Category: Education

What if… our main objective in education was to build wisdom? #IOEDebates

On Thursday 10th January 2019 the first UCL IoE debate of 2019 was held. The discussion was around the purpose of education and the role of wisdom as an objective. I was unable to attend in person but followed the livestream of the event; and then re-watched the event again on Saturday. My notes which provide a brief summary of the events are below. The event was chaired by Professor Becky Francis and each of the speakers began by summarising their views on the key question.

Tony Sewell, CEO, Generating Genius

Knowledge is for everybody. The importance of knowing stuff and giving that to children has come to him through two personal examples. Firstly, as a child being made to go to church; he managed to get a good understanding of the bible. Secondly, through a retired Latin teacher who gave him Latin lessons; and he took an O Level in Latin.

When he had his English class at university – with students who had had a privileged education – he was able to go toe to toe. It is very difficult to understand English literature without an understanding of the bible. The accidental knowledge that he didn’t get from his secondary modern gave him access on an equal footing when in university.

It has become an issue for poor kids as you don’t give them stuff that is related to their backgrounds, and you don’t give them difficult stuff. Tony argued that we need to allow working class children to access the classics. At the moment we don’t give them stuff related to their background; nor do we give them difficult suff.

Knowledge is what you know, and it is good for you in itself; there doesn’t need to be a purpose in it. Education should stop pretending it can build a workforce. Knowledge has value in itself. Education is about knowing the mind of god.

Peter Hyman, Co-Director of Big Education and Co-Found of School 21

Knowledge is needed to pass GCSE exams.

Wisdom is knowing GCSE exams are crap; but you need to pass them to get to the next stage.

You need both but the wisdom to put it in some kind of perspective. It therefore needs an expansive form of education that is curious and handling things to make sense of it.

If you are just teaching knowledge it is only one 9th of an education. A balanced curriculum is balancing head, heart and hand. Being able to pass on the cannon and the classics is important. But you need to also enter into the conversation of humanity and wrestle with big ideas and themes, not just nuggets of information. It is about knowing the debates and applying knowledge.

Intersections and frictions between disciplines are where the interesting things happen; going on about core knowledge is doing students a disservice. Wisdom also comes from understanding yourself and your background.

There is nothing more tragic than the exam factory at the moment that you stop taking the creative subjects when you choose your options. 95% of children do no music, art or drama from the age of 14. The things that make us civilized human beings are being drilled out of the curriculum. The curriculum does not have space for you take it if you are not taking it as an exam subject. Learning to create is important. You can create meaningful beautiful work while you are at school at any age. The currency of the school should be what you create not exam grades.

A curriculum of head heart and hand transcends debate over knowledge. What people need for their sense of fulfilment is a balanced curriculum.

David Lambert, Professor of Geography Education, UCL Institute of Education

As a geographer he is interested in how we understand and encounter the world. Due to the challenge of climate; we (collectively) need lots of ingenuity; and wisdom, and they are not the same thing. David goes on to state: I am a great believer in building wisdom. Wisdom is the ability to think and act using knowledge, experience, understanding common sense and insight.

Need to be very cautious about what school can do; need to be very careful about what overclaiming education can do.

Need to be careful about the use of the term ‘main objectives’ – discreet, measurable, and short term. Lessons can have objectives, and exams can have objectives. Wisdom is not an objective; as objectives are staging points towards something less tangible. What about Wisdom or something more like it serving as our overarching curriculum goal.

Wisdom becomes very similar to capabilities. This approach must apply to individual subject components in a curriculum.

All teachers need to do something with the idea if wisdom is going to be our overarching goal. Teachers need to take responsibility for how content is taught, how it is sequenced and how they think students process in their context Teachers need to take back control. Teaching students someone else’s interpretation of what is significant inadequate. Teachers need to be in the business of knowledge building not knowledge delivering. We currently have too many complacent practitioners.

There is both the how, and the what. The what is what it means to be a teacher of a subject. The potential of knowledge building and the building of knowledge is so powerful. David make reference to Michael Young’s 3 futures.

