Where are you now?

“There is more variation within the same school than there is between schools” OECD 2011

This is a quick way to identify the main features of your educational philosophy.  It groups all philosophies into just two broad models so you can analyse the balance that currently exists and how you would like this to change. Almost all of the research evidence points to using P-route as most effective for the majority of learners with T-route being used for extraction, pre-learning and ‘therapy learning’. You will find much of this evidence on this page.

Develop P-route for the majority so less T route is required

Personalisation Scale

From 2004 to 2012 I had the opportunity to advise schools in over 30 countries in how to accelerate personalized learning.  Every case was different in terms of culture, range, ethos and starting point but I quickly began to see a pattern that could be used to include them all.  I summarized this model in the diagram above.

Some schools have no tradition of personalising learning at all and have been instructed to provide ‘one size fits all’ lessons aimed usually at the average ability in the class.  At the other end of the spectrum I have visited schools in which the students select their own content, teams and approach for over 70% of the time.

Schools follow very similar routes until they get to the ‘Differentiation’ stage (see level 5 below).  To go beyond this schools have to make a broad choice about their educational philosophy.  I have summarized these two choices as the T-route (FOR the learner) and the P-route (By the learner).  For a detailed definition of what is meant by T-route and P-route Personalisation please click here.  The majority of research favours the P-route but the majority of companies selling into the education space favour the T-route.

Please see below where I have expanded on this in terms of a ladder assuming the P-route is being followed.

Choose a group of students you work with.  Read the levels of the ladder below and decide which level of personalisation you are hoping to achieve.

Level 1 – One size fits all – no personalisation is taking place currently.

Level 3 – Free choice – students and teachers can make choices such as who to work with, where to sit or which activity to do.  These choices are not evaluated so the teacher, student and school overall have no real way of telling which choices worked and which ones didn’t.

Level 5 – Personalisation FOR the learner (Differentiation) –  in which teachers create multiple routes (normally 3 or 4) or outcomes to each lesson and support learners through these.  These are usually described in terms of objectives shared with the students at the start of the lessons such as the following example from Science; By the end of this lesson ALL students will be able to label the parts of the eye; MOST will be able to explain how and why the lens and pupil change shape and SOME will be able to draw a ray diagram showing how an image is formed by the lens for objects different distances away.

Level 7 – Building Competencies – Personalisation WITH the learner in which teachers main aim is to challenge learners to build up their competencies.  Teachers provide more options then listen to student’s reasoning for why they are choosing a particular route so they can make better and better choices meaning that the teacher has to tailor less and coach more.  The teacher monitors the development of the skills of the students so they can differentiate in terms of competence as well as content.  A suggested model for this would be the SECRET competencies

Level 9 – Personalisation BY the learner.  This is full P-route in which the learner is able to work collaboratively and draw on classmates and the teacher to both be supported and offer support.  Teachers role is to ensure the self managed challenges set by learners are ambitious, positive and collaborative.

I have described processes to get from one to the other in some detail as progression ladders.  using the REORDER model.  Please click on each of the REORDER headings to see more information

  • Relationships:  Personalising who you learn with and what range of learning relationships you can access.
  • Environments:  Personalising where you learn best
  • Opportunities: Personalising which activities extend how you learn
  • Resources:  Personalising what you use to help you learn
  • Distributed Leadership: Active engagement in why and what you learn
  • Evaluation: Personalising the pace of your learning based on evidence
  • Recognition:  Personalising how your achievements are recognized

Brief – As a final check for your core aims you can check you are clear about the educational philosophy that underpins it.  If this is assumed then you may be talking at crossed purposes with staff you consult with.

I developed this model as a way for teachers to quickly begin to use a common language when talking about educational philosophies.  It is essential that your discussions about vision are using common language so that there is less misinterpretation.

This section is designed to be debated so that you can agree an answer to the following questions

  1. What are the most clear examples of T-route practice happening in our school at the moment?
  2. What are the most clear examples of P-route practice?
  3. Which teachers do you feel specialise more in T-route practice and which ones more in P-route practice at the moment?
  4. If you were to walk around the school on a typical day, what balance of T-route and P-route would you see? (For example it may be 50:50 at present)
  5. If you were to walk around your ideal visionary school what balance of T-route and P-route would you see?
  6. Does our strategy need to include more T-route solutions or more P-route?

