Posts filed under ‘Young people’

Let’s hear it for the yoof!!

When I woke up on the first day of 2012, woozy from the past few days of excess, turning on the news I noted that the New Year message from our religious leaders, notably the Archbishop of Canterbury and Pope Benedict, laid some emphasis on youth. The Archbishop observed rightly that ‘society is letting down young people’ something I wholly agree with, although it is nothing new.

Ironically, I doubt that youth would have got this attention had it not been for the riots in the summer. Instead they would simply have been sidelined as usual, despite the disgrace of youth unemployment standing at over 1 million, the withdrawal of much needed financial support for young people to continue their studies, the daunting prospect of having to build up massive debts to continue onto university (despite it being rammed down all our throats that apparently the economy is in such dire straits because we have been living on too much debt in the first place!), and in the face of ‘good advice’ to take any job that is offered whether it is something they want to do or not.

Yes, despite the awful place young people, through absolutely no fault of their own, find themselves in we only take a little bit of notice of their plight when things get sufficiently serious that riots occur, and then castigate them for it.

Pope Benedict in his New Year message extolled the virtues of young people who ‘could become builders of peace if they were given the correct guidance‘. Quite so, although it is not so much guidance as good example that in my view is of the greatest value to them. They are all capable of living good lives, of living peaceably together, of realising their talents, of fulfilling their potential, of making the world a better place, given the opportunity.

But when they look around them what do they see.

Bickering politicians who promise one thing today and do the opposite tomorrow if it suits them best, greedy bankers doing very nicely thank you off the fruits of their failures, collapsing financial systems throughout the world, growing unemployment. This is, as Malcolm Maclaren before his untimely death observed, a karaoke society that lacks authenticity. No wonder the future looks bleak when viewed through the vital and discerning eyes of our young people.

I am not religious myself, agnosticism being as far as I wander in that direction, but I applaud the religious leaders for highlighting the plight of our youth and I implore governments to take note, and more importantly take positive action, although I fear this falls upon deaf ears.

As Edward de Bono said recently ‘politicians (and indeed economists) are good at commenting on things, but not good at designing things’. This doesn’t auger well for a world faced with the predicament of how to veer away from its current path towards self destruction. Sitting by and ‘commenting’, tinkering around the edges simply doesn’t cut it.

So where should we look for our salvation. I say to our youth. After all it is they who will inherit the mess that we have created, it is they who in the end will have to make sense of it all, the phoenix that rises out of the ashes.

So this is my New Year message. Rather than castigate our youth let’s set a better example and support them, trust them, work with them to allow them the opportunities to fulfil their potential, to set them on a path of fulfilment. Then, through them, the world will become a better place.

So, come on, join me and let’s hear it for the yoof!!

January 3, 2012 at 2:40 pm Leave a comment

Birbalsingh, Adonis, and Plan B

On Newsnight last night, musician Ben Drew (aka Plan B) talked about his disillusionment with politicians – “no politicians have ever represented me because they have not come from the environment I have.” His relative success as a musician, with some acting, and now directing, thrown in, has occurred, he says, despite, and not because of, politicians or indeed the education system, both of which he considers failed him. His education happened outside the formal education system, because there was no place for him, or for the likes of him within it.

Continuing the piece answering questions from Jeremy Paxman were Katherine Birbalsingh, ex deputy head teacher and proponent of a return to the old ‘traditional’ ways of teaching Latin and of stronger discipline in schools, and ex labour Schools Minister Lord Adonis.

Birbalsingh’s argument for greater discipline is that ‘working class boys are the most vunerable’ when it comes to education and often lack the structure, order and discipline in their home lives that their middle and upper class peers benefit from. It is, therefore, up to the schools, she argues, to provide this. Drew, she explains, “wasn’t inspired in schools because his teachers weren’t free enough to be able to inspire him”. Her solution to this is to “instill structures and systems  to make sure the children are disciplined enough to sit tight so that their teachers are free enough to be able to inspire”.

This conjures up images for me of rows of children dutifully ‘sitting tight’ whilst their teachers strut their inspirational stuff until the period ends and the next cohort are wheeled in to be inspired in turn. We just need some security staff to deal with behaviour issues ensuring the children do indeed ‘sit tight’ and hey presto the teachers are freed up to get on with it. Simple enough!

