County Proportional Representation

The headline today was all about changing the boundaries to make the number of voters in each constituency more even – a laudable enough aim, and reducing the number of MPs – which probably isn’t.

But if better representation is the goal, then reform should be bottom up:

CPRParishioners ought to elect willing Parish Councillors to be seconded as District representatives then, likewise, elect County Councillors from willing District Councillors.

We already have accurate population census numbers for each County. That could be divided by, say, 100,000 (rounded to the nearest number), to give the number of representatives for each County.

That number of MPs would then be elected – by constituents across the county – from a list of County Councillors willing to become MPs.

Seems to me that this would have several advantages:

  • Councillors would have to demonstrate their effectiveness,  in order to prove worthy of ‘promotion’ to the next level
  • Thus they would retain an interest and involvement in local issues and
  • Communication between the levels of governance would improve.

Once parliament is elected, the Head of State would appoint the Prime Minister (from the pool of MPs) based on merit, and subject to the approval of parliament. The Prime Minister would then form the government from the constituency of MPs: specialists in each field to head the Select Committees.

Physics

This is one of many work files belonging to a colleague of mine. It contains worksheets and notes pertaining to “stuff” that has been, but no longer is, part of GCSE Physics syllabuses. Not the full GCSE Physics course, just the stuff that’s no longer there.

Why does she keep the work? Well, every so often, a topic gets re-inserted, or comes up somewhere else, so the material can be used either as-is, or modified to fit.

What a colossal waste of time and effort!

  • We know the canon of Physics.
  • We know the Scope (for each level) and the Sequence it should be taught in to get the best results.

Why are we dictated to by exam boards and government about what gets taught at KS4&5?

It makes no sense to suddenly take out, or add great swathes of knowledge, as seems to happen.

Subject specialists, at all levels, and in all subjects, ought to come together and sort out the syllabuses properly. Then review them in 5 yearly intervals.  And the same body of knowledge ought to be the basis of all assessments.

Imagine you’re a tree…

I spent a couple of years teaching in 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.

Inspired.

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.’

What?

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?

Constants

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!

The value of an education is not the learning of many facts, but the training of the mind to think something that cannot be learned from textbooks

I was at a party some time ago, talking to a physicist.  The hosts’ todler happened to be pushing at a gate, and enjoying the moment of it returning.  The physicist mused that it would be years before the child could fully understand what was happening in her ‘experiment’ – because the maths was quite difficult – by which time the curiosity engendered by such a ‘simple thing’ would have long-since evaporated.

Since Mr. Gove’s enthronement at the DofE, there’s been much talk of knowledge as a fundamental, as if, as in Bloom’s Taxonomy, knowledge is the bedrock upon which everything else is then built.

It doesn’t work quite like that though.

Nor is it quite right to turn the triangle on its point, and say that entry should always be through creativity and experimentation because, whilst experimentation is a natural habit, and all well and good,  you do need some stuff to base things on.

So I’m wondering if a tiered triangle is the right model at all!  Is creativity prized because of its rarity? No – it’s not rare at all! Is knowledge undervalued because it’s everywhere?  It still has to be mined.

Perhaps education is a spinning £2 coin. Made up of two metals, and with an image on either side: there’s knowledge and comprehending, and there’s using, re-purposing and creating.  And as the coin spins, it all sort-of melds together.

Never forgetting of course, that on the edge of the coin is engraved the words Sir Isaac Newton used: “[If I have seen further, it is by] Standing on the shoulders of giants”.

Facilitator

Don’t let them diminish the role of teacher to (e-)librarian or minder. Don’t let them denigrate one of the most honourable, important, worthwhile functions of humanity.  Never let them downgrade your job to facilitator. You are so much more than that:

  • You have studied long and hard, and continue to research: you are an authority on your subject;
  • You have thought carefully about how to present material in the best way possible, so that each student will understand well;
  • You are the embodiment of your subject;
  • You are a guiding light in their new and uncertain landscape – a role model to emulate;

You are the enabler of the next generation,

And the most precious resource a school has.

Martin Francis recently invited me to critique The Green Party’s ideas on education

As you’d expect it’s a fairly wide-ranging paper and in places proposes a radical departure from the contorted, stratified, needlessly overcomplicated mess we have at the moment, but I found that I’d already come to a lot of the same conclusions.

Areas of agreement

First things first: children learn an incredible amount in the first few years of their lives, and yet pre and KS1 ‘education’ has been inchoate and somewhat ad hoc. Parents and the community have an enormous role and responsibility to give the child the best start possible.  Similarly, children are going to be ‘ready’ for more formal education at different ages. The Green Party are suggesting the age of 6 – personally, I’d rather it be when they’ve been deemed to’ve reached the concrete operational stage of cognitive development. Of course  we never stop learning either – and Education really needs to set us up for that, and set up to support that too.  Furthermore Education is most effective when all the stakeholders (horrible term) are actively involved. In other words, it’s a community project.

I’ve blogged before that I think that scholars simply ought to go to their local school.  I completely support the Green Party’s agenda to move towards state-funded, standard, local, non-selective community schools*.  I think class sizes of 20 are perfect.  I generally favour fairly – but not too widely – mixed ability classes, and inclusivity. I too would do away with compulsory daily acts of worship, though there is something important about coming together for formal assemblies which oughtn’t to be abandoned.

I absolutely agree with getting rid of SATs and league tables, neither of which serve the natural process of learning.  The ONLY factor that matters, is that students make progress (but that’s not the same as ‘value added‘). In accounting for this, Ofsted should provide a barometer for the school’s management, rather than beating the profession with a stick.

Something I haven’t written about, but often thought important, is food.  I totally agree that students ought to be given a healthy, hearty lunch. Cooked on site. It’s a sad state of affairs that children are arriving at school hungry.  They really can’t be expected to learn on an empty stomach. For many, a breakfast club is vital.

However, some of these things ought to be left to the profession to decide, and this is

Where we part company

For parity, education has to be a national thing, rather than regional or local.  It just really can’t be the political pawn it’s become. Education needs to be devolved to an independent body of experts, who oversee all matters of teaching & learning, and the development and support of teachers.  As I’ve written before, I think ALL teachers ought to be fellows of this institution, and have a say in how it’s managed.

