Introduction

    Welcome to the Wales Wide Web

    October 25th, 2007 by Dirk Stieglitz

    Wales Wide Web is Graham Attwell’s main blog. Graham Attwell is Director of the Wales based research organisation, Pontydysgu. The blog covers issues like open-source, open-content, open-standards, e-learning and Werder Bremen football team.

    You can reach Graham by email at graham10 [at] mac [dot] com

    Wales Wide Web

    Issues in developing apprenticeship programmes: UK and Spain

    May 22nd, 2018 by Graham Attwell

    soundtechAfter years of running down apprenticeship schemes through a policy focus on mass university education, the UK, in common with other European countries, has in the past few years turned back to apprenticeship both as a strategy for providing the skills needed in the changing economy and as a way of overcoming youth unemployment especially or those with low school attainment.

    The turn to apprenticeship has gone through a number of phases. In its earliest incarnation there was a tendency to just label any vocational work based programme as an apprenticeship. This did nothing for the reputation of apprenticeships either with young people or with employers and there was widespread criticism of the quality of many of the courses on offer.

    Two years ago, the government undertook yet another shakeup of the apprenticeship programme, introducing a training levy for large companies and placing a focus on higher level apprenticeships including degree programmes.

    Yet this reform has also run into problems. Despite setting a target of three million new apprenticeships by 2020, there was a near 27% fall in the number taking up trainee posts in the last quarter of 2017.

    The number starting apprenticeships dropped to 114,000 between August and October, down from 155,700 in the same period in 2016. That followed a 59% drop in the previous three months after the introduction of the apprenticeship levy in April last year.

    The biggest drop came in “intermediate” apprenticeships, the basic level, which dropped 38% to 52,000. The highest level of apprenticeships – known as degree apprenticeships – rose nearly 27% to 11,600. Schemes for adult apprentices were worse affected than for those young people, falling by just over 30% compared with 20%.

    Last week, the UK House of Commons Education Select Committee heard evidence from the Further Education minister Anne Milton, the quality inspectorate Ofsted, the Institute for Apprenticeships and the Education and Skills Funding Agency on the quality of apprenticeships and skills training.

    What seems remarkable from the TES report on the issues emerging from the meeting is how much they parallel problems in other European countries attempting to develop new apprenticeship systems, such as Italy and Spain. Indeed, nearly all of the issues also emerged in our study on apprenticeship in Valencia, Spain, all be it in different forms. This first article provides a quick summary of some of the issues raised at the House of Commons, together with a look at their resonance in Spain. In later posts I will look at some of the issues separately, particularly in reference to developments in the Dual System in Germany.

    Higher level apprenticeships

    According to the TES, high up the agenda were degree apprenticeships. While degree apprenticeships may raise the prestige of apprenticeship funding, this does little for the lower skilled young people looking for what in the UK are called intermediate level qualifications. Similarly, in Spain the new FP Dual apprenticeship programme has gained biggest traction at a higher apprenticeship level, demanding good school examination results for entry.

    Despite the fact that Spain has a decentralised regional system for approving new apprenticeship programmes and the UK operates a national system, in both countries there seems to be significant issues around the level of bureaucracy in getting approval for new programmes and for the management of programmes.

    Judging quality

    In both countries too, the quality of apprenticeship programmes appears to be variable. Paul Joyce, deputy director for FE and skills at Ofsted, said there was a “very mixed picture” in terms of the quality of apprenticeships, adding: “It is certainly not a universally positive picture in terms of quality.” He said that of those providers inspected so far this year, “round about half are ‘requiring improvement’ or are ‘inadequate’, so it’s a very mixed bag”.

    In Spain with no inspection system and few attempts at any systematic evaluation it is difficult to judge quality. Anecdotal evidence suggest also a “very mixed picture” in part due to the lack of training for trainers.

    The role of Small and Medium Enterprises

    The House of Commons Select Committee heard from Keith Smith, director of apprenticeships at the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), who said there was an aspiration to give employers more control in the system.

    He added: “For small businesses, we need to be really careful we provide them with the right support and infrastructure to do that. They’re not the same as big levy-paying employers, they don’t have the same back-office support.

    “We’re trying to design this very much with micro-businesses in mind. So, if it works for micro-businesses, it will work for all small businesses.”

