooping the ball air gets trapped inside the ball. I have no idea how much air, so would need to conduct some experiments and determine an average, then my guess could be more accurate.
  4. 4  Are you sure the sun is shinning? Any mathematical calculation I could do here would be worthless in terms of answering the actual question posed.

It was marked as zero and a big red comment from the examiner SMART ALICK’

Anonymous assessor

Is Education Fit for Purpose?

Is Education Fit for Purpose?

Is Education Fit for Purpose?

In order to answer the question ‘is education fit for purpose? we need to decide what that purpose is.

In ‘Can education reform produce sustainable citizens’, I proposed that one objective of education is to produce sustainable citizens. A sustainable citizen is ‘someone who takes responsibility for themselves and is a mindful contributor to solving problems – personal, local and global.’ A citizen also needs to be productive and have a job that satisfies personally and contributes to the economy of the local and global society that they are part of.

In July 2014, the UK Centre for Social and Economic Inclusion published a report stating that:

‘The consequence of not meeting this [education to employment gap] challenge by 2022 will be:

  1. 9.2 million low skilled people chasing 3.7 million low skilled jobs – a surplus of 5.5 million low skilled workers with an increasing risk of unemployment 

  2. 12.6 million people with intermediate skills will chase 10.2 million jobs – a surplus of 2.4 million people 

  3. Employers will struggle to recruit to the estimated 14.8 million high skilled jobs with only 11.9 million high skilled workers – a gap of 2.9 million.’ 

The total effect on GDP is calculated at a potential risk of £375 billion.

But is education to blame? In McKinsey on Society’s 2012 report on ‘Education to Employment: Designing a System that Works’, more than 8,000 young people, employers and education providers in nine countries were polled and more than 100 education to employment systems were studied in 25 countries.

The key findings were that:

  • Worldwide, young people are three times more likely than their parents to be out of work. The number of unemployed youth is estimated to be 75 million.
  • 39% of employers say a skills shortage is a leading reason for entry-level vacancies.
  • Only 31% of employers found that they were able to recruit the right skills for their job vacancies.
  • Only half of youth believe that their post-secondary studies improved their employment opportunities.
  • Stakeholders hold different views about the readiness of graduate for the job market. Almost twice as many education providers polled considered young people graduated with the necessary skills for employment, as the young people themselves and the employers looking to hire.

From the opinions of those polled, we can surmise that education is not fit for purpose. Today’s education is not producing graduates with the right skills for today’s job market. Worryingly, the education system seems blind to this fact. Given the entrenched and protective nature of education we are unlikely to see an easy, or quick, solution that the providers will willingly adopt.

It is somewhat depressing that an education system established in the UK in the 19c to provide recruits for agriculture, industry or the colonial machine, is still our model. The world has moved on and, whilst that model was very successful for the UK in the 19 and early 20c, it is not a model for the whole world or the demands and skills of the 21c.

So, what do we need to do to change?

We need to get the educators and employers to do some joined up thinking and realise that they are accountable to one another in order to sustain citizens and sustain each other. It is a symbiotic relationship

Currently, there are no models that map the education to employment journey and so it is hard for either side to establish a common understanding of the situation and the repercussions of national curricula on the skills required for employment.

Indeed, perhaps, the first step is to make education answerable to a new set of criteria relating to the 21c not the 19c?

There are too many people still looking at old solutions for new problems and history tells us this will not work.

We need a completely new education model that will challenge everyone. Which, satisfies all stakeholders equally as this is the only viable way towards a sustainable system.

Perhaps it education itself is an old fashioned concept, should we not be talking about learning and skills for life?

The days of living on one set of skills is finished and there must be a core set of skills we now need which are radically different to the academic skills we are being taught in our formal education programmes.

Learning is changing, the world is changing and we need to adapt to survive, collectively, economically, socially and individually.

We need to embrace the concept and challenge of learning for life, but also not only that learning constantly and being able to evaluate what and how we learn.

Even the theory under which we are taught is fallacious. The underpinning theory of teaching is based upon ‘learning styles’, a concept which has never been proven!

To learn to learn is the primary skill we need and that is not taught in our current education system, the evidence of that is quite clear.

To read the full report click on Education to employment: Designing a system that works’

 More articles exploring education reform and online learning are published on my website People Communicate

“Schools as we know them are obsolete”

“Schools as we know them are obsolete”

“Schools as we know them are obsolete”, so says Professor Sugata Mitra. 

Prof. Mitra has as a clear view of the education system, he says the education system is not ‘broken’ it’s ‘outdated’.

He continues, that schools are part of an education system designed by the Victorians to be a production line for recruits for The British Empire’s bureaucratic system.

The problem is that the Empire does not exist any more but we are still producing people for that system.

You will find a link below to his fascinating and inspiring Ted talk.  Prof. Sugata Mitra seems to have proved that students can learn by themselves if they have access to knowledge.

He started with an experiment in India in 1999, in which he put a computer in a hole in the wall of his office, bordering a slum, to find out if poor children could learn without any help.

He issued no instructions, but they learned anyway. You will see videos of how they did it.

His next experiment was in Kallikuppum in Tamil Nadu, southern India. He wanted to find out if non-English speaking children in Tamil Nadu could learn the biotechnology of DNA replication in English from a street-side computer without a teacher.

At the same time had set up a ‘control’ school in Delhi with a trained biotechnology teacher. Within a few months the children in Kallikuppum, with minimal help from an unqualified adult had caught up!

They had learned advanced biochemistry in a language they did not understand from a computer screen under a tree without a teacher!

This seems to me extraordinary and it poses many important questions about how we teach, how students learn and what the future of education will be.

I have had the conversation about education reform, many times, live and on social media, and I have always backed off when people say, things like, you will always need teachers and schools.

Well, do we?

You know what, maybe I will not back off next time? Do we need the same type of education system as we have always had? I still believe you need someone to ask the questions, and teach the social mores we still need, but I am increasingly inclined to agree with Prof. Mitra.  Maybe, knowing is obsolete, maybe we can find out what we need to know when we need to know it on demand.

Sugata Mitra says if you allow learning to happen it self-organises and learning emerges.

He has already set it up an organisation called ‘school in the cloud’ that offers support to set up SOLEs, or, self-organized learning networks. If you have not seen this viedo, you must to look at it as soon as possible.

TED Talk Sugata Mitra








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