Stranded in Lanzarote – JCQ response a disgrace

When people first heard that we were stranded in Lanzarote as a result of Eyjafjallajoekull a first reaction was to comment how lucky we were. However, the truth belies that.

We were psychologically prepared initially for a one week holiday in a villa on the island. We were not psychologically prepared for our stay to be extended indefinitely, in the event for an additional week.

A great deal of the extra time was spent trying to find a flight home, feeling lost in limbo up to the time we did eventually manage to find one.

There were additional living expenses, which in theory we should be able to claim back from our airline, but in truth are expecting a mighty battle over.

Whilst you might think our kids would have relished this additional time off school there reactions were in fact very different.

Our 15 year old daughter got very upset at the prospect, realising that she would miss key lessons as preparation for GCSE’s, in particular missing a mock GCSE in PE the proper exam of which she is taking next week. She is a high achiever, very motivated, and until this happened on track for some great results. What upset her was the prospect of this being put at risk, through no fault of her own.

To help with this we got the school to email the mock GCSE paper which she then took in our hotel room, emailing the results back to school for marking. Up to the point of taking this mock she had been quite worried and miserable, but it was remarkable how she perked up immediately after having sat the mock.

Our 12 year old son reacted very differently. He is in Year 8, not yet on the GCSE treadmill, apart from in fast track French. For him the extra time off school was a bonus, more time in the pool and in the sea.

They did both miss their friends, Mum and Dad being poor substitutes, despite my efforts to regress which served only to embarrass. They were able to have some Facebook contact but despite all you can’t beat good old face to face stuff.

In response to our email to them explaining the situation the school did manage to inform ‘most’ of their subject teachers. I highlight ‘most’ because I do feel that missing the odd teacher was sloppy. One of my daughters’ subject teachers had no idea of the situation and was completely unprepared for remedial action on her return.

In order to reassure my daughter that she would not miss out as a result of our enforced stay I told her that her circumstances would be taken into account, and if it was adjudged that due to the prevailing circumstances she was put at a disadvantage in her preparation she would be able to take, say her PE GCSE, at a later date. She said this would not be the case. I swore it was. She was right.

It seems that whilst the JCQ (Joint Council for Qualifications) has said that some oral exams and practical tests would be re-arranged they also insist that no written A level or GCSE exams would be rescheduled. Why? I’ll tell you in a minute.

And where does that leave my daughter. She has done absolutely everything that has been asked of her, she is an asset to her school, she is on track, through her own efforts, for some fantastic results in her exams. When some of this is put at risk, through no fault of her own, can she depend on the ‘system’ to be sufficiently flexible to support her appropriately? No she can’t. Why not? Simply because they can’t be arsed – it would require a certain about of reorganisation and I can only assume that it is to avoid the necessity for this that the JCQ have decided, ahead of time, not to offer any flexibility for written exams.

I think this is appalling, and yet another nail in the coffin for an education system that thinks more of itself than it does of its pupils.

April 29, 2010 at 4:08 pm Leave a comment

They’re not all on ASBO’s are they!

I read a post recently that came through the BECTA ICT Research Network from a PhD student in Australia who was looking at  the potential of smartphones to deliver personalised learning, something I believe in.

In fact I believe that education content delivered through this medium will become massively important rather faster than people tend to believe (see Ray Kurzweils ‘Law of accelerating returns‘ about the exponential progress of technology). I also believe that through the use of digital technology there is the opportunity to transform education beyond recognition in a way that finally allows our young people to fly.

However, we do have to be careful that our use of smartphone technology for this purpose does not become intrusive in young peoples lives.

Rather worryingly the Australian PhD student characterises the possibilities of smartphone technology for this purpose thus:

‘As we well know, a mobile device can collect data relating to a student’s interests (gathered from search history, applications and communications), location, surroundings and proximity to others (GPS, Bluetooth).

However, what has been less explored is the opportunity for a mobile device to map the movements and activities of a student from moment to moment and over time. This longitudinal data provides a holistic profile of a student, their state and surroundings.

