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Only Connect: a few random thoughts after reading the paper this morning.

We only get the paper on a Sunday these days and people who know me will not be surprised to hear that we get the Observer.

I have been meaning to do a comment on some of the articles that caught my eye for some time now. So here goes…

The first article is about Judi Dench lamenting the wealth divide which is stopping people from poorer backgrounds from becoming actors. One of the problems highlighted is the disappearance of local repertory theatres where many actors served an apprenticeship. The other of course is the cost of training.

I would add a further problem- schools. I spoke yesterday to a teacher who works in a secondary academy in a poorer part of the city. He told me that both the music and drama departments at the school had been closed as there was no requirement to study either subjects. This is a PFI school, struggling to keep up with repayments… So the specialist studio and music rooms will gather dust…

Article here.

Many of us have highlighted that the Academy system was not an answer and will lead to the privatisation of schools as has happened in the NHS. Both advocates and opponents of privatisation of our public services should keep an eye on the results of the Swedish elections today (14/09/14) According to this article there is a backlash against those that introduced the private sector in education and health with some providers having to be bailed out. Interestingly, people are turning to the Green Party and a feminist party rather than the traditional centre-left Social Democrats…

… the English media were caught out by the increase in the Yes vote in Scotland precisely because they concentrated on Salmond rather than Radical Independence which includes the Green Party and Women for Independence….

I often sense a feeling of frustration on twitter – which I share- at the apparent inability to get our points across. The revolution will no be through twitter. But as time goes on, I begin to see signs of our views gaining credence- anti- bedroom tax, pro renationalisation, living wage, federalism-  and I will persevere.

I was heartened by this article reporting on the people of the Trastevere district of Rome, fighting against property developers and hipsters to maintain the soul of the area. Activists, students and artists have worked well with, and gained the support of, more traditional residents to create a vibrant area….

Which reminds me, must go and see Pride this week.

Off now to listen to The Forest v Derby game now. No coverage in the Observer today who only ever really the machinations of the Premiership. Despite the 10th anniversary of Cloughie’s death. Real supporters from both sides will be giving the man a minute’s applause at 10 mins.


Striking Teachers.

I suspect that many of my colleagues, on strike tomorrow, will spend their day catching up on paperwork- assessment, marking, lesson planning. Who can blame them? Yes we are professionals and expect to spend extra time, outside of our paid hours to get our professional jobs done.  But this seems like a good opportunity, away from the daily grind, to do that stuff that we know needs doing but hopefully gets neglected when we deal with the immediate needs of the children in our care.

And we know we have great holidays, relatively good pay and a relatively good pension.

My gripe is that we are not treated like professionals. Our voice no longer counts. We have less and less say in the education of our- your- children.

I personally question the validity of strike action but what else can we do? Gove clearly wants to undermine the education system just as much as his colleagues are undermining the NHS.

I would urge all striking teachers who are thinking of working from home to consider:

Joining any local rallies. Get out there and speak to people-

Explain why Free schools and academies actual undermine your right to a good, local school,

Explain why every school should have the freedom to make local choices,

Explain that actually, teachers are well equipped to assess and understand what your child needs to fulfil their potential

Explain that benefit cuts, like the bed room tax, affects all children ( changes in classes affects learning of all children)

Explain how child poverty affects the learning of all our children.


stay at home! Explain this on a rally, in your local shop, the supermarket, the post office (if you still have one)  in the cafe and pubs.

We may be annoyed that the general public see a teacher’s strike as an inconvenience , upsetting childcare arrangements. But we have to do our bit to show that this is not just about us but about the education of our children.




I think, iPod, I disagree. Universal Education.

This article in today’s Observer (28/07/13), concerning parents having to pay for iPads for the classroom, bothers and saddens me in so many  different ways. Read here

Firstly- and yes I know I am hopelessly romantic- but I believe in a universally free education system. Like the NHS should be. I think that the education is free idea should include iPods if they are deemed necessary, but more importantly, should include free school meals for all.  Ah. Universal benefits. Might not be monetarily efficient but leads to 100% take up. Instead, parents are expected to pay the cost for what amounts to educational materials. £12.00 a month or £200-£300 a year for educational materials…. That , in my view is not ok and is just a further step to the privatisation of education. Someone is going to make money out of this…. Like, why didn’t I think about this a few decades ago. Invest in chalk, young man, get the parents to pay for it…. it’s a no brainer kiddo..