Imagine young people who were able to think geographically about the Anthropocene, and how it might enhance the thinking and engage with the wisdom of the day.

Cat Scutt, Director of Education and Research, Chartered College of Teaching

Are we actually able to develops students who are wise? Or can we only develop that over time? Can an 18-year-old have wisdom – or does it take time. Is Wisdom individual or are we talking about building collective wisdom of society.

We can debate is it about knowledge and skills – is it important? The debate is not which matters more – but how we develop those. It is difficult to separate the what and how – and also the knowledge and skills. We need to talk about context and pedagogies.

When the debate is most polarised, they are talking about the hard to measure skills rather than the subject specific skills. The soft skills can be devolved through traditional teaching methods.

When we are debating skills and knowledge – it is also about thinking about the curriculum and pedagogy for teaching this. We need to think about what it is we want our students to have when they leave schools. Need to ensure our focus is high quality learning not just activities to engage pupils.

As Ofsted is more involved in curriculum, we need to ensure we are not moving from the pendulum swing just from skills to core knowledge and knowledge based curriculum.

It is about giving teachers wisdom, and knowledge to allow them to make good decisions.

Schools should be able to say this is what our curriculum is and why. Schools need to reflect on the key debate of what and why.

Questions

The second part of the event was questions from the audience to the panel; I did not take many notes from this section however a couple of points are below:

Peter – it is good if Ofsted are looking at a broader view of the curriculum. Schools that are exam factories are marked down will be a good move. All incentives for schools are still linked solely to exam results.

David – I don’t see the point of GCSE anymore; they are not as necessary as they distort education, experience, and students don’t leave school at 16 anymore. There is a lack of public trust in teachers; teachers should take more responsibility but there needs to be more trust and support.

The full debate is available on youtube to watch; and the event page is available here.

Notes on: Understanding the improved performance of disadvantaged pupils in London

This report came out in September 2015, and I printed it off to read about a year after it was published; and I am only now sitting down to read through it now, so it is now 25 months old. Working in high performing inner city schools it was of interest (although obviously not that much interest as I would have read it sooner!).

The report looks at evidence that London is an educational success story, but this success is not new and was present from the mid-1990s. The difference in the ethnic mix compared to other disadvantaged areas can explain only one-sixth of this increase. Looking at all factors the change is mainly attributable to gradual improvements in school quality rather than differences or changes in the effects of pupil and family characteristics.

The report sets some context relating to London; it is the 23rd largest city in the world; and 45% of Londoners come from a White-British background, compared to 80% across England and Wales. London is very different from the rest of the country in ways that could influence trends in educational performance.

There are also differences in the school provision in London compared to the rest of the country; due to the higher population density there are higher levels of choice and competition compared with other areas of the country. Teachers are younger and less experienced; there are higher levels of teacher pay, to cope with the higher cost of living, and there is relatively higher funding, to cope with the higher costs associated with London. However, a study quoted Greaves (2014) states that most of these details are longstanding.

The report then goes on to present what they call ‘basic empirical facts’:

Fact #1 – The performance of disadvantaged pupils in London in exams at age 16 has improved substantially, starting from the mid-1990s onwards.

Fact #2 – The characteristics of disadvantaged pupils in London are very different from those outside of London, and in ways that matter for pupil attainment.

Disadvatnaged pupils in inner London are much less likely to come from a white-British background, 13% in inner London, whereas 76% outside of London.

Fact #3 – Improvements in performance are not restricted to secondary schools; large improvements in primary school results can be seen from the late 1990s onwards.

Fact #4 – The London Effect is small at age 5, before growing between ages 5 and 11 when children are in primary school.

The next part of the paper goes into to provide statistical evidence to support these facts. The methodology is detailed and well laid out; though would be difficult for me to summarise in a meaningful way. The paper fails to provide a list of strategies or conclusive reasons for this increase; however, this is not the purpose of the paper.

