Archive for the ‘News’ Category

Europe cops out on Rethinking education

December 5th, 2012 by Graham Attwell

“The youth unemployment rate is close to 23% across the European Union – yet at the same time there are more than 2 million vacancies that cannot be filled. Europe needs a radical rethink on how education and training systems can deliver the skills needed by the labour market.” So says the European Commission in their new strategy called Rethinking Education which is designed “to encourage Member States to take immediate action to ensure that young people develop the skills and competences needed by the labour market and to achieve their targets for growth and jobs.”

The actio0n proposed is less than radical and somewhat depressing: more focus on ‘learning outcomes; assessment methods need to be adapted and modernised; the use of ICT and open educational resources (OER) should be scaled-up in all learning contexts; teachers need to update their own skills through regular training; stronger links between education and employers; bring enterprise into the classroom.

The European Commission has very little power over education being mainly reduced to appealing to Member States to follow its lead. Yet with unemployment at crisis levels this was a chance for them to take a radical relook at the role of education in Europe. The list of measures (if they can be called that) above seem rather tired and are certainly not radical. A greater focus on learning outcomes and bringing enterprise into the classroom are going to do little to improve education, still less create teh jobs so desperately need by unemployed young people.

No ‘Team GB’ for education!

September 30th, 2012 by Jenny Hughes

The Wales Government has announced its plans to implement the recommendations of a report it commissioned earlier this year “Find it, make it, use it, share it: learning in Digital Wales.”  We are quite excited that Wales is one of the pioneers in developing a whole-country strategy for the promotion of digital technologies in school classrooms – including advocating the widespread use of mobile devices, a shift to a PLE rather than MLE focus and the use of social software for learning.  There are one or two things we disagree with, such as the heavy emphasis on a ‘national’ collection of resources, but the rest of the report is exciting, forward thinking and realistic.  There is a serious commitment to mass staff development at all levels – surely the biggest barrier to take up of new technologies in the classroom – including defining a set of digital competences for teachers. This report also recommends that these competences (personal AND pedagogic) be compulsory in ITT courses.

The other section of the report which will cause major ripples is the chunk entitled “External conditions for success” which seem to us to identify all of the brick walls which teachers come up against and suggests that they should be dismantled. I am going to quote the report in full because it is music to the ears of most of us involved with e-learning in schools.

Universal take-up of digital opportunities assumes that:

  • all learning providers, and indeed all classrooms, can connect to the internet at sufficient speeds to enable efficient use of digital resources
  • interface equipment – whiteboards, PCs, tablets, mobile devices, etc. – are available widely enough within learning providers to give quick and easy access to resources. ‘Bring your own device’ solutions may be appropriate here
  • learners and teachers are not prevented from using resources by general restrictions imposed by local authorities or learning providers on certain types of hardware (e.g. smart phones), software (e.g. ‘apps’) or web resources (e.g. Facebook, YouTube or Twitter)
  • learners and their parents/carers have adequate access at home (and increasingly on mobile devices) to ensure that technology-enhanced learning in the classroom can be replicated and deepened outside the learning provider. 

LEAs, take note!!

The main vehicle for turning the report into reality will be an organisation called the ‘Hwb’ (no, not a funny way of spelling Hub, ‘hwb’ means to promote, push or inspire). Its remit will be to lead, promote and support the use of digital resources and technologies by learners and teachers across Wales and create and develop a national digital collection for learning and teaching in English and Welsh.  Both Pontydysgu and the Taccle2 project in Wales are committed to doing what we can to support the Hwb and will make sure that all our resources and experience in the field are freely available.

The driving force behind it all is Leighton Andrews, the Minister for Education in Wales – with whose politics I usually disagree – but I am very happy to admit that he has come up trumps with this one!  He is knowledgable, committed and comes across as a genuinely enthusiastic technophile with an understanding of what education could look like in the future and a clear vision of how, in Wales, we are going to get there.  (“Just like Michael Gove!”, I hear my English colleagues say….).  I must admit, that even as a card-carrying member of a different party (byddwch chi’n dyfalu!), devolution has been all good in terms of education and we have had two excellent Ministers.   Look at the image on the top of this post and you may understand why we are looking forward to an increasing divergence and autonomy.  Team GB? No thanks!

