Education and Learning


At the heart of our Education and Learning work is a desire to ensure that children and young people, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, benefit fully from the springboard that education can give them to realise their potential.

In the UK, there is a strong correlation between students’ socio-economic background, family income levels and school attainment measures. Our contribution to tackling this fundamental issue can only ever be very small in relation to national policies, strategies and budgets. We therefore target areas of practice and understanding where we hope to make a distinctive contribution.

Current government policy, such as the proliferation of academies, often focuses on improving school performance to ensure that more schools rated highly by Ofsted serve disadvantaged areas. However, analysis by the Institute for Public Policy Research, a current grantee, shows that this push on school improvement can never be sufficient to close the attainment gap between rich and poor pupils. We also need strategies that operate within schools, addressing classroom-level practice and providing well targeted interventions for those pupils who need them, to even up educational outcomes for all students. 1

This year, much of the work we have supported, and ourselves delivered, responds to this challenge. Strengthening the collective knowledge base in education, facilitating effective collaboration and learning, and building strategic partnerships between schools and the wider community, are themes that have continued to run strongly through our Special Initiative work and many of our Open Grants this year.

Building collective knowledge

Evaluation and evidence building are integral to all of our Special Initiatives. This year, the evaluation of our Learning Away initiative has been given a sharper focus, with data collection that will enable us to test much more directly our key hypotheses about the impact that high quality residentials can have on both pupil and school-level outcomes. We have also launched a new phase of What Works?, our higher education initiative. Sixteen universities will be implementing the recommendations from phase one to enhance student retention and success. A multi-faceted evaluation will ensure we have hard data about impact and useful insights into the practical challenges of building student belonging through the academic domain.

Having transferred the leadership of our 2008–12 Learning Futures initiative to the Innovation Unit 3, we were pleased to see that the follow-on work will now include a rigorous evaluation, funded by the Education Endowment Foundation, to test the impact of project-based learning in schools.

An evaluation by OPM, of three organisations supported under our truancy and exclusion grants theme, has reached its final phase. SWIFT, Mounts Bay Academy and Teignmouth Community School are successfully using therapeutic approaches to improve children’s and their families’ engagement with schools. The exercise is generating useful learning for the wider sector as well as the three grantee organisations, which have enthusiastically shared their practice with each other.

As many of our supplementary school grantees lack the capacity to manage an in-depth analysis of their impact, we have commissioned a research exercise to assess the impact that supplementary schools can have on pupil progress and attainment. The results will be available towards the end of 2013.

Effective collaboration and learning

Manchester-based Radio Regen is one of several grantees that have been active in sharing good practice with others and working across a sector this year. Its ‘Connect-Transmit’ project is a two-year partnership project working in England and Scotland to grow the number of community radio stations providing high-quality speaking and listening development programmes for young people. Other grantees supported this year that will be actively sharing good practice and learning with others include Mulberry Bush in Oxfordshire, Shpresa in London, and the University of Central Lancashire through its ‘Your Future, Your Life’ programme.

Whole Education, a partnership organisation that we have supported since its inception, is playing an important role in facilitating practice- sharing among its growing network of more than 500 schools. As schools are given greater curricular freedom, Whole Education is stimulating important discussions and showcasing innovative learning approaches that foster a blend of knowledge and skills while ensuring high attainment against conventional, exam- focused measures.

All of our Special Initiatives seek to facilitate good practice sharing and ensure that ownership of new approaches is fostered among those working on the ground. A highlight of the year has been the launch of a new vocal and technology pilot for Year 7 students by Musical Futures. Overwhelming interest in the new pilot quickly led us to open it up more widely. Within two months, 178 schools had signed up, accessing support and training materials online. A weekly live chat on Twitter enables teachers to network and share ideas. An online ‘sharing wall’ is full of examples of the pilot strategies operating in classrooms across the world. It has become a way for teachers to document their students’ progress, and a public forum for watching the work unfold. The ongoing development of the project is now being driven, in real-time, by the teachers and students involved.

