Friday, April 19, 2013

Battling against entropy

The Wellcome Trust remind us that we are in a state of decline, descending into disorder, and that our world is doing likewise.  Though the writer tries to make brave fun of it, the pessimism of such an attitude remains.  I am reminded, however, that outside my window evidence of spring continues.  A special thanks for victory over entropy goes to our robin then; he is singing as though the world was the most spectacular place.

Teaching and Learning

One of the difficulties of student-centred learning is defining the outcomes.  There is also a place for routinised teaching, learning by repetition or rote.  Edutopia, however, offer a good example of project based learning, one worthy of exploration.

Make School Days Longer

I was reminded once again this week that pupils are defined in relation to a teacher, students in relations to learning.  I am astounded then by the latest suggestion from Michael Gove, that the school day should be longer in order to improve performance and make life easier for parents.  If we want children to learn, then we need to give them time to do so; and more controversially, perhaps, parents, not the state, should be looking after their children outside of school hours.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Who is Underperforming?

The Secret Teacher ends with the question How helpful is our help?  The concern is that the perennial battle to take students over the C grade boundary, is not helpful to them, or indeed to teachers or schools.  I am reminded of this every time I opt for the word student; students, by definition, are learners.  When we teach, coach, coerce, monitor, prepare students to the point where they are simply repeating what is needed to obtain a grade, they have ceased to learn; they have rather become parrots.  We need to be brave and recognise that this C grade is losing whatever value it once possessed.

The Future of Digital Resources

An interesting conference on the future of digital resources for learning and education.  This is potentially a very exciting development, though I imagine that any success will take many years to reach fruition.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Learning to Teach Virtually

Simaula offer a new platform for learning to teach using avatar students.  It seems an interesting and promising idea, certainly one worth following.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

PE Teachers are great

One of the highlights of my career was working with a dynamic, energy fuelled PE Faculty.  The competitive urge is always fraught, needs direction; yet this teacher reminds me of both the adrenalin and the potential of schools with a clear focus.  Harnessing learning through sport and social media he suggests that education is possible.

Getting a school for your child feels like a dirty business

An interesting sentiment, and one that is readily recognisable.  Tim Lott writes about how he chose schools for his children, and how many parents forget their morals as they choose schools for their own.  The idealist in me says that this should not happen, and the critic says that it happens because our schools are just not up to it; we have to do what's best in a crass system.  I remind myself cynically that this is peace-time Britain; everything is as it should be.

Say No to C Grade Culture

Having spent many years, some as a Senior Manager, championing the righteous necessity of obtaining C Grades, I am delighted to be able to say that this is no longer my mission.  In truth I never really believed in that mission; grades are the educational equivalent of Santa Claus, they become more real the more we suspend our disbelief.  As an ex-teacher, however, it is possible and refreshing to read the Secret Teacher's criticism of my erstwhile pursuit.  There are clear winners when we hothouse, coerce, manipulate, cheat our students into grades that they don't deserve; students, learning and education unfortunately are not among them.

Overwork is not sensible

One of the nuggets of information I treasure most from my university days came from Terry Jones, during a guest lecture he was giving on the Knight's Tale.  He said, to paraphrase, that in medieval Britain, country labourers worked on average for three months every year; the rest of their time was given to leisure.  I have never confirmed this assertion, but I am happy to believe it nonetheless; and I believe further that such a life is something that we should strive for.  We work too much, and too much of our finite life is spent wishing away the years.  In this context I offer the case studies into teachers' overwork from The Guardian.  Whether their lot seems easy to you or not (lots of people work long hours) it is surely daft to establish long hours of working as a norm, or an expectation in contemporary society.

English Degrees get less contact hours

I hated, disliked or was consistently unmoved by my experience of Secondary School.  University, by contrast, opened a whole new world of wonder.  Chief among its qualities was the fact that I didn't have to attend.  I could be social, remote and scholastic, or a combination of the two; and the only measure that seemed to count was whether I passed the exams/essays or not.  It amuses me then to read that students from UCL, Oxford, Cambridge, Durham and St Andrews, are having an unfair time because they have so few contact hours; that was what I enjoyed.  I can see the argument, however, for fees to reflect the level of service, as well as the level of investment from the different universities.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A Bridge too Far or a Differentiated Curriculum

Debbie Clinton, Principal of Nunthorpe Academy, offers a worthwhile defence of the now abandoned English Baccalaureate.  We need, she argues, a curriculum that challenges and educates young people according to ability; and this challenge should include the most able.  Sadly, it would seem that British Education is once more the victim of a political will that lacks backbone.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Educational Ideology is not Rocket Science

