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Posts Tagged ‘Education Policy’

Single exam board?

July 2, 2016 Leave a comment

This post was written prior to Michael Gove being knocked out of the leadership contest. It was first published here, on Labour Teacher on 8th July 2016.

Way way back in the days of the ConDem coalition, we had an education secretary named Michael Gove – a man who very soon could be our prime minister. Give polarised opinion within tele profession. Many chastised everything he did, and other rushed to defend his ideals. There were some, like me, who took each idea on its merits, chastised some and celebrated others. (You can read some of my thoughts on his tenure here.)

One of the ideas he had that I liked was the idea of a single exam board. We had a situation where it.was considerably easier to gain a C in maths on some boards than other and that, to me, seemed quite ridiculous. This idea was quashed before it started due to “EU monopoly laws”.

Last week after a long campaign I was left heartbroken by the decision taken by the (slim) majority of the country for the UK to leave the EU. I had looked at the pros and cons and am certain that remaining would have been the better option. I tried to find positives, but there were few. People celebrated the fact we would no longer have Cameron (a man who I generally detest) in number 10, but even this was a negative as the names I the frame to replace him make him look a much more reasonable option. Some of the folk in the running make him look positively Marxist.

So I continued to look for positives, and I remembered the idea of a single exam board. Surely this would now be back in the table? Especially if, as I suspect will happen, Gove wins his parties  leadership?
This would mean students from around the country were all sitting the same exams and we sold have a situation where you knew exactly what each grade means. I’ve got my fingers crossed.

Consultation time again

June 13, 2016 Leave a comment

Is it cynical of me to question the DoE’s repeated tactic of releasing consultations either just before the summer, when most teachers are in the midst of high stakes exam testing, or over the summer when a lot of teachers are either away or spending time catching up with their families who they haven’t seen through the heavy term time?

Anyway, this year they have released another one. It focusses around the new GCSEs, and more specifically the awarding of grades. The consultation states that for the first award there will be a heavier reliance on statistical methods to set the grade boundaries, allowing the same proportion of grade 4s as we currently have of grade Cs, likewise similar proportions of 1s to Gs and of 7s to As. The rest will be split arithmetically ie the boundaries in between will be equally spread. From Year 2 onwards it will revert back to examiner judgement, but use the statistical analysis as a guide as well as the national reference tests.

This immediately raises questions – how do we know that the first year to sit it should have a similar proportion of 4s as Cs? It seems that this has been decided without much thought about the prior attainment; the consultation certainly doesn’t mention it for the first year. It does going forward, but that doesn’t really explain how this prior attainment will be measured. I have been under the impression that the KS2 SATs are moving from level based assessments to assessments where the students’ scores will be reported as percentiles – surely then comparisons of prior assessment will always be the same? “This year, bizarrely, we saw exactly 10% score above the 90th percentile, what’s more bizarre is that is exactly the same proportion as last year!”

It seems strange to me to put such a heavy reliance on these prior attainment targets anyhow. We live (for now) in a society that has a fairly fluid immigration system, so the students who get to year 11 haven’t always been through year 6 in this country. There is also a question of the validity of the assumption that every year group will progress over the 5 years of secondary at the same rate.

The obvious elephant in the room is floor targets. By setting the boundaries so the same proportion of students get above a grade 4 as get above a C, but switching the threshold to a grade 5 you immediately drop the results of a whole host of schools down, what happens then remains to be seen, but I can imagine lot of departments will become under pressure and scrutiny for something that is statistically inevitable given the new grading formula.

This is all interesting, but it’s not much different to previous announcements and consultations, what is different is the formula for awarding grades 8 and 9. The formula looks to be a fair way of doing it, but it seems strange to me to use this formula just for the first year. Why then revert to examiner judgement about the grade standard? The government seem to be happy to use statistical analysis and similar grade proportions in parts of their grading system, but not in all of it, and that seems odd to me.

Have you responded yet? If not you can here (but hurry, the consultation closes June 17th). I’d love to hear other people’s views either in the comments or via social media.