Analysing this data may allow us to identify patterns that reveal a student’s learning processes; when and where they work best and for how long. Through revealing a student’s state and surroundings outside of schools hour, this longitudinal data may also highlight opportunities to transform a student’s everyday world into an inventory for learning, punctuating their surroundings with learning recommendations. This would in turn lead to new ways to acknowledge and validate and foster informal learning, making it legitimate within a formal curriculum.’

I raise this because it is a part of the wider debate we should be engaged in about the real, often unsaid, implications of digital technology. There is an excellent series on BBC2 in the UK, The virtual revolution , that really does express and expose the reality and the dangers of the web based information society we currently live in. You can’t come away from the programme without the feeling that the question we should be asking ourselves is not ‘if’ the personal data about us being gathered by Google or others will at some point be used for purposes more sinister than sales and marketing, but ‘when’ it will be used in this way (or if, indeed, it is already being used so without our knowledge) and what, if anything, we can do about it.

Our children, the so called ‘digital natives’, tend to approach all this with the innocence of the young, gratefully grasping the myriad freebies that they are presented with. It is the duty of the adults who understand this to forewarn our kids of the dangers and to arm them with strategies of defence, even things as simple making it absolutely clear to them that anything digital that they post to the internet, through whatever forum, is there forever. There is no going back.

It is also the duty of adults, I believe, to recognise an over intrusive application of technology as characterised above. My own kids who are 12 and 15 would be absolutely appalled at the idea that there location and movements were being tracked through their mobile phones. A huge part of their maturity is gained from the trust they are shown by their parents and other adults. Stripping this away is condemning them to a sort of nether life where they never feel they can completely take full control of their own lives because we are always watching. After all, it’s not as if they’re all on asbo’s.

We really do need to trust our young people more and believe, as I do, that allowing them to fly means trusting them with far greater control of their own learning.

March 8, 2010 at 3:12 pm Leave a comment

League tables, report cards, scrap the lot

So, according to a survey of nearly 1,400 teachers for the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) more than a third of all teachers have serious doubts about the introduction of report cards to replace league tables and I’m with them.

The most controversial aspect of this seems to be the proposal to take a variety of criteria about a school as a basis for awarding a single grade.  Presumably some sort of magic formula would be applied, and hey presto, out pops the grade.

In New York they already operate such a system, but are in the process of adjusting things to deal with the ‘problem’ that 97% of New York schools are getting an A or B grade. Presumably this means that 97% of schools in New York are very good (according to the criteria) so what is the ‘problem’.

The problem is that this does not allow them to identify better and worse schools (the A&B’s and the C&D’s) on which the whole warped notion of apparent choice based on suspect criteria depends. This is, of course, is how our league table system also currently works based upon a set of criteria (established by governments by the way, and not by teachers, parents and pupils) to place schools higher or lower in the table.

Essential to its success is the creation, or maintenance, of an underclass, the C’s and D’s purely for the purpose of having some measurement on which to judge, the better and the worse. And how far does this extend – better and worse, winners and losers, good schools and bad schools, good pupils and bad pupils, clever kids and stupid kids, kids with a future and kids with no hope.

This is simply divisive and leads the worse performing schools working very hard to lift the morale of their pupils who know that they are regarded as failures, as the dregs, by the broader society around them.

Come on. Time to recognise that a 21st century education system is about fulfilment and that the ability of a school to deliver an environment where each child can fulfil their individual potential cannot possibly be expressed in a single grade, or indeed on the number of A-C’s achieved.

Personally, I would not change the way report cards may be used, I would scrap the whole bloody nonsense of such measurement altogether.

February 19, 2010 at 4:13 pm 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

andwriting and spelchekin

I had a really interesting discussion with my kids last night about how appropriate the school tasks they are given are to the requirements of the 21st century. The kids are 15 and 12 and the discussion centred round my daughters (15 year old) creative writing homework.

More specifically it centred around the fact that she was not allowed to present this as a printout (or even in an electronic form – a Word document, for example) but it had to be hand written and the quality of handwriting would be subject to a mark, in addition to marks for other attributes of the work. Furthermore, it seems that whilst the mark for other attributes of the work contributed to the general grading for the piece of work, the marks for the handwriting were disregarded in this respect.

