The Personalisation of Education

Professor David Hartley, Senior Research Fellow, Department of Education

19th November 2012

Since the 1980s, schools in England have been subjected to three kinds of accountability: to market accountability; to bureaucratic accountability; and, much less so, to professional accountability.

For the most part, bureaucratic controls – such as the national curriculum, national testing, league tables and Ofsted – have all served the so-called marketisation of schooling. That is to say, ‘consumers’ (here defined as parents) were said to require objective and reliable information on which to base a rational choice of school for their child. National test-data and school-ratings constituted that information. The ensuing competition to attract pupils schools would arguably ‘drive up’ standards. In all of this the parent, not the pupil, was defined as the consumer. More recently, the logic of school-choice has been given further expression in charter schools (United States), in free schools (Sweden and England), and in academies (England).

In 2004, the marketisation of schooling was given an added dimension. David Miliband, the then Schools Minister in England, delivered a speech entitled ‘Personalised learning: building a new relationship with schools’. This seemed to resonate with the child-centred education of the 1960s and ’70s, but official denials quickly followed. Instead, personalisation was declared to be more akin to customisation, or ‘tailoring’; and its intellectual roots were said to be in marketing theory, not in developmental psychology or in Romanticism. Whereas school-choice legislation positioned the parent as the consumer or user, the policy of personalised learning purports to enable the pupil to be the so-called co-producer (with the appropriate professional) of his or her own learning. This implies that what is to be learned, how it is to be learned, when and where it is to be learnt shall all be the consequence of a ‘co-production’ between the pupil and the professionals. But from the outset, the meaning of personalised learning has eluded precision, and various ‘weak’ and ‘strong’ types have emerged. Its curricular and pedagogical consequences are unclear. What is clear is that personalised learning has a particular appeal to those who seek to apply information technology in education. Indeed, some would say that ICT is necessary for personalised learning to occur, citing the examples of the School of One in New York and the Kunskapsskolan in Sweden.

About the speaker
Professor David Hartley’s undergraduate education was at the University of Winnipeg, Canada (BA), and thereafter at the University of Nottingham (M.Ed.) and the University of Exeter (PhD).

Between 2005 and 2010 he was Professor of Education and Director of the Centre for Research on Organisations and Pedagogy at the University of Birmingham.

Previously he had been Professor of Educational Theory and Policy at the University of Dundee, Scotland. Whilst in Scotland, he served as a full council member of the General Teaching Council for Scotland and of the Scottish Council for Research in Education.

His main research interest is the sociology of education policy, particularly the relationship between education policy and economic policy.

The personalisation of education – audio recording (49 mins)
The Personalisation of Education Powerpoint Presentation (pdf with audio timings)

The seminar and book launch was convened by Professor Anne Edwards, OSAT
Education and the culture of consumption