Examinations, Examinations, Examinations

May 3, 2016 4 comments

This post was first published on the 3rd May 2016 here, on Labour Teachers.

Sometimes it feels like the government’s main three priorities are examinations, examinations and examinations, and this fact has certainly led to many people involved in education to express their disagreement and disappointment with the system.

Most recently, a large number of people with children of a primary school age have chosen to keep their children off school in protest against the new SATs test their children will sit. This has caused me to spend some time thinking about this, and try to put together some views.

Exam factories

One of the leading criticism of these tests is that it drives schools to shrink their curriculum and focus heavily on the content which will be examined – meaning subjects like art, music, history etc get widely ignored and children miss out on an important part of their education. I can certainly find agreement with this, however I think this is already an issue with the SATs as they stood, so it doesn’t seem to warrant the furore of the new tests, which can only compound an already prevalent problem.

What are they for?

This is a key question,  and I think that a different answer to it would lead to a different outcome. The tests as a marker for informing future teachers of a students ability are very helpful. The tear that SATs were boycotted we saw real problems with the grades reported by primary schools as there were massive inconsistencies from school to school. However, this argument alone seems to be silly, as what we see often is that students primed and drilled from the test from September to May achieve well, but then do no more maths from May to September and often regress. If this was to be the sole reason then surely they could be abolished totally and secondary schools could complete diagnostic tests on entry?

The other answer to this question is to measure school performance, and this is a real can of worms. It is this exact fact that leads to the exam factory conditions and the gaming the system and as such causes a load of problems. The other side of it is, however, that there needs to be some way of ensuring that schools are doing what we expect them to do. I don’t know what the answer is, but I tend to think high stakes testing is not the answer.

Is it just a problem with SATS?

No, all the issues outlined above are transferable to GCSE and A level exams. Again, I don’t have an answer, but I think that there must be a better way to treat 16 and 18 year olds than to make them sit high pressure, high stakes, examinations at a time of increased hormones knowing that if they go wrong that could seriously affect their life chances.

I don’t have the answers, but I do feel that there are answers and our job in opposition is to find them and present them to the public, showing that if they vote differently in 2020 we can give them a better way.

Further thoughts on the white paper

April 13, 2016 2 comments

Recently I read the white paper “Educational Excellence Everywhere”, it’s an interesting document, and I wrote my initial thoughts when I heard the headlines on Academies here then my initial thoughts having read the first chapter here. Since then I have read the rest of the white paper and have digested it and I wanted to share some of my thoughts in it, discounting thoughts on whole scale academisation as I’ve written about that before.

Great teachers everywhere they’re needed

My first thought when reading this chapter title was “surely that’s everywhere?” The section focuses on getting the best teachers into the most deprived areas using cash and promotions as incentives. I can certainly see a need for this, but I worry that there could be negative outcomes for some.

If all the good teachers go to the struggling areas, who’s left to teach those kids in the middle ground, not deprived enough to be in one of the key areas but not rich enough to be at a fee paying school?

I also worry that those gaining these promotions would be the game players, the ones who put their own results above everything else, including their students. The type of leaders who push students into courses they have no interest in and wont benefit from because they will gain a good grade that reflects well on them. These are not the sort of people we want to be putting in charge.

In fact,  it is the prevalence of leaders like that, who assign much more importance to some kids than others because of the effect they will have on the results,  that leads to the most able kids from disadvantaged being more likely to fall behind those with similar prior attainment but a more advantaged background. This is usually as schools forget abut these more able students and those from disadvantaged backgrounds have less help outside school.

Recruitment and retention

The white paper acknowledges the recruitment and retention crisis and suggests some ways in which it will try to improve the situation. The aims of reducing bureaucracy and workload are certainly well meaning and would benefit not only retention but the quality of teaching. Some of the ideas mentioned – ie the possibilities for replacing QTS – however seem like they will in fact be more paperwork heavy.

Leadership

The idea of improving leaders in our schools to improve teaching and also retention is a good thing. The incentives they will offer and the alterations to accountability framework to be more progress based should encourage more great leaders to take up roles in challenging schools.