Problem is children aren’t very good at ‘sitting tight’, goddam them. They are naturally vivacious, full of energy with lively enquiring minds, relishing experience, craving diversity. In fact children are probably the least suited to ‘sitting tight’  of all humankind.

They do love to be inspired, though. My teenage kids can tell me precisely who the good teachers (the ones who inspire) are and the bad teachers (the ones who don’t inspire) are. We all of us have tales about subjects we enjoyed because of the teacher, and subjects we didn’t for the same reason. The teacher in all this is massively important, and can have a real influence on the whole of a childs life. That is why, in my view, we should recognise bad teachers and bad teaching and outlaw both, for the sake of our children. Seriously.

What I found more disturbing about the Newsnight item was Birbalsinghs assertion that “we need absolute order and structure, school uniforms need to be perfect in school”. This honestly sends a chill down my spine. And this made worse by the fact that Lord Adonis (labour) in his own words, completely agreed with her.

I know the boundaries between conservative, labour and indeed, now liberal democrat, governments are very blurred. I would have hoped though, perhaps naively, that the extreme right wing rhetoric of Birbalsingh would at least have been somewhat tempered by Adonis. But not to be, it seems.

Lord Adonis celebrates the ‘success’ of Mossbourne Community Academy in Hackney whose headmaster values ‘discipline’ and talks about a ‘no excuses’ society (no excuses meaning toe the line, or else). Of course the school is regarded as being successful on their GCSE A – C results and such measures. No account is taken, as far as I can see of the ‘achieving personal potential’ , or ‘happiness’, or ‘fulfilment’ measures, largely because such matters are not measured at all, as though irrelevant.

It would be easy to become depressed by such unenlightened thinking across the political spectrum, but despite all this I remain optimistic about our education system. This is because I know the kids are texting underneath their desks despite mobiles being banned, that they are networked and connected, that there is an unstoppable force that will out regardless.

February 16, 2011 at 12:10 am Leave a comment

Blog’s away!

You may have seen the item on Breakfast TV news this morning (14th Feb) about the use of blogging in Heathfield School which is a fantastic demonstration of the massive potential of digital technology for education. If you didn’t see it the essence is that pupils of Heathfield Primary School, under the inspirational guidance of deputy head David Mitchell (@deputymitchell if you want to follow him on Twitter) are writing blog posts. Not only do they really enjoy this, it is also having a fantastic positive effect on their writing abilities.

This is happening at a time of immense change when the education ‘system’ is going through yet more changes on top of the constant fiddlings that have taken place over the last 20 years. This is incredibly destabilising and difficult for schools, but of course education must go on. The initiative at Heathfield School is a prime example of how a simple application of digital technology can have hugely beneficial effects, despite current uncertainties over curricula etc..

I think this is a real way forward, where we simply transcend the complications of platforms, technical compatibilities, even connectivity. Blogging can be undertaken anywhere, anytime on any device and doesn’t even need constant connectivity, simply the ability to connect to upload a blog, or to read someone elses blog (unless stored locally).

Yet it opens up the world.

This does open up the potential for what Mike Butler (outgoing chair of the Independent Academies Association [IAA] and chief executive of the award winning Djanogly City Academy in Nottingham) describes as a ‘guide by the side’ approach which gives the learners greater control of their own learning, with teachers in a more supportive, facilitation role.

Heathfield were also pioneers in the use of YouTube in the classroom. Some may feel that giving access to the vast range of videos on You Tube may be problematic if it gave young pupils access to disturbing materials but Heathfield got around this by installing software to filter out comments around the materials that may have been disturbing.

This gives access to an extraordinary free resource that can be used in a number of ways for learning, not least in the use of the ‘freeze frame’ technique that I blogged about a couple of years ago.

What I particularly like about both these initiatives, blogging and YouTube, is the simplicity of implementation from a technical perspective. None of this involves complex Learning Management Systems or VLE’s, no considerations of SCORM compatibility, no complex devolvement of new systems or technical standards. Just progressive thinking.and ‘guiding by the side’ (a term I an rather taken by).