The model defines the two ends of the educational spectrum as T-route through to P-route.

T- route.  These are educational approaches which believe that the Teacher knows best about what is right for the learner.  The teacher makes learning decisions for the learner and so it is the Teacher who defines the route hence T-route.

P- route.  These are educational approaches which believe that the teacher’s role is to make sure that the Pupil themselves together with their Peers, are given the skills they need to make informed decisions of their own.  It is the pupil and their peers who largely decide the route by which they learn, hence the P-route.

There is flexibility in both of these extremes and in both cases there may be negotiation but the final word in terms of what route is engaged upon for learning is either that of the Teacher or that of the Pupil

The tool is very crude but I have found that it is instantly useable by learners, teachers and school leaders and helps enormously with the job of explaining the role of educational philosophy in the change process

T-route and P-route in Brief



  1. Teacher decisions
  2. Knowledge ‘delivered’
  3. Learners consume media
  4. Competitive
  5. Teacher assessed
  6. Distinct from informal
  7. Pace of the class
  8. Single course
  9. Predominant learning style
  10. Restricted age range
  11. Personalised by teacher
  1. Peer / Learner decisions
  2. Knowledge created
  3. Learners produce media
  4. Communities of learning
  5. Peer and Self Assessment
  6. Formal, informal continuum
  7. Group and personally set challenges
  8. Multiple pathway
  9. Choice of approach
  10. Peer and multi age working
  11. Personalised by the learner

Personalisation of education is a good example to consider in terms of a T-route response and a P-route response.  In terms of T-route philosophy, personalisation would be interpreted as:

The teacher personalising FOR the learner

This means that the teacher would need to know the learner well enough to decide what is best for them in terms of their learning and formulating an individual route.

In terms of P-route philosophy, personalisation would be interpreted as:

The teacher facilitating personalisation BY the learner.

This means that the teacher would be focussed on the competencies of the learner and their peers so that the learner’s ability to decide what is best for themselves in terms of their learning would be continuously improved and the support in doing this from their peers would also increase.

The following section explore this distinction in greater depth

Personalisation FOR the learner:  The T- route in more detail.

In this model the teacher constructs the learning for each of their students.  The focus is vey definitely on the effective delivery of the curriculum content with the route chosen by the Teacher (T-route).

The following reasons are commonly given for the use of this model;

Reason 1 – It pushes learners further: Commonly teachers say that they have to break up the learning and deliver it in different ways because otherwise their students would not be able to understand or they would not be motivated to do it themselves.

Reason 2 – It is much more efficient: Without a carefully planned route the learners would not be able to cover the curriculum in time

Reason 3 – It utilises teacher expertise: The teacher is the learning expert.  They should direct the learning experience because they are the ones most able to understand the process.

Personalisation BY the learner : P- route model in more detail

In this model the teacher still plays an active role to construct learning experiences.  The focus, however, is to try and use any content delivery as the vehicle for improving the competencies that underpin learning so that the learner is more able to do the process of personalisation themselves.

Similar reasons are cited by those supporting the use of this model.

Reason 1 – It pushes learners further: This approach supports the learner when the teacher isn’t there and gives them tools to be a lifelong learner.  Learners can be stretched/ challenged/ excel in terms of competencies too.

Reason 2 – It is much more efficient: There is wide research agreement that although initially more time is needed for the learners to engage with information and know their own methods well enough to convert this into knowledge, in the longer term they are more able to work with the teacher and retain more of the learning.

Reason 3 – It utilises teacher expertise: The expertise required to progress learner’s competencies and set up the right conditions for nurturing them in parallel to delivering content, is much more considerable than those required for content delivery.  It is partly this fact that has made school transformation so difficult to achieve at scale because the training required for teachers is considerable.

I believe that these views need not be opposing and that there is a way to describe the intersection between them if we look more closely at the role of the teacher in both cases

The teacher has responsibility for maximising the chance that, whatever goals are set, are achieved.  Let us ignore for the moment that there may be separate goals for every learner they teach and ignore that the goals may have come from a national curriculum or from the learner’s own interests and choices.  For simplicity we will imagine one teacher, one learner and one goal.