 

 


 

What is going on at London Met?

September 4th, 2012 by Graham Attwell

The UK Border Agency (UKBA) revoked London Metropolitan University’s ‘highly trusted sponsor’ status. This means that London Met is no longer able bring in non-EU students into the UK to study under the ‘Tier 4’ visa scheme.

Students currently studying at London Met will have their visas withdrawn: at least 2000 face deportation within 60 days of official notification, unless they can find another sponsor. Effectively they must find a place on another course at another institution.

The UK Border Authority have justified their actions as being due to inadequate record keeping by the London Met administration who had failed to ensure overseas students had adequate English levels and were attending lectures. Universities themselves are now required to ‘police; overseas students in the UK. London Met claim their have been 14 changes in the requirements over the past few years and are seeking a judicial review of the withdrawal of their license.

London Met is seen by many of having been caught in a dispute between the English government’s Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) which has responsibility for higher education and keen to promote the sector as an export successes (to which fees from overseas students make up a large contribution) and Theresa May, Home Secretary,who is bound by David Cameron’s pledge to reduce net immigration to the  ‘tens of thousands’.

London Met is seen as an easy target, given its long running reputation for poor management.

Yet there may be a more sinister aim. According to wonkhe:  “Only last week, exaro news broke the story that London Met had issued a tender for a management consultancy to take over the running of all university activities besides teaching and the vice-chancellor himself.”

Without funding from overseas student London Met University is very likely to go bankrupt. And with the government seemingly committed to privatisation of universities this could be their big opportunity to welcome a private takeover of a major London university, presented as saving  the institution.

Sounds like conspiracy theory (See Martin Weller’s blog for more on this)? Perhaps, but I wouldn’t put anything past this Tory government.

 

 

The results of creeping privatisation

August 1st, 2012 by Graham Attwell

The reality of the political drive to privatise education in England is becoming real.

Young people have traditionally had access to careers guidance and advice through a national careers service, although under the past Labour government this was reorganised into a series of private companies, generally called Connexions, that bid for contracts based on client services.  Now, despite some requirements for schools to provide careers advice, the central contracts for Connexions services have been withdrawn.

Nearly every carers organisation has announced major redundancies, a number have simply collapsed. Most of the remaining services have rebranded as CX instead of the clumsy Connexions name.

However new business models remain elusive. Whilst competition for remaining public funding is fierce, many of the companies have formed alliances to bid for resources. Most are trying to sell services but this is resulting in an over crowded market, especially as media and other organisations start moving in.

Many are also considering offering paid for services. One careers company in south east England is now targeting their web site at parents and carers, offering careers interviews for their child at £50 or a psychometric test for £90 with a follow up meeting to look at the results for a further £30.

It can be argued that the quality of careers provision has been variable in the past, not helped by frequent changes in policy and funding mechanisms. And I suppose the level of charges will certainly put pressure on the organisations to provide high quality services. Yet access to these services will now be dependent on income and it is likely that the clients who have gained most from careers services in the past – NEETs and those with low educational attainments – will be the very ones with parents unable to afford such services.

And I fear this will also be so for other sections of education as privatisation moves forward.

It is important to note that the changes described above only apply to England – Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have maintained a public careers service.

New policies needed

May 9th, 2012 by Graham Attwell

There have been a series of initiatives over the last year or so to kick off a new debate about education. In part these have been driven by the student protests in many countries  following the economic collapse and recession. But the debate has largely focused on academic education – at school and university level.
Sadly there has been little consideration of vocational education and training policies. Yet with youth unemployment soaring to over 50 per cent in some European countries, education and training policy needs a fresh focus. And education and training cannot be examined in isolations. Education and training is affected by and in turn affects economic and labour market policies.

Neo-liberal, market driven policies have resulted in the present high levels of youth unemployment. Yet the politicians’ answers to the crisis – austerity and cutbacks and further privatisation – will only make matters worse.