It is no wonder to me that @deputymitchell has taken his rightful place in the ‘inner circle’ with the likes of Tim Rylands, Dawn Hallybone, Stephen Heppell, Derek Robertson et al.

More like this, please.

February 14, 2011 at 4:41 pm Leave a comment

Lembit, SAT’s and picnics pot pourri

You’ve got to feel a bit sorry for Lembit Opik who so unexpectedly lost his seat in the election. But only a bit. Whilst I am sure it is no picnic for him, I have no doubt that when he has finished crying on a Cheeky Girls shoulder he will pick up some tasty work, Portillo like, in the media. He is quite high profile already, as though preparing for just this moment. He has already been on ‘Have I got news for you’ just hours after his fall and this morning on breakfast TV, not just once, but on two different slots.

Michael Portillo’s political demise all those years ago has, it seems, been voted as peoples’ third favourite moment of the 20th century. By his own admission his notoriety at the time has enabled him to reinvent himself and carve out a very nice, and no doubt lucrative, career in the media. If we’re not very careful we are in danger of even calling him a ‘national treasure’ (although on reflection perhaps a step too far).

Lembit does not have the same level of notoriety although his high profile womanising will do him no harm. He is sufficiently known, though, I think to be a prime candidate for picking up some very nice media jobbies, thank you very much, not to mention the autobiography, the diaries!!)

Whilst Lembit has been replaced as MP for Montgomeryshire, it is also no picnic for many head teachers of primary schools who are facing the ignominy of being replaced, at least temporarily, if they boycott the KS 2 SAT’s that are due to be taken this week. Those heads who are participating in the boycott are doing so for very sound, deeply felt educational reasons. The nub of this as one primary head interviewed this morning put it is that she simply did not feel that a 45 minute exam in any way reflected a child’s achievements over their previous 8 years schooling.

Any child that does not do well in their SAT’s knows it, and starts their secondary schooling with that blot on the landscape. This can’t help but affect that child’s confidence, the position they occupy in secondary school, and the view their new teachers have of them. Where there is setting at a secondary school the SAT’s results contribute to what set a child might be put in.

If they are put in top set they will probably feel quite good about themselves (as will their proud parents) although their can also be pressures on them to maintain that position. If they are put in the set below top set, well they are not quite good enough really, are they? If they are put in bottom set, then that means not up to much really, pretty worthless.

We do not literally believe those judgements, or at least we would not admit to it, but a child does. This leads to hundreds and thousands of school children starting the very scary and life changing journey into secondary education already with a chip on their shoulder, already disadvantaged, already with lowered expectations. No picnic at all.

It is in recognition of this, and of the fact that scrapping SAT’s does not mean scrapping ‘assessment’ as such (there are very many robust means of assessing a child progress) that those heads participating in the boycott are doing so. Rather than analysing the legal position of a boycott, or threatening to replace participating heads, it seems to me that the government would benefit from listening properly to the very cogent arguments being proffered.

One reason, I suspect, that the boycott appears to be somewhat patchy is that there seems to be no real political strength apparent in teachers unions. This is typified by a ‘laugh out loud’ moment when I heard on the news this morning that the NUT was holding a ‘protest picnic’ on the issue of KS2 SAT’s. Well, that will show them, won’t it!!!

So no need to worry Ed Balls, Michael Gove, or David Laws (or whatever combination of the three wins influence over the coming days) when it comes to dealing with the NUT, it is a picnic!

May 10, 2010 at 10:29 am Leave a comment

i-pad, u-pad, we-pad….or do Wii?

My ten bobs worth about the i-pad. Yes, Graham, getting sucked in…to the debate at least.

So, I find myself getting sucked in to the debate about the i-pad. This is unusual for me because, to be honest I have certainly been on the fringes of what Stephen Fry in his review of the i-pad calls the ‘nay sayers and sceptics’ in respect of the i-phone and i-pod touch et al.

In my defence, though, I have never said that the development of the Apple mobile device armoury is not extremely well conceived, beautifully designed, and skilfully executed, or that Apple have not led where others have followed.

But, neither do I believe that the sun shines from Steve Jobs posterior. There is something about the evangelism surrounding all things Apple that disturbs me. Perhaps it’s the blinding light shining from you know where that restricts our peripheral vision preventing us from properly seeing the full picture.