The teacher’s role could be simplified into the following two strands

  1. Ensuring that the content is understood and remembered.

Examples of the content may be

–       Rulers of ancient Egypt

–       How to do mouth to mouth resuscitation

–       How to be a good goal keeper

–       Mastery of Algebra. etc

  1. Ensuring that the competencies of the learner are progressed including all things that are not content specific to the problem, such as behaviours, capabilities, attitudes and aptitudes.  More specifically we may include the following skills in this strand:

–       Creativity, Self confidence, Motivation

–       Passion for learning, Ability to work with others

–       Self management, Effective participation, Problem solving

The role of the teacher is a balancing act between these two aspects of the goal and making sure that they help the learner progress in both, through the right mix of support and challenge.

In schools with a clearly stated philosophy that places them far over into the T-route there are often very talented teachers working towards P-route by ‘delivering’ the content that is required whilst also extending the competencies through the ways in which they structure and present work.  It appears, however that the greater the emphasis on the content the more challenging it is for the teacher to get this balance right.  This problem is compounded by the assessment system which is often focussed on the remembering of content and so leads the teacher towards further T-route practice and leads the school towards recognising such practice and encouraging it.

The following two sources illustrate this well.  The first is a research paper by Robyn Ewing (2010)[i] of the University of Sydney in which she reviews a wide range of research pieces in an attempt to determine the role of the Arts in learning and concludes that it has a significant positive impact on not only the academic performance of the learners but also of their underlying competencies.  One of the papers she cites is the following piece of research that illustrates this conclusion.

The second source is from a 2010 OECD report on the expected reasons for the success of Shanghai China in the 2009 PISA international educational comparison tables of literacy, numeracy and science.

“Teaching and learning, in secondary schools in particular, are predominantly determined by the examination syllabi, and school activities at that level are very much oriented towards exam preparation. Subjects such as music and art, and in some cases even physical education, are removed from the timetable because they are not covered in the public examinations. Schools work their students for long hours every day, and the work extend into the weekends, mainly for additional exam preparation classes…private tutorials, most of them profit-making, are widespread and have become almost a household necessity.”[ii]

Ewing’s paper was intended to combat the threat of a reduction in the Arts which have been increasingly under threat since international comparison tables omitted them.  Interestingly the paper used increased academic performance as a key argument for retaining the Arts.  For those competencies which progress without a significant impact on academic scores the battle is frequently lost.  A good example of this is the Origin-Pawn work of DeCharms (1965)[iii] and Jackson (1976)[iv].

DeCharms demonstrated that if teachers were taught techniques for encouraging greater ownership in their students then there was a significant rise in self and peer responsibility, peer working and peer ownership.  Jackson demonstrated that although this did not have a significant impact on their academic scores, it significantly enhanced the chances of success in later life.  Aspirations were significantly higher, engagement was higher and the learners were more likely to take an active, responsible role in society.  Similar findings emerged from systems that engage learners in dealing with social dilemmas.  Although time consuming and with negligible impact on academic success they have a profound effect in terms of cohesion and team competencies.

Beneficial outcomes of the P-route often emerge many years after the learning experiences and so a long term coherent and pedagogically driven strategy is required. Finland is an excellent example of this as demonstrated by the fact that it shares the top of the PISA tables with Shanghai.

In Finland a P-route, learner centred approach has been strategically pursued for many years including considerable investment in the training of teachers to enable them to facilitate the environments for learning that develop learner competencies over the content,   The content is in fact able to be determined locally and the assessment of it does not involve grades, nor is it used for comparison with other schools directly.  The quality assurance checks are around the action research abilities of the teachers, hence the requirement for Masters level study.  The following quotation is also from the OECD referring to the 2009 PISA scores

“Finnish classrooms are typically described by observers as learner-centred. ..Students are expected to take an active role in designing their own learning activities.  Students are expected to work collaboratively in teams on projects, and there is a substantial focus on projects that cut across traditional subject or disciplinary lines. [Students] are expected to be able to take sufficient charge of their own learning to be able to design their own individual programme…There is no longer a grade structure; each student proceeds at his or her own pace within [modules]. Every student constructs his or her own study plan, which consists of different courses in various subjects according to each student’s individual choices.” [v]

Finland and Shanghai share the top of the PISA tables for maths, science and literacy and to achieve this are using the teacher’s expertise in similar ways but critically the underlying competencies are being progressed in vey different ways.  The following table is an attempt to summarise this and the following two pages illustrate examples using the REORDER aspects.



