Apr 022013

This was shot in the Autumn of 2012, a season of rain, thunder and floods.  We asked the gardener to tell us about what he likes and dislikes and on some of his philosophical thoughts; he gave us plenty to think about.  I too wish I had someone to do my weeding for me, although I only garden when i am dragged, screaming outside.

With experience and maturity,  the need for meticulous planning disappears.  Someone who knows what they are doing can tell just by walking around and looking what their plans for the day should be.  In our world though, the planning is sometimes taken to be more important than the work itself.


Feb 112013

Sound good?

One of the claws in the velvet glove is that the shorter programmes of study will be more academic and written, and practical subjects may not be as practical anymore.  This could mean as you progress through the national curriculum and into KS4, music, Arts, CDT, and so on will end up being assessed by a single written paper…

Jan 302013

Computer Science is going to be the first subject that is added to the eBacc since it’s introduction, as reported on the BBC here.

I must say congratulations to the computer industries for their lobbying and persistence, I’m happy to see the subject classed as a real science and getting the recognition it deserves.  Geeks rejoice.  It is pretty sad though for RE and the Arts who are once again snubbed and relegated to the bottom of the class, they have been lobbying just as hard and just as forcibly.  I’m guessing this is true evidence that the Government still think the arts and RE are pointless.

In related news Good egg Kenneth Baker has just published his book “14-18 – A New Vision for Secondary Education” which questions the policy of forcing learners to stick to academic subjects until they are 16.  I never thought I would agree with him but I quite simply do.  Learners with a passion at 14 should be able to specialise…

Now I’m not sure yet on the mechanics of adding computer science to the eBacc and if that means you can drop the other science subjects or mix and match disciplines, so I will check on it and get back to you.  I’ve also got Ken Baker’s book on order and will review it as soon as it arrives.

10 For x = 1 to 100000

20 Print “Just what on Earth is he playing at”;

30 next x

Jan 252013

What do schools, teachers, students and parents want from universities to support kids to get to University?

Milburn expresses clearly, as the social- mobility guru, that there is much Universities can do targeted at students from under-represented groups such as disabled students, students from areas where there is traditional low participation in higher education, ethnic  minority students and students from families where no one has been to university. While Universities are digesting Milburn’s report, OFFA has set out its vision and expectations for widening participation in its annual guidance for the HE sector and a page devoted to sanctions if a HEI fails to meet its HE access agreement. Now that many HEIs are charging the maximum fees they are increasingly accountable to ensure that their widen participation and access agenda is robust and takes on board the strong steers from external influencers especially OFFA.

The OFFA guidance quotes Milburn several times in a 40 page document, so the pieces of the jigsaw are coming together. What should HEIs do to widen participation and help the social mobility agenda? After all the research, including the Leach Report (remember Leach?), shows that a degree is a passport to better economic stability for the individual and supports the national skills requirements to successful participate in a global economy. Universities need to form strong links with schools, provide after school homework support facilities, set up subject study days, provide IAG on admissions processes, use contextualised data to inform admissions processes, run summer schools, provide mentors and in the main raise aspiration and attainment at KS 2, KS 3, KS4 and KS 5 and try to do this in collaboration with other HEIs. All of these activities targeted at students and schools that at the moment are under-represented in the undergraduate population – otherwise it is unaccountable by OFFA.

What do schools think about this? The independent school sector has strong links with selective universities and often these go back hundreds of years, if not more. They have a head-start, but now is the opportunity for state schools to say, in the absence of a national careers service, universities can provide my students with… Your voice needs to be heard?

Jan 222013

Yesterday was a typical British Winter day with travel chaos, power cuts, abandoned cars and school closures. We all know it happens every year, and we all are pretty fed up with it.  This year though there has been a clamour of complaint against the school closures, after all, they didn’t shut when I was a lad.