Suzanne Moore offers a delightfully vitriolic attack on Michael Gove.  What attracts my attention at first, however, is her criticism of him as an ideologue; it seems a long time since we heard ideology used as a dirty word.  Personally I have no problem with ideology; it can be useful to know what a politician's views are, especially if they are developed into a system of thought.  I have some sympathy for Suzanne Moore, nonetheless; it is wrong to measure all students by an academic ebacc.  We need to recognise that academic abilities can, and should be developed; but other abilities need to be recognised and developed as well.  What's more, if we are going to have an educational system, one underpinned by a system of thought, we need one that will educate all students.  I suggest then that we stick with ideology.  We battle out educational principles; they are too patent to be long discussed.  Education is not rocket-science.

An Anarchist Education

I won't pretend that it would work on a national scale, but then the exponents are hardly campaigning to have anarchy institutionalised.  Regardless, Matthew Jenkin has something to offer as he considers the links between the Free Schools of the early 1900s and those being developed in contemporary Britain.  Of particular relevance for the enthusiast is allowing young people to grow up as self-thinking, self-thought, other-aware individuals.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Citizenship should be learned

David Miliband would have us teach citizenship in primary schools.  I am inclined to think that like the other educational add-ons, sex education, religious education, entrepreneurial education, creative thinking, independent learning, citizenship is something that people should learn.  The best education then is to give pupils and students access to a fair, safe and worthwhile educational system.  They can learn thus to belong to a society that matters.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Height of Playing

Susan Steiner bemoans the loss of play in our schools, and in our children's spare time.  She argues that the desire to make them literate, her child included, means that the correct spelling of 'height' has taken priority over the ability to wonder and create and take control over imaginary worlds.  She draws on Donald Winnicott for support; play allows us to use the whole personality.  I am convinced; though maybe it is not the job of schools.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Evidence and Lies

At a time when the government is rightly looking to change the exam system, addressing flaws at GCSE and A Level, it is amusing to read that school improvement, justifying academies, is judged on the current diet of GCSEs and A Levels.  The government is claiming proof of success for its breakneck programme of turning secondary schools into sponsored academies as league tables appear to show these schools generating more rapid improvements in results than the overall average.  It must be possible for somebody to realise that either the exams are flawed, and therefore not worthy of being used as a measurement of success, or else they are valid, and therefore not in need of changing.

A Damaging Report on British Academies

A damaging report on Academies that acts as a further reminder of how lucky I am to be out of the system.  Among other things Ron Glatter comments in his summary that: The report reveals a structure that is fundamentally flawed and that will significantly damage education and worsen inequities.  My disappointment, for what it is worth, is that the government continues to interfere in education, whilst providing schools and the system as a whole with measurements that are self-deceiving.  All students cannot excel academically, and all schools cannot be outstanding, if the measure of outstanding is academic success.  We need to stop fooling ourselves, and to stop rewarding those who allow us to do so.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Close Schools - Bring on the Snow

With 5000 schools closed across the UK many people took the opportunity to play in the snow.  I am reminded of the lyrics: let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.  It seems like a fantastic opportunity for people to learn and enjoy.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Outstanding Schools and Outstanding Schools

Secret Teacher resonates as she - I presume it is a she - tells of her experience of moving from an outstanding inner-city school to an outstanding suburban school.  The former is unpredictable and fosters innovation; the latter is predictable and squashes innovation.  An enjoyable read.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Leading and Doing - a worthwhile discussion

Ed Batista offers a worthwhile discussion on leading and doing.  As an ex-Senior Manager I recognise some of the challenges faced, and probably would have benefited from some of the reflections discussed.  For now I am happy to be a doer.

JISC Research - Use of Online Gaming in Education

I am not convinced, but this piece of research seems like it is worth following.  The project runs for a year, 2013, and will look at the use of educational online games and resources in Further Education.

Secret Teacher damns Production Line Education

Secret Teacher is always worth a read; and today's offers a wonderful defence of self-confidence over exam grades.  The argument concerns high expectations; what are they, and can we measure them in the manner laid down by Ofsted?  The difficulty, I would suggest, is that the sort of education that breeds self-confidence  is social and cultural, involving, for example, families and communities that care.  Schools cannot compensate for this; and if they keep their bottom line as progress in English and Maths, they are behaving in a sensible, if flawed manner.