It also bothers and saddens me that schools are going increasingly for the one size fits all solution to educating our children. Imported schemes of work, interactive whiteboards and now tablets are handed down as the solution to our perceived educational woes.  Quoted from the article

Parent: ” I’d like to see evidence that bringing this kind of technology  classrooms is [….] beneficial to how kids learn.”

Yes it can be.  But show that to the parent. And it is a tool. No more efficient in teaching and learning than chalk and a blackboard in the hands of a teacher that doesn’t know how to use the technology.

I think this one size fits all solution will  become more and more prevalent with the inexorable rise of academies and free schools. We have seen an example of an  imported curriculum in a Sussex school already. Wouldn’t be surprised to see Apple opening academy schools….

I am no Luddite objector to new technology in schools. I would like to see every student get a free rasberry_pi and learn to program, not just use Apple apps.   But at some stage, teachers have to help students learn and show them how they have learnt and what principles they can draw from their learning.

Who knows what skills and knowledge will be required in the jobs and lives of our children in the future.. I hope and trust however that equality and fairness are values that transcend any technological advances. And that- whether we use chalk and blackboard or iPads- we teach our children to think  for themselves and to want to explore their world.

Reference to other posts : Free schools

 ICT  v computer programming a false dichotomy

Mr Gove, Ofsted and Derby City Council schools. The “swoop” .

When Ofsted said that it would swoop on Derby City Council schools it made national headlines. The swoop would determine why and how schools in Derby were “failing” and the role the local authority played in this failure.

It all started with Michael Gove declaring in October that Derby was “ an area of “concentrated educational under-performance” . (Derby Telegraph.)

This was soon followed in November by Michael Gove trying to impose Academy status on an admittedly troubled, Sinfin School. (Derby Telegraph) The Local Authority had been trying to set up an agreed board with teachers, parents and local bodies to set up a Cooperative trust (see previous link) but this was swept aside by central government. Choice?

None of which, of course, has anything to do with the decision by the independent inspectorate, Ofsted, to “swoop” ( or blitz) schools in the Derby City area. Of course not.

Mr Wilshaw, head of Ofsted announced that they would be inspecting 11 schools in Derby from that day onwards to find out why children in Derby were “being denied the standard of education they deserve”. (Derby Telegraph) He went on to say:

“”It cannot be right that in local authorities with the same demographics, the same sort of population and the same levels of    deprivation, parents have such widely varying opportunities of finding a good school.

“We will be seeking to determine whether councils are really fulfilling their statutory duties to promote high standards. Where we find evidence that the local authority is not demonstrating effective leadership, then we shall inspect it.” (ibid)

And so, from 17-23 January, they swooped and inspected and looked under carpets and in cupboards in 10 schools in Derby.

(Yes, there is a mathematical discrepancy. It is not mine.)

So after this swoop hit the national headlines – eg, The Guardian- you’d have thought that Ofsted would be in a hurry to publish their results…. taps fingers on table… stifles a yawn… gets on with teaching real children…

Oh. Here it is. On 19th Feb, Ofsted finally write to Derby City Council with their findings.

You can read it all here.

So what exactly happened and what are the conclusions?

Of the schools inspected:

  • A special needs school maintained its “outstanding” status
  • One primary school and one nursery school maintained their “good” status
  • Four primary schools moved from “satisfactory” to “good”
  • One secondary and two primary schools were deemed to still “require improvement” (previously known as “satisfactory)

(Source: Derby Telegraph)

Not a bad set of results, especially under the new Ofsted inspection rules. Despite this, Derby City Council will have to wait until April before it finds out if it will be subject to an in-depth investigation into school standards in the authority. (Source: Derby Telegraph, as above.)  Because let us remember- this “swoop” was less about individual schools and more about the relationship between the schools and the Local Authority. During the inspections, schools were specifically asked about the relationship with the local authority- primarily the School Improvement officers. So let’s take a more detailed look at what was said and written.

