Responding to “Secret Origins”

This post is a duplicate of the comment I’ve just left on a post at Vince Ulam’s blog; it’s here because otherwise the time I spent on formatting and adding hotlinks was wasted.

“These useful idiots, grateful for the imagined recognition and eager to seem important in the eyes of their peers, promote the aims and ideas of their recruiters across social media and via ticketed salons.”

It must be really nice to see yourself as immune to all this, too smart to fall for the conspiracy that everyone else has been duped by. Because, whether you intended it or not, that’s how much of the original post comes across. I think this is what put my back up, to be honest. I’ve attended two ResearchED events, one of which I spoke at. I’d like to think I earned that, rather than being recruited as a useful idiot. But then, in your viewpoint, it’s only natural I’d fall for it: I’m not as clever as you. The contrary argument might be that you’re resentful of not having the opportunity or platform for your views, but I’ve no idea if you’ve applied to present at ResearchED or anything similar. So how about we look at the facts, rather than the inferences and assigned motives you write about?

ResearchED in Context

From a local teachmeet up to national events, the idea of ‘grassroots’ activism in teaching is a powerful one. As bloggers, we both believe that practitioners can influence the ideas and work of others. And yes, I agree that appearing practitioner- or public-led, but actually being influenced by specific political parties or organisations, would be appealing to those organisations. It would lend legitimacy to very specific ideas. You only have to look at the funding of patient organisations by pharmaceutical companies, or VoteLeave and allied groups, to see the issues. But there is surely a sliding scale of influence here.

How we assess the independence of such a grassroots organisation could be done in several ways. Do we look at where the money comes from? Do we examine the people involved in organising or leading it? Do we look at the decisions they make, and how they are aligned with other groups? Do we look at who chooses to be involved, and who is encouraged/dissuaded, subtly or otherwise?

In reality we should do all of those. I think my issue with your post is that you seem to be putting ResearchEd in the same category as the New Schools Network among other groups, and (on Twitter) to be adding in the Parents and Teachers for Excellence Campaign too. I see them as very separate cases, and I’m much less hesitant about ResearchEd – partly because the focus is teacher practice and engagement, not campaigning. And you raise Teach First, which I have my own concerns about and am leaving to one side now as it’s not relevant.

The New Schools Network is (mostly) funded by government, and many have written about the rather tangled set of circumstances which led to the funding and positions expressed being so closely tied to a policy from one political party. I must admit, I find myself very dubious about anything that Dominic Cumming has had a hand in! Their advocacy and support for free schools, with so far limited evidence that they provide good value for money, frustrates me.

The PTE Campaign is slightly different. I’ve not spent time on searching for funding information but remember from previous news items – this from Schools Week for example – that it lacks transparency, to say the least. I think the name is misleading and their claim to be about moving power away from ‘the elites in Westminister and Whitehall’ to be disingenuous.

And let’s not even start with Policy Exchange.

From where I sit, if you want to group ResearchED with other education organisations, a much better match would seem to be Northern Rocks. The focus is improving and sharing classroom pedagogy, rather than campaigning. They’re both run on a shoestring. Classroom teachers are keen on attending and praise what they get out of the sessions. I can’t find anything on your blog about Northern Rocks, but that could be simple geography. (The bitter part of me suggests it’s not the first time anything happening past Watford gets ignored…)

Back to ResearchED: Funding and Speakers

“We have to hand it to Tom Bennett for his truly amazing accomplishment of keeping his international ‘grassroots’ enterprise going for four years without producing any apparent profits.”

Maybe it’s me seeing something which isn’t there, but your post seems to imply that there must be some big funding secret that explains why ResearchED is still going. What do you think costs so much money? The speakers are volunteers, as are the conference helpers. I don’t know if Tom gets a salary, but considering how much time it must be taking it would seem reasonable for at least a few people to do so. The catering costs, including staffing, are covered by the ticket price. The venues I remember are schools, so that’s not expensive.

As you’ve raised on Twitter during our discussions, the question of transport for UK-based speakers to overseas venues is an interesting one. I know that when I presented at Oxford (the Maths/Science one), my employer covered my travel costs; I assume that was the same for all speakers, or they were self-funding. If you have other specific funding concerns, I’ve not seen you describe them; you can hardly blame me for focusing on this one if you’d rather make suggestive comments than ask proper questions. I would also like to know if speakers can access funding support and if so, how that is decided. I can’t find that information on the website, and I think it should be there. I disagree with lots of what you say – or I wouldn’t have written all this – but that loses legitimacy if I don’t say where we have common ground.