We have continued to support the development of Language Futures, which motivates and engages students in language learning by giving them choices about what and how they learn. We have developed a toolkit with Linton Village College and others, to share new practices with schools and language teachers more widely. 2

School and community partnerships

Through our Open Grants we have continued to encourage close working between mainstream and supplementary schools. We were pleased to award a significant grant to Paiwand, an exemplary supplementary school in north London. Paiwand will expand its three schools to provide maths and English support for 390 disadvantaged children and young people over three years. Eighteen mainstream schools will refer pupils and provide financial support and free premises, thus ensuring greater long-term sustainability and a more strategic partnership across the sectors.

Partnership building is at the heart of our Musical Bridges initiative. We were pleased to feature in one of eight partnership case studies that accompanied a new Ofsted report, ‘Music in Schools: Sound Partnerships’. Over the coming year, we anticipate that around 40 music education hubs will use our resources and materials to facilitate effective partnership working between primary and secondary schools. This will help to ensure that pupils have their musical expectations met at secondary school and continue to see themselves as developing musicians.

The year ahead

Over the coming year we look forward to drawing lessons from the Musical Futures pilot and sharing with others our learning about facilitating peer-to-peer online practice-sharing. We will be launching our Learning Away website and our first publications and resources for schools from this initiative. We will be refining our Musical Bridges offer to music education hubs and schools and building up our set of case studies of strong primary to secondary transition practice. As part of our continuing grants work we anticipate completing an internal grant mapping exercise to help us analyse our portfolio and its impact under each theme. Along with our Special Initiative evaluations, this will help to inform the Foundation-wide strategic planning process, leading us into our next phase of work to increase educational opportunity for all.

Special Initiatives

Musical Futures

A movement to transform music education in schools

£365,908 in 2012/13

As Musical Futures approaches ten years of operation, there is continued demand and enthusiasm for the approach from schools across the UK and internationally. We have redefined the initiative as a movement to reshape music education, driven by teachers, which has at its heart a set of pedagogies designed to engage secondary school pupils in meaningful, sustainable music learning.

The focus of our work has been on supporting, and sometimes challenging, teachers and education professionals to implement Musical Futures teaching and learning strategies. This has primarily taken place through more than 50 training courses and networking events, through work with initial teacher training institutions, and through a best practice conference for our 40 Musical Futures ‘Champion Schools’. The initiative’s website has been redeveloped to improve the navigation of the vast bank of free resources, many created by teachers themselves, and we have added to these new materials on assessment and the potential whole-school impact of Musical Futures.

Perhaps the most exciting development during 2012/13 has been the development of a set of strategies to use the voice (in partnership with The Sage, Gateshead) and music technology, particularly in Year 7 (age 11–12), as Musical Futures currently has the least impact on this group. The strategies take as a starting point two instruments which are immediately accessible to the majority of students – the voice and the mobile phone. They focus on giving students skills, techniques and confidence to create music as part of a group, perform, improvise and compose. The pilot began in March 2013 and within two months 178 schools became involved. Many are already seeing an impact on student engagement and teacher confidence. The programme is already offering interesting insights and challenges to conventional thinking about how to pilot a new project.

More information can be found at the initiative’s website,

Learning Away

Achieving more through school residentials

£174,539 in 2012/13

Through this initiative, we aim to encourage schools to make a greater commitment to providing high-quality residential learning experiences for pupils. During 2012/13, the focus of our work has broadened from supporting the development of practice across 60 participating schools, to a more outward-looking phase, actively sharing our findings and learning with the wider sector.

A core aim of Learning Away is to generate new insights and understanding about how and why residential learning benefits students, teachers and schools. Initial findings from our external evaluator, York Consulting, support our hypothesis that high-quality residential learning can have a substantial positive impact across a range of outcome areas.