The full paper can be read here: http://sticerd.lse.ac.uk/dps/case/spcc/wp21.pdf.

Research Ed National Conference 2017

This weekend I was lucky enough to attend the Research Ed annual conference, and as I work at the host school, I received a free ticket. The below is a brief summary of my chicken scratch notes – mainly for me to refer back to at a later date. Due to other commitments, I only stayed for the first 4 sessions. In the next few weeks, I hope to catch up with some of the other sessions that were videoed/blogged about.

The image below was shared by David Weston at the start of his session, the third I attended, and this is an important reminder about both ResearchEd and all professional development opportunities.

Session One – The Lean Department – Amir Arezoo

This session focused on the way that department leaders can work in a ‘lean manner’ focussing on the what is likely to have the biggest impact. Amir drew from his experience in engineering and explained that we should view education more systematically rather than simply intuitively.

The session began by setting the current education situation, constant change with uncertain staffing and funding. This desire for change leads to searches for panaceas; over time there have been a number of these APP, VAK, ICTAC, SEAL, all of which later fail or fail to deliver the desired impact. This is in part as they are not structural changes but instead ‘bolt-ons’.

This is in part due to the problem of waste, a cycle occurs:

  1. A new idea appears
  2. A plethora of resources are produced.
  3. Poorly realised, executed, or understood.
  4. Shoved to the back of the cupboard.
  5. People go back to what they know and understand.

Raising standards is notoriously hard; however, it is much easier to improve 10 things by 1%, rather than improve one thing by 10%. Success comes from accumulative advantage. It is important that ground rules are deinfed, establish core processes, and share cognitive boundaries.

All improvement strategies should feature a feedback loop – ensuring there is a mechanism to evaluate the strategy and look at its impact.

Amir then went on to talk about Lean Thinking talking about reducing waste (through time, money, and materials) and improving quality (through planning, creation and execution) to have optimal action.

This can be done though in part considering process and flow:

  • How actions are carried out
  • How problems are identified
  • How decisions are delegated
  • How information is shared
  • How data is obtained
  • How learning takes place

This should also allow a reflection on what takes the most time and intellectual challenge; this may include buying in resources to ensure teachers then are able to spend time in planning how to use them. Furthermore, questioning is the most important so time sould be spent on planning good quesitons.

Amir then went on to discuss the logarythmic nature of time, and considred the importance of hitting the difficult topics early so they can be revisited.

The next part of the talk discussed data driven approach and the importance of validating the data. This is important as if we base our actions on data developed on too much of a micro scale in a lesson situation it may not be representative of what would happen in an exam situation.

The talk concluded by reminding the audience to consider, teachers don’t perform ideas in isolation, and the best results come from, fixing the route for critical action, and ensuring effective communication.

Session Two – School Census – What you need to know – Jen Persson

Jen Persson campaigns for safe, fair and transparent use of data, particularly with relation to the national pupil database, which contains records of 23 million pupils and dates back to 1996. This data is collected through the national school census. This personal data is collected by schools and lots of data is not thought that much about, schools also have conflicting duties under their statutory obligations to submit data to the Department for Education and the data protection act. Schools need to be clearer about what happens to the data collected

Jen talked about examples of how personally identifiable information has been provided to Telegraph journalists, and even private tutoring companies from the Department of Education. The information that is shared in these cases is published in their data access log. However, they don’t list information about access from the Home Office and Police. This information is used by the home office who request data on up to 1,500 pupils a month to insist with their investigations.

This use of data is not safe, nor is it fair within the definition of fair as defined in the data protection act. There are four fields in the national student census that parents can refuse to provide:

  • Ethnicity
  • First Language
  • Country of Birth
  • Nationality

Jen discussed ways that schools can allow parents to refuse this data and the importance of people refusing this data; if the data becomes poor quality it will be less likely to be used this way.

Session Three – Toxic Schools and how to avoid running them – David Weston

David began by introducing his list of  features of Toxic Schools:

  • Low trust
  • Lack of improvement
  • Low clarity
  • Low morale
  • Poor communication
  • High monitoring
  • High Beaurocracy

David then went on to discuss research that identified key features of non-toxic or high performing schools.