I was surprised to find out how many ResearchED conferences there had been; I was vaguely thinking of seven or eight, which is why I was surprised by your suggestion that David Didau had presented at least six times. I stand corrected, on both counts. Having looked at the site, I’m also surprised that there’s no clear record of all the events in one place. A bigger ask – and one I have addressed to one of the volunteers who I know relatively well – would be for a searchable spreadsheet of speaker info covering all the conferences.

That would be fascinating, wouldn’t it? It would let us see how many repeat speakers there are, and how concentrated the group is. My gut feeling is that most speakers, like me, have presented only once or twice. Researchers would probably have more to say. I’d love to see the gender balance, which subject specialisms are better represented, primary vs secondary numbers, the contrast between state and independent sector teachers, researcher vs teacher ratios…

I’m such a geek sometimes.

You tweeted a suggestion I should ignore my personal experience to focus on the points in your post. The thing is that my personal experience of – admittedly only two – ResearchED conferences is that any political discussion tends to happen over coffee and sandwiches, and there’s relatively little of that. Maybe there’s more at the ‘strategic’ sessions aimed at HTs and policy-makers, rather than the classroom and department methods that interest me. If there’s animosity, it’s more likely to be between practitioners and politicians, rather than along party lines. I suspect I have more in common, to be honest, with a teacher who votes Tory than a left-leaning MP without chalkface experience. It’s my personal experience that contradicts the suggestions in your post about ResearchED being part of a shadowy conspiracy to influence education policy debate.

To return to Ben Goldacre, featured in your post as a victim of the puppet-masters who wanted a good brand to hide their dastardly plans behind: his own words suggest that in the interests of improving the evidence-base of policy, he’s content to work with politicians. Many strong views have been expressed at ResearchED. With such a wide variety of speakers, with different political and pedagogical viewpoints, I’m sure you can find some presentations and quotes that politicians would jump on with glee. And I’m equally sure that there are plenty they ignore, politely or otherwise. But I don’t believe the speakers are pre-screened for a particular message – beyond “looking at evidence in some way is useful for better education.” To be honest, I’m in favour of that – aren’t you? If there’s other bias in speaker selection, it was too subtle for me to notice.

But then, I’m not as clever as you.

Unspecifications

I’m really starting to get annoyed with this, and I’m not even in the classroom full-time. I know that many colleagues – @A_Weatherall and @hrogerson on Staffrm for example – are also irritated. But I needed to vent anyway. It’ll make me feel better.

EDIT: after discussion on Twitter – with Chemistry teachers, FWIW – I’ve decided it might help to emphasise that my statements below are based on looking at the Physics specification. I’d be really interested with viewpoints from those who focus on teaching Biology and Chemistry, as well as those with opinions on whether I’ve accurately summed up the situation with Physics content or overreacted.

The current GCSE Science specifications are due to expire soon, to be replaced by a new version. To fit in with decisions by the Department for Education, there are certain changes to what we’ve been used to. Many others have debated these changes, and in my opinion they’re not necessarily negative when viewed objectively. Rather than get into that argument, I’ll just sum them up:

  1. Terminal exams at the end of year 11
  2. A different form of indirect practical skills assessment (note that ISAs and similar didn’t directly assess practical skills either)
  3. More content (100+ pages compared to the previous 70ish for AQA)
  4. Grades 9-1 rather than A*-G, with more discrimination planned for the top end (and, although not publicised, less discrimination between weaker students)

Now, like many other subjects, the accreditation process seems to be taking longer than is reasonable. It also feels, from  the classroom end, that there’s not a great deal of information about the process, including dates. The examples I’m going to use are for AQA, as that’s the specification I’m familiar with. At least partly that’s because I’m doing some freelance resource work and it’s matched to the AQA spec.

Many schools now teach GCSE Science over more than two years. More content is one of several reasons why that’s appealing; the lack of an external KS3 assessment removes the pressure for an artificial split in content. Even if the ‘official’ teaching of GCSE starts in Year 10, the content will obviously inform year 9 provision, especially with things like language used, maths familiarity and so on.