Findings clearly show that Learning Away residentials are valued by pupils, staff, parents and schools. The evidence suggests that many positive impacts are also being sustained back at school, such as development of relationships, confidence and engagement with learning, and the development of teachers’ practice. Schools that focused Learning Away activity on improving attainment are seeing good evidence of impact, reinforced by initial analysis of quantitative data. More than 70 per cent of secondary school students stated that, as a direct result of their Learning Away residential, they are less likely to give up when they find things difficult at school.

Our emerging impact evidence has attracted significant interest at a number of national events and conferences. Over the coming year, we will develop new ways to share our learning, launch a Learning Away website, organise our first national conference and publish an interim evaluation report.

The 60 participating Learning Away schools are beginning to share their practice with other schools. Working collaboratively across clusters, they are developing a suite of targeted tools and resources to enable other schools to adopt a Learning Away approach to the design, planning and organisation of residentials.

What Works? Student Retention and Success

Helping universities ensure students’ success

£247,650 in 2012/13

The first phase of this initiative (2008–11) uncovered significant evidence, particularly of a qualitative nature, that in higher education, a sense of belonging is critical to student retention and success. Although other studies have also pointed to this and many staff in universities would readily accept the contention, it seems that the implications are often not addressed in institutional priorities, policies and practices. We found that it is in the academic domain that belonging can be fostered most effectively. However, where strategies are employed to boost student engagement, they are often focused on narrow groups of students, and situated outside of the academic domain, failing to meet the needs of increasingly diverse student groups who may not access broader social and pastoral support services. This is particularly worrying in light of our finding that much larger numbers of students are at risk of withdrawal than are generally acknowledged.

Led by the Higher Education Academy and Action on Access, the second phase of What Works? was launched this year with a group of 16 universities from across the UK selected to participate in an institutional change programme. The programme will support them in implementing the recommendations from phase one across a range of disciplines. A high priority will be the evaluation and analysis, over three years, of institutional and student survey data to assess and quantify the impact of the approaches implemented. Professor Mantz Yorke has been appointed as an advisor to help ensure the rigour and consistency of these processes.

Over the coming year, participating universities will focus on institutional-level priorities for change and then progress to implementing change at the course or discipline level. Learning from this phase of the initiative will be shared on an ongoing basis and through a final conference and report in 2016.

Musical Bridges: Transforming Transition

Improving practice to support young people as they progress from primary to secondary music education

£164,009 in 2012/13

It is clear that there is no single model or set of activities that should be seen as a blueprint for transforming transition between Key Stages 2 and 3. Instead, Musical Bridges advocates use of a ‘Five Bridges’ framework (after Galton, Gray and Ruddock, 1999) that can help schools to develop
a comprehensive strategy for improving transition through five processes: managing pupil information; supporting pupils’ personal and social needs; joining up the curriculum; sharing pedagogies; and engaging pupils as active participants in the transition process and in their own musical learning.

This year, we have developed additional tools and resources to help schools assess their practice across these ‘bridges’ and work collaboratively to address weaknesses. We have also continued testing our approach through work with ten music education hubs across the country which have recruited music teachers for a professional development process.

At the core of the Musical Bridges approach is a commitment to partnership working – between schools, teachers, parents and pupils. Making this commitment is the starting point for transforming transition. The University of Sussex, reporting on its evaluation of our early professional development work, highlighted ‘practitioner mobilisation’ as the most productive demonstration of partnership working, describing this as “encouraging practitioners to reflect upon and develop their own practice by observing and working alongside colleagues in other settings and across phases”. The report noted that this has “consistently been one of the most valued aspects of the Musical Bridges programme” with “clear evidence of multiple ways in which this has helped to develop self-reflection, curriculum, pedagogy, opportunities and cross-phase awareness”.

Over the coming year, we will further refine the Musical Bridges offer to schools and music hubs, increasing flexibility in how resources can be used to support strategies for change. A national award scheme will recognise further examples of strong transition practice from across the UK and new case studies will be developed to illustrate some of the strongest examples emerging from our work to date.

Open Grants scheme

The Education and Learning Open Grants scheme operates across three themes.