  • The special needs school was deemed outstanding in all areas and inspectors highlighted several improvements since the previous outstanding rating. Specifically, the inspectors noted:

Although the Local Authority has an appropriately light-touch approach to this outstanding school, support that is     provided through the school improvement service is highly valued by the school’s leaders. There are clear, open lines of communication so that advice can be sought on how to improve further.” (Inspection report)

  • At the nursery school the inspectors found that:

The local authority has an appropriately light touch approach to this good school. A School Improvement Partner has provided an external view on the quality of teaching and the local authority has assisted the governing body on matters such as safeguarding and staff attendance. The nursery values all of these activities.”

  • At the primary school that maintained its “good” status, the inspectors determined that:

The school adviser is new to the school, but has good knowledge about the school’s performance and intends to come into the school at future visits to help monitor its progress. Because the school is not one that causes the authority concern, support has been at a low level, with local authority resources directed to less well performing schools.”

  • Four primary schools moved up from satisfactory to good. In one school it was noted that:

  “Until recently, the local authority has provided very limited challenge or support for the school. The appointment of a new link officer to the school has improved communication and provided more rigorous challenge but the officer has not been in post long enough to have impacted on on-going school improvement.”

In another:

  “The local authority has an appropriately light touch approach to this good school. School leaders have agreed with the local authority that senior leaders will access support as and when they need it. For example, the school has strengthened the impact of the senior leadership team as a result of accessing local authority support.”

And this:

“The impact of the local authority’s support and challenge over time in helping the school to improve has been variable. This is largely due to the fact that there have been frequent changes to the local authority representatives working with the school; six officers have worked with the school in the last six years. This has led to a disjointed approach and a lack of continuity, causing school leaders and the governing body to believe that they have not been challenged as effectively as they could have been. Some elements of local authority support have been stronger than others, including work to promote improved attendance at the school and also work to improve the quality of ICT. School leaders report that there are recent signs of improvement in the quality of support provided by the local authority and the school continues to choose to buy in to the local authority’s school support package.”

A few personal observations here. All of the above extracts from the inspection reports show that the relationship with the Local Authority is either good or showing improvement. As in all areas of local authority endeavour, the education service has suffered cuts and reorganisation which clearly affect the service provided. It would appear from the reports that Derby City Council is doing what it can and focussing support on the schools most in need, whilst still maintaining appropriate support to our better schools.

So what about the schools still requiring improvement? (Previously satisfactory.)

“The local authority has not been aware that many aspects of the school require improvement. Consequently, visits to the school have been infrequent and support has been minimal. Nearly all of the improvements to the school since the last inspection have been due to initiatives instigated by the school’s leaders. The governing body reports that the local authority training provided for governors is of good quality and has helped them improve their skills.” (primary school)

This remark is clearly more critical but not devastating. The next comment on the other “requires improvement” primary school highlights both the impact of a good School Improvement officer and the difficulties the education service has faced due to cuts and restructuring:

  “The impact of the local authority’s support to the school has been limited because of the frequent changes in officers. Four different local authority officers have worked with the school in the last three years. This has resulted in a lack of continuity and limited support and challenge. The new local authority adviser, who started working with the school in September 2012, is providing helpful support to the headteacher. For instance, she has carried out her own analysis of the 2012 Year 6 test results. This has enabled her to gain a better understanding of the school’s strengths and weaknesses and to ask the headteacher suitably challenging questions about pupils’ achievement. The governing body has benefited from local authority training. Governors told inspectors that because of this training they have a better understanding of their roles and responsibilities and that they are able to challenge the headteacher about pupils’ progress.”

Finally, the secondary school in need to improve:

  “The local authority knows the school well. It understands students’ performance through the frequent contact of the school improvement officer, regular analysis of performance data and working closely with senior leaders and governors to strategically address identified issues. The local authority is providing a range of effective training, support and professional challenge particularly around addressing the progress of vulnerable students and promoting more effective teaching, which is much appreciated by the school.”

Overall then, the local authority appears to be supporting its schools in ways that are appreciated by the schools. Surely this means that Mr Gove can leave the local authority to get on and manage its own schools?

Perhaps I am cynical- or a political realist- but I think that until more schools become academies in Derby then central government will continue to intervene.