This nostalgia is quite tiresome and also, I feel, ignorant of the context.  Schools close for safety reasons.  The safety of the Learners, on the way to the school site and moving around the school site during the day.  Snow fall puts a huge pressure on the one or two school facilities staff to maintain access and safety and snowfall during the day is often impossible to cope with.  Schools also close for the safety of their employees, teachers, dinner staff, administration and support staff and so on.  Everyone is entitled to work in an environment which doesn’t endanger their health.

In 1972 this was exactly the same, so why didn’t schools close then?

In 1972 schools were very local, learners and teachers were pretty much gathered from a catchment area of about a 5 mile radius. In bad weather people could either walk, share cars, or risk a dangerous bus ride or stay at home.  There were some pretty horrible accidents, does no one else remember the fatal school bus crashes in bad weather back in the day? Schools had on site caretaking staff and were generally smaller, they probably didn’t need to formally close because there was always someone close and the least they could do was open a hall for 5-a-side or run the library. We might not know if a school was closed because there was no local communication, if you couldn’t get to the end of the street you stayed at home regardless of whether the school was formally shut or not.  You couldn’t check on the internet, local radio or even phone anyone up.

Then, along came choice and parents were looking to get their children in to schools 10, 20 or 30 miles away.  Teachers also were choosing to travel huge distances. Now a school is not a local resource but a regional one and with every few miles added to the journey the more dangerous it becomes in bad weather. Health and safety is a completely reasonable reason to close any establishment and gung-ho heads who are demanding teachers and children should come in regardless of hazard are guilty of bullying, in my opinion. Let’s get a prosecution and an imprisonment, that should sort the thinking out!

Getting huffy on TV because your child care has broken down is not helping. Back in 1972 the mother was probably at home and there was no child care problem.

The snow is clearing today and normality has returned, work will be caught up, extra homework set and the panic will prove to be unnecessary…. again.

Jan 202013

I tend not to comment much on HE as there are others on here who have a lot more insight and experience than I.  But the last post, at the end of last year, was on free schools and how I thought they had, by and large, not achieved much.  A news story on the BBC today reports than the group behind the New College of the Humanities, in effect a rich kids private university, are to have a go at doing the same thing for secondary education.

The story is currently here.

The HE version is headed by a gang of well known professors, authors, ex-politicians and TV personalities and is recognisable by charging £16,000 a year as opposed to the usual £9,000. They can get away with it at HE because their degrees are ‘franchised’ from a different university and they don’t have to go through the rigmarole of setting up their own quality systems, they use their parent’s systems and procedures.  In effect a private arm of a university with big name lecturers turning up once in a blue moon.  The £16K doesn’t surprise me though.  If you look at the fees charged by overseas establishments you might be surprised.  I heard recently of Berklee School of Music being $60,000… not sure if that’s a year or for the entire course though.

The thought of a secondary school version of it makes me uncomfortable because what we’re basically doing is setting up a private school, not a free one.  Setting up a private school is fine, if that is what you say you are doing, but setting one up with public money and calling it free when it is anything but, sounds like fraud.

I do still think that the current vision of education is completely flawed and I am desperately worried for learners, the arts, progression and the country as a whole in ten years’ time.  I do like the idea of disruptive principles and challenging the curriculum.  But there are only going to be rich kids benefitting from this, and that is not fair, honest or helpful.

Nov 162012

It seems awfully early to be calling this one but it does seem like the free schools initiative has bombed.  Sadly, I’m calling it.  Free schools, just not disruptive enough.

Let me explain.  In the business world, technology and the internet has allowed for businesses to disrupt the traditional.  Companies like Amazon, ebay, Etsy and Ocado have challenged the way we do retail and thrown some marbles under the feet of the dinosaurs.   Its painful stuff to watch but it has also brought benefits to consumers in the form of prices falling, quality of service, convenience and innovation. Having a disruptive force in your sector forces you to be creative and innovate and that should be good for everyone in the longterm.

Of course small independent bookshops will disagree with this view, as would lots of small and rural companies who may have had to close, restructure or be taken over by the largely foreign, non-tax-paying mega corps. Change is always painful.  But if you don’t evolve you don’t survive and the many years of profit taking and sitting on laurels has made lots of industries ripe for a disruptive challenge.