    Despite that, there would appear to be little take up from small businesses at present, possibly due to lack of knowledge about the new system, or because of the bureaucracy involved.

    Similarly in Spain, there is limited take up by small businesses, Whilst in reality vocational schools are in charge of the system, the curriculum for apprenticeship programmes is developed in partnership between the schools and the companies.

    More support needed for disadvantaged

    Apprenticeships and skills minister Ms Milton said she will do what she can to break down barriers for disadvanataged people, including lobbying other ministers on issues such as travel discounts, an apprentice premium and the benefits system. After education secretary Damian Hinds yesterday refused to commit to the Conservatives’ manifesto pledge of transport subsidies for apprentices, Ms Milton was also coy on the issue.

    In Spain there is continuing confusion over support for apprentices. With the adoption of the FP Dual system largely in the control of the regional governments, different regions have different policies, some stipulating pay for apprentices, some of training allowance and others not. Similarly, in some regions transport is paid and in others not. Sometimes it depends on agreements between individual employers and vocational schools.

     

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    Academic Archers: abstract for the 2019 conference

    May 18th, 2018 by Graham Attwell

    Archers Logo Wheat Colour Long.jpgFor years, Jenny Hughes and I have been promising ourselves to submit a paper for the Academic Archers Conference. And this year we have finally got our act together. You can read the short abstract below. But first, for non UK readers what is the Archers? According to Wikipedia:

    The Archers is the world’s longest-running radio soap opera. The British production, which has aired over 18,600 episodes, is broadcast on Radio 4, the BBC‘s main spoken-word channel. Originally billed as an everyday story of country folk, it is now described as a contemporary drama in a rural setting.

    Five pilot episodes were aired in 1950 and the first episode was broadcast nationally on 1 January 1951. A significant show in British popular culture, and with over five million listeners, it is Radio 4’s most listened-to non-news programme. With over one million listeners via the internet, the programme holds the record for BBC Radio online listening figures.

    The Academic Archers is an experimental form of academic community with The Archers as a lens through which wider issues can be explored. The web site (which includes videos from the 2018 conference) explains: “As a community we share our knowledge of the programme, our research interests, and a lot of laughs, creating the academic field if you will, of Ambridgeology. In all that we do, are values are to be ‘curious, generous and joyful’.”

    And so on to our abstract:

    Education and careers in the Archers viewed through the lens of gender and class

    The paper will explore attitudes to education and educational participation and achievement in The Archers through the lens of gender and class.

    There has never been a teacher in the cast of the Archers. The nearest is Jim, but as a retired Classics professor, he is something of a parody. Does the Archers have a problem with education?

    Attitudes to education and to the choice of future career are largely determined by class. There’s the split between the cathedral school and the state school. Shula and Elizabeth’s kids attend the Cathedral school, the Brookfield children the other. Ruari is so precious he is a boarder – too good for the Cathedral school?

    Higher education remains a relative rarity in Ambridge. Phoebe, Alice and Pip are the exceptions, although the Fairbrother’s rugby playing background suggests they too may have attended university. Apprenticeships are for the less academically able, such as Johnny.

    Parental background largely accounts for choice of career. Few offspring have flown the nest to a completely new occupation. Indeed, it is notable that Ambridge still lacks a single person working in Information Technology.

    And what of children with SLD? The only child with Down’s Syndrome was ‘removed’ from Ambridge to the big city to better meet her educational needs despite educational policy promoting integration in local, mainstream schools?

    The question is to what extent The Archers reflects changing attitudes to education in rural areas of the UK and continuing divisions through class and gender?

    About the authors

    Both Jenny Hughes and Graham Attwell are lifelong Archers listeners. They work for Pontydysgu, an educational research organisation based in Pontypridd. Their research includes the training of teachers, the use of technology in the classroom and careers education.

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    Coding for the young (and not so young)

    May 16th, 2018 by Graham Attwell

    It is encouraging to see more courses being developed for young people to learn to code. The latest comes from the Technical University of Graz who are s starting a MOOC about coding with kids (in English) using Pocket Code in June.