I’m very much in favour of the move from threshold passes to progress, but I’m worried that attainment 8 and no of grade 5 and above will actually be the important measures in practice, so I’m waiting with interest to see how it plays out.

I like the idea of improvement periods, which give new heads a god length of time to turn around schools deemed to be requiring improvement. I did wonder how this would track to heads who took over just before the inspection, and I worry that there seems to be a suggestion that an RI grading would mean a new head.

Fair funding formula

There wasn’t enough technical details here for me, but in principle it sounds like they are considering all the right things – levels of disadvantage, needs of pupils, needs of a school (ie more money to rural and island schools who would go under otherwise as they serve communities with too few children to fill the schools).

Parental involvement

The aim to have all schools involve parents more is a noble one, and one that should be striven towards,  however I have recently come across some research that showed in disadvantaged areas of california that policies to discourage parental involvement actually had a positive effect while those that encouraged it didn’t. This suggests we need to look at how we are involving parents and make sure that it is I’m a manner that is beneficial to all.

The College of Teaching

I’ve been a little reticent to get behind the college of teaching, it seemed at first to be the answer to a question no one was asking and that it wouldn’t have any benefit. The white paper, however, suggests that a large part of its role will be ensuring teachers have access to educational research and are involved in creating it through their own journal. This is a positive thing in my view, as are the ideas they have regarding ensuring the profession is more savvy when it come to research and evidence to stop any more fads like brain gym gaining footholds in the shared consiousness.

What are your views on the white paper? I’d love to hear whether you agree or disagree with anything I’ve said. I’d also be interested to hear if you picked up on anything I’ve not mentioned or if you took a different inference to something in the white paper than I did. Feel free to comment here or contact me via email or social media.

Effective Pedagogy

April 12, 2016 4 comments

Recently I’ve done a fair bit of reading for my dissertation and two of pieces of literature have had very similar titles, there was The Effective Teaching of Mathematics (Simmons 1993) mentioned here, and then there was “The effective teaching of mathematics: a review of research” (Reynolds and Mujis 1999).

It is the second one which I want to share some thoughts on today. It is an interesting article which is aimed at school leaders and policy makers and looks to a variety of sources to create an idea of effective maths teaching.

The main areas it looks at are pieces of teacher effectiveness research, both from the UK and from the USA, and professional evidence on teacher effectiveness from the UK – namely the three most recent reports on maths teaching from Ofsted (most recent as of 1999).

Whole class teaching

This mixture of academic and professional evidence is analysed and brought together and the article finds that all three areas suggest that “whole class teaching” is the most effective way of teaching maths. That isn’t to say they suggest that we all lecture to silent classes for entire lessons, rather they are advocating a form of “active” instruction, which would punctuate the instruction with questioning to assess the learning and to see where the class needs expanding on and opportunities for practice and consolidation.

This idea seems to make a lot of sense to me, the teachers are the experts in the room, and they are best placed to pass on the knowledge. Listening to a well planned presentation and then internalising this and practising to make sense of it seems a good model.

Group work

While I was reading this it all seemed very sensible, intuitive and a great way to teach mathematical content, but I started to wonder how the other side of mathematics, the logical thinking and problem solving side, would be catered for in this model. Obviously the writers of the report felt the same as they then moved on to looking at group work and other ways to build problem solving ability into your students.

They looked at the idea of group work, suggesting the opportunity to discuss their mathematical ideas with peers and work out between them how it works would be beneficial. They also feel that scaffolding could enable all students to work within their zone of proximal development, allowing all students a chance to develop. They expressed concerns around social loafing, and the possibility of student misconceptions being reinforced.

Their findings led to many examples of group work being an effective tool in problem solving, but they state that to reap the rewards teachers need to spend a lot of time setting it up. I can see that this may be true, and feel that there could be a place for small group work to tackle these types of problems,  especially amongst A level students and others who need to work out how to apply the knowledge learned to solve unfamiliar problems.