Where it comes to the i-pad, and indeed i-phone, i-pod touch etc. context is important, I think. At least it is in the world I occupy which professionally and personally revolves around education, specifically primary and secondary education. Even more specifically a large slice of my life is taken up with the exciting opportunities offered to education through digital technology which, as Lord Putnam said at the recent Learning Technologies show at Olympia, has changed the way people interact, engage and make sense of the world’.

The i-pad, in all it’s glory (and I do not doubt its gloriousness) will open up all sorts of exciting opportunities to do some remarkable things in some schools and educational institutions around the globe. But, fantastic as that is, this effort will be restricted to a minority for three very good reasons that have nothing to do with design or functionality. These reasons are that the i-pad is too expensive, too nickable, and too fragile.

Stephen Fry in his review of the i-pad refers to the ‘shockingly low price’ of $499 (£310) for the basic model. Shockingly low for someone of his means, for sure, affordable for someone of my means, completely out of the question for the hundreds of  thousands on a low income. Will the ‘Home access’ scheme (which already restricts provision of access to broadband to one year only)  be extended to the provision of this device, even the basic model. I suspect not. In any case the ‘Home access’ scheme doesn’t by any means reach all the people who need it.

Where the ‘Home access’ scheme is meant to narrow the digital divide, the aggressive pricing policy of Apple (when did you last see a discounted i-phone or i-pod touch), I’m afraid, only serves to widen it. This does play into Apples hands, of course, because their enormous 15.9 billion revenue is made mainly from the haves and the perception that their beautiful products are made for the beautiful people who, of course, can afford them.

I know that Steve Jobs has made a point of saying that he wants to keep the price low, but there is low and there is low.

In a tweet today Graham Brown-Martin (of Handheld Learning fame) said ‘as I walk thru the Elephant & Castle favela I wonder if I’d really whip out an #iPad to read the news…’ Now extend that thought to all the pupils in all the schools.

We recently had a burglary at our offices. Someone had got hold of the key and came in at their leisure when no-one was around. From everything we have in the office, dozens of systems, Macs and Pc’s and all sorts of other equipment, the burglar took just our i-pod touch (my freebie from the Handheld Learning conference) and our Mac mini. Small enough to conceal and very sellable, just like the i-pad. No doubt the good Apple folk would puff out their chests in pride that their products are so eminently nickable so not likely to be much change there.

And as for robustness, I have no idea how much rough handling the i-pad can take (because of its elegance it does seem rather fragile, but this may well not be the case), but it would have to be very robust indeed to survive the ravages of my 12 year old sons treatment. Clothes, books, bottles, lunchboxes, nothing survives the daily onslaught. His mobile phone just about survives, because it is small enough to go in his pocket, and has a case to protect it. Even so it looks pretty sorry for itself, although just about intact.

It might be argued that other devices may be equally susceptible to damage, but that isn’t the point. Someone will have to address the issue of rough treatment, and I don’t suppose it will be Apple. They are just not in that space.

You may feel that I am simply being something of a killjoy about all this, but I think I am just being practical and pragmatic. I don’t doubt, or deride, Apples achievements as innovators. But, in the world I occupy, I cannot see a ubiquitous place, per se, of the i-pad, i-phone, i-pod et al despite all the potential on offer.

In this respect, though, Apples great achievement, and it is a great achievement, is to set the standards for others to follow and I applaud them for that. But I expect to see a greater use of other devices for education, netbooks for a while, making way for smartphones that can be had free on very low tariffs, gaming consoles like PS3 and x-Box, others like the DS and of course the brilliantly conceived Wii.

January 28, 2010 at 5:42 pm 9 comments

Education! We just gotta get radical.

salt flats in death valley smalllas-vegas small

This is a rather long blog post, after some absence from posting to this blog due to pressures of work, (filling a senior sales position at Vivid) and as you will read, a great holiday in the USA. After this it will be back to ‘business as usual’ with more regular and shorter posts to come. Thanks for sticking with it.