  • School Culture
  • Peer Collaboration
  • High Order and Discipline

Also important (but less important)

  • Professional development
  • Teacher Evaluation
  • Principal Leadership

A thriving school will need all, particularly a clear culture. Further more staff should be involved in setting the goals rather than just knowing what they are. Leaders should engage in CPD and participate in CPD. It is important to avoid sunk cost bias – because something has been worked hard on does not necessarily believe that it is effective.

Weston then went on to talk about the importance of curriculum and shared language. However too often the focus is on lesson plans rather than the learning arc or scheme of learning.

The final point made about toxic schools is how damaging Appraisals can be, and the way that schools appraisals are typically carried out go against the recommendations of the chartered institutute of professioanl development, some key ideas are below:

  • Separate developmental and evaluative appraisal.
  • Most of your data is much less valid than you hope.
  • To make appraisal effective people need to be involved with their own targets.
  • Forward facing feedback – give people ways to improve their strengths
  • Target/goals that are outside teachers controls are damaging.

More information can be found here on the Teacher Development Trust website.

Session Four – What can we do about the growing Educational Divide in Politics? – Sam Freedman

Education has become the biggest predictor on how people vote. Sam went through some examples stating how in the Brexit vote education and age were important and linked, but education was most important. This report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation was referenced. He discussed that in the 2017 General Election class was not a major factor, people were more likely to vote Labour if they had a degree, and much more likely to vote conservative if they only have GCSE. The same was seen in the 2016 US election, with 67% of white voters without a degree voting for Trump, but only 47% of white voters with a degree voting for trump.

This is an area with a huge potential impact and should be viewed in the context of the increasing numbers of graduates in the United Kingdom.

1990 – 77,00

2000 – 243,246

2011 – 350,800

This is in part due to the increasing number of universities, 73 since 1990, and courses awarding degrees that may not have previously, but is also just due to the number of graduates increasing.

Freedman went on to share research that explained it was the status of employment that mattered rather than the income. For example, a tube driver earns more than a teacher, however teaching is considered a higher status profession.

Why does going to university make people more liberal – three potential theories:

  • Psychodynamic Model – university increases knowledge, creators self-esteem and psychological security meaning higher tolerance of difference.
  • Cognitive Model – improved reasoning means better able to think through new ideas and accept non-conformation.
  • Socialisation Model – meeting a wider range of people and socialise with more people makes you more likely to be liberal.

Sam also discussed some really interesting research about once an issue links with your values it is very difficult to use reasoning to change your mind, and he quoted a particular paper, Kahan et. al. here. I found this so fascinating that I don’t want to discuss what he said about the paper now as I want to read the entire thing and may blog about it separately. However, he said that although it is difficult to change people’s values through reasoning smarter people are better at cherry picking data to support their pre-existing view points.

The talk then quoted Runciman in the Guardian in 2016 – an article well worth reading here.

Implications for Education

  • Education drives polorisation.
  • Formal education becomes considered a negative by a large part of society.
  • Increasing polarisation at school level between parents and teachers – pupils caught between.
  • Social mobility creates tension between individuals and community success.

What can educators do about it?

  • Switch the vocational argument – its not about parity of esteem of qualification but what jobs are available to non-graduates.
  • Managing value clashes at the school levle – how do we help pupils understand underlying values rather than clashes over symbols of cutlural identity?
  • How do we build a sense of community into the concept of social mobility?

Pretty Good – or why we need Great Expectations in Education.

This poem was in ‘There are no shortcuts’ by Rafe Esquith, however was written by Charles Osgood in 1986. It is an interesting read and is an interesting explanation of why teachers should continually improve.

exam hall

Pretty Good

There once was a pretty good student,
Who sat in a pretty good class;
And was taught by a pretty good teacher,
Who always let pretty good pass –
He wasn’t terrific at reading,
He wasn’t a whiz-bang at math,
But for him, education was leading
Straight down a pretty good path.