My question to the kids was that in a world of word processing and spell checking was the requirement to hand write this piece not a little archaic?

Their view was that, given that the bulk of other written assignments they had to perform were word processed, there was some value in keeping the, let’s face it, dying art of handwriting alive. And I would admit that it does seem appropriate somehow that this should be done in the context of a creative writing piece.

On the question of spell checking they argued that they had to look at their spelling in a different way if they did not have the luxury of a spell checker to utilise. This meant, in their view, that their spelling would improve.

My argument was that even if the good intentions of the school were to keep handwriting alive, assigning a mark to it, which was then for all intents and purposes ignored, was rather pointless. Give feedback, yes, but not mark.

I get the kids point about spellchecking, that somehow without the benefit of this they had to work harder to get their spellings right. Presumably the teacher, when marking the work, will point out misspellings. If so, why not have the misspellings identified by a spell checker prior to the piece of work being handed in. Makes no difference, as far as I can see, how or when misspellings are identified, as long as they are done so at some point. And allowing this to be picked up early could save valuable teacher time.

In the event, my daughter constructed the piece on her laptop, spell checked it, and then transposed it into her own handwriting.  Wouldn’t any half thinking person do the same?

Overall I can see the sense on insisting that kids do some handwriting, particularly if it does at least delay the complete demise of the noble art. But the issue around spell checking does, it seem to me, highlight the confusion that exists as we see the much greater use of technology in our schools. It is a transitory time. It is important that we embrace the changes that we are presented with, and not let them confuse the issues.

January 25, 2010 at 4:25 pm Leave a comment

Danish bacon!!!!

internet prohibition

A couple of weeks ago I tweeted about my 12 year old son having been told by his science teacher that the homework he had handed in was good, but that he would have got more marks if he found out more stuff from the internet.

The next day he came home with the prohibition notice pictured above. ‘DISQUALIFICATION’ if caught in exams with mobile phones, ipods, MP3/MP4 players or any products with an electronics communication/storage device or digital facility.

So if students use certain digital tools to gather information in the first place, as they are encouraged to do, they are disqualified from using them in an exam situation. All of which highlights one of the big problems with exams. If you happen not to be able to remember stuff you won’t do well. This is nothing to do with understanding. It’s simply memory testing, which isn’t real knowledge.

How refreshing then that in Denmark they are considering allowing wired computers with internet access to be used during exams ( http://tinyurl.com/otvrhw). This is to allow students to look up relevant facts during the exam.

Of course, it is immediately pointed out that:

“There are a number of potential pitfalls, however, not least protecting against plagiarism and the problem of students lifting information from online sources to pad out work”.

It seems that in Denmark, as well as here in the UK we assume young people will want to cheat, so guarding against this becomes an overriding concern. How trusting of our young people is that? There are all sorts of ways of guarding against this, and I do hope that these concerns don’t get in the way of this enlightened initiative.

Can’t see it happening in the UK though, not for many light years anyway. Apart from the fact that our mistrust of young people is very deep rooted, we just love exams, labouring as we do under the misapprehension that somehow exam results indicate something of a child’s understanding or abilities and can be used as a means of perpetuating a two tier system of haves and have nots.

November 4, 2009 at 4:55 pm 2 comments

Ditch the acronyms (DtA)!

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So holidays have faded into the background, kids are back at school grinding their way through a new term, I’m trying to make sense of the ‘system’.

To do this I thought it might be useful to review the current state of the various government schemes for education that have been developed over the last few years. As a specialist in digital media for education I consider that I have a reasonable grasp of these.

As a starting point I made a list of acronyms of these schemes with their actual definitions with the intention of reviewing the current state of play with each one. Initially I came up with about a dozen or so of these including things like bsf (Building Schools for the Future), ECM (Ever Child Matters), AfL (Assessment for Learning), HTG (Harnessing Technology Grants) etc..

Then I read the ‘National Strategies Annual Plan Summary’ for 2009-2010 which at 45 pages is a helluva summary and lists in an annex 65 acronyms that are used within it. This makes the ‘summary’ virtually incomprehensible. Here is a typical example:

‘A significant number of LA’s are struggling to mainstream NPSLBA within their school improvement services and their CPD offer and need to target recruitment of priority schools and with PRU leaders and staff to NPSLBA.’

