Thursday, November 1, 2012

National Curriculum or Chameleon Curriculum

I arrived in British education in 1991, with the National Curriculum close on my heels.  By the time our Head of Faculty had convinced us to take note, the curriculum was gone; and all the work that we might have done was wasted.  This all-change approach to British education has continued since that time; and it is no surprise that the current government is up to the same thing.  I have no problem with a thinner National Curriculum; and I take issue with a Labour opposition who seem to imagine that criticising plans is the same thing as providing challenge to government. (It is not.  Give them ideas, support or silence.)  I hope once more, however, that the latest all-change, chameleon curriculum will be allowed to stay.  Then teachers might get on and teach it.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Keep 'em busy, or Issue a ticket

I always enjoy combinations of stories.  This time it concerns discipline.  In Austin Texas it has been deemed too strict, even racially biassed.  Shira Fishman, by contrast, keeps students busy from the moment they enter her geometry class, thus avoiding bouts of defiance or disruption.  I recognise the practical value of each approach: strict discipline removes the expression of distractions, and has driven up standards in many schools; by keeping students busy likewise, teachers can avoid the tedium, or boredom that sometimes leads to misbehaviour.  As a perennial dreamer, however, one who preferred to be off-task in school, I wonder if we are still trying to shoe-horn students into an unwanted place.  Maybe it is the system that is wrong, not the students' failure to go along with it at all times.

Drama, Tragedy or Necessity

Patrice Baldwin bemoans the threat to Drama in the British Curriculum.  As an ex-Drama teacher I have some sympathy for her argument; Drama is an exciting way to teach and learn.  At the same time, however, my feeling is that the British curriculum is too diverse, students are encouraged to learn subjects in isolation.  My preference would be to find overlaps, embedding drama, media, ict, even art and music, into a cohesive programme of study.  Students can specialize later.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

New Exam System for Britain

Ben Morse puts up a strong argument against the proposed changes to the exam system.  He says that the changes are classist, ill thought-out and not fit for purpose.  Whilst I cannot agree with him on many points, I do not see classics as classist, I like his comments on the choice of title, English Baccalaureate.  He criticises this French title on the grounds that it is French and already a recognised qualification.  He suggests something English instead, English Middle Certificate for example.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Raising the bar for exams

The joke above, borrowed from The Guardian, comes at a time when Borris Johnson is also reported for voicing his support for Grammar Schools.  I can see the arguments against each, why shouldn't all children have the same opportunities and the same challenges.  At the same time our refusal to acknowledge that some children are better logico-linguists than others seems unfair.  I am reminded as I write of my only outing playing GAA for a local team.  I was awful, and the Manager never invited me back.  The same should be said for academia, or the 100 metres.  Usain Bolt would not be challenged to compete if all entrants to a 100 metre race were entitled to a gold medal.  Similarly young academics will not be challenged to learn if the bar to success is set too low.  Our education system must be designed to serve all.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Four Day School Week

I like this one.  Wayland, Iowa are going for a four-day school week.  The intention is that the additional day will allow for real-world experience.  This seems very sensible, and I would add longer school holidays to the same ambition.  We spend too much time in school teaching pupils to think for themselves; thinking for yourself is what you do when you are not at school.

Making the best standard

Anna Bailey offers an interesting suggestion as she considers the quality of Charter Schools in the US.  She suggests indeed that when we discover what makes a good school we should make that standard throughout.  The benefits, she proposes, is that all children will then get the same education.  I like it, however unfashionable.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The State is responsible for choosing schools

Education Week looks at a case in Louisville, where the court judged that it is right that the state should choose the school that children attend.  This affects state or public schools only; and it means that students do not necessarily attend the school closest to them.  It is an interesting judgement, one than might avoid sink schools by catchment area.  It needs to be done well, however.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Rewards in Education

Mark Smith considers the benefits, and otherwise of using rewards in education.  My feeling is that students should not be praised, or rewarded for doing what is expected of them, for example, doing classwork or homework.  Praising impressive work, or impressive effort is worthwhile, however.  This article considers incentives that have been popular in many schools, namely giving prizes for work.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Home Education - a right?

I am uncertain about home education.  Part of me, that part that hated school as a child and experienced its flaws as an adult, thinks that the state should not interfere; not at least until it sorts itself out.  At the same time   there are many examples of neglect and abuse that suggest that we as a society have a duty to protect our children.  My inclination, however, is that we should not determine laws on the basis of what will avoid the worst in society.  If the review of Home Education in the UK is a reaction to high profile child abuse cases, it is wrong then.  Such cases should be studied for the exceptions that they are; and home education should not be criticised by an assumed association.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Single Sex Education - a violation of rights?

Having taught in co-educational as well as single-sex schools I can see a lot of advantages in each.  Single sex education is not the answer for all students, but it can help to focus teaching, as well as focussing students.  Regardless, it seems incredible that a court is making a ruling, in this case preventing a middle school from offering single-sex lessons.  Surely commonsense should be recognised as part of the US Constitution.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Online learning - a law

Changes in the US mean that some states now oblige students to complete some of their learning online.  Have a look.

