Logic Modelling – Clarifying our Assumptions

This post is one of a series linked to The Logic Model – getting a social return on investement?

The Logic Model is based on an acceptance of cause and effect i.e. IF I do this, THEN this happens.

Underpinning these causal relationships are a set of assumptions which we have built up through life experiences and learning.  For example, IF I drink a glass of water, THEN I will feel less thirsty.  However, when we begin to tease out some of the assumptions upon which educational initiatives have been based in the past we can begin to see some major flaws in Cause and Effect and perhaps begin to understand why they have not been as successful a they might have been.

An example might be as follows:

  •  IF we develop a Learning and Teaching Policy,
  • THEN it  will lead to better teaching,
  • and IF teaching is improved,
  • THEN better learning will take place,
  • and IF better learning takes place
  • THEN there will be an improvement in educational outcomes,
  • and IF we can improve educational outcomes
  • THEN we can improve the children’s life chances.

From the above example we can begin to see how the Model is undermined by a set of quite unrealistic assumptions.

As I reflect back on my career I can see countless projects – many of which I have perpetrated – that have been based upon flawed assumptions on the likely cause and effect relationships between activity and outcome.

Yet such is the pressure and expectation for activity – both from the individual and the system – that we rarely spend enough time exploring our assumptions before we leap into action.

A few years ago I studied Chris Argyris and Donald Schon’s notions of Theory in use and Espoused Theory :

When someone is asked how he would behave under certain circumstances, the answer he usually gives is his espoused theory of action for that situation. This is the theory of action to which he gives allegiance, and which, upon request, he communicates to others. However, the theory that actually governs his actions is this theory-in-use. (Argyris and Schön 1974: 6-7)

In layman’s terms we might know this better as “the difference between what we say and what we do”.

Argyris and Schon suggest that our tacit assumptions (theory-in-use) that we have about how the things happen have much more powerful influence on our behaviour than what we might say in order to comply with policy,  political correctness or our managers.

Perhaps even more importantly they suggest that organisations can have a similar divergence between what they say and what they do, i.e. their “theory-in-use” which is tacit and unspoken, can have a much more powerful influence on behaviour than any policy or  management rhetoric. For example, there are numerous examplesof organisations who have espoused corporate values through such things as mission statements, but whose organisational behaviour runs completely counter to such values.

A key stage in Logic Modelling, therefore, is to attempt to stand back and look at the unspoken assumptions upon which we currently base our practice and reflect whether or not we need to reconsider these with a view to creating a set of causal (IF/THEN) relationships which have a much greater chance of success.

I began to explore assumptions relating to A Curriculum for Excellence back in October and but now realise that this is even more important than I had first imagined.

The  “theory-in-use” which has dominated curriculum innovation up to this point probably goes something like this:

Teachers cannot be trusted with something as important as curriculum innovation.

There should be a uniformity of opportunity and pupil experience in all schools.

Development of the curriculum is essentially a “top down process”.

The key to improvement is to ensure a proper flow of information down to teachers.

Teachers need to “told” what to do.

The role of Local Authorities is to promote that flow of information and to ensure proper implementation by schools.

The key unit of curriculum creation are national bodies and local authorities.

School leaders have a responsibility to ensure that teachers implement the programme as planned.

Professional Development is based upon a deficit model whereby teachers’ perceived  lack of knowledge is addressed by providing them with materials and “instructions” for implementation.

There is a need to “teacher proof”  the system by ensuring that teachers cannot interfere with the contents or the delivery model.

But what about this as an alternative set of assumptions?

Teachers are professionals who want to make a positive difference to children’s lives;

Where teachers are empowered to work together they can create outstanding learning environments for children and young people;

Teachers naturally want to talk and learn from each other about their practice;

Teachers want to engage in dialogue about their own educational practice with a view to improving their craft.

The school is the key unit of curricular creation and professional development.

Schools should be encouraged to create curricular models which suit their own context

School leaders can create environments where teachers want to learn.

Teams of teachers working collectively towards a common purpose can have a more positive impact upon practice than any other strategy.

Teachers are partners in the curriculum development process.

I will be exploring how such an alternative set of assumptions might be represented in a Logic Model in the last post in this series.


Logic Model – the big picture


This post is one of a series linked to The Logic Model – getting a social return on investement?

I apologise from the outset to any experts in the field of Logic Modelling.  What follows is a very personal interpretation of the process. I recognise that it’s possible to have a multitude of feedback loops and additional stages within the model but having read them I don’t think they necessarily add anything to the basic concept – in fact I think in many ways they only serve to confuse.  To that end I’m going to try to describe the model in simplistic terms in an attempt to try to capture the “big picture”.

