Tag Archives: Education

@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.