The Speaking and Listening theme supports activities, taking place in or outside of school, which develop the oral communication skills that all young people need to become effective, contributing members of society.

The Supplementary Education theme supports the work of supplementary schools (defined as schools which operate on a part-time basis, led by voluntary sector organisations and with the active support of parents and the local community) primarily for the benefit of children and young people from black and minority ethnic communities.

The Preventing Truancy and Exclusion theme aims to support preventative work that will reduce the chances of children and young people reaching the point of persistent absence or exclusion from school, by enabling those considered to be most at risk of this to achieve and progress alongside their peers.

Grants awarded in 2012/13

Goldsmiths College

Supplementary Education theme
£129,628 over two years

A digital storytelling project has inspired children to improve their language skills, tell stories about their communities and learn new digital media techniques.

The project, funded by PHF, is being led by London University’s Goldsmiths College, in collaboration with four mainstream schools and four supplementary schools, including an Arabic and a Chinese school. The children are encouraged to tell a story about their lives or an issue concerning them, such as human rights abuses, using English and their community language. They are trained in the use of digital media to create and edit their films. The children can also make online comments about each other’s work to encourage critical thinking and peer assessment.

“It is a good way of engaging older pupils, who have often attended supplementary schools enthusiastically when younger but might have lost their motivation by secondary school,” says Dr Vicky Obied, senior lecturer in English in education at Goldsmiths.

Students have also been involved in the research element of the project. Two students per school have been trained in observing and interviewing skills in order to conduct research among their peers, teachers and families. They have presented their findings at Goldsmiths. “This has given us a great insight into how the project is working,” says Vicky. “It has given a deeper understanding of how learning in schools, both mainstream and supplementary, home and community contexts, can complement each other.”

Teachers are already reporting seeing an impact on their work. “I’ve noticed a change even in the way that I’m thinking and the way I’m planning the lessons and putting the curriculum together,” says one teacher at a supplementary school. “It’s a tool that I can use to get the students to use the language in a different way and make it real for them, for them to speak about something that is important for them. I see the wheels turning with the students. All of a sudden this is taking off.”

“The digital storytelling project has … given a deeper understanding of how learning in schools, both mainstream and supplementary, home and community contexts, can complement each other.”
Dr Vicky Obied, senior lecturer in English in education, Goldsmiths College

The students are working towards presenting their work at a film festival and London Youth Speaks, an event organised by Goldsmiths. Next year, the college will give seminars to spread the learning from the digital storytelling project across the UK and beyond. Links have already been established with schools across the world, including a school in Algeria and another in Taiwan.

The project will also be developing more online resources such as its handbook for teachers to encourage more schools to engage in digital storytelling. One of the mainstream school teachers says: “It could be something that happens in lots of schools and all kids could have the opportunity to do this sort of project … it’s like active citizenship.”

Ongoing grants

Chol Theatre

Truancy and Exclusion theme

£58,000 over two years

“It gives you more responsibility to come in and work independently,” says Jack, a Year 7 pupil at Clifton, a Community Arts School in Rotherham, South Yorkshire. “I used to hate Wednesdays but now we have things to do with Imaginary Communities. It’s pushed me a bit more to come to school because I like this sort of stuff.”

Jack has been taking part in Imaginary Communities, an innovative collaboration between Chol Theatre and the Clifton network of schools in Rotherham. The aim of the project is to develop a drama-based approach to classroom teaching that engages all children, particularly those identified as being at risk of exclusion.

Mary, a Year 5 teacher, described the impact on another pupil. “The biggest impact so far is on Ryan’s attendance,” she says. “He comes to school when we are doing Imaginary Communities. His family was about to get prosecuted for his poor attendance which is 40 per cent, but he has never missed an IC lesson.”

In fact, exclusions have been reduced by 37 per cent in classrooms which have used Imaginary Communities. This has been achieved through playful techniques that are used to guide children into an imaginary world. Lead artist Vicky Sawka, who delivers the project in six schools with lead teacher, Faye Kamsika, describes the process: “Pupils and teachers develop their own imaginary characters and devise a narrative to contextualise and create meaningful purpose for learning across the curriculum.”