Note: The above quotes are taken directly from the Inspection Reports for individual schools concerned. They can be found here:

All comments are my own views and do not represent anyone elses! Unless you agree of course…

Comments welcomed.

Added note.  Apparently Ofsted also contacted- but did not inspect- a further 12 schools to sound out their opinion of local authority support. In the letter to Derby City Council, Ofsted state that among the 12 contacted by phone, two were Academies; ie schools that had opted out of local authority provision! As far as I know, there is no public information as to which schools were contacted nor what their specific responses were. Oh well. You can see the letter here:

Physical Education or Sporting excellence?

Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Albert Einstein


Inevitably, GB ‘s success in a number of sports at the Olympics has raised questions about sports in schools, the private/private /class divide and what we need to do to ensure a continuing legacy. Etc.

I say ” inevitably” but it is not inevitable at all. It’s just the narrative we choose to use-it would ave been the same if we had done badly or even averagely…..

( Coming soon: The “inevitable narrative” : A levels are becoming easier…)

As we debate these issues : How do we maintain/improve on these sporting achievements? / What do we need to redress the class divide in sporting achievement, we are avoiding different, more important issues about education, state funding and what we, as a society really want to gain from all this.

A few points if I may:

1)  The reasons why people from a private school background do proportionately well at sport is pretty obvious. More money, better  facilities, better coaches, richer parents able to fund out of school activities, equipment etc. Add to that the fact that many children born to inherited wealth have a sense of entitlement and there you go.. Should we be worried by this? To be honest I am more worried about the number of MPs who come through the private school mill (Personally I would get rid of charitable status from “public” schools but ..)

2) State schools have an implicit and explicit duty to look after the health- physical, emotional and intellectual-towards all of its students, not just an elite wh may become Olympian or world athletes. Schools have to concentrate on physical education not competitive sports. Judging from my tl- in response to Boris Johnson’s suggestion that children should do 2hrs of PE per day- many of you hated PE. These days teachers are generally doing a good job in engaging as many students as possible in PE- and if that means not only doing competitive sports but physical activities for the less competitive- such as Indian Dance  then that is great.

3) In any event, the role of state school in this or any other area is increasingly redundant. This government- under the guise of providing head teachers and governors more freedom- is eroding the concept of state provision. Academies and free schools are released from the “shackles” of the curriculum and won’t even have to provide nutritious food (or even qualified teachers.) The curriculum is often seen as a restraint on our teachers. But it can also be a way of society stating what we want from our schools. Effectively , this government has renounced the right to establish a national strategy on anything in schools.

3) So should state schools promote/encourage competitive sporting prowess? Of course. Where it is appropriate and in the best interests of the individual child. Same goes for talented artists, musicians, writers, scientists… It is for all schools to support, nurture and promote anything that a child does well. But whether any individual school can provide the resources to bring these talents on is another matter.

4) Solutions. The problems are wider than the current debate has allowed. Any one going to challenge the premiership football clubs who take on youngsters and stop them from playing/trying another sport?

What about the relationship between sports clubs and schools? How do so many of our children access additional resources if their parents/carers either don’t have the money and time or the inclination to foster their child’s ambitions and skills?

My simple/simplistic solution would be to introduce a “Wednesday afternoon of excellence.” Schools identify students’ areas of excellence/interest and where they do not have particular expertise in developing these talents students can go out to clubs or trainers on a Wednesday afternoon. (Or any other day) This would not just cover sport but any other creative activity ….. The funding could either go to schools so that they can buy in to services or to clubs/groups so that they can offer free coaching

This requires funding. But with less duplication, the money could go further.David Brailsford suggested in the Guardian yesterday that there wasn’t a problem with elite sports in GB….. But he said…

“Given the priority British Cycling has given to building its grass roots over recent years, it was no surprise to hear Brailsford call for a careful look at converting the nation’s newfound interest in sport into higher participation. “If we could collectively think how do we get retention, how do we make it fun, how do we signpost people to make it very simple. ‘I want to play beach volleyball, where do I go? OK, I go there.’ And there’s a good coaching system, a good child protection system in place, there are people running sport where parents feel confident that their kids can go there and they’re in good hands.” (Full article here )

Given the fact that  GB cycling  has had so much success, and that the seeds of that success were sown before the increase in funding, perhaps we- and our government- should take note…





ICT versus Computer programming- a false dichotomy in the computing in schools debate. An update.

