Education and Learning programme


This programme has a strong focus on supporting innovation and aims to achieve significant impact, ideally at a national level, across a range of education themes. Our work fosters the development and sharing of new practice, experiences and learning between and within schools, local authorities and voluntary organisations.

This year has seen significant developments across the Education and Learning programme as a number of new ideas for Special Initiatives have crystallised and moved from research and scoping work into implementation phases.

The development of Special Initiatives in this programme has been inspired by the success of Musical Futures, which we set up to encourage new ways of thinking about music making in schools. Over 1,000 UK secondary schools are now using the Musical Futures approach to build upon young people’s existing passion for music and engage them with active music-making in the classroom. An Institute of Education survey of these schools highlighted, among other successes, a 40 per cent increase in the numbers of students electing to continue with their music-making at GCSE level. Teachers reported consistently on the positive and lasting changes to their approach to teaching and learning in the classroom[1. Empowerment: One of the strengths of Musical Futures is how it has enabled teachers to develop the approach in their own way. Teachers’ innovations are shared via the Musical Futures website and are gathered together in a new teacher resource pack under the “Special Initiatives” section].

Building on this, we have developed, in partnership with other key agencies, a new programme to improve young people’s experience of music learning as they progress through to secondary school. Transforming Transition will represent a new approach for the Foundation, with an emphasis on garnering active support and contributions from schools, music services, informal learning and voluntary sector organisations across the country, identifying the best of existing practice and creating the tools and resources to enable others to replicate these. We were pleased to have our leadership of this programme endorsed by our partners, who noted our “charm, tact and steel teeth!”

Musical Futures was also the starting point for Learning Futures, a Special Initiative that aims to increase young people’s engagement with their learning through school, and to retain their commitment to learning beyond their school years. During the year, we also issued a call for proposals for Learning Away, a Special Initiative that promotes the value of residential learning experiences for schools.

In the higher education sector, we announced in July 2008 seven lead higher education institutes that will be working with PHF and the Higher Education Funding Council for England over the next three years. Our aim will be to understand better the factors, practices and broader strategies that contribute to greater student success and higher retention rates within higher education.

Our five Special Initiatives all share a broad methodology, key elements of which are becoming common to the development and delivery of many of the Foundation’s Special Initiatives. These include careful horizon scanning and scoping; an action-oriented, problem-solving and often emergent approach to testing out new ideas, in close partnership with practitioners on the ground; and the building of a wider community of interested parties who may in time adopt our innovative practices themselves. Many of our current initiatives have ambitious objectives and ultimately seek to influence policy and practice in a nationally significant way. However, we are clear that not all future developments need be on this scale.

Open Grants review

During 2008/09 we awarded 35 grants under our Open Grants scheme and have been pleased to see that the geographical spread of applications from across the UK is gradually improving. With our Arts and Social Justice counterparts, we launched revised guidelines with overarching criteria focusing on innovation (finding better ways of doing things, with an emphasis on radical, new and potentially high-impact strategies), change (at individual participant, organisational and sector levels) and user participation.

At the same time, within the Education and Learning programme, we launched a new theme, alongside our long-standing ‘Tackling School Exclusion and Truancy’ and ‘Supplementary Education’ themes. The new theme focuses on the development of young people’s speaking and listening skills between the ages of 11 and 19 and places particular emphasis on supporting activities that develop these skills in realistic and ideally real-world contexts, so that young people are better equipped to communicate effectively in the world outside of and beyond school.

Many of the grants that we have made under the Open Grants scheme resonate closely with the approaches to teaching and learning that we advocate through our Special Initiatives, particularly Learning Futures, Musical Futures and Learning Away. Inevitably, the success of programmes designed to tackle school exclusion and truancy usually hinge on the ability of the learning experiences offered to excite and motivate young people, rather than relying on automatic compliance with a set of instructions or allocated tasks, or conventional transmissive styles of learning from teacher to pupil[2. Empowerment: This approach to youth participation, to make young people active participants rather than passive recipients in activities, is a theme that runs through other work. See in particular the Social Justice section].

The Protégé project, developed by Central Saint Martins at University of the Arts London, is a great example of using self-directed learning to identify and demonstrate the maverick talents that many excluded young people have, to raise their aspirations towards further education or enterprise and also to challenge the perceptions that educators, policy makers and the wider public often hold about these young people and their abilities.