The work is also beginning to have a significant impact on children engaging more with lessons. Almost 60 per cent of pupils who were regularly working in isolation now spend more time working in the classroom with peers.

Our grant will allow Chol Theatre to extend the work into more schools. The approach aims to capture and exemplify best teaching and learning practice. This involves children, teachers and artists working together to create a new kind of framework, accessible to all children, which is fun yet satisfies the need for real outcomes both in terms of attainment and engagement.

“After our first year of delivery, we believe we are refining the techniques,” says Vicky. “Imaginary Communities is becoming established as a successful approach to teaching and learning.”

Vicky adds: “We are bringing out children’s creativity in communities that don’t often engage with or experience the arts. Using drama, film, music and visual arts, the children have the opportunity to re-imagine their world. The world really can be as big as we make it.”

Mounts Bay Academy

Truancy and Exclusion theme

£79,838 over three years

Rosie, 15, had problems at home and had to move in with her grandmother, who was not well. Rosie found it difficult
to concentrate at school, was very emotional and had problems with anger. She started truanting two or three times a week. A teacher referred Rosie to meet with the Student Support Lead (SSL) who was able to work closely with Rosie on a one-to-one basis and liaise with social services.

“She’s a good listener,” Rosie says of her SSL. “I can get it all off my chest so it’s not building up.” The SSL also ensured that staff members were updated on Rosie’s situation so they could help her achieve at school by setting long-term goals and giving her extra support.

Rosie has become better at managing her emotions and is now less likely to lash out. Instead she will walk away from conflict and try to calm down. Her attendance has improved. Rosie now says school is very supportive.

“It is great that PHF has employed external researchers to assess the three projects simultaneously. We’ve borrowed ideas from the other two and I hope that they have learned from us. The research also gives our system more credibility and shows that its success is not just our biased view.”
Martin Dale, vice-principal, Mounts Bay Academy

This illustrates the impact of a new system, aimed at improving engagement with pupils and reducing truancy and exclusion, which has been set up at Mounts Bay Academy in Penzance, Cornwall. With our funding, the school has employed staff to run the system, known as Care Guidance Support Stages.

Children at risk of exclusion or truancy are identified and graded on a scale of 0–6, with six being an acute stage. Once a student is identified, the SSL talks to them to find out what might be causing their behaviour and then develops a strategy to help them, using 14 toolkits which have also been
developed as part of the grant. These include self-esteem workshops, anger management, career guidance and help with reading or handwriting. The SSL also liaises with the family and outside agencies.

“This early intervention work stops things escalating,” says vice-principal at Mounts Bay, Martin Dale. “Every decision is now strategic and transparent with the agreement of parents and students. The money has also helped us to measure our impact. For example, we know that 96 per cent of pupils met our behaviour expectations last week.” Truancy and exclusion has fallen consistently during the year and a half since the project started.

We have commissioned the Office for Public Management to measure the impact of the Mounts Bay Academy’s project alongside two other intervention projects in Devon and London. The aim is to develop therapeutic interventions that can be used across the education sector.

Martin says: “It is great that PHF has employed external researchers to assess the three projects simultaneously. We’ve borrowed ideas from the other two and I hope that they have learned from us. The research also gives our system more credibility and shows that its success is not just our biased view.”

Youth Philanthropy Initiative

Speaking and Listening theme

£154,250 over three years

“I am really, really happy. I actually have a lump in my throat! I want to call my charity straight away and let them know we won!” says Courtney Waight, a student at Hazelwood Integrated College, who has won a competition organised by the Youth and Philanthropy Initiative (YPI).