For the same reason, there needs to be a National Curriculum too (in the sense of agreed, shared, level-appropriate content).  It should be developed by subject specialist teachers from all phases, and it should be malleable enough to meet individual student’s abilities and interests. Assessments (various) ought to be absolutely bound to it, rather than the situation we have at the moment, where exam boards dictate what is taught, and how and when students are examined (at least at KS4&5). I do agree though that more attention ought to be given to Life Skills, that academic and vocational studies ought to be integrated and have complete parity, and that apprenticeships have to be part of the educational landscape in order to meet the needs of all students (and employers). And I agree that the leaving age should be left at 16.

But I think the Local Authority does have two important roles to play in education.  Firstly, to ensure that there is a school place for every child.  This seems so obvious, and yet the focus of intense debate.  Its other function is to maintain the fabric of the school. However, the Local Authority must not be allowed to use education as a tool of social engineering.

* Specialist schools could be part of a mix for twilight, weekend or even day release.

Getting rid of bad teachers

Labour haven’t learnt anything then!

How many “bad teachers” have been “got rid of”, Mr. Hunt? It turns out to be very few.  Why?  Because if a teacher is struggling, if they’re not getting the support and encouragement they need, if they’ve realised that Teaching isn’t the profession for them, then, guess what?  They’ve probably walked already.  And what percentage of teachers give up within the first five years?

The antagonism of the negative spiral!

Wouldn’t it be a much more sensible approach to protect and build upon the investment already made in bright,  willing,  young things?

On a par with Doctors and Lawyers you say?  CPD you say?  Well!  Give us the status (and the pay) of Doctors and Lawyers then, rather than treating us like political pawns!  I’ve oft said it here that teachers are constantly trying to improve their practice:  reviewing their work,  discussing ideas with colleagues, trying new things.  It doesn’t always have to be going on a course or observing someone else, you know!

Christine Blower was spot-on on BBCRadio 4’s Today programme, to point out the hurdles that teachers already face. They:

  • need a degree (and quite rightly so) and in my opinion, should also have or be working towards, Qualified Teacher Status;
  • have to pass their probationary year;
  • have Ofsted breathing down their neck;
  • have classroom observation.

A five or seven year MOT does seem a bit redundant (as well as beaurocratic and expensive).

Paraphrasing Mr. Hunt (careful there, James Naughty): “Teachers should be getting out of bed eagerly and racing to school.”  Well hang on a minute!  Why should the teaching profession be any different to any other?  But if teachers do happen to be keen,  it’s despite their goldfish-bowl environment!  Even this old cynic has eager-beaver days – the burning desire to see the best in students; to be astonished by their intelligence, imagination, manipulation of knowledge using their skills in creative ways, and to share in the joy of achievement.  In fact, as things stand,  if it weren’t for the students, I wouldn’t be in education! :/

Back to school for you I think, Mr. Hunt.  Nobody goes into the profession for the short days and long holidays, high pay or the stress-free life!

It seems that Sir John Major has found his voice,

and what he’s saying seems to be causing a stir. Most recently, in a speech to the South Norfolk Conservative Association, he attacked the “truly shocking” privilege of the privately educated elite.

In every single sphere of British influence, the upper echelons of power in 2013 are held overwhelmingly by the privately educated or the affluent middle class. To me from my background, I find that truly shocking.”

I don’t disagree with Harry Mount’s observation in his Daily Telegraph blog: that the private education sector has enjoyed recent popularity. Nor do I disagree with his analysis of why: the demise of the grammar school. Indeed I’ve said as much myself. But I do find his solution to John Major’s revelation completely perverse: to reinstate grammar schools. How can a stratified society possibly be less unequal with more segregation? Quite frankly if we want a more meritocratic society, then that needs to start in education: a level playing field of no selection and no school fees.

Mr. Mount was keen to extol Mr. Gove’s achievement to reinstate O levels in all but name, and blame the whipping-boy, Mr. Clegg, for reining in plans for the reintroduction of grammar schools.

“Michael Gove is the first Education Secretary in half a century who has tried to turn the tide but it’s a pretty powerful tide to turn. It’s not just the near-abolition of grammar schools that’s led to this tragic decline in social mobility. The dumbing down of exams, the removal of O-Levels, the decline in rigour of what is taught and how exams are marked, the priority of thoughts over facts, the fear of difficulty, the fear of history… The list goes on and on.

“Gove has done his best to turn the clock back in many of these areas. But, on the big question – the return of grammar schools – he has no chance, as long as the government is in coalition with Nick Clegg, who is so determined to pull the ladder up behind him.”

Well do keep up at the back! Mr. Gove’s penchant is for Free Schools, and the wholesale privatisation of state education, Mr. Mount. And judging by Chile’s and Sweden’s experience, if that were to happen here, then we really would see a dramatic decline in education.

Rage against the machine

Once in a while, just for fun, I like to bait the Apple-Zombies in the Twittersphere about their enchantment to the iPad.

From the outset I should admit that I’ve been an Apple-ista since ’86: my first classroom computer was Elsiean LCII; my laptops have all been Macs, and I followed the iPhone’s progress closely through development, and was one of the first to get one. So you’d think I’d be a fan of the iPad, right?  Wrong!

Don’t misunderstand me, I’m all for technology in the classroom: and students should certainly be using it when it’s appropriate.  The thing is, I don’t think that tablets are a technology fit for the classroom, either in terms of the hardware or software.

The limitation of the iPad’s connectivity:

Connectivity of input

I’ve nothing against a keyboard on a display – except the size of the window you’re inputting to becomes ridiculously small – but the physicality of a real keyboard is better. Best make it a wireless one though, as the iPad doesn’t have any ports. But what if you want to make a stereo recording, using good quality mics?  Or you want to use data logging equipment.  Sorry, an iPad really doesn’t cut it.  Just run a simulation then?  However good a simulation is, it’s an impoverished educational experience compared to actually setting up and doing an experiment yourself. And none of the undoubtedly very good art apps will give you any real sense of how to apply paint to canvas.

Connectivity of Output

Similarly if you want to print a document, you have to transfer the file or use a wifi printer, just because Apple refuses to incorporate any sort of useful port!  And the Heath Robinson lengths one has to go to to be able to use it as a white board. Well, why bother, when a laptop just plugs in?

Use

I guess we’re all supposed to move over to the Cloud – not that proprietary cloud services providers co-operate with one another to make that easy for the user.  But – wifi availability issues aside – why should I trust it to continue to be there, offering apps freely for use? And who else gets access to the information?

Another bugbear is having to enter the quagmire of iTunes – possibly the worst piece of software Apple’s ever written – ON ANOTHER DEVICE, just to transfer files.  Thank goodness Dropbox came along!