The recent elections in France, Greece and Germany have led to new talk of a strategy for European growth. Any such strategy needs to include measures to promote education and training and to reduce youth unemployment. This means we need an alternative to the present unimaginative and failed European policies on education and training. Such an alternative can only come from within the education and training community. Yet sadly, there is no natural forum for such a discussion to take place.

We welcome your ideas.

Welcome Trust journal announcement a game changer?

April 10th, 2012 by Graham Attwell

The announcement that the Wellcome Trust has teamed up with the Max Planck Society in Germany and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in the US to set up a new open-access journal called eLife probably marks the turning point in the campaign for open access publishing. Yet what is surprising is how resilient the traditional journal publishing model has been, and how long it is taking to change it.

It is relatively simple to set up an open access web journal. And most open access journals share with traditional journals the same system of peer reviewing. Despite publishers claims that they need to charge relatively high costs for journals due to the support they provide for editing and reviewing, I am dubious. I have reviewed many submissions for both closed and open access publications and the differences seem to lie more in the difference of the effort, commitment and outlook of individual editors, rather than the support of the publishers.

Where the traditional publishers do spend, I suspect, is on marketing. Yet a series of reports have suggested that papers published in open access journals get more readers than those in traditional subscription based print journals. In terms of getting readers and feedback, I have tended to find web self publishing the most effective!

So why has is taken so long for open access journals to emerge? Firstly, I suspect is the deep adherence of educational culture and institutions to print media. The web is simply seen as second best. And most importantly, is the various academic rating lists for journals, which vastly favour the closed journals promoted by the academic publishers. Many of my friends would far prefer to publish in open access journals but feel forced to submit to educational publishers as they see it important for their future careers.

That is why the Welcome Trust announcement is so important. The publication of a range of prestigious open access journal is likely to open up the floodgates.

Yet the time it has taken for this to happen show the challenges for the wider open education movement.

Open Curricula – the last frontier?

January 21st, 2012 by Graham Attwell

Open Educational Resources have taken off over the last two years or so. Open courses – especially MOOCs – are becoming ever more popular. And there is a growing focus on how we can develop more open forms of assessment.

These movements reflect a move away from expert driven development processes based largely on commercial interests towards more open processes based on practitioner and leaner input.

Yet their remains one big barrier to open education which is largely untouched – curricula. Curricula tend to remain the prerogative of experts – be they university working groups, assessment and accrediting bodies or governments.

In a time of rapid social economic and technological change, curricula can quickly go out of date. And expert driven curricula processes are usually extremely slow to respond to such change.

We have the technologies to collectively develop curricula. Wikis are powerful platforms for sharing ideas and co-production. We have the ideas based on the practice of teaching and training. We have the communities. Of course we have to look at the processes of developing open curricula. But above all the experts have to be prepared to give up power. And that is the hard bit. Until then, curricula will remain the last frontier in open education.

 

Learning not brands

December 13th, 2011 by Graham Attwell

Amy Gahran has written an interesting article on the slow take off of QR codes. She quotes research by Archrival, a research group that focuses on youth marketing, which surveyed 500 students at 24 colleges and universities across the United States who “found that although about 80% of students owned a smartphone and had previously seen a QR code, only about 20% were able to successfully scan the example QR code they were shown.

Furthermore, about 75% said they were unlikely to scan a QR code in the future.”

One of the reasons advanced for the findings was that the process of accessing QR codes is too clunky and time consuming. So far I agree. Firing up the app and getting it to scan can be a pain.

But I would disagree with another of their conclusions. Archival suggest that QR codes need to provide “content that engenders a more meaningful connection to the brand or product.”

On the contrary I suspect it is just because QR codes are becoming associated with brands and products that we are reluctant to use them. In this respect context is critical. I will not use a QR code just to access some random brand or product web site. On the other hand if the code does something useful (and I know it is going to do something useful) like tell me the time of the next rain or bus or allow me to check in for my flight then I will and do use QR codes. And even if QR codes are thought to be an interim technology towards augmented reality and near field communication the same issues arise.

