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

Influential?

I’m still not really sure why I got invited. But I was. I’m currently on a train home after spending a couple of hours in a discussion at the Department for Education, after a message from the @educationgovUK account.

The aim of the session was to get some viewpoints from classroom teachers on the new/proposed National Curriculum. Apparently later sessions will hopefully include primary teachers, but this was secondary with a dash of special education. It wasn’t totally clear how the seven of us had been selected, although I presume there were others who declined for whatever reason. I want to make the point that I’m reporting general thoughts, from my POV, so please don’t assume I’m accurately quoting anyone else. Please let me know if and how I need to make corrections or clarifications.

EDIT: post by cleverfiend now up.

It felt like a positive session overall, although of course the real test will be if any of our suggestions are acted on. In no particular order:

We felt that the biggest issue facing schools and classroom teachers was a lack of time. This applies not only to the time needed to produce innovative and interesting activities, on a day to day basis, but the time between the specification being finalised and starting to teach it. The meeting was jointly led by @trussliz and @jimm2011, who appreciated our insistence that schools need to pay close attention to what Ofsted and the exam boards say, more than the criteria.

The uncertainty – perhaps exacerbated by recent rapid changes to assessment rules – was linked by @hgaldinoshea and Janet (twitter link tk) to the number of schools opting for the iGCSE route. We were assured that the English and Maths specifications (for first teaching from 2015) would be published imminently. The others will follow, although no date was given. @mary_uyseg emphasised several times that for schools, assessment models would always be one of the first concerns, both to provide the best for their students and also because of results affecting the institution collectively and the staff individually.

The difficulty of getting information out to schools and teachers about national curriculum changes was discussed. The expectation is that all schools – whether formally linked or not – are expected to ask their local Teaching School for advice with new curricula and specifications. Their support may involved a fee but the DfE has provided funding for them to take on this role, which is less specific than the responsibility historically held by LAs. (Even I was not so insensitive as to suggest that maybe there are better ways to address communication weaknesses than by leading new policy ideas to the Daily Mail or Times.) It was suggested that making sure exam boards and Ofsted pass on details, perhaps simultaneously tweeting links which could be RTed via subject associations, would be worthwhile. I made the point that interest and participation from Department staff in twitter chats would be an easy way to show engagement, and apparently this will be happening starting with the next #sltchat.

(A personal aside; although it was suggested that Michael Gove take an overt interest in such things, I actually think it would be counterproductive. Not least because it would be harder for him to justify his errors (whether you consider them rare or frequent) to such a polarised audience. And the work of the misguided and cowardly @toryeducation tweeter doesn’t count as engagement.)

The balance between freedom to innovate and the time needed was raised. @oldandrewuk was not the only one to point that although the old QCA schemes of work were perhaps unnecessarily detailed, at least there was much less ambiguity. @cleverfiend used the example of levels – a whole different argument – to point out that schools would end up adopting any offered alternative simply to save valuable time. (If I had thought of it, I would have contrasted the different markets for off the peg and bespoke tailoring. Schools tend to offer uniforms in standard sizes because they work well enough in most cases. The benefit of individual fitted versions of the clothes don’t justify the cost in terms of work needed.)

It was suggested that subject associations would be in good positions to develop and share possible teaching routes once the exam specifications were available, including exam formats and timing. It was agreed that better links with primary are needed, and Liz Truss acknowledged that the new details will place demands on staff, especially areas like languages in primary. We suggested offering funding to subject groups like the ASE to improve their reach, at least during the transition.

Speaking of subject specialisms, it emerged that there are several expert discussion groups that are hosted at the department, made up of teachers and other educators. They are not paid for their time, receiving travel expenses while they address concerns like ITT provision during changing specifications. Readers may already be aware of the weakness of this model as demonstrated by the recent demise of the expert group looking at ICT/computing, (Link tk) an issue which was raised and received a very clear “No comment.” It wasn’t clear how these expert groups were set up and how they report outside the Department, let alone how they recruit.

I’m sure I’ve missed subtle points, and possibly major ones. Links to the national curriculum documents I reviewed ahead of time (found by me, nothing that’s not online) and twitter accounts will be sorted as soon as I’m a desktop, not tapping away on my tablet on a crowded train. Hope this makes some kind of sense in the mean time.

Two postscripts:
1 I’ve honestly no idea how my name came up. All of the teacher/blogger attendees made clear we had never claimed to speak for anyone except ourselves. I hope that for future events that @educationgovuk is able to sort out some kind of nominations system.
2 Yes I’ve met @oldandrewuk and he looks exactly like his twitter profile picture.