    The course is designed for children and young people (age group 10-14 years) as well as teachers of all subjects. The main content includes creating your own games, interactive animations and apps with Pocket Code. At first, the structure and functionality of the app get presented. The participants learn how to use basic programming concepts such as conditionals, variables, events or parallelism. It is up to the children whether they take the course on their own or together with their parents.

    Free registration is now open.

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    Coming soon – Pontydysgu.eu

    May 15th, 2018 by Graham Attwell

    We are well under way redesigning the Pontydysgu website. It is not so easy.

    According to the archive the present site was launched in September, 2006. The WordPress site superseded on an older blog, the Wales Wide Web which was based on Plone and was itself three years old. We managed at that time to manually download at least some of the old post and reload them to the new WordPress site. WordPress was very different in 2006. It was still primarily a blogging site and to create a more magazine look, we had to manually code the different pages using post categories. According to the dashboard there are now 2330 posts, 93 pages and goodness knows how many links and images as well as multimedia files hosted on Pontdysgu.org. And Akismet claims it “has protected your site from 1,509,125 spam comments already”!

    For the new site, we have chosen to use the WordPress Sense theme, preserving the magazine look. Sense seems more of a framework than a theme, with huge amount of functionality, which we are trying to get our heads around. We have designed on paper a new structure fr the site which will hopefully make it easier to find things. Once we have the menus in place we can begin the process of migrating old content to the site. Although WordPress supports XML export and input that does not really solve the problem. As I said before we used categories or allocating posts to different pages. But was also used categories as well categories. And there are now over 120 of them. There is a plugin to convert categories to tags, which is what the non-navigational categories more properly are. But we still somehow have to try at least semi automatically to get the old content onto the new navigation structures.

    We also need to move the attachments and pictures over to the new site. And I guess we should take the opportunity to check for broken links and try to repair the. I am betting there will be a lot by now – many of which will be due to sites no longer existing.

    Of course some of our plugins have aged over time. Our podcasts are supported by Podpress which no longer seems to be supported. So all those will need moving to a more modern plugin.

    And so it goes on. We don’t have a release date yet, but I would like to get something up and running in the early summer. We will keep you updated with progress and will shout for help if we get stuck!

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    Proxies, learning, deschooling society and annotation

    May 11th, 2018 by Graham Attwell

    Ivan_Illich_drawingSipping a glass of wine on the terrace last night, I thought about writing an article about proxies. I’ve become a bit obsessed about proxies, ever since looking at the way Learning Analytics seems to so often equate learning with achievement in examinations.

    But then by chance this morning I ended up looking at the text of Ivan Illich’s 1969 publication ‘Deschooling Society‘. And I found in the first chapter Illich talks about about how we “confuse teaching with learning, grade advancement with education, a diploma with competence, and fluency with the ability to say something new.

    He goes on to say pupils’ “imagination is “schooled” to accept service in place of value. Medical treatment is mistaken for health care, social work for the improvement of community life, police protection for safety, military poise for national security, the rat race for productive work. Health, learning, dignity, independence, and creative endeavour are defined as little more than the performance of the institutions which claim to serve these ends, and their improvement is made to depend on allocating more resources to the management of hospitals, schools, and other agencies in question.”

    This seems an apposite comment on how the use and analysis of big data is being developed in the present period.

    I stumbled on the Illich quote from a Twitter link to an exercise on the CLMOOC lets be creative together website. They ask “What would Ivan Illich think about CLMOOC?” and go on to suggest “we find activities like this all the more enjoyable and enriching when a variety of voices join the conversation. So this is an open invitation to the internet to join us as we use Hypothes.is to annotate an online copy of Deschooling Society together.”

    I have not seen Hypothes.is before but it looks pretty nifty. I have never understood just why collective annotation has never quite taken off. It seems to me a great format for sharing and developing knowledge together. And I think Illich would have liked it.

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    Living in an Algorithmic World

    May 4th, 2018 by Graham Attwell

    This video is from Danah Boyd’s opening keynote for the re:publica 18 conference. Although it is an hour long it is well worth watching. Danah says “Algorithmic technologies that rely on data don’t necessarily support a social world that many of us want to live in. We must grapple with the biases embedded in and manipulation of these systems, particularly when so many parts of society are dependent on sociotechnical systems.” That goes for education just as much as any other part of the social world.

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