He didn’t find school too exciting,
But he wanted to do pretty well;
And he did have some trouble with writing,
Since nobody taught him to spell.
When doing arithmetic problems,
Pretty good was regarded as fine-
5+5 needn’t always add up to be 10
A pretty good answer was 9.
The pretty good class that he sat in
Was part of a pretty good school;
And the student was not an exception,
On the contrary, he was the rule.

The pretty good school that he went to
Was there in a pretty good town,
And nobody there seemed to notice
He could not tell a verb from a noun.
The pretty good student in fact was
Part of a pretty good mob;
And the first time he knew what he lacked was
When he looked for a pretty good job.
It was then, when he sought a position,
He discovered that life could be tough,
And he soon had a sneaking suspicion
Pretty good might not be good enough.
The pretty good town in our story
Was part of a pretty good state
Which had pretty good aspirations
And prayed for a pretty good fate.
There once was a pretty good nation
Pretty proud of the greatness it had,
Which learned much too late,
If you want to be great,
Pretty good is, in fact, pretty bad.

Taken from:

There are No Shortcuts by Rafe Esquiththere are no shortcuts

The Framework for the National Curriculum

This document was published by the Department for Education on Monday. I have read this document in document in its entirety. There are a number of people that have commented on it that I have seen appear in my twitter feed, however I deliberately wanted to read the orignal document before reading others commentary. This is my summary of the document. This is a particularly useful document for anyone doing research into curriculum design and comparative education; it is a good source of references for further reading.

The document sets out two key some what contrasting aims for the reform of the National Curriculum. It states that the aim of the revised national curriculum should be to both give teachers more professional autonomy while at the same time being more prescriptive about what students should learn in terms of subject content. One of the opening principles states “Schools should be given greater freedom over the curriculum. The National Curriculum should set out only the essential knowledge (facts, concepts, principles and fundamental operations)” (Page 6).

This documents makes it clear that the National Curriculum should not set out the only information that is taught in schools; in fact it states “the National Curriculum should not absorb the overwhelming majority of teaching time in schools”.

The writers of the document support the government’s intention to re-write the National Curriculum so that it sets out a core of essential knowledge to allow more scope for curriculum development at school level.

Knowledge in the Curriculum

This document sets out the importance of knowledge; and particularly the interaction between knowledge and learners. This is important because knowledge does not exist in a vacuum and must be relavent to the students.

The document defines subject knowledge representing the accumulated experience of the past and the representation for the future. The concepts, facts, processes, and language, narratives and conventions of each subject constitute socially refined forms of knowledge – knowledge that is regarded as ‘powerful’. The interesting aspect of this will be later when the consultation of the National Curriculum revision looks at what knowledge should be included in each subject.

Aims and Purpose of the Curriculum

The authors of the report initially set out the challenges of writing a National Curriculum “pupils have fewer than 10,500 hours of compulsory lessons between the age of 5 to 16. This is just the amount of time estimated to be necessary to become expert in a single field e.g. playing the piano”.

The authors of the report also set out what schools are expected to conribute to students development:

  • Economic – the eduction of pupils is expected to contribute to their own future economic wellbeing and that of the nation or region;
  • Cultural – the education of pupils is expected to introduce them to the best of their cultural heritage(S), so they can contribute to its future development;
  • Social – the education of pupils is expected to enable them to participate in families, communities and the life of the nation; and
  • Personal  – the education of pupils is expected to promote the intellectual, spiritual, moral and physical development of individuals.

It is positive to see that one of the aims of the curriculum should be to promote the understanding of sustainability in the stewardship of resources.

The report goes onto state that the Programmes of study for all subjects should start with outlining the specific purposes of study in that subject and the key capabilities to be developed. I see this as an extension of the ‘importance statement’ contained within the current National Curriculum.

Structure of the School Curriculum

Arguably the most revolutionary part of the report discusses the changes to the structure of the school curriculum; the report begins by setting out the current situation followed by the authors suggestions and rationale for change.