Advice from Uncle Ben

140_with_great_power-221x300
“With great power… comes great responsibility.”
misquote from Ben Parker, Marvel Comics.
Background
I’m a little late to the party, but I wanted to follow up the recent dispute about Michael Gove’s comments about history teaching. This was spurred by a twitter conversation with @oldandrewuk where it became clear that we disagreed vigorously about Gove’s approach. It seemed to me that I wasn’t explaining myself, something I shall happily blame on trying to fit my thoughts into 140 characters. Of course, this is why I have a blog, so I told Andrew I’d blog my point of view and look forward to reading his perspective. [EDIT: his post has been up for a few days – clearly much more efficient than I am – but I’ve yet to comment on it.]  Here we go…
Gove (mis)used some examples of what he saw as poor history teaching and quoted some surveys to make political points, in a speech at Brighton College  and a Daily Mail interview. His comments about the Mr Men revision activity – not used for initial teaching, but to encourage students with a good understanding to rephrase and transform their knowledge for younger classes – have been expertly answered by the resource creator, Russel Tarr. A retired teacher with a Freedom of Information request demonstrated that ‘survey after survey’ was, perhaps, overstating the evidence. Ironically, both suggest that Gove has failed to grasp the importance of context when giving evidence to make a political point.
Power and Responsibility
Let me be clear about something. Gove has every right to have strong opinions about teaching. In fact as the Minister responsible, you could argue that he has an obligation. He has the power to change the education system, subtly or greatly. He can influence funding, celebrate the best of us and condemn the worst. But as Uncle Ben (more or less) said, this power is accompanied by responsibility. And this is a responsibility which is easy to put into words.
What he says must be based on facts.
He doesn’t have to be right every time. He doesn’t have to be popular (which is probably a very good thing). He doesn’t have to be perfect, and to be honest I wouldn’t expect his grammar to be flawless; he’s human after all.
But his opinions are not those of a private citizen when he is speaking or writing about education. He speaks and writes as a government minister, the Secretary of State for Education. Which means he has a responsibility to his government, to his colleagues, to his teachers and most of all to the young people he effectively works for. A responsibility that, by the way, we as teachers share. A responsibility not to spread bullshit.
His Job
Gove’s role is to set policy. It’s to hold us to account. It’s to set national aims, priorities, deadlines. I might disagree with his policies and those of his party, but that’s how politics works. Tell your elected representatives if you don’t like what they’re doing. If you object strongly enough, vote against them next time. If ideas are based on ideology or personal belief, not observable facts, then elected politicians must have the courage and honesty to say so.
His job is not to decide classroom methods, any more than a Health Minister would advise surgeons on the best way to transplant a kidney. The professionals work out the best way to achieve the aims, as defined by the government. If politicians care, they allocate cash for the research to happen. They quote the data – selectively, I’m sure – which supports their opinions and, hopefully, those of their constituents. But they don’t get to make things up. If they over-rule the experts – as is their right to do so, hopefully with a good justification – then they must expect to be challenged.
Gove’s job, and that of every politician, is to find the best people to do all the other jobs. I’d love to think he appreciated my workload through personal experience, but the truth is that doesn’t matter. Instead he needs to know what he doesn’t know, and stay out of it. It would be naive for us not to realise that his speeches and interviews are intended to support the policies he chooses to promote, to encourage validation of his ideas. But if his opinions are intended to justify policy decisions, curriculum changes and funding cuts, then they are government business and so must expect the same scrutiny as formal documents from the Department for Education. Bring facts, Mr Gove, or stay quiet.
What’s concerning with Gove’s curriculum reforms, which seem rushed and ill-considered to many, is that he’s ignoring those people who know what they’re talking about. Last year BERA responded to his wholesale refusal to listen. Subject groups, including the Historical Association and the ASE, have concerns with their specific areas. The related exams review even concerns Ofsted, who called it ‘challenging’ and ‘ambitious’. These are the people who mediate between political hopes and classroom reality. And they’re being ignored or, in many cases, ridiculed.
Sadly Gove has not always responded reasonably to requests for clarification or explanation, let alone to direct challenges. He and his team have even attempted to hide their email conversations from FOI requests, conceal their identities when making political claims (@toryeducation anyone?) and sometimes even let others do their dirty work. Changing this approach would, of course, earn respect from all quarters. Fingers crossed…
Our Job
This isn’t just a political rant, although my apologies if it comes across that way. My frustration is that Gove – like, I’m sure, many other politicians – seeks to move beyond policy (telling us what to do) into professional methods (telling us how to do it). One example I’ve mentioned before is the inclusion of one specific technique, synthetic phonics, in the Code of Practice. Does the Hippocratic Oath specify the one true method to remove an appendix?
Classroom methods are our department – but we equally have a responsibility to base what we do on evidence. We need to use techniques that have been shown, as much as possible, to work. RCTs may not be the only answer but a general aim to improve the quality of evidence can only be a good thing. The next step is to make sure it’s shared much more effectively, something the EFF is hopefully going to make progress with. We need to question our own professional practice and be prepared to defend it when justified. But like Gove, our determination can only be respected if we are prepared to change what doesn’t work.
Anecdotes and value judgements have their place in the classroom, but not at the expense of better evidence. We can use personal stories or topical examples from the media to illustrate our points, but must be prepared to explain why they matter if challenged. For example, using nonsense like BrainGym to justify giving kids water bottles in class devalues us and our professional perspective. Like Gove, we must expect that if we fail to pay attention to details then we will be mocked for our mistakes.
Teachers have great power in the classroom. We are the people tasked with turning children into citizens. We’re certainly the ones who get the blame when it doesn’t work out, despite the wider context! Teaching, like being a parent, is a big job. Our students trust us to tell them the truth, which makes developing scientific models challenging, to say the least. But I hope my students know that I’ll be straight with them, that I won’t use nonsense to back up what I tell them. Because if I did, and they figured it out – which they would – then they’d lose faith in everything else I tell them. Like Gove, we rely on our reputations to have credibility.
With great power comes great responsibility. Politicians have power over government policy, which means they have a responsibility to show they are taking it seriously. Maybe Gove needs to remember that.
PS To those who realised that despite me not changing my avatar to ‘Mr Chalk’ I’ve used this post to reference a different cartoon, well done. 🙂 And before you accuse me of dumbing down, I’d argue that every kind of popular culture (including Shakespeare) has been looked down on by those referencing their own favourites of the past. 🙂