The Teens and Toddlers programme, run by Children: Our Ultimate Investment and supported through a new grant this year, which gives students hands-on experience of looking after toddlers in early years settings, has already proved an effective model for re-engaging disaffected learners, despite its primary focus on preventing teenage pregnancy. Several of the new supplementary school grants awarded this year, including those to Esforal and Al-Haqq, as well as grants under the Tackling School Exclusion and Truancy theme, such as those

to Bath Festivals and Kensington and Chelsea College, illustrate the very positive impact that new types of learning relationships can achieve, with peers, family and community members other than teachers sharing responsibility for supporting young people’s learning.

We have commissioned a review of the impact and future potential of our Open Grants theme to tackle school exclusion and truancy and are hopeful that the results of this will further develop our understanding about the approaches and strategies that can most effectively engage learners and best equip them for the future. The findings of this review, together with examination of the impact of our Supplementary Education grants and the ongoing evaluation and research associated with our Special Initiatives will influence the future development of our work as we aim to use our resources to best effect in the fields of education and learning[3. Learning and evaluation: Similar reviews are taking place in the Arts and Social Justice programmes].

Growth factors

The developments in the programme this year have brought with them the growth of the Education and Learning team, particularly through the appointment of new external associates who are leading or supporting the work of our Special Initiatives. It has also brought a wider awareness, particularly among schools, of the role we aim to play in fostering innovative practice to improve outcomes for learners across the education system.

Special Initiatives

Learning Away

Achieving more through school residentials

£33,793 in 2008/09

Learning Away is a new Special Initiative that aims to support schools in significantly enhancing young people’s learning, achievement and well-being by using innovative residential experiences as an integral part of the curriculum. The initiative will run for six years, during which we will work closely with a selected group of schools across the UK to pilot innovative models and learn from exemplary practice in this area, in order to achieve significant shifts in schools’ commitment to high-quality residential learning experiences.

The initiative was launched at the national Learning Outside the Classroom conference in October 2008. We received 71 initial submissions and have invited fuller proposals from 25 partnerships of schools, with a view to selecting, in summer 2009, around a third of these as our action-research partners for the initiative.

“For some children a week’s residential is worth more than a term of school. We know we want it for our own children – we need to make sure other people’s children experience it too.”

– Tim Brighouse, former London Schools Commissioner and PHF Programme Advisor

Across the shortlisted proposals, we have seen some creative ideas that challenge common perceptions about the learning outcomes, types of activities and locations of residentials. These include a strong emphasis on the co-design and delivery, with students, of learning experiences; a number of cross-phase proposals with secondary school pupils mentoring primary children; and some creative ways of overcoming the structural, organisational or funding issues that commonly prevent schools from undertaking residentials. Many applicants are committed to providing a progression of high-quality residentials for all students throughout their school lives.

A vast range of learning experiences are proposed – ranging from environmental to vocational, adventurous to spiritual, subject immersion to family learning, and community-building to student leadership – across a variety of locations. With the enthusiasm shown so far, we are confident that our Learning Away partners will prove to be effective advocates and exemplars to challenge and support others to learn from and build on their experiences over the next few years.

Learning Futures

Developing new teaching and learning practices in schools

£127,677 in 2008/09

Learning Futures aims to encourage innovation in teaching and learning practice in secondary schools to meet better the needs and aspirations of young people and teachers in the 21st century. The models developed under the initiative should ensure that more young people engage actively and positively with their learning, both through their school years and beyond.

For an initiative that is yet to move into its implementation phase (from September 2009), Learning Futures has attracted an impressive response. Together with our partner, the Innovation Unit, we set out our thinking about the key characteristics that we believe ought to underpin 21st century teaching and learning practices. We have built a community of over 300 schools wishing to explore these further. From these, 54 submissions were received from schools wishing to partner with us and form a core group of Learning Futures schools to pilot innovative pedagogical practices. Fifteen schools were shortlisted who show a high level of change readiness, presented realistic yet radical proposals and are willing to work collaboratively to create the tools and resources that will enable schools elsewhere to replicate their successful practices.