Many schools have been teaching students from a the first draft specification since last September. The exam boards are now working on version three.

The lack of exemplar material, in particular questions, mean it is very hard for schools to gauge likely tiers and content demand for ‘borderline’ students. Traditionally, this was the C-D threshold and I’m one of many who recognized the pressure this placed on schools with league tables, with teachers being pushed much harder to help kids move from a D to a C grade than C to B. the comparison is (deliberately) not direct. As I understand it an ‘old’ middle grade C is now likely to be a level 4, below the ‘good pass’ of a level 5.

Most schools start to set for GCSE groups long before the end of Year 9. Uncertainties about the grade implications will only make this harder.

The increased content has three major consequences for schools. The first is the teaching time needed as mentioned above. The second is CPD; non-specialists in particular are understandably nervous about teaching content at GCSE which until now was limited to A-level. This is my day-job and it’s frustrating not to be able to give good guidance about exams, even if I’m confident about the pedagogy. (For Physics: latent heat, equation for energy stored in a stretched spring, electric fields, pressure relationships in gases, scale drawings for resultant forces, v2 = u2 -2as, magnetic flux density.) The last is the need for extra equipment, especially for those schools which don’t teach A-level Physics, with the extra worry about required practicals.

Even if teachers won’t be delivering the new specification until September, they need to familiarize themselves with it now. Departments need to order equipment at a time of shrinking budgets.

I’m not going to suggest that a new textbook can solve everything, but they can be useful. Many schools have hung on in the last few years as they knew the change in specification was coming – and they’ve been buying A-level textbooks for that change! New textbooks can’t be written quickly. Proofreading, publishing, printing, delivery all take time. This is particularly challenging when new styles of question are involved, or a big change such as the new language for energy changes. Books are expensive and so schools want to be able to make a good choice. Matching textbooks to existing resources, online and paper-based, isn’t necessarily fast.

Schools need time to co-ordinate existing teaching resources, samples of new textbooks and online packages to ensure they meet student needs and cost limitations.

Finally, many teachers feel they are being kept in the dark. The first specification wasn’t accredited, so exam boards worked on a second. For AQA, this was submitted to Ofqual in December (I think) but not made available on the website. Earlier this month, Ofqual chose not to accredit this version, but gave no public explanation of why. Teachers are left to rely on individual advisers, hearsay and twitter gossip. This information would have given teachers an idea of what was safe to rely on and what was likely to change. It took several weeks for the new submission dates to appear on the website – now  mid-March – and according to Ofqual it can take eight weeks from submission to accreditation.

If these time estimates are correct, the new AQA specification may not be accredited until mid-May and as yet there is nothing on record about what was wrong with previous versions. Teachers feel they are being left in the dark yet will be blamed when they don’t have time to prepare for students in September

I think that says it all.

Why Teach?

