In 2004 SSAT started a dialogue with schools around personalising learning …

Personalisation and customisation are well known concepts in the business world where mass customisation and innovative ways of fulfilling diverse customer needs gradually emerged from the more constrained mass production techniques. And so in 2004, SSAT began a dialogue with schools around personalising learning for students and the resultant changes that would, as in the business world, transform organisation and practice.

Schools that can exemplify the impact of personalising learning share common features especially in their attitude to change, innovation and transformation, which Figure 1 shows …

  • Conditions for embedded personalised learning Schools in which personalisation of learning is most embedded tends to be high on both dimensions and so sits in the lower right cell.
  • Schools in the lower left cell are able to move towards change quickly but perceive no need to do so immediately.
  • Schools in the upper right cell lack the capacity to take the initiative but accept there is a need to change.
  • Schools in the upper left cell are confident their practice and performance; they will be reluctant to accept the national strategies or ways of personalising learning.

From Nine ‘Gateways’ to Four ‘Deeps’

Following work with school leaders, SSAT organised a series of pamphlets and conferences around the Nine Gateways to Personalising Learning (although it soon become clear that some of the gateways sharing common features, could be clustered into four ‘deeps’).

Nine gateways to the four deeps
Deep learning contains three gateways – student voice, assessment for learning and learning to learn– and is at the heart of personalisation, for better learning is the purpose of personalisation and its key outcome.

Deep experience must ensure engagement which is a precondition of learning. The curriculum needs to be relevant; it needs support by effective uses of technology;  and it must engage students with appropriate challenge.

Deep support extends the ‘advice and guidance’ and ‘mentoring and coaching’ gateways and cover the broader well-being of individual students – their health, their general security and their freedom from poverty and disadvantage.  Deep support also requires schools and teachers to collaborate with other institutions and individuals to secure deep learning for students.

High quality, co-constructed and deep leadership is required if a school is to understand the deeps and how they relate to each other, and for creating the conditions in which they flourish. This did not involve introducing a new concept of leadership .. it was more the exploration of leadership tasks around organisation pathways, the workforce and school design.


Co-construction cycle

Following on from the nine gateways and four deeps, the additional concept of co-construction introduced by Professor David Hargreaves captured what school leaders often described as a core element in personalisation, namely the readiness to treat students as active partners in the design, implementation and evaluation of their education.

Figure 4 shows the co-construction cycle:

  • if students are engaged, they will take more responsibility for their learning;
  • when they assume responsibility, they will achieve a degree of independence in learning;
  • with independence comes self-confidence and so greater maturity in relationships;
  • self-confident, mature learners will display a commitment to co-construction.

Tom Sherrington talking about co-constructing the learning at King Edward VI Grammar School, Chelmsford

Person specifications of learner and educator

Professor David Hargreaves writing in A New Shape for Schooling articulated a description of the learner who would be the ideal outcome of personalisation, that is, in a school where personalising learning is embedded.

The learner when personalisation is well developed: an articulate, autonomous but collaborative learner, with high meta-cognitive control and the generic skills of learning, gained through engaging educational experiences with enriched opportunities and challenges, and supported by various people, materials and ICT linked to general well-being but crucially focussed on learning, in schools whose culture and structures sustain the continuous co-construction of education through shared leadership.

The educator when personalisation is well developed: A person who is passionate about learning, for self and for students, a skilled mentor and coach, committed to the co-construction of all aspects of schooling; who views students as partners in the creation of, and access to, data about their learning and achievement to assist in their progression; who is an expert in a relevant domain but who knows that forging the conditions of successful learning is not simply a matter of telling; who strives to engage students to generate the motivation that underpins true learning; who recognises that student needs are complex and variable and so personalisation entails drawing on a wide range of human and material resources to support learning; and who constantly relishes the changing responsibilities of a leader in education and of the need to redesign our educational institutions.

Taken together, these person specifications constitute a transformation of education and a transition from the 19th century model of schooling to one that is fit for purpose in the 21st century, with its need for a different kind of person, educated in a different kind of schooling, for a different kind of society.

Resources and links


Download the pdf: Redesigning Schooling-the context in summary – providing the context in which the SSAT’s drive on Redesigning Schooling will build

Download the pdf: David Hargreaves for the Specialist Schools & Academies Trust (2006), A New Shape for Schooling – an explanation of the concepts behind the four deeps – deep learning, deep experience, deep support and deep leadership

Tom Sherrington’s post for Guardian Education, 8 October 2012: Co-constructing your classes; putting your students in the driving seat

Email SSAT’s EShop for information on the publications around the nine gateways and four deeps ..

End of resources and links