It's been a quiet mnoth - sorry - but welcome back! While I've been away, GCSE and A level results have been published, and have been accompanied by the usual furore about education. Are teachers getting lazier? Are children not as 'bright' as they used to be? Should we be teaching to the test? Are examinations reliable and valid measures of anything? The answers to all these questions is 'no'.
But in this post I'd like to think about the new grade 9-1 GCSE grades. The CGP website (https://www.cgpbooks.co.uk/gcse_grades_9_1_explained) suggests that GCSEs are 'tougher than ever'. This diagram is the really useful CGP explanation of the new grading system for Mathematics, English Langauge and English Literature.
What the diagram shows very clearly is that there is a finer degree of grading and separation at the top - grades 5,6,7,8 and 9 equate to the old B, A and A*. And a grade 4, which sounds pretty mediocre (especially to those of us old enough to remember the old CSE 1-9 grades), is in fact equivalent to a GCSE pass at grade C.
Apparently over 2000 students got grades 9 in all 3 subjects - mostly from elite grammar schools, according to yesterday's Telegraph (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/2017/08/24/meet-students-defied-gcse-predictions-scoring-clean-sweep-grade/). Given that there were over 5 million examinations sat (a scarily high number), which is about half a million students (possibly even 600,000 - the exact figures are not yet available) - that 2000 isn't a very large proportion.
So what does this tell us about inclusion, about the value of process, about students who are unlikely to get grades 6 to 9? Does it suggest that we put more emphasis than we used to on the importance of being 'gifted'? Are we moving back to the days of Cyril Burt? And is this 1-9 system just a precursor to the reintroduction of selective schools across the board? Is a 4, or what Justine Greening calls a 'standard pass' very different from a 'strong pass', a 5?
There are, as always, 'more questions than answers'. But yet again, we are back to the fundamental question about the purpose of examinations and indeed of education in general. These are key discussions that I've addressed in this blog before - and we need to be asking them of the government and leaders in education.
And finally, The Guardian has a great analysis that's worth looking at, it's at https://www.theguardian.com/education/2017/aug/24/proportion-of-students-getting-good-gcse-grades-falls-after-reforms
Here is the text of a 21 July TES article (below) about a 'new' knowledge based PGCE.
There are all kinds of issues with this :
1. Teachers should indeed be trained by the Higher Education institutions, sure, but not those operating on a 'for profit' basis.
2. Knowledge is surely a pretty cheap commodity these days. While i would always suggest that knowledge is key to learning, actually so is teaching. An the supposed 'progressive' reading list is not really progressive - and if it is to be read critically, a foundation in some of the more conventional reading is needed, too
3. Teachers have to be able to work in schools which are already established and use established methods - there is plenty of evidence for group learning, for transferable skills and so on being of value.
4 The course website apparently says that it will focus on some of the methods used in the UK's most innovative schools including '“direct instruction, feedback, questioning, modelling, deliberate practice and retrieval practice”. If this is the case, then, yet again we are brought back to the question about the purpose of education - what is it for? Is it to ensure we have 'banks of information' in students' heads - a concept that Freire disparaged many years ago - or is it to empower thoughtful, functioning members of society who think, read, consider issues critically and embody values which we would consider key for individuals to have?
This is the text of the TES article......
A private university is launching what it is calling “the UK’s first PGCE to focus on ‘knowledge-based’ secondary and primary school teaching”.
BPP University, which provides law, accountancy and other professional qualifications, will offer its new course from September.
It will be the first teacher-training course to explicitly align itself with the “neo-traditionalist” education movement that criticises “progressive” teaching styles, which often emphasise transferable skills, group work and hands-on learning.
However, critics have branded the move “arrogant” and expressed concern about BPP’s for-profit status.
The course’s programme director is Robert Peal, a history teacher at the West London Free School who was seconded to the Department for Education in 2015-16 to support schools minister Nick Gibb with policy advice and speechwriting.
He said the creation of the new PGCE was in response to a “surge of enthusiasm over the past few years for knowledge-based education”.
Mr Peal told Tes the course would differ from other PGCEs in its reading list, which would focus on authors such as Daisy Christodolou, ED Hirsch, Daniel Willingham and Doug Lemov.