Just a few of the exciting ideas to be tested over the coming year include:

  • school students, home-educated students and adult learners working together to design and pursue their own peer-assessed learning experiences
  • training parents to extend the range of leaders supporting learning in school
  • piloting language learning where students each select their own language to study, supported by a teacher who becomes a facilitator of self-directed learning
  • drop-in, independent learning centres on the school site staffed by sixth form students with subject expertise
  • a range of community-based, enterprise and problem-based learning projects taking place in real-world contexts

In all cases, our partner schools are seeking to balance more traditional teaching and learning approaches with methods that ensure students can see for themselves the relevance of learning. New activities are constructed with the active involvement of young people themselves. Learning experiences and processes take place both in and out of school contexts, and vary the learner/teacher mix, recognising the value of a much wider range of roles than those inherent in the traditional teacher-pupil relationship.

Musical Futures

Supporting innovation in school music education

£203,474 in 2008/09

This year, Musical Futures has been marked by a growing sense of shared ownership of the initiative by schools and teachers.

In less than three years, the number of schools across the country implementing the approach has grown from around 30 in the pilot phase to more than 1,000 – a third of all the secondary schools in the country. Although we have supported this by providing resources, training and networking opportunities, the scale of the take-up has primarily been because teachers and practitioners have come to Musical Futures themselves, have explored its ideas and resources, and have found innovative and unique ways of integrating it into their own music departments. It is radical enough for them to feel they are making a significant change to their practice (and usually seeing major improvements), yet it is accessible enough not to feel threatening, or that they must implement it in one particular way.

“Musical Futures is regarded as one of the major advances in music-teaching pedagogy in this country since the turn of the century.”

– Peter Stedman, Classroom Music magazine

Since our celebratory ‘In Your Hands’ event, held at the Southbank Centre in June 2008, our new network of 27 Champion Schools has begun to realise our vision of a sustainable initiative that is owned and reinvigorated by those that use the Musical Futures approach on a day-to-day basis. Evaluation of the free training courses that have been provided by our Champion Schools throughout the year has shown that, so far, 87 per cent of delegates are now considering implementing Musical Futures in their schools. The recent launch of a second edition of the Musical Futures teachers’ resource pack and an updated website, populated in large part by new resources developed by teachers, will help to extend the programme’s reach even further over the coming year.

We are continuing to work with the Institute for Education as it conducts independent evaluation of the programme and gathers further evidence of the impact that Musical Futures is having across the education sector, within schools and for the individual teachers and young people that participate.

Student retention grants programme

Learning what works best to support and retain students in higher education

£482,723 in 2008/09

The focus of this initiative is on learning about the most effective strategies that universities can employ to ensure high continuation and completion rates within higher education, particularly for students from more disadvantaged backgrounds and from families or communities that do not have a tradition of higher education.

The primary purpose of our support is to generate robust, evidence-based analysis and evaluation, and to ensure effective sector-wide dissemination to contribute to the development of good practice. Through engaging and supporting universities in better understanding their practice around retention, and the interventions and approaches that are most successful in ensuring high retention and completion rates, this initiative will ultimately improve the quality of retention work in higher education institutions (HEIs), ensure more effective use of resources to support student retention and help to further raise retention and completion rates.

Together with our partner, the Higher Education Funding Council for England, we particularly sought collaborative proposals that enabled comparative studies between institutions and a shared approach to evaluation and dissemination. From 63 initial applications, seven universities were selected to work with us, with an overall group of 19 HEIs participating as partners. The seven successful lead applicants are:

  • University of Leicester
  • Anglia Ruskin University
  • University of Sunderland
  • University of Reading
  • Aston University
  • Northumbria University
  • Nottingham Trent University

Each of these has begun an in-depth, three-year evaluation of their own retention practices and a number have already presented their work at national conferences and seminars.

The work will be greatly strengthened by the overarching coordination and support role which a partnership between the Higher Education Academy and Action on Access is fulfilling on our behalf. A number of mechanisms for sharing learning, both between ourselves and our seven partners, and with the wider sector have been established, and the support team will also play a key role in helping to synthesise the key learning from the initiative and to identify and articulate insights of relevance to other institutions.

Open Grants scheme

Grants awarded 2008/09

Amana – Improving educational support for BME young people in Bristol

Supplementary Education theme

£141,178 over three years

Amana was awarded a grant for an innovative and strategic programme that aims to improve the quality of educational support and provision for black and minority ethnic (BME) young people, particularly those from the Somali community. This will be achieved through increasing the number of trained educational practitioners from the BME and Somali communities able to work in local schools.