I am surprised that the original article I posted continues to be viewed, across the world apparently. There is obviously much interest in this topic as well as many concerns. View my original post here.

I have been drawn back to this debate by a couple of recent articles, both looking at the way young people use the internet and ICT.

The first article I refer to is : Snapshot of a Modern Learner by Mike Fisher.

In this post, Mike Fisher imagines/narrates the way that “Santos” experiences school life and the everday connected life that he leads. He is “misunderstood” by his teachers and his skills and ways of learning and absorbing information underrated by the educational system. (This is my summary of the piece; please read the original and form your own opinions.

I agree with this well written and thoughtful post and think that as educators we often undermine or ignore the knowledge that our students have and underestimate their ability to learn in different ways to us. But alarm bells rang when I read this part of the narrative:

“Santos knows where to find information. He does not necessarily discern what information is relevant, and he doesn’t necessarily know what he needs to learn from the information. But he knows where it lives: everywhere. He is more likely to find and copy information without attribution than he is to connect ideas and create something from it.”

This to me is a big concern; that some students like Santos cannot create their own opinions, cannot connect and form new links. This after all is the beauty of the internet. I came across another article that highlights the problem:

More than 10% of college papers plagiarize Wikipedia

A bold headline indeed. my first instinct is to do a reverse stats on that : “More than 89% of college papers DON’T plagiarise Wikipedia, but it is a concern.  Students are not being taught how to analyse and process information. Should that be the job of ICT lessons?

Yes, if, in ICT lessons students are being asked to use information. But as I stated in my earlier post increasingly, this should be challenged in other subjects were the internet is being used to garner information. Too often teachersne will ask students to “use the internet to find out about x” without giving guidelines and advice. (Yep, I’ve done that…) Computer literacy skills should in my view be treated in the same way as literacy skills. And the treatment and use of information on the internet should be used and questioned in the same way as any other source of information. I would personally like to see more education on how to “read” newspapers, pictures, TV news etc in schools .

Without that understanding, without that ability to connect, how are we going to create the programmers of the future? Programmers that can select, have an opinion, make choices.

This brings me back to my my original point; that the debate between teaching ICT and teaching computer programming is a false dichotomy. We need to be teaching both.

I have  been using my 1/2 hr a week ICT lessons to teach yr7 SEN students to programme. Very limited to be sure. For me, it has been about teaching the students about following instructions, being patient, learning from mistakes and above all, having a go. For them, it has been about having a sense of control and creating something. Iwant them to feel the same way about their use of information.

[My latest discovery has been Scratch  , a brilliantly simple but creative tool for creating games, stories and art.]



ICT versus Computer Programming: a false dichotomy in the computing in schools debate?

The Guardian (UK) have embarked on a campaign to upgrade computer science and IT in schools. They have labelled this campaign: ” digital literacy.”

In today’s Guardian (10/01/12) there is an interesting article on the apparent failings of ICT teaching in schools and how these could be remedied. They also publish a number of views on ICT teaching from pupils. (Consumers?)

Well, here are a few of my thoughts, for what they are worth. I am a special needs secondary school teacher specialising in French and RE but I also teach literacy and one, 35 minute lesson of ICT a week to a year 7 group. The “special needs” include visual and auditory impairment and reading ages range from 4 to 10 years. I have no formal  ICT qualifications and can’t programme at any great level- I rely on programmes like WordPress in order to communicate my ideas…

It is self evident that, year on year, the computer use of our students is becoming more widespread. One of the views from a 12 yr old (quoted in the Guardian today) was: ” …. I like using my laptop at home to go on Facebook and play games-I’m good at that.” The student stated this after having admitted ; ” I’m not really good at computers.”

The above student was bored by lessons on using Word and Excel but admits he is not very good at using them. I believe that it is very important to teach such a pupil on how to use these everyday programmes, but there must be a way of making him interested in using these products to create something for himself.

Another 12 yr old stated: ” We are taught how to save documents and search for simple information but we are on the internet at home….so we know how to do that.” Ah. As teachers we also have to bear in mind that not everyone has a computer at home and not everyone has the internet at home.

