Tag Archives: Education


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.

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! :/

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.

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…

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.


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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The PowerPoint can be downloaded here


@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.

(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.

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.

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.

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.