YPI started in Canada and now operates in schools across five countries. Our grant will enable the initiative to reach 15 schools in Northern Ireland over three years. So far, it has already started in five secondary schools in Belfast. Students in each class form teams and discuss important social issues. They then choose a specific need in their community and research local charities that are trying to address it. After analysing different factors, the teams choose one charity to focus on. They visit the charity and interview staff and service users. With this information, they produce a ten-minute presentation to show how a grant would help the charity to achieve its mission.

After the presentations, one team from each class is chosen to present in front of the whole school and a judging panel. The team with the most compelling presentation is awarded a YPI grant, which is awarded directly to their charity. By the end of the three years of PHF funding, £90,000 will have been channelled to local charities, helping them to make a difference to local communities.

Throughout the process, young people will develop their listening and speaking skills – a key aim for the Education and Learning programme.

“When young people feel passionate about the work of a charity, this interaction can break down barriers, increase understanding and improve tolerance.”
Charlotte Hodkinson, Northern Ireland Schools Coordinator, Youth Philanthropy Initiative

Working together as a team for 12 weeks and learning how to communicate effectively with each other is an important aspect of this development. “The visit to the charity also provides them with a great opportunity to develop their communication skills – conducting interviews and interacting with beneficiaries and employees of the charity,” says Charlotte Hodkinson, YPI’s Northern Ireland Schools Coordinator. “We believe that when young people feel passionate about the work of a charity, this interaction can break down barriers, increase understanding and improve tolerance.”

Teachers from the Belfast schools have seen their students grow in confidence. “The pupils are enjoying learning more about volunteering and voluntary services in their local community,” ways Stephanie Murphy, lead YPI teacher at Rathmore Grammar. “YPI has also given the students the opportunity to work effectively in teams and develop their communication and organisational skills.”

As part of the legacy of this programme, YPI hopes to embed a culture of compassion and strategic philanthropy so that communities are strengthened and problems are solved proactively by young people.

Completed grant

Gladesmore Community School

Supplementary Education theme

£5,000 over one year

Less than 50 per cent of students at Gladesmore Community School, in Tottenham, north London, speak English as a first language. Poor English can be a significant barrier to academic success, explains Andy Jackson, a teacher at the school. “One of our primary difficulties in community languages is that many students with low English levels are unable to access the papers,” he says.

However, the school is now offering students the chance to learn Arabic, Italian, Hebrew, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian and Urdu through participation in Language Futures, a learner-led scheme for language teaching developed by PHF.

The project is run as an after-school club to support students to become literate in their mother tongue while giving the most able students a chance to learn additional languages. The club lets students decide how and where they want to learn. This could include a cookery lesson, pretending to be an interpreter or learning songs in different languages. One of the key aims of the project is to improve the success rate of students taking exams in their home language, such as GCSE Turkish.

“The project has created new interest in the languages we offer and many students who were not previously targets for community language exams have now come forward and are undertaking independent work outside of the funded sessions,” says Andy. Gladesmore has also trained members of staff who are native speakers of foreign languages, including a Portuguese science technician and a Polish caterer, to become language mentors.

“This opportunity was great,” says Hassan, a Turkish student who is learning Japanese as well as his community language. “In school we only had the choice of French or Spanish. I enjoy learning Japanese. I’m very interested in Japanese culture and learning the language is the first step to learning more about Japan. Kids should learn the language they want to learn. I have also achieved grade A in Turkish GCSE.”

Our support paid for online language resources, textbooks and dictionaries. Gladesmore hosted a conference to disseminate learning from the project. The conference outlined how this approach can be adapted for different settings, such as primary and supplementary schools. Other PHF grantees, including Goldsmiths College, are particularly interested in using this approach in supplementary schools. At the event, students from Gladesmore gave a presentation describing what it is like to learn a language with the help of a mentor. The school is also helping to develop an online toolkit, detailing the approach and giving advice and examples of resources.


  • 1 IPPR’s book, ‘Excellence and Equity – tackling educational disadvantage in England’s schools’, funded through a PHF grant, was published in June 2013
  • 2 Our case study on Gladesmore Community School provides a good example of the Language Futures approach