My concern is that we need to teach both of the above students, and the full spectrum in between, how to use these basic programmes- usually and realistically Microsoft- to their advantage. We need to teach above all how to weigh up the content provided on the internet- what are your sources as us history trained folk might say. Computers are used more and more across the curriculum and to assume that children are able to use them efficiently and creatively simply because they use the computer “a lot” could be setting them up to fail. OMore students are going to need to show their ability to use these consumer products in future jobs than to be able to programme computers…..

Ah. There is the rub. According to Professor Simon Peyton Jones, chair of Computing At School (quoted in the Guardian article mentioned above); ” Over the last decade or so, many employers have been keen to attract school-leavers fluent in simply using computers…so this may well have influenced the way the curriculum has developed.” And who is leading the demand for teaching Computer Science in schools? Oh. Google. We are not “producing” enough programmers for the future…. In both cases we, as teachers, are being asked to train our students in order to fulfil certain jobs.

Is that the purpose of education?  Not in my view. And that is where the term ” digital literacy” comes into its own. Using computers as tools and learning how to programme, master those tools, to become independent learner and thinkers.

I have asked students to create their own quizzes in MFL to practise their vocabulary using  ClassTools : this is far more productive than creating one for them and they have had to copy French words correctly (NC French writing, level 1). Not programming as such, but the student has created something of their own: they are in control. Not passive. In my brief ICT session, students are using Textease Turtle to create patterns and games. Not passive. In ICT club, students are using 2doityourself to make games. Not programming as such. But the first step to thinking about being in control. Not passive consumers.

So to me there is no dichotomy between teaching ICT and programming. Our students need to develop independent thinking skills and to be able to use the tools that will enable them to express those views creatively. But perhaps we need to see ict- as it is currently taught- as a cross curriculum skill. Digital literacy alon side emotional literacy and, eh, literacy. For instance, using word, publisher, wordle could be largely incorporated into English. Writing to an audience, comprehension. Geography, google earth, maps. History, use of sources. PSHE, using social media safely Art, image processing programmes. Maths, FT, DT,  etc……Using these everyday programmes not passively but as creators. As I’ve suggested above, some creation of games can also be used across the curriculum too. And if we did that, we can create some space to teach programming- even if at the early stages this just means showing stuents that we are telling the computer what to do.

Companies like Google are telling us that we are not creating enough programmers to create programmes that…… well, that the rest of us will passively consume…..

I’m all for digital literacy…. and creating independent thinkers so that they can lead productive lives.














If “free schools” is the answer we are asking the wrong question.

Back to school! But what kind of school? 24 “free schools” will be opening their doors next month; free from the shackles of local authority governance, free from the national curriculum.. Free to teach meditation and to select a religion to promote…..  Free from scrutiny as to the cost to the taxpayer apparently. So not free after all……

I happen to believe in the old fashioned notion that every child should have access to a good education. No, not just a good training to get into university, or to suit future employers. But an education that meets the Every Child Matters criteria , creating rounded individuals who can not only carry out paid work but can enjoy their leisure time, empathise with others and can feel involved in the decisions that shape their lives.

To do this, I think we need to get away from the idea that schools are just there to provide employees for businesses and industry. I think we should be teaching creativity, invention and an ability to question.

Yes, we need to teach basic skills, not just for employment, but for life as a whole. To do these things, schools do need to be able to be flexible. Let all schools be freed to adapt some aspects of the national curriculum  (though to be fair, I think some schools have used the NC as an excuse) and be given instead a framework on which they can build. Let’s get away from the scorecard league tables and the pathetic targets.

I want my local school to provide an education for my child. If my child is academically minded, I want him to be pushed academically and allowed to study what he wants, not what is seen as cool by his peers or school tables. If my child likes taking things apart and seeing how they work, I want her to be encouraged to do this. If my child doesn’t get God I went them to understand that they can still have moral values.

Free schools, do not address these issues. Whether elitist or not, they will created ghettoes  where children who do not share the ethos will either have to buckle down (undermining their self belief) or cross town to another school.

The tinkering with labels by the labour and coalition parties has avoided the central question which we must address: What is education for? Free schools do not provide the answer.

Two good articles this weekend about education: The importance of history   and Kids need a licence to tinker