Other practitioners suggest we use web-apps like Padlet, ThingLink and Mural.ly, but there’s actually something to be said for the common experience of looking at (and responding to) the same thing in the same place, rather than the solitude of students peering into individual screens. And anyway, Chromebooks would still be better technology for this.

Apps

It’s true that there are an increasing number of very good educational apps – and it’s a pity they don’t run on desk/laptops. To be really honest though, most of the time all that students use is Office and a web browser. So Ubuntu‘s a better OS choice.

Not that the classroom is all about note-taking, but since we’re on the subject, I think the teacher still has an important role as disseminator, and note-taking is better done by writing rather than typing (or worse still, taking a picture of what’s been written on the board, even with OCR), since research shows that the student is more likely to retain the knowledge through elaborative encoding.

But technology facilitates creativity!

Not in my experience it doesn’t – it gets in the way!  My recent practice has been to separate the creative act from technology altogether – and the results are far more natural.

And anybody that starts talking to you about SAMR, hasn’t realised that the very act of Substitution changes the process, and it’s often the processes that students need to practise.

Too many apps – too many distractions

I’m not prepared to accept the retort that students found playing games, updating their Facebook status, texting or sharing photos when they’re supposed to be working is down to poor classroom management.  They’re only a click away, so the temptation is there, and the best student in the world is going to be distracted.  Look at how teachers behave in staff meetings when they’ve got their iPad out.  Do you think they’re taking notes on what the head’s saying?  No!  They’re playing Sudoku, writing an email, or at best they’re editing some to-do list.  Just how well are they listening?

So what about the tablet competition?

Well, many of the none-Apple tablets appear to come with more connective potential and memory card slots.  I hope Microsoft begins to give Apple a run for their money (actually, I’d like Ubuntu to do that even more, but that’s still a way off.)  And as much as I don’t like supporting Rupert Murdoch, I have to admit that one of his subsidiaries, Amplify, has a ‘skin’ over the Android platform that might be more appropriate for educational use.

BYOD

However, if we’re choosing the best technology for the classroom, my preference would be laptopsideally their own!  Because they’re portable, laptops still have the flexibility of an iPad over a desktop.  They have a keyboard Input (and a separate screen Output). They have numerous, useful, physical ports. They’re equipped with software that doesn’t need the network (which doesn’t always work, work quickly enough, or gets blocked by systems administrators).  And the students keep their work on their own machine (hopefully regularly saved and backed-up). [Plus there’s less capital outlay for the school, and there’s a chance the young person might look after their own property better than they do the school’s.]

Broadening Horizons

I’m on foreign ground here since, like many others, my MFL education was limited to nuts and bolts at Secondary School, and quite frankly, through no fault of dedicated teachers, it was not a great success.

Successive headlines seem to suggest that the teaching of Modern Foreign Languages is in decline: Universities no longer offering courses and perhaps the Labour government making it optional in 2004 revealed its real popularity, with the Coalition now ‘doing a Canute’.

Conventional wisdom has it that bilingual children are academically more able.  Could it be that the connections which are made in the brain by learning another language also help with brain function across the spectrum of subjects?

It’s often mooted that toddlers find it easiest to learn languages.  Again something to do with synapses that are all too soon lost even before the end of childhood.  But the lack of specialist teachers at KS1&2 so often prevents anything other than the very basics being conveyed.

So the following question ought to at least be posed:

for the sake of improving educational standards, shouldn’t Languages education be focussed on pre/playschool?

Academics threw the SoS a curveball last week

And, rather unsurprisingly, the DfE struck-out (in both senses of the phrase).

The simple question boiled down to:

When should playtime end, and proper school begin?

A fair question too, since there’s huge variance and unclear outcomes:

  • The independent (and international) sector welcomes children as young as three.
  • The maintained sector currently goes for up to 15 hours per week of pre-school provision from the age of three, and then eases youngsters in around their fifth birthday.
  • And yet some countries – with enviable results – don’t start “teaching” their children until they’re seven.

The concrete operational stage of brain development kicks-in around then, with logic and reasoning beginning to be deployed and physical concepts beginning to be understood.  So pupils need to’ve been tooled-up, ready to hit the ground running by then.

  • What knowledge and skills are needed?
  • Who should meet that need? What’re the parental responsibilities, preschool provision duties, and what is the KS1 teacher’s purview?
  • How formal should it be for best results?
  • How much provision is required?
  • Can it be funded, and how can it be organised?

Psychologists have identified two distinct phases of brain development in the first 7 years: the sensorimotor stage (0-2yrs) and the pre-operational stage (2-7yrs).  The first phase is about the baby exploring new experiences and learning about causality, time and space. The second phase is where symbols and language become important, and where memory and imagination are developed. Relationships between things are discovered and problems are solved.

Surely it’s an imperative to ensure that ALL children receive the positive experiences that create strong synapses in the brain.  The question then is how to do that effectively:

  • With parenting classes and parent mentors?
  • With creches / mother & toddler groups / pre-prep for all?
  • By enhancing delivery at such places?
  • All of the above?

And then there’s the thorny issue of the SoS’s idea of a base-line test.   More testing, when many in the profession think that students are already over-tested!

But at some point there needs to be an informal assessment of each child,  based on a set of criteria, which determines when each young person is ready to start KS2.

Progressive attainment

There’s a fairly fundamental flaw in the logic that says:

retaking a module of an exam devalues either the exam or the results.

Surely the opposite is true:  that since a student has unfortunately failed a section of the exam:

a) that section was challenging and

b) having retaken the test, the scholar has met, and hopefully overcome, the challenge.

Indeed,  it could be argued that more and not fewer modules ought to be set:

  • Why not have an exams ladder,  where a student studies at the appropriate level?
  • What’s wrong with having units of work (cross marked between schools) which actually count towards the final result?  &
  • Why not enter students for an exam when they’re ready, rather than them having to wait until they’re 16?

What’s wrong with having a portfolio of grades adding up to an overall record of achievement?

Just wonderin’!

Standards

GCSEs are a benchmark.

Are they the most taxing exams in the world?  No. But they need to remain consistent.

Should they be harder?  No.  But they need to differentiate between all ability levels.

Should there be more than one level of exam for GCSE?  No.  But the GCSE is, and should continue to be, only one of a series of exam levels.

Should they be Norm Referenced?  No. … .. ….