Education has been largely unchanged since the 1950s. It is very cosy, very biased and desperately in need of a rethink.  To my eyes some disruptive challenge would be an excellent thing. Why not have a school that has a school year that is sensibly designed, a curriculum that favours the learner, fosters creativity, employability, the vocational and the academic equally, allows specialism and excellence and doesn’t process learners by age alone?  That sounds like a free school to me.

But that is not what we’ve got.

Free schools seem to have done the complete opposite.  Stifling innovation, fixing the curriculum to the 1950s model, prioritising privilege or faith, damning difference and playing the traditional performance table games. Sadly it’s not innovative at all and has been done before throughout the 60 odd years since the post war reforms, and doesn’t work.  The “free” in free schools just means “free from the council”, or “free from the local area so my precious son/daughter can have the education I had and it worked for me”.

Not one of the new free schools has been a valuable piece of disruptive technology in the education development of the country.  So I’m calling it.

Free schools, a disruptive business model that wasn’t disruptive enough.

Nov 132012

So what are the four curriculum ‘things’ we need government education departments to be clear on?

1 – The Functional stuff.  How to add up, communicate, operate a computer, calculate the size of a carpet and balance your cheque book… er.. online bank account.

2 – The Social Stuff. The stuff that defines the Englishness, Welshness, Scottishness, Britishness of our society.  This would be Citizenship, Civics, PSHE, Shakespeare, RE and the like.

3 – The Stuff employers want.  This is a little harder but it is the essential stuff that makes learners employable.  It’s more likely to be the likes of project management, customer satisfaction, creativity, attention to detail and problem solving, but might also include some subjects like English, Maths, Science, MFL and so on.  Maybe there are two routes here?

4 – The stuff learners want.  This might be the stuff to get them to FE or HE as well as the stuff that burns their interest and focusses their passion. It might be subjects, maths, physics, chemistry, music and art.  But it might also be engineering, robotics, computer gaming/programming/hacking, agriculture, plumbing or tap dancing.

So what proportion of each and in what school and when?

Nov 042012

Very interesting to see the engineers fighting back and arguing to keep their engineering diploma in face of the race to academia currently underway in English schools.  If you missed the article it’s here.

Engineering was in the very first phase of diplomas that were introduced, at huge expense, by the last Government and sadly wherever I go I hear of schools and colleges dropping them and learners not wanting to take them.  The diplomas were complex, weird, government designed, unusual, and new, not a single redeemable feature.  Except, well, they were a breath of fresh air, they had great sector support, full employer buy-in, university progression, a modern approach and were a genuine alternative.  It’s only natural, therefore for them to get squished.

Now, full disclosure, I was the director of a diploma development project and although ours never even had the opportunity of being launched, it had all the positives in place and was well on the way to being a great addition to the rather staid and bland A level curriculum.  There was much talk of rescuing the bulk of each diploma and turning it into a separate stand alone qualification, we even had an offer from an awarding body, but the government now own the IP and it’s going to be stored in Warehouse 13 for evermore.  Right next to the Ark of the Covenant and Edgar Allen Poe’s pen.

The diplomas were a wonderful first step, version 2, which was already being planned, would have been better still and version 4 or 5 could have made a real impact on education in England.  So I salute the engineers and look forward to a similar response from the other 16 sectors.

No? Anyone? Dust….?

Oct 292012

Many thanks to good mate Doug for pointing me to this Radio 4 documentary which you can catch up with on the BBC Radio iPlayer (go to BBC iPlayer radio and search for “Analysis – The School of hard Facts” just in case this link doesn’t work out.)

The programme goes into the work of E.D. Hirsch, who developed the concept of ‘cultural literacy and core knowledge’ that our current education secretary thinks is the best thing since sliced bread. It’s a fascinating prgramme, see how long you can go without loosing your temper…