E-books and classrooms

Changes in the print industry are opening up avenues for more digital publishing.  Of greater relevance for classrooms, however, might be the work of Mercy Pilkington, given a brief outline at the bottom of the article.  I am not convinced, though I can see the potential in some circumstances.

Apprenticeships are worth considering

An interesting outline of the Swiss education system, where apprenticeships are the norm for most young people.  My experience would certainly suggest that the same would be useful for the UK.  Higher Education is just one route, and it suits a particular type of person.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Rose by any other name - Every Child Matters

I have met few teachers or educators who did not believe that children matter, or indeed that Every Child Matters.  The terminology does, however; and as a Senior Manager who wrote many bids and reports and presentations, I was constantly beating myself up to choose the correct words.  Words are not just a concentration of letters or sounds; they help to hone an idea, and potentially develop a shared vision.  It is a pity then that new government means new words, even it the objective remains the same; children matter.

Teacher training is not just a UK issue

As an entrant to teaching I believed that teaching was the most important profession.  Whilst law and medicine might be said to correct our mistakes, teaching was helping to lay the foundation for healthy and well-balanced lives.  I can't say that twenty years of practice helped me to realise that potential; I was happy to leave.  It is interesting nonetheless to read that the same issues of qualification, training, support and consistency are evident in the US.  I write as an ex-English teacher, UK based.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Importance of Speaking and Listening

I am a big fan of speaking and listening; I found that boys were particularly poor at this.  I also found that giving them an opportunity for formal speaking, without notes, was a very good way to encourage engagement and a positive classroom environment.  For Laura Kenwright's experience have a look at the following.

All change for British education. I just hope it's a good service.

I remember as an undergraduate listening to a discussion on GCSEs, Radio 4.  I was in Ireland, '88/'89; and it seemed to my inexperienced mind that British education was radical and forward-thinking.  Having spent twenty years in the system, however, ten as a Senior Manager, my thinking now is that the government should let it be.  There are too many changes, repetitions and confusions.  Teachers then, I gave up in 2011, have my sympathies as they prepare for another autumn of initiatives.  It should surely be possible to have a system that is simple, enduring and recognisable.  Ross Morrison McGill suggests that that is not the case as yet.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Standardisation and Electronic Libraries

As an ex-teacher, long used to the changes and variations in the UK education system, it is interesting to see the same issues repeated elsewhere.  This time it is the U.S..  This article also offers some tips for the development of electronic libraries.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A Philosophical Approach to Teaching

As a fan of Socrates I warmly welcome John Taylor's mention of the man.  It is also encouraging to note that he is not asking for a new subject to be added to an already crowded and repetitive curriculum offer.  My only supplement to his recommendation would be, in keeping with the philosophy of the Extended Project Qualification, that we should give students more time to learn.  That is what distinguishes them from pupils; pupils are taught.  For his full article, click here.

Private Sector University Education - Uk

It would seem sensible for universities to embrace business; it is the way of the world, whether we like it or not.  Similarly, it would seem sensible for business to embrace universities; universities pursue and promote the best in education and learning.  The challenge is ensuring that there is not a further dilution in the perceived value of UK university qualifications; there is a great deal of uncertainty about such achievements already.  The task then is to standardise between business and university qualifications, and between university qualifications themselves.  Perhaps, this is what the U.S. is managing to do, developing an initiative that includes their high-profile, high-status universities.  If they really manage to broaden access to high-quality, high-challenge and highly-valued education, then their work is to be applauded.  The same with Pearson.

For the full BBC article click here.

Monday, August 13, 2012

IPads in Schools - a teacher celebrates the possibilities.

I love the enthusiasm of this teacher.  Having begun a doctorate in New Technologies I gave up, three years later, concluding that technologies are an educational tool, not an answer.  This luddite tendency continues; though as an ex-teacher, it still gives me a thrill to read such an excited account.  My own feeling is that technology is too changeable still to have a lasting effect; the IPad will soon be outdated.  I am happy to be proven wrong, however.  If you wish to decide for yourself click here to read more.

Why I became a teacher.

A reflection based on thirty years of teaching.  Filled with passion, love of her subject and some useful tips.  For more information click here.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

School Sports' Funding - an Olympic legacy

Britain is awash with medals, and congratulations to all.  I will not pretend to know the story of each athlete, but I follow tennis with care; and I often take inspiration from Andy Murray.  It would be so easy to give up, the competition and challenge is too great; yet Murray does not, and I find in this hope for my own life.  As long as I try, really try, there is possibility.

This possibility, and the excitement of Great Britain medals, is behind the call for more school sports' funding.  We can do better and better, beat the competition; yet even if we won every gold available, the medallists would still reflect a tiny, microscopic percentage of the population.

I would suggest then; absolutely fund the elite, but do not stop there.  If we wish to make the most of sport we must look to the broader population, and the need to encourage them to exercise.  Such encouragements seemed sadly lacking in the Olympics that I experienced, perhaps best exemplified in the sponsorship by Macdonalds and other such companies.  There is nothing wrong with Macdonalds per se, yet the attention they receive is flawed if the rest of the population are simply obliged to sit and watch on.

The greatest hope I see for the capital comes from the Borris Bikes; I would add to these an endless Borris (or otherwise) walkways, pedestrians safe, prioritised and valued.  The healthy and active population this would encourage would be a true legacy.