Why a Logic Model?

– Because it follows a logical sequence of events and represents a graphic model of a project, initiative, or change process (It must be remembered that this is a model and not reality)

What assumptions underpin Logic Modelling?

– A Logic Model assumes causal relationships, i.e. IF this happens, THEN this happens, e.g. IF I drink a glass of water, THEN I will feel less thirsty. However, we know from experience that that cause and effect are rarely that simple. Nevertheless, by at least trying to clarify and be explicit about our assumed causal connections we can begin to get closer to action which will result in a significant social return.



Do you have to plan in the linear order of the model, i.e. stage 1, stage 2 , stage 3 etc?

 – Surprisingly you don’t have to follow the order it’s possible to start at any stage in the model and work back or forwards within the model to end up with a final plan.

What are the constituent parts of the model?

– The most basic form of Logic Model can be represnted by 3 stages:


This simple model can also be broken down further into 5 stages:


Inputs are the resources you are going to invest in the plan of action, they can include, staff, time, money, equipment, support, materials, capital costs, etc.

Activities are the things you plan or intend to do, e.g. run courses, provide materials, implement a policy

Outputs are those things that you do and to whom, e.g the course was run for so many people over such and such a period of time.

Outcomes are those things that change as a consequence of the activities and outputs, e.g. learning, behaviour, attitudes, motivation, independence, etc.

Impact relates much more to the longer term outcome of the change you have initiated.

What’s different about this and how we currently plan?

In my experience of school and authority planning processes we have focussed – almost exclusively  – on activities and outputs, e.g. (activity) we are going to develop and implement a learning and teaching polic, (output) the policy was implemented.  Tagged onto these core elements came some consideration of the resources required or available and then a stumble around trying to work out “success criteria” – which were often no more than an expanded output e.g. the policy will be implemented.

I think the biggest difference between this traditional approach and the Logic Model is that activities – rather than being the first thing to go down on paper – is often the last.  In some ways this links to something I wrote about recently and our learned reflex to be action oriented – “dae sumthin”

Perhaps the current and future budgetary pressures will require us to make sure that we use what resources we have in the manner which are most likely to succeed?

As I write this I remind myself that whetever else we do in relation to applying the Logic Model, and Social Return on Investment that we don’t fall into the trap of:

 “knowing the price of everything and value of nothing.”

Is it appropriate to expect a social return on investment when considering education?


This post is one of a series linked to The Logic Model – getting a social return on investement?

I’m sure there will be many people who will recoil at the very notion of trying to measure the social return on the investment in education.

The reason for such a strong reaction is difficult to capture here but at its heart lies a deeply held belief that education is not a product nor a service but an inalienable right for every human being. Such lofty ideals lie beyond any crude reductionist attempt to limit it to the relationship between the investment and the return on that investment.  Surely one cannot possibly capture the relationships, the tiny interactions between teacher and learner, between learner and learner. Nor can we possibly measure the outcomes of the hidden curriculum. If such important elements of the educational experience cannot be measured then the danger must exist that we only attend to the things that we can measure and the quality of the educational experience would be all the more limited by that narrowing.

 In many ways I can agree with such sentiments and I think it’s important to keep in mind the last sentence of the preceding paragraph if the Logic Model is to be applied to education. Nevertheless, nations throughout the world, governments, local/district systems and schools make huge financial investments in education – all with a view to making a beneficial impact upon the social fabric of society. 

In Scotland total gross revenue expenditure on education was £4.6 billion in 2006-07 (the last year for which totals were available). 

Is it unreasonable to ask whether or not society is getting a reasonable social return on such a huge investment?

It’s the dichotomy which emerges in the system when considering these two opposing points of view i.e.

Most people would agree that society should expect a return from its investment in education.

When that tacit agreement is translated into an explicit attempt to measure that return it seems to cross the threshold of acceptability.

As I progress through the series of posts in this topic I can begin to tease out some of these issues and – hopefully – some solutions.

The Logic Model – getting a social return on investment?

Diagram – University of Wisconsin

Back in July 2006 I listened to Jim Honan give a fascinating talk on “Change that Leads to Improvement”.

The very title provokes interest as we sometimes assume that any change leads to improvement, whereas even a cursory examination of some of the changes which have been implemented in Scottish education over the last 30 years would suggest otherwise.

