Imagine you’re a tree…

I spent a couple of years working in an an International, American school, which was working towards implementing the International Baccalaureate’s Middle Years Programme at the time.

I took from the experience a couple of things:

  • the useful concept of a Scope & Sequence. That, in developing a scheme of work (of whatever size), decide what knowledge & skills content should be included, and then work out the order in which to best present it. And
  • a general dislike for interdisciplinary project work, which the IB seemed quite keen on: for example, each subject focussing on the Renaissance for a sustained period of time.

And so I was aghast to read that a country with a reputation for educational excellence – Finland – are scrapping the delivery of discrete subjects in favour of topics.  It seems to me that such an approach has the real potential to leave huge parts of subject content undelivered, in rather the same way as UK students of the 70s and 80s sometimes complain about not having been taught grammar, or how to draw, etc..

Great care will have to be applied at the planning stage, if this is to work.

It will be interesting to see the results.

Give a man a fire and he’s warm for a day, but set fire to him and he’s warm for the rest of his life. 

Last night I attended an event organised by the Stephen Perse Foundation – a collection of Independent schools in and around Cambridge – one of a series of talks organised under the heading Inspire Me.

The concept is simple: invite successful people to come and talk and take questions about the work they do, in the hope that it will inspire the next generation of young people to consider things beyond their immediate horizon.  As far as I know this – careers-advice with a hefty dollop of reality – is unique, though the BBC’s Economics Editor, Robert Peston, offers a match-making service: inviting well-known figures to give up a bit of their time to visit schools and give a talk.

I was motivated to go because the topic was Jobs in the Third Sector. Dame Fiona Reynolds spoke for twenty minutes or so on her work with the National Trust, and the rewards of volunteering.  Equally striking was another short presentation given by a Year 11 student at the school outlining, with genuine enthusiasm, all the things the pupils do each year to raise money for their charity, Barnardo’s. Two other panelists also answered questions about their positive experiences working for charities.

And I came away thinking that surely this is the educational bottom line. Beyond exam grades. Beyond subject knowledge even. To show what’s possible. To forge a dream. To light the flame, then watch as they run with it.


The End Product

A recent e-mail from Bob Clary at Webucator got me pondering what our somewhat conveyor-belt-exam-oriented education factories churn out, and how that interfaces with what further learning institutions or businesses need.

  • What do we want the next generation to be able to do?
  • What nuggets can we give them to ensure they have a happy, productive life?
  • Really what’s the balance between what they should know, what they need to be able to do, and the type of person (we think) they should be?

I’ve sat and listened to people who say the world’s changing so fast that our subjects are almost obsolete already, and thought: the basic tenants of every subject will remain the same. We do have much to offer.

I’ve heard them say there’s all the information out there already, probably produced more slickly than we can – just be a facilitator, and thought: no it’s never tailored to the needs of those in my charge.

I’ve taught the spectrum of young people, from the most privileged right down to well, the most humble experiencing all sorts of horrors, and seen them all at their best: well turned out, well mannered and thoughtful – despite everything!

So what’s a real education? Slaking curiosity and developing an appetite for more? Encouraging interests? Enabling talents to flourish? Modelling behaviours? All of that!

And what of the product? Well if they’re capable, yet still open to learn. If they’re trustworthy, kind and generous. And if they’ve got a vision for a better world than the one they’ve inherited, then maybe, we’ll have done all right!

I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.

I’ve always thought that pupils learn best through practical enquiry.  By developing programmes of study that require investigation,  students develop the skills necessary to accompany the knowledge too.  This is backed up by research into learning retention rates:

But of course, this is just “Leftie progressive” nonsense! :/

Latest Ofsted directive: ‘We don’t want child-centered teaching.’


I’ve got a lesson for you, Mr. Wilshaw:

it’s the pupils’ role to learn.

Therefore learning is student-centred.

Ergo teaching is scholar-focussed!

What are you suggesting we do? Lecture from the front of the class – casting our knowledge indiscriminately in the hope that some of it will hit the appropriate place at just the right time?  And hoping that, whilst we’re doing that, the pupils will also somehow magically acquire the relevant practical skills which inevitably accompanies the knowledge? Guess what? That’s what the internet does. And just how good have undirected MOOCs turned out to be, huh?

  • It’s the role of the teacher to ascertain what each student knows and what still needs to be learnt.
  • It’s the role of the teacher to break that down into manageable chunks and to present it in a way that’s easy to grasp.  And
  • it’s the role of the teacher to ensure that the student also acquires the skills needed to accompany the knowledge.

This is not dumbing-down education Sir Michael, this IS education.

The irony of GCSE marks

“We’re going to make exams harder” cries Mr. Gove.

The students weep too, as having faced the test they get a lower percentage score.

The Exam boards, seeing the low percentage scores, lower the grade boundaries.

So the same percentage of students get the same grades, except they’ve understood less of the material that had to be covered (which was arguably unsuitable for them in the first place). :/

Has Mr. Gove inadvertently created the fictional grade inflation he was trying to redress?


A friend of mine swears by her Casio calculator which has a set of physical constants accessible at the touch of a button – she finds it very useful.  It’s ageing though, and it turns out that Casio only sell that model in Hong Kong now – a long way to go to get a replacement!

The effect of Science usurping Religion’s place in our quest for understanding, is that we now expect everything to be sown up; understood beyond question; black and white and quantified to two decimal places.

This manifests itself in all sorts of ways.  Friends wanting to know if they’ve

  • picked the best thing on the menu;
  • circled the right answers so that a mindless pop-survey turns out right or
  • answered the questions on an adoption form correctly.

Students wanting to know whether they’ve got

As if having the right answer is the only thing that matters.

Do you remember getting all your correct answers marked wrong in Maths, just because you neglected to show your working?

Stephen Hawking said last week that he no longer thinks that Black Holes exist – at least, not in the way we’ve come to envisage them.

So it turns out there’re few constants!