Over a three-year period Amana will train 36 members of the community to become qualified teaching assistants and 90 people in childcare. Amana believes that the project will be replicable and has scope to be scaled up further. Ultimately, this project could reduce the need for supplementary schools to deliver primary educational support in the core subjects of maths, science and English, through providing more BME educational practitioners in the mainstream classroom who are, for example, able to support students with English as an additional language.

Opportunity: This grant has the potential to release supplementary schools from the delivery of core subjects and allow them to develop more culturally enriching curricula and/or to provide additional learning opportunities and qualifications to students that mainstream schools do not offer.

I CAN – Secondary Talk

Speaking and Listening theme

£300,000 over 15 months

Our first grant under the new Speaking and Listening theme was awarded to I CAN to support the development phase of an ambitious national initiative. Secondary Talk aims to transform secondary schools into places where the speech, language and communication skills of all young people are actively supported by staff with the knowledge, skills and confidence to do so effectively.

Secondary Talk aims to create systemic change through supporting schools in the development of evidence-based practice, necessary staff skills, quality assurance and curriculum so that a whole-school approach to communication skills development for all students is achieved. The initiative is intended to directly tackle the significant numbers of young people that, even at secondary school, have limited communication skills.

New theme: Limited communication skills hamper relationships, behaviour and learning, limiting potential within the world of work. Our new grant theme aims to facilitate a sector-wide transformation in addressing these problems.

People and Work Unit – Glyncoch Community Bridges

Truancy and Exclusion theme

£92,263 over five years

The People and Work Unit has developed an innovative community programme to improve school attendance and reduce exclusions and behaviour problems among children from Wales’s poorest communities. The project will test and disseminate a community response to chronic problems of poor attendance and behaviour among its young people, tackling the cultural attitudes that impact on schooling, helping pupils build their capacity to thrive in learning, and building their families’ capacity to support them.

Over a five-year period, the Unit will work with a cohort of 60 young people from Glyncoch, an impoverished ex-mining community, following them from primary school through to age 16 and piloting a comprehensive model of community-led support and activities, working closely with a wide range of local services and agencies.

Innovative approach: The Unit’s hypothesis for this work is that although there is much that schools could do to improve young people’s experience of education, there are also cultural issues that only the community can address.

Ongoing grants

Restorative Solutions – Restorative Approaches in Schools (RAiS)

Truancy and Exclusion theme

£147,750 over three years

Since April 2007, Restorative Solutions has been developing and implementing its Restorative Approaches programme in a number of Bristol schools. The approach is founded on principles of restorative justice and processes that bring together those responsible for conflict situations with those harmed by the conflicts to establish what happened, hold young people to account for their behaviour and reach agreement about what can be done to make things better.

Restorative Approaches was established as a demonstration project to understand the best ways of implementing the approach in schools, to develop replicable models that could be scaled up nationally and to incorporate independent evaluation. Eight Bristol secondary schools are currently participating in the project, with others in the city soon to introduce the approach.

Independent evaluation has highlighted the positive impact the project has had on the climate for learning in schools and on attendance rates and fixed-term exclusions. Over the course of this grant, significant progress has been made nationally as well, with several local authorities adopting restorative approaches as part of their schools’ behaviour policies and the DCSF now promoting the approach.

Sectoral impact: The potential for scaling up this work has been realised through its adoption by other schools and DCSF’s support.

“Our core values of trust and respect are fully reflected within the methodology and practice associated with Restorative Approaches. The impact on student behaviour and their well-being has been dramatic. Introducing RAiS has supported our efforts in improving attendance and reducing fixed-term exclusions.”

– Headteacher and Deputy Head at Brislington Enterprise College

Newham Somali Homework Club – the Positively Motivated Project

Supplementary Education theme

£30,677 over two years

This small supplementary school in East London has developed the Positively Motivated Project to meet the needs of older students who felt that the existing homework club, which focused on maths, English, Arabic and Somali, did not meet their changing needs, particularly in relation to post-16 choices and understanding the world of work and further education.

Secondary aged students from the Somali community select and research topics, conduct interviews and write, edit and design a quarterly newsletter which is printed and distributed within the local community. Through this process, students have been learning about different careers, and local issues such as bullying, youth participation and the potential impact of the 2012 Olympic Games.

Although this grant was awarded under our Supplementary Education theme, there is a close fit to our Speaking and Listening theme, which emphasises the value of developing skills through learning in real-world contexts.

Youth empowerment: This grant meets a specific need identified by some of the young people participating.