EDIT: please note I do not endorse, support or recommend the Central College for Education, a fee-paying distance learning institution. If considering a career in teaching, I recommend you contact university education departments who will advise about the best route for you.
I miss teaching kids.
Don”t get me wrong, I’m really enjoying my current day job, working as a TLC with the Stimulating Physics Network. I work with a dozen schools to develop physics teaching, as well as early career teachers; the adults are, on the whole, more focused and motivated than year 9. I get time to perfect the demonstrations, and I can log CPD time towards my (part-time) working week. I get a lot more time with my family, from the eleven-year-old currently being home-schooled (long story) to the toddler who thinks sleep is for wimps. I can fit in a little freelance work here and there. (I have room for more. Email me.)
But it’s not the same.
The days are more predictable, even though I don’t have a timetable as such. Colleagues get excited about physics practicals, yes, but it’s not the same as the look on a kid’s face when they hear a slinky for the first time. (You can do something similar with a fork.) Digressions happen, but you don’t get to help a students realize how science matters to their life, hobbies, pets or sports. Even attentive teachers – which on a dark evening after a long day is a big ask – can’t measure up to a class of thirty seeing you put out a candle with carbon dioxide, or suddenly silent teens passing around a flint spearpoint made by their ancestor, 300 generations back.
So Alom’s post asking “Why teach when you can tutor?” was an interesting read. I’ve tutored too – although not at London prices – and it’s rewarding, but nothing like being in front of a class. It’s a conversation, not a performance. It’s tiring in a very different way. In the best lessons, what you do seems effortless to the kids. All the hard work, like a swan on a lake, is below the surface. Part of the ‘flow’ is that it looks easy. Maybe that’s why so many non-teachers think they’re entitled to express an opinion about the classroom? At the moment I’m working with adults for my day job and volunteering as a Cub leader. But they enjoyed their Science badge, which is something…
There’s a ‘buzz’ about a good lesson that makes up for a lot of the grief. No teacher goes into the profession wanting to do paperwork and fill out spreadsheets of targets. I’ve yet to meet a teacher who likes marking. Appreciates the need, yes. Enjoys sharing feedback with students and seeing them take it on board, absolutely. The long holidays are good, even if we pay for them in blood sweat and tears during term-time. But they’re a perk, not the purpose.
Kids ask great questions. They get excited about cool things, because they’ve not learned to fake cynicism. At least some of them will find you at break with yet more questions, or an empty chrysalis they found at the weekend, or to borrow books. They’ll act shocked when you say they can use your first name on Duke of Edinburgh’s Award expeditions, because “I’m a volunteer youth leader at the weekend, not your teacher.”
They’ll hate you, sometimes. They resist, and they fight. We don’t get it right every time, and not every student will be a success story in your lessons. Those are the ones where you look really hard for something real to praise them on, whether it’s their sports performance or how their English teacher was raving about their poetry. (If you can link it to science, even better – I had one student who applied her choreography skills to remember the different ‘types’ of energy.) But because you see them on the corridor you can thank them for holding a door, or show them in other tiny ways that you’re still both members of a school community.
The real question – the one which teachers, school leaders, governors and politicians need to answer – is “Why tutor when you could teach?” Some of the reasons might be individual, family commitments or ill-health for example. But if we’re going to keep recruiting and keeping classroom teachers, we need to be able to give good reasons. The draw of the classroom must outweigh the benefits of tutoring. For many, the good things about being in a school aren’t enough to make up for the disadvantages. Only by being honest about those reasons, and being committed to changing them, will we make the classroom a more attractive place for all of our colleagues.

Dominic Cummings: Ghost Protocol

I saw Dominic Cummings at Northern Rocks. He was clearly impassioned, but I remain unconvinced by his solutions even though we recognise many of the same problems. Let’s think about how he got to where he is.

He was a Special Advisor to a range of government ministers, most recently Michael Gove. ‘SpAds’ are expected/allowed to be political but work within the civil service. They must follow a code of conduct and their minister is responsible for their actions:

The responsibility for the management and conduct of special advisers, including discipline, rests with the Minister who made the appointment

(from 2010 code linked above)

During his time at the DfE, there were many controversies about attacks on those within education who disagreed with the official line. I’m sure he was not responsible for all of them; equally, I’m sure he was instrumental in at least some. Gove himself has not been above personal attacks. The use of the @toryeducation twitter account is, officially at least, still a mystery – although many feel Cummings and a fellow SpAd, De Zoete were contributors. There were, I’m sure, many reasons he chose to resign last year. Since then he’s been fairly busy, and softly spoken as ever.

Special advisers must not take public part in political controversy whether in speeches or letters to the Press, or in books, articles or leaflets; must observe discretion and express comment with moderation, avoiding personal attacks; and would not normally speak in public for their Minister or the Department.

paragraph 12 from the Code of Conduct

 

Now, we have Netflix at home. (Last night I watched Tron: Legacy. Don’t judge me.) But more relevantly, a while back I watched Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. (What’s with all the colons?) In this, the Impossible Mission Force are ‘disavowed’ which means they’re officially not supported by the government, so can hopefully get away with stuff but avoid political repercussions.

Which made me think.

I offer the following satire for your amusement.

In a shadowy office at the DfE, late 2013.

MG: Dom, you know I agree with what you’re saying but you’re really not supposed to say all this stuff.

DC: &%$@{ing @$£ *&^@X& and their code of conduct.

MG: Yes, but I’m responsible for what you say and that means more hassle than it’s worth.

DC: Why does it have to be about blame?

MG: They keep banging on about accountability when everyone knows that public servants like teachers are accountable to us, not the other way around.

DC: But I’ve got all these really important ideas and loads of people disagree and they keep using facts to contradict me and then I get all mad and slag them off.

MG: Funnily enough I’d noticed that, but because you’re not an ex-journalist with the Times the papers aren’t as nice to you, so I get the flak.