The course website says students will be introduced to “teaching methods that are growing in popularity amongst some of the UK’s most innovative schools”, including “direct instruction, feedback, questioning, modelling, deliberate practice and retrieval practice”.
It also says students will “review the evidence calling into question popular but unproductive teaching methods such as discovery-based learning, minimal teacher guidance, and the tailoring of lessons to pupils’ individual learning styles”.
Mr Peal also claimed the PGCE would differ from other courses because of its “big focus on actual subject knowledge”.
Subject tutors will include writer and speaker David Didau, who will deliver English, Michael Fordham, who will be responsible for history and Bodil Isaksen, the former head of maths at Michaela Community School, who will run maths.
Unlike most PGCEs, 50 per cent of the course will be based on an examination.
BPP’s move has drawn criticism from some people in the university ITT sector.
James Williams, a lecturer in education at the University of Sussex, said its claim to be providing the first PGCE with a knowledge-based focus was “arrogant, boastful and complete nonsense” because it suggested that knowledge is “eschewed by all other ITT providers”.
James Noble-Rogers, executive director of the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers, said Mr Peal’s characterisation of other ITT providers was “outdated clichéd prejudice” with “no bearing on reality”.
Concerns have also been expressed about BPP’s status as a for-profit organisation.
Mr Noble-Rogers said other university providers were not in ITT to “make a buck”.
However, BPP deputy dean Paul Evans said he believed the education world would be “absolutely comfortable” with his university’s status.
BPP will not be directly recruiting students for the course because it is not certified by the National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) to recommend people for QTS.
Instead, it will be providing its PGCE as a “top-up” for trainees on school-centred initial teacher training programmes.
It will offer about 20 places on its course via the Pimlico-London SCITT in 2017, and plans to roll out the PGCE on a wider basis in 2018 through a partnership with the Inspiration Trust academy chain.
This is an edited article from the 21 July edition of Tes.
Justine Greening has announced £1.3 billion of additional funding for schools over the next two years – promising to maintain per-pupil funding in real terms until 2019-20. Apparently much of this is coming from the free schools budget - fair enough. But the rest is from 'efficiency savings'. So is there really any 'new' money? I think not.
This is , I think, quite extraordinary. One of the issues has been that the pupils have to wear shoes that are 'polishable' - what an interesting rule. Does that mean no patent (apparently some shoes are too shiny) or suede? And what is so great about polishable shoes? No idea.
I don't think I would ever call this a positive behaviour policy, so again, what an extraordinary use of language. What I should prefer to see is rules negotiated and agreed (with staff, governors, pupils and parents), sensibly enforced, and most of all, without humiliating pupils.
Article taken from the Guardian, 17 July 2017
This Guardian article is one I posted on my personal Facebook page this week. Examples of the daftness include....One of the questions that caused most outcry in the spelling, punctuation and grammar (Spag) tests asked pupils to insert a pair of commas in the correct place in the following sentence: “Jenna a very gifted singer won the talent competition that was held in the local theatre.” But many who correctly put the commas around “a very gifted singer” failed to get a mark, to the bafflement of their teachers.
Another question asked pupils to insert a semi-colon into the right place in the sentence: “Come and see me tomorrow I will not have time to see you today.” Again many pupils appeared to have got it correct, placing the semi-colon between “tomorrow” and “I”, but scored zero while their peers got a mark for the same answer.
And all kinds of comments were made about this post, mostly from teachers, and so they bear rehearsing here.
From a FS teacher...One of the reasons I quit Functional Skills marking was because students who clearly knew the answer were marked down over something stupid, whilst barely literate students would get the mark. The questions were also sometimes a little ambiguous, and able students offering feasible and appropriate alternatives didn't get the mark as it the scheme was so prescriptive they were only allowed to state the obvious.
From a senior manager in education....'Time to end SATS? Do they serve any useful purpose? Are they any better than teacher assessment? Or are they really a stick with which to beat so-called 'failing schools', especially those that are resisting 'academisation'?'
So if they...
1) use a semi-colon in the first place - suggesting they're definitely getting taught this complex punctuation mark
2) get it absolutely in the right place (which takes conscious thinking)
It will be marked incorrectly if it's disproportionately large or not curved in the approved way??
That's just punishing handwriting - not real (and correct) thought. How can there be such prescriptivism while ignoring the success of the student??