The Evidence-Based-Teaching Bandwagon

Evidence-based practice in education is getting more and more attention recently. Projects like #SciTeachJC have been part of this, but I think there’s a general movement towards wanting to base what we do on facts rather than wishful thinking. The problem is that it’s actually quite hard, for several reasons, to be an evidence-based-practitioner.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t.

I Want To… But I’m Lazy

There’s a lot of evidence to keep up with. A lot of teachers are still being told that learning styles are useful despite a lack of supporting data, and a recent Guardian article shows this also applies to the infamous Myers-Briggs ‘test’. This means that we as teachers aren’t accessing old research, let alone new material. This is hardly surprising when you consider the cost; joining the British Educational Research Association costs £89, for which you get 6 issues of the BJER each year, and four issues a year of the Curriculum Journal will set you back £135. There’s also the lack of time teachers have when constantly rewriting schemes of work to suit the latest national qualification change, of course!

I do my best to keep up, but I’ve only so much time and money. I pay for my own membership of the ASE. I buy my own books. I spend my own time developing what I know and what I can do. I make it to TeachMeets when I can, join in with #asechat and #SciTeachJC, read and try out in school and reflect afterwards. But the situation we’re in makes it difficult.

Of course, what makes it even more frustrating is when individual teachers know the research and want to make decisions about teaching based on evidence, but aren’t allowed to. It’s important to recognise that schools may have perfectly valid reasons for not following suggestions from research, and cost is obviously often high on the list! But we need to accept that sometimes we are not getting it right on an institutional level, and this needs to change. If it doesn’t change from the bottom up, it will inevitably – and probably slowly and painfully – happen from the top down.

What’s Already Available And Where From

Every school should have well-thumbed copies of Petty’s book Evidence-Based Teaching and Hattie’s Visible Learning.  In my opinion – as a classroom teacher, not a manager – schools could do a lot worse than spending half of every inset day applying just one of the ‘best-value’ concepts in every relevant department. The constantly updated research by Marzano in the States examines a wide variety of teaching methods in terms of their success against measured criteria. The database is freely available and there are materials to explain effect size.

The British Educational Research Association (BERA) and the Specialist Schools Attainment Trust (SSAT) spend time and money looking into the effectiveness of eduication policies and methods; the latter works primarily with schools. The Evidence for Policy and Practice Information (EPPI) unit based out of the Institute of Education looks interesting, but not exactly accessible for those of us in the classroom. The GTC produced some research summaries with the title Research for Teachers (RfT) but I don’t know how well they were accessed; the group behind the summaries, the Centre for the Use of Research and Evidence in Education (CUREE) is still active. There’s the National Education Trust. And of course the Times Ed now has a weekly article bridging the gap between research and classroom practice, but I can’t find it online. There’s lots around, some free and some not so much. Some is purely academic while other groups attempt to translate it for classroom use.