DC: So the problem is that you’re accountable because I’m a SpAd?

MG: Exactly.

DC: But if I wasn’t a SpAd, then we wouldn’t be able to swap ideas over email. I couldn’t meet with you at the Department.

MG: Well, we wouldn’t be able to use the official email accounts, because they can be requested as freedom of information. But there are ways around that. And as for meetings, that would only be a problem if we actually kept records of who visited.

DC: So I could make all the claims I wanted, say whatever I liked (or you suggested), talk you up and slag everyone else off… but because I wasn’t a SpAd, there would be nothing Cameron or anyone else could do about it?

MG: Hmm.

Pause.

 

Oversharing?

So I had a huge argument on Twitter, mainly with @biolady99.

Duty Calls
http://xkcd.com/386/

I shared a link to the news story that teachers are going to be given training about helping students with mental health issues, including recognising the early signs of problems (EDIT: new guidance as .pdf) I think this is great. I think this is really important. But I pointed out that this is more than a little ironic seeing as the support for students with identified mental health needs is, shall we say, uneven.

A long discussion followed, and as usual many of the points were hard to make clearly because of the 140 character limitation. So here I am, with three ideas I want to get out of my system by clearly expressing them.

Pointing out a problem isn’t whining

Complaining about something we can change ourselves is whining. Complaining about something minor could be considered whining. Stating a problem isn’t whining, especially when you point out a possible solution.

I stand by my original implied criticism, that before (or more reasonably, as well as) ensuring teachers are trained to spot mental health issues in our students, we should make sure there is somewhere to send them. Of course we must be sympathetic and informed in the classroom. Of course we should be able to flag up concerns in a structured way. But when CAMHS are overstretched and underfunded, identifying an issue doesn’t help my students in my classroom today. Not when they may have to wait months for appointments, let alone a useful diagnosis and treatment.

What I object to is, once again, the assumption that having us teachers do yet more will solve the whole problem. There must be an adequate service for us to refer students towards, with trained specialists. If a primary teacher notices a child has an odd gait and they help the parents make a referral to the local orthopedic service, then the experts take over. By all means give us information, training and time. But don’t pretend we’re specialists, whether we have personal experience or not.

Sharing In A Classroom Isn’t Always Okay

Of course my life affects my teaching. Only an idiot would suggest otherwise. But there’s a big difference between using life experience to inform your professional judgement, and sharing personal details with potentially vulnerable students. I absolutely respect colleagues who choose to be open about potentially sensitive aspects of their personal life. But I hope they do it in an informed way.

When I speak to my own children, I do so as a parent. I can say things to them I wouldn’t say at work, to my students. I can choose to share things that I think they will learn from, because I will be the one dealing with the consequences. As a teacher, I am in a professional role and this means I am in a privileged position.

That means I rarely speak about politics; the closest I have come is telling students, when asked, that I voted against the BNP and why. I am careful, when talking about religion – inevitable during topics about evolution or the Big Bang – to make clear I am talking about evidence, and data. With older students I might explain how some of a religious persuasion are happy to accept their text as metaphorical in some respects, while others struggle to reconcile religious claims with scientific data. I will, when asked, tell them that I consider myself an atheist and a humanist, but I wouldn’t explicitly tell them that I think their beliefs are mistaken.

I would see personal medical issues as just that, personal. I’m happy to tell kids I’m asthmatic. Occasionally I’ve discussed – when relevant – my other biological oddity (no, not horns and a tail). But I can see two very good reasons to be cautious, both about welfare.

Firstly, and selfishly, giving kids information can make you vulnerable. Sad but true – you only need one student with a grudge to use that information and your life can be very difficult. Kids can be merciless when they find something they see as a weakness, whether it’s a stutter, a twitching eyebrow or something more.

Secondly, I would see this as potentially unprofessional. Students can look up to us; we are, like it or not, in positions of authority. If my children heard graphic details of a teacher’s surgery in primary school, I would have reason to complain. If a 14 year old, when challenged by a parent about self-injury, responds that “Miss X said they did/do it.” then it will raise all kinds of questions about professional boundaries. It’s a very fine line between open discussion and promotion. (And no, I couldn’t see this applying to sexuality, before anyone accuses me of homophobia – although the paragraph above may apply!)