AS a measure of attainment,

I hope universities & employers, students & teachers and exam boards & timetablers will appreciate the usefulness of ½ an A level.

In the maelstrom of Mr. Gove’s latest surprise to mɿoʇƨnɒɿƚ education to his rose-tinted past and the media reaction to itI had an idea:

Sitting a mixture of A level and AS level exams might engender a more flexible approach to study.

Say you want to become an Architect.  A careers advisor would probably tell you you need Physics, Art and Maths.  But imagine if you could study Design Technology,  Resistant Materials and Human Geography as well.

Or you want to be an interpreter.  Your main language might be Italian, but you might want to continue practising other languages, look at the History of Europe and do some Arts too.

AS syllabi content could be revised and new ASs developed, and universities could continue to expect the tariff points.  It’d probably be a timetabling nightmare,  but…

‘Educated citizens’ – is that an oxymoron?

The Government, through the Russell Group’s inexplicable focus on the ‘facilitating’ subjects, seems to be expressing what many teachers already know:  that the National Curriculum is irrelevant.

The only thing that matters in school,  as things stand at any rate,  is to get as many 16 year olds above a D in as many GCSEs as possible.

So therefore the focus (at least at Secondary level) is on the GCSE syllabus.  And the more astute in the profession have been drawing the contents of that down the Key Stages for a while now.

But any professional that cares about their subject, knows that there are holes in many of these syllabi, and perhaps foolhardily attempts to stick their thumbs in the cracks.  Because they know,  that to do their job well,  they should be giving each student the best education they can.

So, Mr. Gove stands up in front of parliament and says,

“We’ve decided to reform the driving test – we’re scrapping the practical.”

Amongst many other things, schools make scientists. In practice they have an idea about something, and then devise a fair test to interrogate the hypothesis. They set up their experiment to ensure they can take readings as accurately as possible. They collect innumerable results and extrapolate conclusions, and generally decide that their original idea was rubbish.

Schools develop linguists too. Ooh Mr. Gove likes those – so long as they never have to speak in a foreign language or understand anyone else who’s trying to converse with them.

And artists? Well if there has to be Art in the curriculum, then, I dunno, just write a couple of essays on Turner or Monet Constable or something. Don’t worry, we’ll draw our own conclusions about how good your 3D work is from that.

That’s how bad the idea to remove coursework from GCSE exams is.

It would be funny too, if it were a joke.

GMC & GTC

In reality, what with the EU (etc.) on one side,  and devolving authorities on the other,  the government appears to be losing things to tinker with.  Thus it concentrates its attention on the soft underbelly of things it thinks it can improve.  Things like Education and Health.

I know I’m slow, but I’m coming to the firm conclusion that the Westminster Talking Shop – Governments and oppositions – really don’t have much of a clue.  They seem to have 3 angles:

  • ideology,
  • experience as a client and
  • the belief that things are in slow and terminal decline.

Like the last, this particular iteration of Government says it’s keen to devolve power,  so I thought I’d challenge them to do so:

Put decisions about Health and Education in the hands of the professional practitioners: doctors and nurses and teachers.  Let those who deal with the issues on a daily basis elect a chief executive (accountable to the relevant Government Select Committee) and let the Councils have sub-committees which address each aspect of the service.

College of teachers

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addendum…

@Kalinski1970 drew my attention this week to an independent body which exists to support all sectors of the teaching profession (the GTC that I (and many others) have been calling for for a while now).

Except it’s not called the General Teaching Council – it’s got a far cooler name that I sorely wish I’d thought of:  The College of Teachers – what a great collective noun!

Set up in 1849 by Queen Victoria, under a Royal Charter, it’s organised as a Mutual, in that its members elect the trustees:  a college for teachers,  whose management is elected by teachers.

So why isn’t it “problem solved”?  Well for a few reasons really:

  • Firstly, the College does not enjoy a high profile.  Teachers, School Leaders and even Educational Consultants expressed a collective “Wha?  Who?” as the College emerged on the Twitter horizon this week.
  • Its £104 per year membership fee.  Whilst that’s not a huge amount of money, (and there are numerous benefits to being a member of the College), many teachers feel the need of the security of being in a Union – in case something should go wrong.  Would they pay subs to two bodies?  Because without 100% enrollment, the College obviously wouldn’t be completely representative. MORE
  • It would inevitably mean an exponential expansion of the college – I’ve no idea how many members it currently has,  but apparently there are hundreds of thousands of teachers across the land.
  • And it would change the nature of the college, imposing a political element.

So, could the government find a way to fund the College, and yet keep it at arm’s length?  Well they manage to do so in many other spheres of society.  And might schools help out by funding their staff’s ongoing professional development?  Perhaps.

Would the College want to transform itself?  They tweeted,  “We like a challenge.”

But would the teaching profession and the unions embrace the qualified advice of the College any more than they take on the ideas of the Secretary of State?  Dunno.

The Education Select Committee seem to like the idea of The College of Teachers,  but appear undecided about the best way to bring such an organisation about.

The fact that the organisation already exists, set up (in exactly the way the Select Committee envisages) by Royal Charter, and ran at the will of its  membership, hasn’t stopped them wanting to dismantle it in order to rebuild it.

The model they’re looking at is that of the Institute of Chartered Accountants (England & Wales) – basically a Super-Union, in which members pay subs to the one body and are not part of another union.  Well the profession could bring that about easily enough right now,  by merging the unions that represent it.

But a college of teachers ought to be available for the support and professional development of all those who are qualified as teachers:  teachers should automatically and freely become fellows of the institute on gaining their teacher qualification.  This would mean that everyone involved in teaching would have access to the college’s information, advice and professional development courses, and also have a say in how the college (and education) moves forward – the whole constituency voicing their will rather than a percentage of paid-up members. This is crucially important,  I think.

Not all teachers enjoy a good relationship with their school managers, or good working conditions, and occasionally things go wrong in the classroom.  Sometimes the help of a union is needed.  Perhaps a College of Teachers will change the scope and focus of the unions but, in my opinion, unions are necessary and must continue to offer their important services to teachers.

What I’d like a College of Teachers to do:

Respect!  Acknowledge that not only do teachers hold a degree and a post-graduate teaching qualification, but that they have chalk-face experience which they bring to the table too:  The College of Teachers absolutely must not be top-down.

Advise & support. The College of Teachers shouldn’t be the Orwellian Big Brother regulator that the GTC soon became, but a Professional Carer able to offer sage advice.