The Education Endowment Foundation looks particularly at techniques to support those from disadvantaged background but their EEF Toolkit is generally useful, ranking interventions in terms of ‘value for money’. The difficulty with this approach is that it ignores the cost in terms of time and pressure on teachers, something I am sure they are aware of. It is the limited time of individual teachers which means centralised research is so necessary. As of 22nd March they have a vacancy for a Senior Analyst, if you’re interested…

There are some smaller groups in the UK; the Evidence-Based Teachers’ Network grew out of training sessions and has some useful summaries. There are many practitioners active online, for example @teachitso on Twitter (Dr Mark Evans IRL) who has some useful summaries on his site. There’s also several (competing?) groups such as the Guild of Teaching and the Teacher Development Trust with a small impact so far.

What We Need To Do Better

Much – but not all – of the current evidence is based on action research. This means a practitioner decides to try an intervention, does so and records any measurable change in results. This could be exam scores, recruitment rates for post-16 courses (I did that) or something else. It tends to be small samples and a snapshot in time. Think of them as case studies. Useful because they’re a step up from staffroom anecdotes, but more a starting point than gold-standard data.

Ben Goldacre, following the paper he wrote on RCTs for social issues that we discussed in #SciTeachJC, was asked to consider the use of RCTs specifically in education. The report has now been published and has stirred up a lot of debate. He wrote an article about it for the Guardian, and it’s noticeable how conscientiously he’s engaged with those commenting. I’d recommend reading the paper itself, of course – unlike some of those commenting. I like the idea of getting more teachers involved in research, obviously, but many seem sceptical. From a teacher’s point of view, the main issue is getting hold of the information afterwards. But it’s okay, the government has a cunning plan…

From this announcement, the EEF will be one of six centres, alongside NICE, tasked with gathering and disseminating evidence on social issues. It deliberately follows the NICE model where the evidence is analysed independantly of government, which would then (hopefully) consider the results and implications. A big issue I see here, of course, is that we seem to be moving away from a centralised education system where new knowledge would result in new systems for all. But we’ll see how it works.

What I Would Like

I’ve said before – like many others on Twitter, and I’m sure I wasn’t the first – that we need a National Institure of Education Excellence. An organisation committed to performing more meta-analyses of research, like the Cochrane Collaboration, and then making sure everyone else knows. For this to work effectively, there are several things the system needs.

Information needs to be effectively free at the point of use. Schools won’t pay for what they think they can get for free elsewhere (even if they’re wrong) and if we say all teachers need the information, it seems odd to expect them to pay for it when they’re cutting our pay in real terms.

The research cannot be politically driven. Some of the answers will go against current government policy. Some of the research will show MPs or Ministers to be wrong. That’s how evidence works and they’re going to have to be prepared to accept the consequences. But we can’t expect Gove to follow the evidence if we don’t do what we can to (a)collect it and (b)use it as soon as we know.

Interventions will have different relevance to different people and institutions. I tend to think of strategic choices at national level (such as exam specifications), tactical choices at a school level (such as behaviour and homework policies, setting and ICT provision) and choices of technique in a classroom (such as how to make group work most effective). I’m sure it’s more complicated than that, but you get the idea. We need to get the right information to the right people.

We need a wish-list, as Ben puts it, of questions we want answered. Set up a Google form and let any of us suggest something to investigate; shortlist and vote every six months. Personally, I’d love to see a comparison between students taught to use Blooms’ and those who are exposed to SOLO. Is there a difference? Does it depend on the students? If so, which method should we teach to which kids?

Teachers should have the opportunity to build up their skills as researchers. If they are needed to do more than send a copy of the results their class got following intervention A/B/C (delete as applicable) then the chance to get involved in data analysis will make it more likely they put the results into practice.

Get current researchers involved in designing the interventions. Of course this might be difficult if they feel the Secretary of State for Education is dismissive of their views or their motivations. We need better links between academics and full-time practitioners (or more people who do both, like the wonderful @MaryUYSEG). Maybe BERA could offer discounted memberships to the data-collectors?

Share the results widely in a format that means it can be used immediately. Imagine a magazine format, published electronically every month in three sections; strategic, tactical and techniques. The summaries link to journal articles, which are made open-access for the month so we can all see how well the synopsis matches the evidence. And each month three case studies show how the evidence from six months was put into practice at all three levels.

Next

There’s lots of groups talking about doing the same thing – linking research to practice. And despite having been in post for nine years, with a strong interest in science and evidence, I found half of the links in this post today for the first time.

Surely we can do better than this?

 

EDIT/UPDATE: It looks like something is happening rather quicker than we might have expected, thanks to the efforts of Tom Bennett. Check out the new blog for this September’s suddenly planned conference, ResearchED2013.