Holidays are often a time of reflection and the gaining of new perspectives. No more so for me following my family holiday in California with my partner and two children (aged 14 and 12). This was a touring holiday taking in the diversities of San Francisco and Los Angeles, Death Valley and Las Vegas (in the same day), the wonders of the Grand Canyon, snow in the boiling heat of Mammoth Lakes, chilling in Santa Cruz.

Aside from the time we all spent in the car (we covered around 2,500 miles in just under 3 weeks) we also all lived in one room in different motels around the place. So this was quite intense. Mum, Dad, and the teenage kids in such close proximity 24/7. Although Diane and I had been to various places in the US prior to this visit, many of the places we visited on this occasion were as new to us as they were to the kids. So for much of the time there was a shared sense of discovery in all the places we visited and experienced.

For example, nothing prepared any of us for the 118 F heat or the eeriness we experienced in Death Valley, or the contrasting glitch and glamour and madness of the Luxor hotel in Las Vegas when we first walked through the doors, the breathtaking first sight of the Grand Canyon, the sheer vastness of the Redwood trees in Yosemite, being at the centre of simulated flash floods at Universal Studios, discovering a tarantula as big as a fist sidling up to us at a restaurant in Seligman (on Route 66).

And all of these experiences excited the curiosities of the kids, sparked myriad questions across a rich variety of disciplines – the origin of language,  weather systems (naturally, being brits), the solar system, politics, history, geography, and so much more.

We also all kept daily diaries (mine a series of tweets).

There were some tremendously evocative moments, like when we all surveyed the scene at Badwater Basin (in Death Valley and the lowest point in the USA at 182 feet below sea level), the salt flats stretching into the distance in the intense heat, and imagined the gold rush pioneers trudging along, no shade for miles, tired and despairing. A hugely compelling image and one that grabbed the imagination of our kids sparking loads of questions. Of course we were unable to answer all the questions they had but had wide ranging discussions in which we all explored the issues raised.

If this is not education I do not know what is. Yet, the rules are that family holidays within school terms are not allowed, or only allowed on a limited basis with the express permission of the school head. This means that because everything is much more expensive during the school holiday periods hundreds and thousands of children from families who simply cannot afford to holiday at the inflated prices demanded are excluded from the wonderful experiential and enlightening educational opportunities thus afforded.

I used to think that an answer to this is that legislation should forbid the holiday companies from inflating prices during school holidays. Or that families are allowed to take their kids out of school for holidays if they can demonstrate the educational benefits of doing so. But I now think differently because these propositions simply pander to the view, and our obsession with the idea, that education is something that is wholly controllable and measurable and can be contained within constraints established by government.

As 16 year old Michael Jones in a Teachers TV video puts it (http://www.teachers.tv/video/17058 – start at 56.00), ‘I learn loads of stuff on the streets, learning is everywhere’. And so it is. From the streets of New Delhi where Sugata Mitra first conducted his ‘Hole in the Wall’ experiments, to middle class holidays in the US, to messing on the streets, learning is taking place.

Change is occurring in our education system, politicians messing with stuff they know little about, but as David Warlick in his recent blog post on ‘2¢ worth’ says:

‘it seems that every time we sit down and talk about education reform, there seems to be something in the way, preventing us from what we want to do right now.  We can’t move that tile in the puzzle, until the one next to it is out of the way, which we can’t move until another one has been shifted, etc. etc.’

OK this is a blog from USA but the issue is the same. This is just messing around the edges of a system that is clearly failing with the unfortunate effect, actually, of making life increasingly more difficult for those on the ground, those who are delivering education, our teachers. And in the process the voice of the young people for whom the system is designed is completely ignored.

A new Ofsted report on progress with the new diploma system has just been published. The conclusions are that ‘teaching of functional skills, maths, English and IT, must improve’.

This, of course should come as no surprise to anyone who knew from the start that the diploma debacle was wholly misconceived. It explains why resultant qualifications from the diploma are not ‘A’ levels, truly on a par with the more ‘academic’ qualifications. This is because excellence in the so called ‘vocational’ skills is simply not valued. Just as the arts are similarly undervalued (see Ken Robinson on this), placed at the bottom of the existing hierarchy.