Broadcast sound pedagogy. Enough of the looking anywhere but the country which has a very long and fine tradition of educating! The College needs to shout best pedagogy to government.

Offer useful INSET courses. Teachers have 5 inset days a year, few of which in my experience are used for CPD.  There could be 5-day intensive regional conferences around the country, where teachers opt into the lectures/courses they’re interested in pursuing, or smaller courses on relevant things, which could be web-castThe College should have a role in connecting teaching teachers with learning teachers too.

Offer graduate and postgraduate courses, run in sympathy with work commitments.

In a digital age, the college must have online fora to discuss and share ideas with colleagues:

  • An in-house version of Twitter’s #UKEdChat
  • An online messageboard to share best practice. Maybe by subject discipline as well as general topics.
  • A Dropbox-esque place (or obvious links to) to share materials under a Creative Commons license.
  • A blog, with entries from house and guest education luminaries, and the chance to discuss the topic.
  • An organised programme of teach-meets.
  • TED talks

That these things have already come about in disparate places is testament to the need for them.  Bringing them together under a College of Teachers’ charter would go a long way to replace the Advisers lost a generation ago.

Baker Days

That’s what INSET used to be dubbed – in recognition that Kenneth,  Lord Baker,  reserved five days per year for in-service training – CPD in modern parlance.

Not that teachers in my experience ever get five days a year for training:  Senior Managers seem to think they can fill the time with ‘important’ meetings.  And yes,  whilst First Aid,  and Epipen training might be vital,  it doesn’t exactly meet teachers where they are.  Indeed,  some of the best INSET I’ve had,  is just being given time to think about the curriculum,  plan,  and talk with colleagues.

I suggest that, as often as not, getting better at what we do doesn’t happen at organised conferences, as a result of formal observations, or even in a conscious way necessarily at all:  it might be a casual conversation over a coffee at break (if you’ve got time for one),  something you happen to see a colleague do as you pass their classroom on the way to the photocopier,  a chance encounter in the lunch queue,  or an idea that someone’s suggested on Twitter.

But in the business-world of education,  it’s difficult to quantify that as even a satisfactory level of continuing professional development – even though, in all probability, those little ‘eureka’ moments are far more valuable than watching the guy down the front with his PowerPoint, droning on about the latest teaching fad!

Any practitioner worth their salt will be eager to experiment with new ideas to see what works.  And looking on over time, we see that a teacher’s practice does evolve.

Perhaps we should highlight the introduction of new methodology in a CPD ledger on the inside front cover of our planners, and return to comment on whether or not the idea worked, and what, if anything, can be improved.
CPD
Just a thought.

(190+5) / 5 = 39

There’s a rhythm to the academic year. A rhythm determined generations ago when more attention was paid to the church’s Holy Days, and when farmers needed all the help they could muster at harvest.

Yet, in a different age, teachers and students alike still strain towards the light of the half term holiday.

There’s probably an optimum length of a term: a balance between the possibility of a substantial amount of knowledge and skills being acquired and tested, and the capacity for the ‘average student’ (and teacher) to cope with any more.

This last half term’s been 4 weeks long! 4 weeks! And in that somewhat shortened heightened time, the same amount of ‘stuff’ has had to be crammed in.

I’ve also worked in an international environment where the term length could be 13 weeks without a break. It might’ve felt more like the average working environment, but it was a killer, and the zombies – staff and students – were certainly less productive. Students need time to mull; to let everything sink in and marinate, and to recover from the onslaught of learning. Conversely, they don’t need such an inordinately long Summer holiday that they forget what they’ve covered.

I’m wondering if 5 terms of equal length, each separated by a couple of weeks’ break might optimise teaching and learning.

So what about the length of the school day?  Well, it’s generally accepted that the average concentration span is about 45 minutes, so lessons of 50 – 55 minutes, including settling down and packing up time, seems sensible.  That being the case, most secondary schools have six of these in a day, which appears to be enough to satiate the inquisitive mind.  I do wonder if the current vogue of downsizing downtime is detrimental though – especially at lunchtime, when the opportunity to offer co-curricular activities is severely reduced.  Perhaps young people are looking for the chance to participate in less formal, supervised activities?  Adding extra staff time to the 1,265 hours of directed time is going be costly though.

In phase

Far be it from me to interfere with the running of Universities, but why don’t they start their academic year a term later?

It seems to me that this would have a few advantages:

  • Students wouldn’t have the important last year of school work interrupted with visiting, then applying to universities, interviews and entrance exams;
  • Universities could make offers on real, rather than predicted grades; and thus
  • a large amount of bureaucracy, time and expense could be alleviated.

Perhaps it might also

  • condense a gap year into a gap term; or
  • give the student the chance to do some preparatory work.

Just a thought.

Here, there and everywhere

One of the most visible differences between maintained schools and (frequently) independent and international schools is divisions.

State schools have experimented with infant and junior or primary; secondary with and without VIth forms; and junior, middle and high schools.  Meanwhile, oftentimes, the private system has taken all-comers, albeit in a well-segregated way.

Does it make any difference?

What’s the psychological effect of being at the top of the school?  Or going up to ‘big school’ in September?

Is it wasted time to have to learn new rules, or having to find out where everything is and who everyone is?  And is there curriculum overlap between the two (or more) institutions?

Is it a good thing or not suddenly to have to mix with loads of new people?  Is it boring to be in the same place for 13 years? Which system engenders a better sense of community? Which forges better friendships?  Which helps the student make new friends?

What about staff specialisms? Is it more costly to staff a 5 -18 school, or is that dependent on the number of students attending?

Surely the question hasn’t been answered conclusively, otherwise there would be a norm.

A level playing field

Should all schools be privatised?

That simple 5-word question has far from easy answers, and as a simple solution to a perceived problem, it demonstrates again the naïveté of some politicians when it comes to education, to say nothing of a blind faith in ideology.

Leaving aside private = “for profit” for the moment (because, to be honest, I can’t see where the profit in education is going to come from – are schools going to be allowed to set top-up fees, use online courses or employ fewer or cheaper (younger or much less qualified ) staff, or is it to encourage a new form of tax-dodge philanthropy?) and let’s consider the aspect of private = autonomous.