It’s about what we say and how we say it. Telling my students I have 2.5 children isn’t unprofessional. Telling them how they were conceived or the details of childbirth would be.

I’ve seen guidance about how mental health issues of staff should be handled within the school setting. I’ve seen and fully support the campaigns such as Time To Change hoping to end discrimination and stigma around mental health issues. But I think we need to remember that just as doctors would hesitate before sharing their own health concerns with a patient, we should think twice. I’d love to hear about any specific examples suggesting that teachers should share sensitive personal issues like this with our pupils.

What I do online=/= what I do in the classroom

Finally, it was suggested that because I’ve tweeted about – for example – religion and politics, that this makes me unprofessional. I blogged ages ago about how teachers need to make a stand for their own personal life to be seen as separate from their professional persona. In the ‘real world’, I swear. I very occasionally drink alcohol. (Cider, in small quantities, because I’m a lightweight.) I eat more chocolate than I should.

None of those make me unprofessional. They make me human.

If sharing opinions outside my classroom about religion, politics, sex or anything else makes me unprofessional, then something’s gone badly wrong. If students choose to follow me on twitter (I block them when I can, but my professional account is unlocked and will stay that way) then they’re choosing to be exposed to those non-workplace opinions. And to be bored senseless about teaching stuff, incidentally.

If I was naming and shaming my students on twitter, that would be a problem. If I was openly criticising my workplace or colleagues, I’d be in the wrong. Live tweeting lessons with photos of students without clear consent? Not on. But spending gained time discussing national policies on mental health in young people, implications for the classroom and professional boundaries? That’s not just professional, that’s CPD.

Please comment and respond; I’m particularly interested in any links to model policies about what staff should or shouldn’t disclose to pupils about (mental) health. How do other professions handle it with potentially vulnerable clients/patients? What does the law say and what is the union position?

If you wish to share personal stories anonymously, either take care commenting or email me and I’ll add it stripped of any identifying metadata.

Northern Rocks

I had to get up early, on a Saturday.

It rained.

And I missed my train, so it was a really long day.

So in all, I had a fantastic day in Leeds. The speakers were great. The organisation was excellent. The food was good, even though I hadn’t booked anything. The company was funny, enthusiastic and friendly. The site was welcoming, although distinctly damp. The WiFi was highly reliable.

I even got a pen.

badges

This is not going to be comprehensive, obviously. Every attendee will have been to a different conference, with different speakers, picking and mixing to suit themselves. As I did. So all I can do is give a flavour of the day, share links to my rough notes and write about how the day will change what happens for my pupils. In the end, as several speakers pointed out, this is the whole point of what we do.

(Comments in my notes and on here are paraphrases and summaries, in my words not theirs. Please let me know if you feel I have misrepresented the views expressed or points made during the sessions.)

Opening Panel

The speakers were interesting, and in many ways seemed to be in broad agreement.

  • Ofsted is a real problem, getting worse because it is being viewed as more and more political.
  • We need less politics in running schools an less interference in specifications.
  • Teachers work damn hard and we need to make sure it’s time well spent, on things that matter.

Differences became clearer when questions probed:

  • how we could ensure high standards without some form of central organisation – I found Dominic Cummings‘ answers about a market-led approach seemed to miss the point, and his insistence that Gove etc had tried to move away from centralization unconvincing when we consider phonics as a fundamental part of teacher standards, and all authority for a school leading to the DfE. But maybe that’s just me.
  • what we should do about the difficulties with Ofsted; most felt that we still need accountability but that, perhaps, a pass/fail approach would be more constructive. Dot Lepkowska was one who agreed that we need to completely remove political access and involvement with Ofsted, to avoid perception that it is being used for political motives.

Click here for my rough notes.

 

David Weston aka @informed_edu on Teacher Development

Chair of the Teacher Development Trust (see also: National Teacher Enquiry Network, The Good CPD Guide)

One of the main things I took away from David’s talk is how ineffective most CPD is – and for reasons that we can only change if schools are prepared to adjust their approach. He gave the example of watching bad TV, learning/confirming that we should eat more healthily – but nothing changes. A longer-term approach is needed, fewer ‘bits’ of CPD on topics that have nothing to do with student progress. 