From another teacher/ mother....It's also prejudiced against left handers. It's hard to judge the placement/ size when your hand is covering what has just been written...
if you click on this link (above), you'll see the Storify....please do have a look!
rThere is a fabulous UCU/Edge Hill University/Birmingham City University project, ‘Transforming lives and communities’ which you can read about here….(http://transforminglives.web.ucu.org.uk/about-this-project/). One of the main authors, Dr.Vicky Duckworth, who is a good friend of mine, has been involved in FE for many years. I admire Vicky massively, because as well as being a superb academic, teacher and researcher, she has always kept her feet on the ground – she really understands learners’ needs and goals, and their communities and families. This project, which Vicky has been involved in with Dr. Rob Smith from BCU, aims to understand and provide evidence of how the further education sector is vital in transforming lives and communities in 21st century Britain. The study provided students, teachers, parents and employers with the opportunity to tell their stories, linking the distinctness of FE to the impact it has on individuals, society and the economy. The study also emphasises the role of the teacher in making a difference to transformational teaching and learning.
There has been a great UCU booklet on the project, which includes inspiring stories of transformation in learners’ lives, and of teachers caring, supporting learning and facilitating the transformation. I am really pleased to have been able to contribute to this booklet, and I’ve learned a lot through reading it, too. The booklet is here; it’s worth spending a bit of time looking at: http://transforminglives.web.ucu.org.uk/2017/06/05/sharing-transformational-approaches-to-teaching-and-learning/
Born out of this project was a conference and I was lucky enough to be invited to attend it. So yesterday I was at the ‘Reimagining FE’ conference, which was organised into group conversations in six thematic strands. There were also some fabulous keynotes (from Drs. Rob Smith and Vicky Duckworth; from Prof Lyn Tett and from Prof Maggie Feeley), and the whole day had an upbeat and buzzing atmosphere.
On the way home on the train, with sore feet but nibbling at my treat of M&S macaroons, I was wondering about a number of things:
The reasons that the conference was invigorating was that it had the atmosphere of collegiality that is so often found in FE. People share their ideas and time generously and willingly. There is an atmosphere of respect and caring. And as well, there is a shared understanding of the constraints at local, national and international levels that impact on transformational education, and a shared vision of wanting to facilitate transformational education for the benefit of our students.
Transformation was a great word to use – so many of the stories which we heard and shared were stories of ‘quiet caring’ making a difference, of learners seeing the possibilities of new identities and agency that transformative education offered them, their families and communities. So many of us are working with students to try and make things possible that the students might have imagined to be impossible; we all had that shared aim. It might not be the qualification per se that is key – instead, we talked about how the qualification might give students ‘permission’ to knock at certain doors or to dare to think about certain jobs or careers. We talked about how the processes of education and of the concomitant identity change in our students were what we really valued as teachers.
It was also great to hear Maggie Feeley from the University of Dublin speak. I didn’t know Maggie’s’ work, but ever since I was first introduced to the work of Nel Noddings I have focussed on the importance of caring in education, so I was fascinated to hear Maggie’s keynote. She suggested that it was ‘obvious’ that we had to care – or should be obvious. She said ‘being cared for in a general way helps us to learn’. As human beings, we know that that is true; we certainly see it in our everyday experiences as educators. Maggie also put forward a conceptual model of learning care, which included care relations at a number of levels and which she explains in her book, ‘Learning Care Lessons’. The book details her ethnographic exploration of learning care carried out with adult survivors of institutional abuses in the Irish industrial schools.
Caring for each other as workers in education was a development of the theme which we were careful not to ignore. All too often there is no-one to care for the carers, and for those of us who have worked in different sectors, there is a sense in which this vacuum feels a lot more empty in FE than in other sectors.
Yesterday’s conference was a good example of how good FE teachers are at caring. Sometimes it’s done noisily, when we need to make a point, perhaps about the ways in which education or Further Education and Training in particular is often ignored; but so much of our caring for students and others is through ‘underground’ or ‘corridor’ working. It’s the coffee bought for a colleague who has been working hard with a distressed student; cakes baked for the whole department after the assessments have all been marked; figs and water being offered to those students who are breaking their fast in our evening classes. Or perhaps just a quiet smile, or an email saying ‘thanks’. Teachers are good at all those things, and FE teachers especially so, in my experience.