  • Should schools be free to ignore the National Curriculum (successive Governments never seem content with its contents after all)?
  • Should schools be free to enter students for the qualifications they consider most fitting at the appropriate time, perhaps rendering the John Patten league tables even more meaningless than they already are?
  • Should schools be free to set entrance criteria over parental choice?  And if so, what happens to those who cannot meet the requirements of any educational establishment?
  • What standards will deregulated schools be held to? Staff:Student ratio? Staff qualifications? The quality of teaching and learning? Suitable accommodation?
  • What happens to the students when/if a for-profit school just can’t (turn a profit)?
  • Indeed without Local Government oversight, will there even be places for everybody?

The reality is that apartheid in education has perpetuated: Independent and State schools have in many situations superceded Grammars and Secondary Moderns.  Is this fair?  Is the independent sector REALLY better?  Or are they social engineering clubs?

But sending an equal percentage of all abilities to every school in the area is blatant social engineering at the other extremity.  And academic success requires more than just IQ.

What if all young people simply went to their local school, funded by the government through taxation? #Radical

I’ve been banging on for a while now,

that when you boil education down, the residue left in the bottom of the crucible is student progress: it’s the only thing that matters.

Now I have a hunch that

  • for all the words
  • all the statistics
  • the quality of teaching
  • the school infrastructure or equipment
  • all the latest gizmos and
  • this week’s teaching fad

won’t figure anywhere near the top of the list of things that prevent progress.  Because it’s ALL about the young person.

  • are they interested in the material they need to study?
  • do they understand why they’re studying something?
  • is what they’re doing outside school more exciting?
  • puberty
  • family break-ups or relationship problems
  • can they see a horizon of possibility?
  • do they actually believe that they’re good at something?

Finding where a student is at, is more than just assessing what they know or what they can do.

Report writing

I’ve still got my senior school reports.  All handwritten on uniquely shaped, decent quality paper in blue fountain-pen ink, and bound with an embossed cardboard cover.  Presentation matters.

But so does content. The headmaster ticked words like “conscientious” and “hard-working”, and it meant something to know that he’d read every word.

In an age of technology, how easy it is to just select from banks of stock phrases or sentences – even if we’ve composed them ourselves. But to do that is to sanitize the student (and the teacher) from the report itself.

I’m fairly embarrassed now that at one time I was able to get away with a report that simply read “Larke by name: lark by nature”, which expressed in a kernel the student’s whole approach for the year.  But that’s still better than the “Daniel has done x and y this year to a z standard” techno-babble garbage churned out.  Do parents who are not teachers know how to translate report-speak?  Have they realised that what is sometimes meant by a positively couched phrase is actually anything but praise?

A good report should be a well-considered appraisal of a period’s work. No two students are exactly alike, and whilst we might use the same turn of phrase, we should make every effort to personalise them as much as possible.

And,  up until the very last summative statement,  there should always be encouraging feed forward.

Aspire & Achieve

When I was growing up I used to like the top of the milk on my cornflakes.  I didn’t mind that the consequence of that was that the milk in my tea was semi-skimmed.  Now milk is uniformly the same.

The Head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, wonders why the outcomes of education aren’t as consistent as homogenized milk.  Obviously I’ve got a few ideas!

  • The classroom.  No two students are the same: ability, approach to learning, potential.  Nor two classes.  Nor two periods of the day or week.  The weather.  In fact, a myriad of external influences on both the teacher and each individual student: the synergy created by personalities in that moment.
  • The school. Their facilities. The expectations. NoR and class sizes. Diet and exercise, and the optimum balance between a task, a change of activity and down-time.  The different qualities in the school staff (academic and support):  (variety of) age, the experience they bring, their gender and gender mix. And management styles:  the atmosphere created.
  • The influences on the student. Family and friends as well as community figures.  And all the experiences a young person has in the majority of the day that is outside the classroom.
  • Comparable local socio-economies.  To expect the same outcome from similar students,  their starting point must be about the same, and the opportunities afforded to them must be about the same too.

But perhaps above all,

  • Aspiration needs to be kindled.  If a student can’t see the far horizon:  the potential,  the possibilities,  the goal,  then with the best will in the world, they have nothing to aim for.

So if obtaining a uniform output is the desired outcome, it’s going to require much more than boiling the education profession up to a high temperature,  Mr. Wilshaw.

It’s better to live a day as a lion, than a thousand years as a sheep

Yet another Member of Parliament came perilously close this week to blaming the education system for one of the ills of society.

She broadcast two tweets in quick succession:

1) Discussing importance of mandatory #PSHE in schools in parliament- should include issues of violence agt girls & gender equality too

2) Shockingly, according to NSPCC, 1 in 3 teenage girls has experienced sexual violence from a partner

Progressive schools have recognized the importance of Personal Social & Health Education, and have been delivering it for the last 30 years or more.

  • Has it affected the level of appalling violence against women and young girls?
  • Has it done anything to reduce under-aged sex or the problem of teenage pregnancy?
  • Indeed, has the total ban on advertising, the mass of public information and opinion, or the knowledge of relatives or family friends suffering from illnesses associated with smoking had any affect at all on young people lighting up?

Not much, probably.

  • Teachers can be sages and dish out the perceived wisdom of our time.
  • We can be priests and preach a sermon on morality or lay down the ten commandments.
  • We can even sit in judgement, pronounce verdicts and deliver some consequences.

But know this.  Ignorance is probably not a major factor when somebody does something that the vast majority of society thinks is bad.

Approaches to teaching

Or a brief critique of Alan Bennett’s The History Boys from a teacher’s perspective.

But teachers bring their own personality to the classroom; and no two teachers approach the subject in quite the same way – as demonstrated in The History Boys.

Bennett cleverly sets up the scenario where there’re three members of staff all teaching the same students, the same subject, with the one aim: to get them through their Oxbridge entrance exams.  And in the Goldilocks scenario, Bennett provides us with the spectrum of teaching styles:

  • The Scatter Gun
  • The thorough and traditional and
  • Gobbits to get you through.

Hector (Student-led lessons – largely undervalued by the scholars)

(For the purpose of this piece we’ll ignore the indiscretion) An experienced practitioner. His Scope & Sequence (programme of study) plastered on the display boards around the room. Knows nothing of the limitations of the National Curriculum or an exam syllabus:  he has a lifetime’s worth of knowledge, and his sole purpose is to “Pass it on.”  He’s no idea what a lesson plan is, and has certainly never written one:  a chaotic, unpredictable, passionate, wonderful heavyweight.

Totty (Teacher-led lessons)

Felix‘s delight:  subject-knowlegeable. Organised.  Aware of the requirements of the examination and determined her scholars will meet them:  gets the grades by expecting hard work and more hard work. Perhaps the driving force of the trio. You can see why she’s attractive in a target-driven era of education.