Jim introduced us to the concept of a “social return on investment”  and used the outcome approach to help us to shape up our Service Improvement Plan for education in East Lothian. We’ve been delighted with the response by schools to this approach as they have reacted in a very positive manner to the flexibility they have been given to achieve the outcomes in a manner which best suits their context, as opposed to a universal solution which they had to implement.

As an authority East Lothian Council have now decided to go one step further by applying the Program Logic Model (see above) to the planning process within all departments – you can access the document here.

In order to clarify my own thinking on this I thought I might have a go at describing the process – as the exam questions used to say – in my own words  (albeit that I’ll make good use of the resources provided by the University of Wisconsin and the Kellog Foundation Development Guide).

Social Return on Investment

The best way to capture this concept is to think of yourself as a potential investor in an educational development. I like to use the Dragon’s Den  analogy as means of describing this. As in the programme  you want to invest in a project which is likely to succeed, however, in contrast to BBC Dragons you want to see a social return on your investment, as opposed to a capital return.

Nevertheless, you want to see some logic applied to the investment proposal which makes a clear connection between the resources to be invested (inputs) , the activities to be undertaken (outputs), the short and long term outcomes (outcomes), and whether or not these outcomes will benefit society (impact)  -we’ll call this linear sequence a Logic Model.

The decision about whether you will invest in the project, and maintain that investment in the future will be informed by the degree of confidence you have in the model being described. 

What’s interesting about the way in which educational investment and educational activity have evolved over the last fifty years is that there is actually so little connection between inputs and outcomes, i.e. there is little discernible correlation between the level of investment in education and the quality of educational outcomes. The following quote is taken from Economics of Education in Europe:

In the discussion, many researchers repeatedly pointed out that education systems could achieve much better outcomes with the given amount of money if the money was used efficiently. More resources alone would not necessarily solve the problems. In this regard, insights from the economics of education may help politicians to make the right decisions on how to spend scarce resources. As a starting point, it is vital to move from an inputs-based perspective of investments in education to an outcome-based perspective.

 The low correlation between investment and outcomes was most recently identified within the the OECD Trends Shaping Education Report:

 High expenditure on schooling does not translate into better results: Finland has around average expenditure but very high achievements. What can be done to spend money more effectively?

Despite such research there is an overwhelming intuitive assumption that more investment will lead to better outcomes.  Try telling any parent or teacher that you are going to improve the quality of their child’s education by investing less money in the system and you will be put rudely in your place.

So it’s important here to focus on the purpose of this exercise – which is not about saving money – but about exploring how we can get the best social return from the money we currently invest.  I’ve explored before how some parents understandably  tend to focus upon “inputs” – in the belief that they will lead to better outcomes for the children – whereas in actual fact they would be better focusing their attention upon the entire system, e.g. inputs, outputs, outcomes and impact.

Over a series of posts I will explore the components of the Logic Model and use the Implementation of A Curriculum for Excellence as an example (as noted earlier this will be a personal interpretation of the Logic Model) .

The posts will cover:

Is it appropriate to expect a social return on investment when considering education?

Overview of the model

Clarifying our Assumptions



Outputs and outcomes

Implementing A Curriculum for Excellence

Do we promote resilience or dependence?

Modulus of Resilience, Ur, can be calculated using the following formula: U_r=\frac{\sigma^2}{2E}=0.5\sigma\epsilon=0.5 \sigma(\frac{\sigma}{E}),

where ? is yield stress, E is Young’s modulus, and ? is strain


Resilience – re·sil·ience (ri zil?y?ns, -? ?ns)


  • the quality of being resilient; esp.,
  • the ability to bounce or spring back into shape, position, etc.
  • the ability to recover strength, spirits, good humor, etc. quickly; buoyancy

According to the OECD report on Trends in Education one of the major challenges facing people in the future will be the challenges presented by being less securely attached to world of work and jobs.

In my review of the implications of such a trend I identified a key question which has major relevance for the kind of education we currently provide, the question was:

2. How well do schools do in preparing young people to cope with, even thrive in, uncertainty?

Such a question leads me back to the uncomfortable question about whether or not we are helping children to be resilient?

At the risk of sounding too much my age I think there has been a dramatic change in the level of resilience we expect from children.  Perhaps thirty years ago we did not have enough consideration about the feelings and concerns of young people but there appears to have been swing to the other extreme where parents often feel that any disturbance to the smooth trajectory of their child will have negative and irreversible consequences.