They state that statutory assessment should be carried out by teachers at the end of each key stage; with the exception of Maths and English at the end of Key Stage 2 where there should be external testing.

The report puts further emphasis on a ‘local curriculum’ to support pupils in their studies alongside the national curriculum. The report states that this local curriculum can be then used to develop curriculum innovation and allow schools to develop specialisms.

The report then states that the breadth of the current national curriculum was broadly supported however the authors wanted to focus the existing curriculum on the essential knowledge only.

I agree with the authors assetion that Information Communicaiton Technology should be reclassified as part of the Basic Currciulum and should therefore permitate all National Curriculum Subjects. In the 21st century it is uneccsary to spend large amounts of time teaching pupils basic computer skills in isolation; this should be included in normal subject teacher. I do however feel strongly that it would be appropriate to teach specialised computing as a discrete subject; not however desktop publishing.

Positively for Geography the review recommends that Geography (and history); be added as a foundation subject for Key Stages 1-4; currently both subjects are foundation only at 1-3. This does not however meen that students should study for a GCSE in both Geography and History; it does in fact open the way up for other qualificaitons.

The authors justified their decision by statign that the existing arrangements narrow teh curriculum too early; and this foucsed breadth at Key Stage 4 complement the development of the EBACC.

The proposed curriculum requirements would therefore be as shown below:

The proposals also include splitting Key Stage 2 into a ‘lower key stage 2’ and ‘upper key stage 2’; the aim of this is to include more pace and ambition into Years 4 and 5.

There are also proposals to make Key Stage 3 two years and Key Stage 4 three years. However the authors of the report present a variety of different options for this. They do however state that the aim of this is not to have students sitting GCSE examinations a year early.

They cite one reason for this is a need to attempt to remove the ‘Key Stage 3 Dip’ when pupils regress from moving from primary to secondary.

Organisation of the Programme of Study

The authors state that the new revised programmes of study should be written in a year by year format rather than in a key stage format.

The authors present a number of advantages for this:

  • May support teachers by setting out subject progression requirements.
  • Suggests explicit expectations for each year.
  • Parents can be informed of annual curricular objectives by central government.
  • Publishers can produce explicitly targeted resources.
  • May facilitate deeper learning and understanding of key topics.(I am not sure I agree with this!)
Assessment and Pupil Progression
The report argues that there is a concern with England’s current assessment system; as it encourages the differentiation of learners through the award of levels to the extent that pupils come to label themselves in these terms. They go on to say that this does not achieve its aims but instead exacerbating social differentiation.
They expand on this by saying – this assumption that there are limits on what children are capable of learning – has had a negative influence on expectations of achievement and how learning and assessment is organised.
They argue instead for ‘high expectations for all’. They have exemplified ten ways that high expectations for all can be demonstrated:
  1. Presumption of capability for improvement.
  2. Maintenance of high exceptions.
  3. A focused curriculum with appropriate depth.
  4. Tangible learning objectives.
  5. Constructive feedback for all pupils.
  6. Valuing of effort.
  7. Resolute commitment to essential knowledge for all.
  8. Monitoring to record the attainment of pupils who are ‘ready to progress’
  9. Provision of pupil support to maintain progress.
  10. Engagement of parents and carers in authentic learning.
The report states that with a revised curriculum the current ‘best fit’ leveling approach would no longer be appropriate; and instead there should be a tracking approach to determine which elements of the curriculum they have adequately achieved and those which require more attention.
Oral Language within the National Curriculum
The report also addresses the use of oral communication within the curriculum. Although the report goes into detail about ways in which this could be addressed the key element is that oral communication should be promoted more widely as an integral feature of all subjects.
My Summary

On balance as a practising teacher I welcome the majority of the proposals. The real concern is subject content that will be included in the revised subject curriculum.

The complete report can be read on the Department for Education site here. I have also uploaded the report to my site.NCR-Expert Panel Report