Irwin

The new boy; the cat amongst the pigeons – fresh from… well, he’s led everyone to think he’s Oxbridge.  All spin and style;  headlines and highlights; subverting the norm and justifying the stance.

Of course the professional classroom needs as much Totty as possible (!),  and our students need a bit of the critical thinking that Irwin was offering. But, really, the nagging feeling in my mind, is that it’s Hector’s insistence that “All knowledge is precious” that is sadly missing from the tick-box, number-crunching, desperate to be business-like modality of the last epoch of education.

Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it

There seems to be quite a lot of interest in what is taught in History at the moment. Unfortunately however – probably for political reasons, or to project a version of our country’s history in a favourable light (though I’m not sure how that’s entirely possible) – all the discussion revolves around the cult of personality. History really shouldn’t be all about Henry VIII or Churchill, or all about men for that matter, or indeed all about things that happened X number of years ago, or all about the history of the UK. It will inevitably be about the big stuff though.

It seems to me that there are any number of “issues” (not all of which have to be negative either), for example (just off the top of my head):

  • living with each other / boundaries and borders
  • human endeavour: progress
  • modes of governance – structure of society
  • laws / civil disobedience
  • fighting for what’s right / conflict resolution
  • the relationship between religion (or personal beliefs) and state

And that each issue can be multiplied by any number of historic responses to it.

BBC Radio 4 broadcasts an excellent programme called The Long View, which looks at a current affair, and considers a historical parallel. They explore the historical problem and the solution applied, to see if it offers answers to its modern equivalent.

Surely that’s what History’s about? After all, as Edna Saint Vincent Millay observed “It’s not true that life is one damn thing after another… It’s one damn thing over and over.”

A response to the National Curriculum consultation

Music, and therefore Music education, is about composing, performing and listening (which is a discrete activity, but pervades both composing and performing too).

Aims

Music can and should be more than just ‘play time’ though, and layering theoretical concepts to be explored through compositional improvisation is a good way to teach.

WordsFinding a way to jot down ideas soon becomes necessary, and interpreting the ideas of others, desirable.  Of course, actually recording students’ work is an invaluable tool too.

The day the music died wasn’t 3/2/59,

with Buddy Holly’s plane crash in Iowa.  It was the car crash on 23/2/23, when Herr Schöenberg drove Music into the cul-de-sac of Serialism.

Not that it wasn’t heading there in the first place, with more and more colour being slapped on the dolly, but he really did beach it on the speed-hump of Expressionism, and no amount of jiggling has been able to dislodge it.

And so, in a massive devaluation of musical currency which puts stock market crashes to shame, it was replaced with blues, and big bands, and jazz and RnB, and the spectrum of popular culture we have now, including musicals and film music.

So what?

So context is everything.
What mass do the names Haydn, Berlioz or Wagner carry in the average KS3 or 4 Music classroom? Just the father of Form, a conjurer with Instrumentation and the most skilful of all directors of music in drama. Not much perhaps, in the face of Bo Rap, Sgt. Pepper, and Star Wars (though perhaps my cultural references are showing their age now).

And context is nothing.
Does it matter that a bit of pop music is used to explain something if it gets the point across? The music has just as much integrity, after all.

Well perhaps it does. Procol Harum’s A whiter shade of pale or Simon & Garfunkel’s American Tune would’ve been nowhere if Mendelssohn hadn’t championed Bach. But standing on the shoulders of giants aside, some music has the power of endurance. Not only are Mozart, Beethoven et al still famous, but centuries after their deaths, people still hum their ditties.

Which leads to the much debated questions of what good music is, and who the grandees of the music world are and will be.

In praise of the Arts

HuxleyMusic is like a soap bubble. We can bring it into being with the scantest resources. We watch, transfixed, as the colours dance over its vulnerable skin until it ceases to exist any longer, and then we’re returned, perhaps changed in some small way, to our previous reality. Music is an ephemeral conjuring trick, where an artist entrances you for as long as you care to be compelled. Some would say that as such, it has no value, and no place in education. But they’d be wrong on both points.

Music is an elementary language of immense power, born out of an innate layer of code at the kernel of our instinct. A language learned from the physics of nature at the beginning of time, reinforced throughout life, developed, and passed on to others. It has as much grammar and syntax as any statement. It is a language at least as powerful as speech, capable of moving us to tears, to dance, to laughter, to serene pleasure. It can aid your workout, and open your mind to learn. It can be a group’s totem and a call to battle. And such a powerful ‘substance‘, however ephemeral, surely demands our study.

Now imagine a world without Drama: no TV or film, no plays at the theatre. Without Design, Dance or Art for ergonomic and visual pleasure. And without Music. Living in such a monochrome environment would be a drab and intolerable existence. For that reason alone, we need to get our hands dirty, and mould the elements of composition into form, and to express our work. Humanity was born expressing itself. We have been creating for hundreds of generations. It would be wrong to attempt to stifle such basic human instinct. We should in stead strive to exceed the zenith reached by former practitioners.

So it’s a thing of immense power. And it’s something we’re born to do. But there’s a third reason not to listen to those who maintain that STEM is the only thing that matters for the economy. For research has shown conclusively that music, and the Arts, not only make unique contributions to the curriculum and in turn, to the economy; they also facilitate the learning of other subjects. Maths and reading, and the acquisition of languages are all aided by doing music. Fine motor skills are developed, problem solving improved, and thinking on a higher, creative level is exercised. So it turns out that 50 minutes spent banging on a xylophone each week, isn’t wasted time after all.

Standing on the shoulders of giants

Well, if others are fiddling,  I’ll throw in my two-penneth worth!

Firstly on the Ebacc. On the face of it, it sounds like the sort of sensible Options advice that would be given at the end of KS3:  “You’ve got to take English, Maths and Science, a Humanities and a Modern Foreign Language”.  But the reality is that:

  • Mr. Gove seems to want to give precedence to some subjects over others:  the restriction (real, imaginary or as an unanticipated consequence) of the Arts and Technologies in the KS4 landscape is a disgrace – especially given that they are major industries in the UK.
  • Secondly that Mr. Gove appears to know more about how to teach a subject than the professionals, since he wants to prescribe subject content (at least in History).
  • And thirdly, the slur on the integrity of all teachers:  that coursework might be subject to abuse.