Teachers role in Progressing Content

Fundamentally the role of the teacher is the same in both models

Teachers role in Progressing Competencies

Role of personal tutor or parent for every learner.  Breaks down in higher teacher: pupil ratios Role of creating stronger peer networks, distributing the learning through peer support

Personalisation For the Learner (T)– Some Common Features


Common Features

Relationships:  Power largely held by the teacher –       passes required to leave classrooms,-       Majority of work is done alone and often quietly-       Copying work may be used to regain calm-       Closed questions more common than open ones
Environments Facilitate information transfer –       Teacher area with exclusive resources-       limited variation of furniture in any location,-       same number of seats as students,-       limited movement possible (eg rows)-       Adults own spaces that learners use
Mainly same age, pace and style
–       Timetables with short periods of time-       Shorter tasks set with higher structure-       Lesson starts, middle and end-       Questions directed mainly to teacher
Resources:  Operated and regulated by teacher –       Permission to use resources granted by teacher-       Resources chosen by the teacher to fit the task-       Resources can be restricted by the teacher e.g. blocking websites and limiting use of phones
Distribution of Leadership:  Hierarchical –       Teachers manage their own classroom-       Different rules in different classrooms, decided by teachers-       Learners are directed and not usually given delegated roles-       There are limited opportunities to practice these skills
Evaluation:  Examination based –       Examination scores are the primary source of evaluation data-       Other delivery measures are used such as time online, Attendance and punctuality-       Gender differences and race difference measures are analysed in terms of exam and numeric data-       Competencies are generally not tracked but may feature in reports to parents as anecdotal pen portraits-       Setting and streaming is used based on data
Recognition:  High academic achievement praised –       Top achievers recognised-       Selected work displayed-       Certificates for effort, motivation, improvement in terms of effort and behaviour-       Teachers recognised for achieving high value added scores.

Personalisation By the Learner (P) – Some Common Features


Common Features

Relationships:  Negotiated democratic –       Collaborative working-       Universal rules applying to adults and children without privilege or exception-       Calm negation, non threatening role models-       Positive language and ethos for all groups-       Teachers move rooms more often than groups
Environments Variety of spaces and functions, shared ownership –       Staff and learners have equal quality social spaces-       Qualified access to areas-       Negotiated expenditure on décor and furnishings-       Learners can choose between environments-       Larger spaces so teachers collaborate
Diversity of routes
–       Longer periods of time to allow for deeper engagement and self organisation-       Mixed age and stage working-       Programme changes weekly or to fit projects-       Frequent negotiation to set goals and set route
Resources:  Maximising learner choice –       Open access to most resources-       Multi function rooms and spaces-       Learner controlled access to some spaces and resources based on earned responsibility measures-       Access to multiple teachers in any task-       Some student controlled budget for resources
Distribution of Leadership:  Driven towards widening leadership at all levels –       A clear programme for progressing learners leadership skills through managing real life services and projects-       Learners co-developing and co-running services-       Distribution of budgets is wide and includes some learner led groups and organisations.
Evaluation:  Examination based –       Competencies such as leadership and participation are measured in terms of progression-       Attitudinal surveys and open debates are used to directly and openly influence decision making-       Professional learning communities allow for evaluation and feedback on teacher practice-       Whole school aims which are the basis of annual evaluation
Recognition:  High academic achievement praised –       Peer assessment is given high status-       Aim to display or perform all work-       Certificates awarded between peers, peers and teachers and recognising equal right to recognition-       Variety of methods for recognising competency progression

[i]  Ewing, R. (2010). The Arts and Australian Education: Realising Potential. Melbourne: Australian Council of Educational Research. http://research.acer.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1020&context=aer

Bryce, J., Mendelovits, J., Beavis, A., McQueen, J., & Adams, I. (2004). Evaluation of school-based arts education programmes in Australian schools. Melbourne: Australian Council for Educational Research

[ii]  Shanghai and Hong Kong: Two Distinct Examples of Education Reform in China http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/34/45/46581016.pdf

[iii] DeCharms, R., Carpenter, V. and Kuperman, A. The Origin-Pawn variable in person perception. Socimetry, 1965

[iv]  Jackson, H. (1976). An Assessment of Long Term Effects of Personal Causation Training. St. Louis, MO, Washington University

[v]  Finland: Slow and Steady Reform for Consistently High Results http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/34/44/46581035.pdf , www.oecd.org/edu/pisa/2009


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