Published on: 11 Jan 2016

Empowering the hard to spot, uninspired student by using the Mona Lisa Effect

Treasure can be hard to spot

By Matthew Savage, Deputy Head of Bromsgrove International School for Independent Education Today

Matthew Savage shares his thoughts on 'hard to spot' pupils and how to help unearth their treasures

Professor Michael Barber warned back in 1996 that there would be a swathe of young people who would, were interventions not applied, be either ‘disappointed’, ‘disaffected’ or ‘disappeared’ before too long. In the subsequent decade, UK schools were tasked with implementing strategies for ‘hard to reach’ students, partly in order to reduce the number of those who were NEET (not in education, employment or training). However, even today, a significant number of students remain similarly under threat, and my fear is that most schools have not spotted who they are, yet.

To have any chance of justifying a formal, regulated system of education, we have to be able to demonstrate its inclusivity; after all, a system which excludes (and failing to ‘spot’ students in need seems to me a significant and culpable exclusion) cannot, morally, be excused. 

My quest, in pursuit of #TheMonaLisaEffect, a model of personalised learning which aims to ensure that every student believes their learning experience has been designed specifically for them, with all their strengths, needs, interests and passions in full and deliberate gaze.

I believe strongly that, within the 21st Century classroom, this becomes so much easier when furnished with a sophisticated and rich data triangle on each and every student. At Bromsgrove International School, Thailand, we make full use of the assessment portfolio from GL Education. The lens of our learning personalisation has become especially sharp as a result of each student’s aptitudinal and attitudinal data.

With the CAT4 Cognitive Abilities Test my teachers have a profound insight into every child’s academic ability, beneath and beyond the veneer of what is, for the majority of our cohort, a significant EAL barrier. This data is, more often than not, a liberating force, unleashing the potential of young learners for whom English really is the only obstacle. Subsequently and simultaneously, the PASS (‘Pupil Attitudes to Self and School’) survey shows us #WhatLiesBeneath, the attidudinal currents which swirl and rip under the masks increasingly worn in childhood, especially within Asian societies.

Like a treasure map, CAT4 and, increasingly, the educators become treasure hunters. Meanwhile, PASS is an emotional MRI, often showing us precisely why the treasure is proving difficult to find – or, using the terms of this blog, ‘hard to spot’.

Knowing that, for example, that a child is suffering from low self-regard, that their metacognition is underdeveloped, or that their risk-aversion is rooted in a fear of failure, finally we can do something about it, and empower them to dig for their own treasure. This is #TheMonaLisaEffect, and it is proving very powerful in driving forward pupil progress.

Matthew Savage is Deputy Head of School, Bromsgrove International School, Thailand

Matthew’s blog forms part of GL Assessment’s ‘Hard to spot’ series.

Working with families

Educational Psychologist Poppy Ionides discusses how we work with families to improve outcomes for at risk children and fragile learners.

Girls with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties

John Galloway discusses how we can identify and support girls with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties.

Using computerised assessment with SEND children

Jo Horne explores the advantages and disadvantages of using computerised assessments with special educational needs (SEND) children.

Assessing students with EAL

Sue Thompson talks about the different approaches to assessing students with EAL.