I’ve oft heard it said that students are coming out of education without the necessary skills to write a letter or understand their pay-slip or a bill.  Surely every student needs to leave school with a good level of literacy and numeracy,  the good sense to know what’s dangerous,  and to be able to cook and fend for themselves. Would it not be better to say that a student has to continue to study Life Skills until they can maintain a certain Level (which could be moderated)?

And at the other end;  for those aspiring to academic heights?  Well, shouldn’t a University be at liberty to make their own assessment of the potential student for themselves?

Which leaves the nitty-gritty of KS 4 & 5.

With the concept of a baccalaureate being in vogue at the moment, educationalists are re-evaluating the IBO.  I like some of the IBO philosophy – the breadth, and the (varieties of) depths too.  It feels like what a group of teachers would sit down and come up with, given half the chance.  But a baccalaureate isn’t the only model out there, and isn’t necessarily the best. The New Zealand Qualifications Authority offers Levels 1 – 3 – the equivalent of GCSE, AS and A2 for example. I’ve already posted about the merits of modules in the exam, where each piece of work is awarded points.  Moreover, if say a student happens to be a musician, but hasn’t opted to study Music, they can still get credits by doing a recital, thus the system reflects the student’s abilities.

Throughout their education, students should be exposed to a broad range of disciplines, and be allowed to pursue their interests.  Each subject needs to have a comprehensive syllabus covering knowledge and skills which increases in difficulty.  And the school curriculum needs to prepare students for more than just going to Yew-nee.

Swimming against the tide

and other water-based metaphors.

The cynic might suggest that the Secretary of State for Education has positioned his prawns superbly well this Summer (Ofsted past & present and Ofqual)  and is building his tsunami against GCSEs brilliantly.  I would wade into the argument and ask that the baby not be thrown out with the  bath water.

So the furore began with the moving, nay, the reducing of the size of the goal posts:  Grade Boundaries.  You’d be forgiven for thinking that since there’s a syllabus (well syllabi actually, but we’ll get to that) and an exam, that the GCSE was Criterion Referenced – i.e. that the grade awarded corresponds directly to the answers given.  And as such,  as teachers get better at delivering a course,  as resources improve and as students get the hang of it,  then grades should improve…

Just because grades were increasing,  it didn’t necessarily mean that exam questions were getting easier, or that marking was becoming more lenient.

But although we’ve been led to believe that GCSEs are Criteria Referenced exams,  there’s not a straight correlation between the correct answers and the grade awarded.  As with the old O levels, the exam marks get fiddled with. Every year, a group of people sit down and decide what percentage constitutes what grade for a particular paper:  between two percentages get an A, the next batch a B etc..  And Norm Referencing was back in evidence this year, when some English papers were said to have been marked 8% too generously. (8% too generously? Says who?)

But however unmeritocratic Norm Referencing might be,  the real issue is a problem left over from a generation ago with the merger of O levels and CSEs:

That only Grades A*- C matter.  Anything below that is regarded as a fail. Hmmm.  The whole point of the GCSE revolution – and it was revolutionary – was that EVERYONE was assessed with the SAME exam.  And consequently,  there was a grade for everyone.  This meant that employers or colleges of further education all knew what level the student had achieved.  We really mustn’t go back to Oranges and Apples exams,  where really,  everyone is only interested in the oranges,  and the apples go straight onto the compost heap.

But not all GCSEs are the same.  Indeed, not all GCSE providers are the same for that matter.  There are seven exam boards,  all offering different syllabi, with different emphases.  Some more academically rigorous than others.  WHY?

If Mr. Gove is really serious about setting a standard at GCSE,  then I challenge him to let Ofqual consult widely amongst subject specialist teachers, lecturers and professors to develop a substantive syllabus in each subject.

And what about the A* – C conundrum?  There are two possible solutions:

Either,  strip out the norm referencing and offer a raw percentage result.  This would mean that for the sake of parity, the examination would have to be more or less the same each year.  Therefore expect, nay demand, that the percentage rises year on year.  But, sometime in the not too distant future,  an education secretary, in order to demonstrate that s/he is effective in the post, will jump up and down and shout in a loud voice that “the exam is no longer fit for purpose” and demand that the goal posts be moved again.

Or accept that the results should come in three broader,  but decreasing bandwidths in much the same vein as the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music have been happily doing for generations:  Pass at 66 – 80%, Merit between 80 and 93% and Distinction for the top 7%.  There’ll still be grey areas around the boundaries, of course,  but at least the exams could be varied and interesting.

Analogue or Digital?

I had a conversation a while ago with a Deputy Head who’d been a PE teacher.  He was fixated on Data:  every bit of classwork had to have a level, every test, and every piece of homework.

I said to him, “When you pick your first 11, do you consult your mark book, or trust your instinct?”

A good teacher knows their students’ capabilities.  And no matter how much data is collected, it will always remain a poor pixelated image of the reality.

Which is why there was fairly widespread dismay last year about the 8% discrepancy between what English teachers had adjudged students’ work to be worth, and the marks they were awarded.  Not that the marking criteria is cut-and-dried – even with rubrics – but teachers know their students’ abilities,  and 8% is a big deal,  especially when it’s the difference between a D and a C.

Does this obsession with labeling, quantifying and leveling really benefit the student?  Isn’t it enough to say to them, “I liked this, this and this,  and have you thought about [doing] this or that?”.

Turned out nice again

Not many people believe their horoscopes, whether they consider them to be compulsory reading or not.

And a weather forecaster in November is rightly reluctant to want to predict the likelihood of a white Christmas.

So why do educationalists put so much store by tests taken in Year 7 that it’s said will predict the results of exams taken 5 years down the line:

It’s beyond me! 😉

The only measure of educational success is the progress each student makes. And the only way to measure that progress is to chart attainment over time, using a ladder of levels.

Who owns your ideas?

Well, as things stand, your employer does!

Some would say, “Since I had the idea, it’s mine; my preciousssss.”  But is that really true?

Maybe we take the last step of the ladder ourselves, but how much of the climb was as a result of our environment now, and our past journey through education, career and experiences. How much of it was down to our partner, or our colleagues at work, or even our mates down the pub?

And how can we be sure that no one else has had the idea before us?

If it’s such a grey area, is it right that anyone pro£its from it?  For that’s what this all boils down to, after all.

Creative Commons Licence
creative commons

So what about work done? Is that any different? What about the pop stars who did a week’s recording in their teens and are still pro£iting from it in their retirement?  When do those pieces that are so embedded in our culture move into public ownership?

Well, as things stand, in 70 years.