These findings reflect a growing tension between the development of social networks and services designed for us (the 99 per cent) and those for the one per cent or less of companies wanting to use social networks and advanced technologies for selling brands and products. The problem is that social network and service providers are more concerned with the one per cent than the 99. This has led to Facebook’s constant attempts to erode privacy in order to provide more data for advertisers. Even Twitter, which has perhaps been the most brand free of the networks has launched a re-design which seems primarily intended to facilitate brand advertising.

Such tensions will not go away. Web 2.0 was launched on the back of free service paid for by real (or hoped for) advertising revenue. Yet such revenues are finite. Ultimately we need to develop new and more robust business models which better reflect the nature and purpose of the services provided.

This does not mean there is no future for QR codes and other augmented mobile applications. There are a number of very convincing experiments of their use in education. But where they do work, in a social sense, the context and purpose is clear. And that is for learning, for interaction for creativity, not for pushing brands and products we do not want.

PISA vs Politics

November 4th, 2011 by Jenny Hughes

After a particularly tedious week and the prospect of a working weekend, Friday afternoon did not promise a lot. However, the last thing in the electronic in-tray today was to have a look at the entries for a competition Pontydysgu is sponsoring as part of the Learning About Politics project.

The competition was aimed at 8-14 year olds and asked them to write a story using any combination of digital media

“The theme for your story should be on a political event that has happened – or is currently happening – in Wales.
We are not just interested in the facts but on your opinions and impressions. For example, how do you feel about the event you are describing? Who do you agree with and why? What have been the consequences of the event you have chosen?”

Suddenly life got a lot better! The black and white world of education that I seem to have lived in for the last few weeks was in brilliant technicolour. The stories were variously funny, poignant, angry, persuasive and insightful. All of them were well researched, referenced, technically at a level that would put many class teachers to shame and above all, they entertained me and taught me a whole lot I didn’t know. Surely the definition of a good learning experience!

(And by the time I had settled down with a glass of wine and a cigarette, the learning environment seemed pretty good as well).

The thing that cheered me up the most was that these kids had opinions – well argued, well expressed and authentic. I was pretty rubbish at history (Was? ‘Am’ actually! More maths and physics, me…) but short of those exam questions which always started “Compare and contrast….” or “What arguments would you use to support …something ” I don’t ever remember being allowed to have a ‘real’ opinion on anything historical, still less encouraged to express them if I did. Especially not in primary school – I think I was doing post-grad before I earned that privilege.

Which brings me on to my main point! There is a great public panic at the moment about Wales’s performance in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) because they are two beans behind somewhere or other, half a Brownie point below an average or a nanopoint lower than last time. Puhlease!!

I am not being dismissive from a point of total ignorance here – some years ago I worked on the PISA statistics and the methodology for several months; I even remember doing a keynote presentation at European Conference for Education Research on PISA . Nor am I suggesting that standards do not matter. What I am saying is that the ‘Ain’t it awful’ media frenzy generated by the Smartie counting exercise that is PISA – and the politicians’ heavy-handed response – does a huge disservice to this generation of feisty, articulate and confident kids. And to the amazing generation of teachers that scaffold their learning.

Working in Pontydysgu, being a teacher trainer and a very active school governor means that I spend a lot of time in classrooms and my contention is that 99% of teachers are doing a fantastic job under pretty rubbish conditions. (Did I say this in a previous post? Yes? Well I don’t care – it needs to be shouted from the roof tops).

So what am I going to do about it? Firstly, I am tempted to rewrite the newspaper headlines showing that Welsh education is improving and is better than ‘average’. A claim I could easily back-up by a different manipulation of the PISA figures. Secondly, I could point out that the PISA survey takes place every four years but that changes at the lower age ranges – such as the introduction of the new 3-7 yr old Foundation Phase in Wales (which is awesome) will not impact on PISA results for another nine years so knee-jerk changes to ‘fix’ things seem a bit premature. Thirdly, I could argue that putting so much store on paper-based testing in Reading, Maths and Science as the measure of success of ‘a broad and balanced curriculum’ and ‘pupil-centred, experiential learning’ is a bit of an oxymoron. Fourthly, I could remind our government that Wales led the way on getting rid of SATs and league tables on the very valid grounds that comparisons are unfair because they are not comparing like with like. They funded research which showed standardised testing to be unhelpful, demotivating and did nothing to improve performance. So on a local and national level they don’t work – do they suddenly work on an international one? Or maybe I should become a politician and take on the establishment in the debating chamber – but Hey! I’ve just found there’s a whole new generation of politically astute, sussed and sorted 10year olds who are going to do that much better than I could. Fifteen years from now, it’s going to be move over Minister! Leighton Andrews – ‘your’ education system has much to be proud of.