When I reflect upon my own schooling I think I can safely say that most of my “challenging” educational experiences had a positive impact on my development.  I’m not saying that I enjoyed them or gained any pleasure from them at the time – but they have certainly helped to shape the person I am today and I’m certainly the better for it.

Yet there exists an understandable tendency amongst some parents to protect their child from any experience which “might” be perceived to be upsetting and against the wishes of their child.  

It’s tough one but I think we need to begin to engage with parents about the impact of the “cotton wool” environment which only serves to stifle, and leaves children unprepared for the uncertain environment they are going to experience when they leave the nest.

I’m not suggesting here that we become any less caring than we currently are but that within a culture of unconditional positive regard, where we seek to promote a sense of belonging – we recognise that resilience is a natural human trait, that children are much more robust than we might think, and that we should not protect them to the exent that they never experience “challenging” circumstances which don’t necessarily meet with their approval or delight.

And in case you were wondering – no I haven’t been reading the Sunday Times!



Group Assessment – we really need to catch up

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This youtube video shows a winning group project from computer science undergraduates from Cambridge University.

Earlier this year our eldest son had to take part in a group assessment at Edinburgh University.  It involved him working with others to complete a joint project.  The outcome was assessed and the result forms part of his assessment profile for the year.

It set me to thinking about the potential of using formal group assessment in schools.  If it’s seen to be good enough for universities then there should certainly be no problem using it in schools. I’m not just talking here about the occasional project in S1 or S2 but using this approach in the formal certificated curriulum in the upper school as a part of a mixed assessment model. 

Here’s how it’s described by the Higher Education Academy:

Group work has become increasingly important in higher education with the greater emphasis on skills and lifelong learning. We want students not only to be effective during their studies but also as future employees.

However, group work is often introduced in a hurry, can be unsupported and assessed without thinking through the consequences for both the student and the tutor. The following resources will provide a firm foundation for ensuring group work to be effective and a positive learning experience.

Introduction to group work is a complex process, it is therefore advisable to consider the many different aspects involved – Planning, establishing groups, assessing and evaluating etc.

The resources below cover the following areas, using groups, group roles, stages of development, group size, group formation, preparing students for group work, managing group processes, assessing group work, evaluating and reviewing and pedagogical and ethical issues.


  1. Group work and Group Assessment, Victoria University of Wellington (pdf 1.7M) 2)
  2. Assessing learning in Australian universities; (pdf 387 KB)
  3. Assessing Group Tasks, The University of Queensland (pdf 208 KB)
  4. Group Assessment, University of Essex 
  5. Assessing group-work, Michael Christie and Fariba Ferdos (pdf 151 KB)

Assessment Grids

                     a) Baltimore County Public Schools (web page) 
University of Lincoln, NZ (PDF) 
                     c) Indiana University, USA (web page) 
Southern Illinois University (web page)

 Peer assessment of group work: a review of the literature

This review may be of interest to those involved in peer assessment of group work. Numerous recommendations are made for the peer assessment community and the Web Peer Assessment (WebPA) project. The review comes with a references table (available to download) which highlights over 30 references with key themes and findings for each.  For further information, please follow the link below:

WebPA Project Page

Surfing down under

Lewi – our youngest boy – is settling into life in Christchurch, New Zealand.  He sent me this photo of him posing in his surfing gear (he’s on the right). The hospitality and welcome he has received from the local people has been amazing.

It’s only been two weeks but I can already see him benefiting from the experience.  He certainly wasn’t ready to go to university straight from school.

I am becoming more and more convinced that young people need some space between school and higher education.  What happens in that space is a matter of personal choice but I think schools need to take a more active role in promoting that option.


Trends Shaping Education

The OECD recently published a report into Trends Shaping Education 2008.

There are some interesting trends in the 16 OECD countries although I wonder if the current global financial crisis will shift the direction or accelerate some of these in the coming years?

I’ll try to summarise some of the key points here but you will need to access the Read Only Report if you want to follow up on any of the detail. I’ve selected a few questions arising from each trend which might be of particular relevance to Scotland.

1. Ageing OECD Societies
– Fewer children – birth rates well down since the 1960’s.
– we start parenthood later
– Living longer
– Changing age structures

Implications for Education in Scotland? 

1.  What does it mean for young people coming into education to have older parents and fewer, often no brothers and sisters? How does it change the way in which they experience school life and how will schools need to respond to this profound change?

2. When we expect schooling to prepare young people for life that means something very different if the average life expectancy is 80-90 years, than 50 -60 years. Do our life long societies call for re-thinking what education should equip people with?