David’s slides / My rough notes

My action points:

  1. Every CPD session should be explicitly focused on the effect it will have on student outcomes. Reflect and ask!
  2. Use the idea of 3 colleagues at different career stages in the same CPD session. These are  my ‘case colleagues’, and I should consider how each of them will take away different ideas; makes the concepts more ‘stract’ (my word, not David’s!)
  3. Spend more time on (teaching) diagnosis skills, rather than just interventions.
  4. Review characteristics of effective CPD and blog about how to build them into small group sessions about science teaching

 

Tim Taylor aka @imagineinquiry on the Mantle of the Expert

In many ways I wasn’t the right audience for this session, as the techniques have been much more widely explored in primary. I like the idea of a pervasive imaginary world that students can step in and out of; as a parent I’m very familiar with this! (I’ve a very clear memory of my eldest telling his brother earnestly, aged 7 and 3: “Quick, we need to escape from the Chickens of Doom!”). And the ideas of humans being wired to respond well to narrative approaches is one that resonates with me partly from reading about the concept of us being Pan narrans, the story-telling ape, in The Science of Discworld series.

Students taking the role of experts who are commissioned to complete particular tasks, involving cross-curricular learning, is fascinating. It will inevitably be less engaging in secondary when it can only take a relatively small part of the curriculum unless the timetable and teachers can make it work. It is something that I have used working with Year7 using the upd8 WIKID scheme, which can be great but has some very confusing sections. It’s a step up from role play as it links imagination and skills development more closely.

Tim’s presentationMy rough notes

My main thoughts:

  • Limited use across timetable in secondary without major timetable considerations and enthusiasm from management.
  • It would be interesting to examine whether these ideas were deliberately used for WIKID.
  • Develop role play for guest lessons, making clear need for teacher to take a subordinate role to encourage students into a more assertive one.
  • Review/rewrite current roleplays using the immersive principles described – Teaching as Story Telling, recommended by Tim, would be interesting to read if money/time permit.

 

Dr Jo Pearson aka @jopearson3 on Research Considerations in School

I’ve done a little formal action research and I think most teachers have at some point asked themselves, “What will happen if I change this?” This was the only session in which I was asked to do something, looking at the questions that previous students had wanted to use on a Masters unit. The discussion of ethics was interesting, as Jo made the point that we should perhaps consider this kind of formalised, evidence-driven reflection as a normal and necessary part of our jobs (she still encouraged us to check the BERA Ethics guidelines though). I found myself strongly agreeing with the idea that failing to share what we learn is an ethical failure all of its own.

My rough notes

My action points:

  • Use a wider definition of data eg pupil work decoded, recorded conversations
  • Try using Cogi app with classes during discussion and planning to assess understanding
  • Improved questions for research need to be much more specific, local rather than global. Teachers I work with need to be encouraged to look at much smaller aspects over a small timescale.
  • Buy the book if at all possible: Inquiring in the Classroom

 

Dr Phil Wood aka @geogphil on Lesson Study

This session was fascinating and is something I intend to spend more time on. Phil was very dismissive of the idea of judging a teacher, or a lesson, based on a brief observation and the cycle he described seems like a much more constructive approach. Basically, several colleagues plan together, predicting how different aspects will lead to outcomes for three ‘case students’. One delivers the planned lesson, while another observes the students, and afterwards they reflect together. Ideally this reflection involves student interviews and/or a second (tweaked) delivery to an equivalent class. And so the cycle continues.

philwood slide-6-638

I like that this is a much more collaborative approach, and Phil described how more and less experienced staff were all able to contribute. The pressure and judgement is removed and instead different approaches are trialed in a safe setting. “An expert teacher understands wider policy, and the micropolitics of the school, so they can subvert these contexts in the interest of learning.” (my wording)

Phil’s session slides / My rough notes

 Action Points:

  • Reading required: need to look into this topic and the varied formats of collaborative planning/deliver/reflection cycle
  • EDIT: really interesting description of using this in science teaching on @headguruteacher‘s blog.
  • Blog about the cycle in more detail, seeking comment on how used by classroom teachers (especially ASTs/HoDs?)
  • “Once you use a ticklist, you miss what isn’t on the list.” – how can I apply this to markschemes and my teaching?
  • Put together timescale – perhaps using distance collaboration tools – for ways to use this cycle in coaching.

 

Final Session

Probably the less said the better, although the activities were… interesting… and the music was great. It was a really positive event and it was followed by coffee. Hoorah.