P.S. I might put some of the entries on the Pontydysgu website over the next few weeks so that you can see for yourself. Any teacher interested in getting their kids to write and publish political stories too, have a look at the Learning About Politics website and get back to us.

What price pedagogy?

October 7th, 2011 by Jenny Hughes

Have just posted the video on studio schools in the UK. These Studio Schools people are practicing what we have all been preaching for years, they really are walking the talk and making the rhetoric a reality.

So why am I cynical? Geoff Mulgan says, crucially, “within the public system and publicly funded but independently run”. This presses all my buttons.

Trust schools

The Studio Schools are trust schools. Trust schools are local authority maintained schools and draw down public money from the local authority according to the same formula as any other community school.

However, trust schools are independent – owned by a trust with charitable status, run by their own governing body, employing their own staff, setting their own admissions criteria and owning their own land and buildings but with no accountability to the tax payers who fund them. And the publicly owned assets that were transferred to them, they are now in a position to sell.

The trust schools are having the best of both worlds, by tapping into the Local Authority for advice and support for ongoing maintenance, yet being independent from them in terms of funding and ownership of the assets. This, in my book, is called having your cake and eating it!

Whether or not the Studio Schools are doing a good job, the fact remains that I am paying – and I have no democratic channels, through my elected representatives to have any say in how my money is spent.

Moreover, the teachers in those schools do not benefit from the collective bargaining power that their unions have with the local authority public employers, their support staff (notwithstanding TUPE regulations) do not have any nationally agreed pay rates or conditions of service.

…and who pays?

I would also like to see the costing model. Mulgan assures us that Studio Schools run at ‘no extra cost’ – but what exactly does that mean? No extra cost to whom? Are we saying that there is no increase in gross expenditure on the education system (possibly) or are we saying the unit costs per pupil are no higher (unlikely)?

I would not be working for Pontydysgu if I was not interested in pedagogy but in my previous life I was a government officer responsible for running the education system in a large local authority and, significantly, managing the budget – endlessly balancing the statutory responsibility for providing quality education for EVERY child whilst also making the sums add up..

Although both trust and community schools are treated the same in terms of distribution of the formula budget, there are significant savings to be made by sharing services and resources between schools, rationalizing provision in particular areas and co-ordinating activities. The Studio Schools have opted out of this but thanks to the voluntary co-operation that exists between the community schools and the savings effected by their efforts, they, like other trust schools, reap the benefits. If trust schools such as the Studio Schools spread, there will ultimately be even less of a pot from which the local authority is able to distribute resources.

Back door to privatisation

Finally, I will stick my neck out and say you cannot run a school for the 300 pupils that Mulgan quoted at the same unit cost you can run one for 1000 pupils. This is not to say that large schools are, in terms of quality of education, better or worse than smaller schools – but they are cheaper. So if we grow the Studio School model in the future, we have to run small, technology-intensive schools ‘at no extra cost’ – presumably at no extra cost to the public sector. So where the issue of trust schools becomes even more entangled and contentious is with the introduction of Private Finance Initiatives – but that is the basis for a whole new editorial rant. Watch this space!!

Pedagogy v democracy

For the moment I will just conclude by saying firstly, I don’t actually think that Geoff Mulgan’s ideas around Studio Schools are in any way new or different. Learning through doing, through real projects, in groups, using technologies and so on have been part of mainstream thinking for years. What Studio Schools have done is make it happen. Ten out of Ten. Secondly, I think every school can be as good as a Studio School – we have the teachers with the skills and the enthusiasm to do it. What we don’t have are the funds to do it with or the commitment to public sector capital investment in community schools. And the solution is not the creation of unaccountable trust schools as a back door route to privatisation

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