3. Can we continue with ever-lengthening periods of time spent by young people in initial education? Do we need more flexible, less linear models which get young people sooner out education, and, if so, what guarantees to return to education later in life are needed?

2. Global Challenges
– Our crowded planet
– International divides of affluence and poverty
– Populations on the move
– Global environmental challenges

Implications for Education in Scotland? –

1. Can the school act as a “social anchor” for populations which are experiencing isolation and exclusion?

2. Does national investment in education bringing economic returns inevitably increase global inequalities?

3. In pluralistic societies, the school comes to face an even greater range of family expectations and aspirations about what it should be doing.  How far should different demands be accommodated?

3. Towards a New Economic Landscape
– The global economy
– Knowledge-intensive service economies

Implications for Education in Scotland? –

1. Increasing competition in global markets has underpinned the idea that countries need constant innovation to maintain position.  Does education nurture the creativity necessary to be innovative?

2. Are schools equipping the young for the competitive knowledge based-based economy and society?

3. Should more emphasis be placed on “soft skills” such as caring, judgement, intuition, ethics, inspiration, friendliness, and imagination?

4. The Changing World of Work and Jobs
– Lives less dominated by work?
– Less securely attached to the labour market?
– Women at work

Implications for Education in Scotland?

1. Do shorter male working hours get translated into greater availability to engage in school life?

2. How well do schools do in preparing young people to cope with, even thrive in, uncertainty?

3. The difficulties in getting a firm foothold in the job market, and of maintaining it, suggest that education systems need to ensure that transition to working life is accepted as a major responsibility. Is this the case or is it common for schools and teachers to treat the economy as a “dirty word” not to sully education’s purity?

4. What role do schools play, through implicit messages and explicit guidance, in shaping the career and professional (as well as educational) choices of girls and boys? What are the priorities for further change in this respect?

5. The Learning Society
– Educational attainment
– Rising investments in education
– Global educational patterns – inequalities and student flows

Implications for Education in Scotland?

1. Are ever more educated parents proving to be an invaluable resource to complement the work of schools?

2. High expenditure on schooling does not translate into better results: Finland has around average expenditure but very high achievements. What can be done to spend money more effectively?

6. ICT: The Next Generation
– The digital revolution
– The expanding World Wide Web
– Towards Web 2.0?

Implications for Education in Scotland?

In what ways, if at all, should education be organised differently in recognition of the digital environment of young people?

The progress of ICT is continuously improving the possibilities for networking, distance learning and self-learning. How is this being felt by schools – as an extension of the possibilities or as a threatening alternative?

With the availability of so much information it is a frequent contention that teaching factual knowledge in schools is no longer relevant. How important is a factual basis to learning and what should be the approach to teaching skills and digesting information?

7. Citizenship and the State
– Changing forms of political participation
– The role of the welfare state – smaller government?

Implications for Education in Scotland?

1. Should schools help build the attitudes necessary for fruitful participation by giving pupils more opportunities to be heard, to participate and to collaborate in school decision making?

2. If individuals are to be expected to make decisions about health care, pensions, higher education financing, etc, which used to be the responsibility of the state, what kinds of knowledge and skills do they need to function in this environment? Do schools need to do more in this regard?

8. Social Connections and Values
– Living in more diverse families
– Less social interaction?
– Evolving values

Implications for Education in Scotland?

1. Is the predominance of women teachers, especially at pre-school and primary level combined with growing single parenthood creating a long term imbalance with many children having no male role models?

2. If trust and social engagement are low where does this leave schools?

3. Effective education relies upon good home-school relations. Does the growing diversity of family situations affect the nature of these relations?

9. Sustainable Affluence?
– Growing affluence, growing energy consumption
– Inequality on the rise
– Lifestyles with health risks

Implications for Education in Scotland?

1. How well do young people balance their lives as learners in school and their lives as consumers? Consumption often offers immediate satisfaction; how does increased consumerism affect learning, as the benefits of learning are not immediate but lie further in the future?

2. Are attitudes to schooling changing with greater affluence? Do people regard it more as a consumer good than as a public service than in the past?

3. Is inequality and inevitable part of society? How do we balance the equity with the legitimate rights of parents to choose what’s best for their child?

4. Is the balance of the curriculum right in ensuring the physical and emotional development of students as well as the cognitive?


Catching up

Over the last few weeks I’ve been struggling to complete as many posts as I would have liked.
I’ve been jotting down ideas but have rarely got beyond the earliest drafts. Hopefully I can finish some of them over the course of this weekend.