As I hope the points above make clear, the sessions I was able to attend (and there were three times as many I would have liked to see, hopefully some of which I’ll catch up with from the recordings) are the start, not the end. I suspect the ideas will feature in future posts and hopefully the impact on students is something I’ll be able to see.

In all, Northern Rocks was a great day and I’m sure the other participants thought so too. Huge thanks to Debra and Emma, as well as the presenters and those behind the scenes. Blogs about the day are popping up everywhere, and with 500 attendees I have no intention of trying to link to them all here. Please do comment with any thoughts about these sessions, in particular if you’ve got resources or links to point me towards. Because I’m lazy. 🙂

Divided and Conquered?

So I was on Twitter.

@TeacherROAR – who I follow – retweeted an item from @NUTSouthWest – who I don’t – which in turn quoted figures from an article in the Independant.

I followed the conversation and was struck by this tweet to another tweeting teacher.

followed by:

I responded in turn and a not particularly pleasant slanging match ensued. I had two main issues, one about Twitter and the other about teacher solidarity. Maybe I didn’t express myself well in 140 characters – but more on this limitation in a moment. EDIT: And this is without even considering the actual figures incolved, of which more added at the end.

Firstly, I don’t think anyone assumes that a retweet means total support of the original message. In fact, sometimes it’s intended as mockery! But if you quote figures, and someone asks you about them, it’s reasonable to justify or explain. I think. If it turns out they’re wrong, I’d see it as only fair to tweet a follow-up. Accountability, yes? Online we only have our reputation as currency. Challenging figures or opinions isn’t the same thing as an attempt to censor opinion, and for what it’s worth, I agree that if we only have exaggerated figures to use as propaganda we’ve got no chance. As I tweeted to @sidchip64, a ‘roar’ without anything to back it up is just bluster.

Secondly, I can just imagine Gove or his minions rubbing their hands together and laughing, watching those who teach fighting with each other instead of him. Dismissing a challenge from another teacher is rude. I expect my students to question what I say – often I demand it. But I expect better of any professional who works in a classroom. Solidarity means we work together to get it right, and that includes good statistics. It doesn’t mean we unquestioningly back a colleague who’s wrong.

Maybe it’s about a limited medium. I often find this on Twitter – great for tips, bad for clear ideas. Soundbites, not critical debate. So I suggested to @TeacherROAR that it wouldn’t be hard to clarify what they meant – and justify it – in a blog. For some reason this was seen as a demand and so I decided to do it myself. Half an hour later, here we are. I feel better for it, anyway.

So what I didn’t include last night – and, believe it or not, woke up thinking about at half-five this morning – is a point of view on the numbers. They got attention, obviously. That was the point. But I think it was poor of the Independent to quote from a report by the Sixth Form Colleges Association – a report I haven’t yet found, but that may be due to lack of caffeine – which makes a direct comparison between the annual funding for their students and that spent on setting up free schools this year.

Now, it would be fair to say that I’m very dubious about free schools, in particular the application and set up process. Laura McInerney explains these concerns much more eloquently and expertly than I could. But that doesn’t mean we should misuse data in this way. Making the last year’s nine free schools (some or all of the total?) and their current 1557 students liable for the entire cost of setting them up – when the assumption is that these costs would actually be spread over the foreseeable life of the schools – is wrong. If I can be forgiven a physics example, it’s like working out the kWh cost of electricity from a nuclear power station using all the commissioning and decommissioning costs but only a single year of electrical output.

Picking numbers out of the air, if each of those nine free schools costs £3m to run this year (which would make the set up costs £35m) then the cost per student comes to a little over £17000. If their costs are £2m annually, then the figure is £11500 or so. Now, these figures are still too high – but they’re more realistic, unless each of those schools is to shut down after a single year being open.

Yes, I agree that free schools haven’t always been set up where they’re actually needed, so you could argue the costs are wasted. Yes, I know that this year a lot has been spent, potentially to the detriment of sixth form colleges. But I’d be prepared to bet that back when the colleges were set up, some people claimed they were a waste of money. And I’m sure they were justified by looking at the benefits over time, not just costs in the first year. If we want to be taken seriously – and this goes back to my first point – then we must justify the numbers we use, or we are building our argument on very weak foundations.

A final quote, this time from much longer ago.

If we do not hang together, we shall surely hang separately.

Benjamin Franklin