The article suggests that group work can be integrated into the active instruction model, taking the place of some of the practice section, and I certainly agree that it could fit. I also feel that modelling a problem solving approach for part of the instruction element of the lesson can give students an insight into how a more experienced mathematician would approach a problem.

Differentiation

A rather interesting finding was that poorer, less effective lessons often include overly complex arrangements for individual work. This was a suggestion that those lessons where the teacher has spent all night creating separate worksheets for each student actually had little to no impact, even a negative impact at times. This certainly suggests that this level of time consuming differentiation is unnecessary and that tasks can be differentiated far more easily and effectively by producing a resource that is stepped in difficultly and allowing different start points or moving them on more easily.

I found that this report was very interesting, it backed up some of the ideas I already had on effective maths teaching and challenged some of the other ones. I am now planning to trial some small group work with some A level students to build problem solving capability.

Reference

Reynolds D & Mujis D, 1999, The Effective Teaching of Mathematics: A Review of the Research, School Leadership and Management, Vol. 19 (3) pp 273-288 (available online here.)

Simmons M, 1993, The Effective Teaching of Mathematics, Longman: Harlow

A parents hope for the primary years

April 10, 2016 Leave a comment

This post was originally published here on Labour Teachers 6th April 2016.

It’s parents week on Labour Teachers this week, and that has gotten me thinking about my daughter, as she embarks on her journey into education. She’s 3, she’ll be 4 in July, which means when she is 4 years and 6 weeks she will start school,  and that seems far too young!

She’s excited, she came on the visits to te prospective primary schools and we discussed together which ones we all liked before we put the preference form in. She was perhaps a bit too honest, announcing loudly on one tour that she much preferred the other two we’d seen at that point! We find out where she will be attending in a fee weeks.

I do worry though, I worry that as soon as she walks in she will be judged and assessed, and I worry about what the state of the British education system will be if the ideological asset stripping continues. Will there even be a public education system by the time she hits 13?

Schooling is a long process, and there are some things I would like her primary school to provider her with:

A) a good grounding in the basics – she can write her name and a fee other things, knows what all the letters look and sound like and can count, I would like her schooling to build on these basic skills.

B) a wide range of interests topics – I think that during primary schooling a wider curriculum is better, if an area piques her interest then we can explore that with her. I remember my parents building on things I’d learned at school with me and I hope to do the same with her.

C) some great friends. Some of my best friends are the ones I met at primary school, and I’m hoping daughter can build some equally enduring friendships in her time there.

These are my 3 hopes from her primary schooling, none of them have quantifiable targets attached, and I tend to think that the majority of the new tests and measures for the primary sector are about measuring teacher performance, rather than improving outcomes for children or appeasing parents, and that seems a little backwards to me.

Whole scale academisation

April 2, 2016 Leave a comment

This post was originally published on Labour Teachers here, on 30th March 2016.

A week or so ago I came across this article in the Guardian. Apparently the government are finally ready to own up and set about forcing all remaining English schools into academisation.

I wrote here, last June, about this and how I wished they’d just get on with it and own up to it rather than trying to push little bits of legislation out at a time to achieve their overall “not so” secret aim.

The academisation of all English schools is something that fits well with the Conservative ideology of small state. They are removing local authorities from the picture and placing the money that would have been spent on LEAs into the hands of private companies – some for profit some not so.

The original idea was to get more of the money into schools, by cutting out the middle man, but as MATs have grown we see in many places that actually we’ve just replaced the middle man, only instead of one with public accountability with got ones with hidden agendas.

I’ve worked in various academies, in single school trusts, small MATs and a big MAT. My experiences have been fairly positive. The large MAT were up to something that were unacceptable, but our head was fighting for the school and successfully got us out of the trust and into a much smaller one. In the smaller ones I’ve seen people who care in the driving seat, and so they’ve been working from the right frame of reference to make the right difference.

I do worry, though, about the possibility of abuse that comes from moving the focus from LEAs who are in the public sector and accountable to private companies who can run schools more like businesses, losing the focus on education and people and moving it to the “bottom line”.

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