Even when you decode this it doesn’t make any sense. It is little wonder that our education system is in a state of apparent disarray when such a plethora of acronyms abound.

One of the difficulties, I think, is the attempt to force uniformity on an education system that actually needs diversity if it is to be appropriate for the 21st century. As a useful report about barriers to innovation in education produced by Futurelab puts it:

“…(education policy) should be committed to promoting, encouraging, archiving and sharing the development of widely diverse educational responses in order to ensure that there is diversity in the system to allow adaptation whatever changes emerge, rather than seeking out and disseminating universal and uniform solutions.”

The attempt to impose uniformity, and the failure of that attempt, can be aptly illustrated with the framework of Personal Learning and Thinking Skills (PLTS). This framework neatly divides the essential skills ‘that will enable young people to enter work and adult life as confident and capable individuals’, into the six categories of, independent enquirers, creative thinkers, reflective learners, team workers, self-managers, and effective participators. Having made these divisions the framework then helpfully points out that:

“The groups are interconnected. Young people are likely to encounter skills from several groups in any one learning experience.”

In other words every child is an individual. Any teacher worth their salt already knows this and, within the constraints of class numbers, will respond to each child appropriately. Unfortunately the PLTS framework simply panders to the misconceived desire to package every child according to a single set of rules, ‘universal and uniform solutions’.

I do understand the temptation to think this way. With an average class of 30 kids it seems to make things so much more manageable but it does not allow individual talents and aspirations to flourish.

Back in the dark industrialist days there didn’t seem any other way to manage things. But now in the 21st century we have different aspirations and we have technology to help us.

So we don’t actually need to try and package things in a neat ‘PLTS’ way. We just have to loosen up a bit, ditch the acronyms, trust the kids, support them, and let them get on with it. That is true personalised learning.

October 1, 2009 at 8:44 am 1 comment

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

Adding layers of discontent

disaffected youth small

So all unemployed young people are going to be offered training, a work placement, or a job. If they refuse they will have their benefit cut.

Great stuff eh! This will help with the rising problems of youth unemployment – a growing number of disaffected youth forced into doing jobs, training or work placements they don’t want to do.

30 years ago I ran a similar government scheme (shows my age), intended to deal with the problems of rising youth unemployment, called the ‘Youth Opportunities Scheme’ or YOP.

The scheme I ran was in the Black Country and with 2 other colleagues we ran three coordinated schemes in creative writing, photography and magazine design and production. Each scheme fed the others and resulted in the publication of a monthly young people’s topical magazine called ‘The first real headache’.

The content of the magazine included topical articles, interviews with famous people and others in the community, cartoons, photographs, competitions, reviews etc. and was produced wholly by the young people themselves with guidance from us.

These were 16 year olds and in order to gather the materials for the magazine they had to go out into community to conduct interviews, get photographs etc. for the publication. We trusted them to do this responsibly and allowed them to undertake these activities without supervision. Without exception they returned our trust and did a fantastic job. It was a really good magazine.

Then the day arrived when the men in suits arrived to make a spot inspection. It happened that a number of the young people were out in the community undertaking various tasks for the magazine. The suits were appalled that we allowed them to go out there without close and constant supervision.

They were not in the least bit interested in the quality of the magazine the young people were producing, or that they had always shown themselves to be wholly responsible. All they were interested in was that the kids should be ‘contained’.

(In 1983 the Youth Opportunities Schemes were renamed Youth Training Schemes presumably in recognition of the fact that they offered no opportunities at all).

And it’s happening again. This is a containment policy, a pretence that something real is being done for young people. Actually the opposite is happening. By requiring young people to do things that they may not want to at all they are they are ensuring that these kids move further away from their own natural inclinations and aspirations the development of which the education system is supposed to deliver.

Michelangelo said that his statue of David was not created by him, but already existed in the stone. His task was merely to remove those parts of the stone that were not David. This awful containment policy being introduced will simply have the effect of adding more layers of discontent leaving young people further from their essence than ever. It’s a disgrace.

July 2, 2009 at 12:20 pm 1 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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