So it’s back to square 1. The diplomas appear to have been conceived with the crazy notion that offering more vocational subjects within a new structure to the less ‘academic’ will somehow magically make these people more academic, say in subjects like English, Maths and IT! It won’t. They will continue to struggle and will continue to be treated as second class because they are seen as struggling with these subjects.

And this will continue to happen until a new approach, a pupil led approach, to learning is developed and until we rid ourselves of the elitist view that academic prowess is the route to fulfilment.

When the worlds financial systems went into meltdown last year a great opportunity emerged to rethink the whole of that structure and to make radical changes accordingly. Unfortunately it looks like that opportunity is lost and the signs are that the financial institutions, propped up as they are by government, are simply reverting to the old greedy ways and habits, bonuses are back!!

There is a danger that a similar thing will happen with education. It would be great if holiday prices were not inflated during school holidays so more people could afford to go away, it would be great if parents were encouraged to take their children on holiday during term times with the wide educational benefits that that offers but in the end that’s just tinkering around the edges, simply moving the tiles around.

With technology there is the real potential of delivering an education environment that is truly personalised, is aimed at self fulfilment, and is pupil led.

Yet this potential will come to nought unless we have the courage to remove the barriers to learning, to knock down the walls around the classrooms, to trust our young people, to listen to what they have to say, and to radically rethink the whole purpose of education, and deliver for the 21st century.

August 21, 2009 at 12:42 pm Leave a comment

Let’s not wait until the iceberg melts

Icebergs small

Last night my 11 year old son told me that he had gone from hating history at school to loving it. When I asked him why, he said that he now had a good teacher. I haven’t yet quizzed him, as I will, on his perceptions of what was bad about the previous teaching and what is now good, but it is interesting that he makes that distinction. In my view teaching in a way that is interesting and motivating is not just desirable, but should be required of every teacher. I admire and respect teachers for undertaking a difficult job and when it is right in enhancing a child’s life. But I abhor bad teaching because of the serious harm it can do.

If we want to know what is good teaching or bad teaching we just have to talk to the young people who are being taught. They know what they like and don’t like, they know what switches them on and what turns them off. And we should listen to what they have to tell us about this and do something about it, even when we hear stuff outside our comfort zones.

As parents we celebrate each child’s individuality even if it’s only to extent of ‘he’s got his fathers eyes, but his mother’s nose’. Yet we force them to endure an education that expects uniformity, that expects an 11 year old to achieve the same standards in the same subjects as their 12 year old mates, or a class of 30 to express equal interest in all things.

We do this not because of any considered philosophy of education, but purely through means of practicality. How else can we ‘control’ a class of 30, a year of 120, but by imposing strict criteria on required outcomes.

My son also recently had a science test coming up and was told by his teacher to revise for it. That’s all. Not any guidance of how to revise, what to revise, even where to look for advice. Just ‘go away and revise’. Oh yes. There was some advice to try BBC bitesize, but not to do everything there because it was not all relevant.

That evening I caught him in our front room aimlessly flicking through the various folders of the work he had undertaken during the year not really knowing where to start, which things to concentrate on.

And then he asked me if I would test him so he could get an idea of what he knew best and importantly what he knew least. This is ‘assessment for learning’, a concept that he arrived at of his own volition, understanding that finding out the gaps in his own understanding could give him a structure for revision.

Unfortunately his teacher had not had the foresight to arm his pupils with some past tests in order that they could test their understanding in this way, but we were able to find some appropriate stuff online. In fact BBC bitesize was not the most helpful or structured. Many more structured resources were to be found on other sites simply by Googling ‘Year 7 science tests’.

Why do I say all this? Two reasons. Firstly on the question of practicality we do have the opportunity to really, seriously deliver (or I prefer to say ‘allow’) ‘personalised learning’ by appropriate use of digital technology. Going online to find appropriate revision materials is just the tip of an enormous iceberg.

Secondly, young people are wholly capable of being properly engaged in the debate about their own learning. So let’s ask them, listen to them, trust them, believe them, and act on what we hear.

And instead of just fiddling around the edges let’s do it now before they lose interest and before the global warmed digital iceberg disappears.

July 1, 2009 at 11:32 am 4 comments

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Mick Landmann on education, digital technology, and the 21st century

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