Weekly Newsletter – the ‘Institutional bewilderment’ edition

Introduction I attended the ISA Annual Conference this last week, and met with Mark  Stevenson, one of our lead speakers at the conference.  If you have 28 minutes to spare, then this Birkbeck lecture from last month captures the essence of his talk to us – Looking forwards to 2025 –  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UdloYZgpd-Y   If you don’t have the patience, then that’s fine, you are probably over the age of 35, and follow Douglas Adams’ view regarding thinks created since you turned 35 – “Technology invented after you are 35 is completely pointless and makes you angry”.  In Mark’s talk, he quickly goes on to remind us that those leading our institutions and their future strategic development are almost alway over the age of 35, and that ought to scare us a lot. That’s probably why Politicians prefer to go to war (US costs in Iraq circa $3 trillion) rather than invent a new bio-fuel at a fraction of the price, because in part, they’d have to negotiate the dismantling of the Oil futures market and that’s too hard. What marks this speaker and author out is his breathtaking grasp of everything that is changing as I write this piece, and for those of us planning a school’s future, I do advise you to get your head around this man’s lecture as soon as you can.  In a myriad of different ways, it affected the ISA audience at Coombe Abbey and we now know we have to do something more radical to ensure our children our better prepared for a future no one can predict. Examples of Institutional bewilderment

  • Kodak refused to recognise that film was doomed, so we no longer now have Kodak as a company
  • Courage does not exist as a brewer any more of beer – gone!
  • Marconi, an industrial giant for the UK previously known as GEC, went bust in a year
  • The Co-op….
  • Teachers who don’t understand yet that Twitter provides the best research platform ever to support them in their work as professionals
  • Just because we now have cloud-based learning, available using tablets or laptops, which almost every educationalist who uses the technology raves about, those who don’t and have the power to delay the decision, do just that.

Highlights for optimism in Education As a starter for 10, I’d direct teachers to our own Inspection report, which for a school that does not make use of the National Curriculum, or its leveling programme makes excellent reading. If you can’t see the Report there on our website just yet, be patient because it is due to be there by the close today. Not that long ago, almost every time I spoke in public about the corrosive nature of the National Curriculum and its poisonous effect on learning, people were not really very polite, feeling that I was speaking to destroy their successes. As the evidence has stacked up that learning is not linear nor is child development more generally, then more and more schools are now reviewing how best to assess pupils’ learning. I have previously highlighted the NAHT review on Assessment, which came out this March. I have also praised the moves made by Singapore to reduce the curriculum at primary level so substantially that children have time to gain mastery of the skills they have been asked to develop, before moving on. One of the Gurus behind the abandonment of the NC and its leveling structure is Tim Oates, from Cambridge Assessment. You can find a 13 minute on these ideas here on YouTube – debunking the idea that children making progress in lessons is important – and replacing this  with an approach to ensure children acquire the deep content required of them – essential viewing for any primary teacher https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-q5vrBXFpm0#t=40 “The highest achieving nations (and schools) who have high equity and high enjoyment amongst their children don’t use levels. When children don’t understand something in these nations, the teachers suggests they have not presented the idea appropriately yet, not because the child is a level 3!” Now only time will tell whether Tom Oates confidence that the new Curriculum for England will deliver what he hopes for. Given the thrust by the DfE, Michael Gove and their pressure to ‘academise’ all secondary schools, and any primary deemed ‘failing’, I don’t think state schools in the main have the incentive to change.  As Alex Quigley (HuntingEnglish) writes in his blog on assessment today, “The Department for Education needs to also be aligned with our inspectorate in ensuring different models of assessment can be applied without fear of recrimination, otherwise schools will fear to tread new, innovative ground”. As subjects are so very different, the ‘comfort’ that speaking about levels shares a common language and helps parents understand what is on offer is badly misplaced. At the various courses I have run across the country this last year, more and more teachers are regaining the confidence to design their own curriculum, in the light of the school’s context and place in locality.  At the upper end of school, success is very much related to achieving well enough in a written exam such that a GCSE or A level might be awarded, but lower down, teachers and schools are not just reaching for a text book to prescribe their course, but putting a very good deal of effort into creating a curriculum and assessment framework together so that learning for children in their schools is more successful.  For a simple summary of a range of ways currently under consideration, here’s a blog post from Daisy Christodoulou, research director at the Ark academy groups,  that’s worth some time reading and reflecting about. http://thewingtoheaven.wordpress.com/2014/03/17/replacing-national-curriculum-levels/ Moving with the Maker culture, going mainstream with new, creative ideas (I have digested a short article from the We are Teachers website

Key features

“Doing” Is What Matters Makers learn to make stuff by making stuff. Learning by doing is for now – technology is a key part of that, both old and new. Openness Maker culture thrives on projects that work being shared readily, working with other people in other schools Give It A Go The best way for students to become deeply invested in their work is for their projects to be personally meaningful, afforded sufficient development time, given access to constructive materials, and the students themselves encouraged to overcome challenges – by puzzling through and gaining experience, we build grit and resilience. Iterative Design Computers make designing new inventions risk-free and inexpensive. You can now tinker with designs and programs and make prototypes easily and quickly, so children can take risks and fail – if you have not added Minecraft to your school IT toolkit, do so soon. Aesthetics Matter Over recent years, Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths have informed the STEM movement – and now we can add Art, giving us STEAM – objects can be beautiful too. Mentoring Defies Ageism “As Sir Ken Robinson says, school is the only place in the world where we sort people by their manufacturing date. The Maker Movement honors learners of all ages and embraces the sharing of expertise. Young people like “Super Awesome Sylvia” and Jody Hudy are valued alongside decades-older master tinkerers and inventors. Schools may create opportunities for mentoring and apprenticeship by connecting with the greater community. Access to expertise must not be limited to the classroom teacher.” Learning Is Intensely Personal Learning is personal—always. No one can do it for you. Giving children the opportunity to master what they love means they will love what they learn. It IS About the Technology Some educators like to say that technology is “just a tool” that should fit seamlessly into classrooms. For example a 3D printer is the raw material for solving problems, such as how to create inexpensive but custom-fit prosthetics for people anywhere in the world, or how to print a pizza for hungry astronauts, preparing our children to solve problems their teachers never anticipated, with technology we can’t yet imagine. Ownership Teachers should consider that prepackaged experiences for students, even in the name of efficiency, are depriving students of owning their own learning. Learning depends on learners with maximum agency over their intellectual processes. Here’s a nice cartoon that captures perhaps some hypocrisy that still exists, even in the most well regulated institutions: So every best wish for a busy week for most in UK schools, as next week is half-term for both staff and children. Have courage now to take those steps to make a real, perhaps even disruptive change to your curriculum – after all, the lessons that Mark Stevenson preaches are those the Dodo failed to evolve in time to learn.

About jameswilding

Academic Principal Claires Court Schools Long term member & advocate of the Independent Schools Association
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