So I wanted to stay at the conference, because of caring, because of transformation, because of participation and respect.
So my second question has answered itself. Themes of respect, transformation, caring and participation. What a lovely few words to be writing next to each other! And they really do encapsulate the day.
Finally, moving on. It’s important that this kind of energy and work carries on and that we use it to affect policy and practice. We might need to start thinking about developing a toolkit for working with and recording ‘caring’. We need to move government and policymakers away from their reliance on quantitative data and RCTs, so that they can see and understand the value, the depth and the richness of qualitative data, of narratives, of learners’ stories. And we need to work together to share and write up our experiences, our research and our practice, and to empower each other in so doing.
Today I’ve been at the Reimagining FE conference. What a great day – here are some of the tweets from the conference.
I’m fascinated by the ‘Outstanding’ Michaela inspection. You can read it at http://mcsbrent.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Michaela-Community-School-OFSTED-report-final.pdf.
The school is in Brent, a disadvantaged area of North London and has a high proportion of students from ethnic backgrounds.
The school isn’t yet full (I think it has just years 7,8 and 9 at the moment), and when it is will be a small secondary school (that's got to be a good thing in itself), with about 120 pupils in each year group. The fact that it’s not full means that no – or few - external examinations have been sat and hence there is no comparative data for GCSE results. My personal experience of Ofsted has been that if results are good, they focus less on the teaching, and that if teaching is outstanding, then results also have to be good to warrant an outstanding grade. So an ‘Outstanding’ result now may or may not augur well for the future, if an Ofsted ‘Outstanding’ is something to which a school or principal might aspire.
So, apparently at Michaela there is less ‘marking’ by teachers and a lot of self-assessment. That might, or might not be a good thing, depending. And certainly from the school website it looks as if there is a good deal of responsibility put on parents to police, monitor and check homework. There may be some value in this, but it won't work for every child, and that may not be the child's fault. Discipline seems to be strict, with punishments for attending class without a pencil, for lateness and so on. Again, let's hope there are sensible exceptions made. There also appears to be a lot less active, constructivist learning and much more whole-class instruction. While a move away from a prescriptive 'you must do active learning' Ofsted approach is indubitably welcome, if the move is to whole-class direct instruction, I welcome it not. We should be developing critical thinkers, independent learners, not mini-encyclopaedias robotically reproducing what they've been taught.
This combination of teaching activities and support for learning may of course produce 'results' in the short term. And the school does put an emphasis on pastoral work, on caring and so on – for example, they have ‘family’ school lunches where students serve each other and the staff, pass items ‘politely’ and clear up after themselves and each other. I wonder how important that really is? No doubt these are skills that it’s not a bad idea for children to have – what used to be known as ‘domestic’ skills for which I'd have got a Brownie hostess badge when I was a young girl. But in the scheme of life events, is that this important? Perhaps some form of critical pedagogy, teaching children about social justice, and its links to identity, and about concepts of equity and equality, would be of more value long term than learning which side the napkins should be placed when setting the table?
This morning there was a meme going round about how children who had survived the Grenfell fire disaster had been turned away from school by the headteacher. This was allegedly reported by the Daily Mail. It turns out, as far as I can tell, to be fake news and I can't find any trace of the story on the DM or other websites.
So what is that all about? In fact, there are some true stories of a pupil turning up the morning after the fire to sit a GCSE Chemistry exam. (It was a young women named Ines Alves, reported here: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jun/15/grenfell-tower-fire-teenage-survivor-exam
It's interesting that 'being turned away from school for not having uniform despite tragedy' is the kind of story that people would make up - and perhaps even more interesting that it is, in this current neoconservative climate, believable. But of course the (probably fictional) headteacher and local authority were vilified on social media- which may be a measure of the current anti-establishment feeling which has been engendered by the Corbyn election campaign and post - election events (the Prime Minister's supposed 'unfeelingness' in not meeting fire victims, Andrea Leadsom's support of her, and so on). I'm not too sure what to make of all this, but certainly the 'Fake News' issue, which has been made so clear by Trump and his comments on the inauguration day crowd photographs, is one that needs to be held firmly in mind.
I was a psychology and social sciences teacher for many years and now I am in the throes of a teaching and research career in HE. I care passionately about education. This blog will show you why and how.