Archive for the ‘News’ Category

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Students currently studying at London Met will have their visas withdrawn: at least 2000 face deportation within 60 days of official notification, unless they can find another sponsor.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

Cognitive Dissonance?

September 25th, 2011 by Graham Attwell

For years politicians have been harping on about the importance of education to future economic and social development. New technology and changing means of production, require, they say, higher levels of qualifications and lifelong learning. We are told we are entering a knowledge society where production is dependent on the competence of the workforce. Enterprise’s can only remain competitive if they are innovative and innovation in turn is reliant on individual and organisational learning.

So, with the present economic crisis, we would expect increased attention and investment in education and training. But quite the reverse. Just as in previous recessions, one of the first things to be cut is training. Worse, as governments slavishly follow the neo liberal policies which led to casino capitalism and the collapse of the world banking system, expenditure on education is being cut. Social equity and access to education no longer a priority as the UK government invokes a stealth policy to privatise education. Education is cast as no longer a societal goal but a private investment for private return on investment.

In the short term the obsession with neo liberalism risks a double dip recession, the collapse of the Euro and a prolonged depression. In the longer term the cuts in education not only exclude thousands from opportunities to learning, but endanger future innovation and economic and social development.

Did the politicians believe their own rhetoric about the importance of education? Possibly. But it seems only to have been 0nly rhetoric, to be cast aside when the greater priority of protecting the interests of the wealthy intervenes.

Educational achievement is tied to social class

August 25th, 2011 by Graham Attwell

The latest Labour Force Survey statistics show 11.3% of British adults do not have any qualifications. In England, the figure is 11.1%, in Wales it is 13.3% and in Scotland 12.3%. but these overall figures hide wide variations. According to UCU, the college lecturers’ union, people living in Newcastle upon Tyne Central are twice as likely to be unqualified as their neighbours in Newcastle upon Tyne North.

Of the 20 constituencies with the highest percentage of people with no qualifications, the West Midlands accounts for eight, and has four in the top 10. There is a clear east-west divide in London, the union found: of the 20 worst-performing constituencies in the capital, three-quarters are in the east.

You do not have to be a statistical or sociological genius to understand what these figures mean. The areas with the highest levels of qualification are the richest areas, the areas with lowest are the poorer areas with higher levels of unemployment and social exclusion. In other words levels of achievement are closely bound to social class.

And it also is not difficult to predict that the present UK government policies,  increasing student fees at many univeristies to £9000 a year, abolishing student maintenance grants and reducing funding for vocational education will only excaerbate these divides.

Despite their claims that they wish to promote equal educational opportunity it is hard not to think they really don’t care.

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    News Bites

    MOOC providers in 2016

    According to Class Central a quarter of the new MOOC users  in 2016 came from regional MOOC providers such as  XuetangX (China) and Miríada X (Latin America).

    They list the top five MOOC providers by registered users:

    1. Coursera – 23 million
    2. edX – 10 million
    3. XuetangX – 6 million
    4. FutureLearn – 5.3 million
    5. Udacity – 4 million

    XuetangX burst onto this list making it the only non-English MOOC platform in top five.

    In 2016, 2,600+ new courses (vs. 1800 last year) were announced, taking the total number of courses to 6,850 from over 700 universities.

    Jobs in cyber security

    In a new fact sheet the Tech Partnership reveals that UK cyber workforce has grown by 160% in the five years to 2016. 58,000 people now work in cyber security, up from 22,000 in 2011, and they command an average salary of over £57,000 a year – 15% higher than tech specialists as a whole, and up 7% on last year. Just under half of the cyber workforce is employed in the digital industries, while banking accounts for one in five, and the public sector for 12%.

    Number students outside EU falls in UK

    Times Higher Education reports the number of first-year students from outside the European Union enrolling at UK universities fell by 1 per cent from 2014-15 to 2015-16, according to data released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency.

    Data from the past five years show which countries are sending fewer students to study in the UK.

    Despite a large increase in the number of students enrolling from China, a cohort that has grown by 12,500 since 2011-12, enrolments by students from India fell by 13,150 over the same period.

    Other notable changes include an increase in students from Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia and a fall in students from Saudi Arabia and Nigeria.

    Peer Review

    According to the Guardian, research conducted with more than 6,300 authors of journal articles, peer reviewers and journal editors revealed that over two-thirds of researchers who have never peer reviewed a paper would like to. Of that group (drawn from the full range of subject areas) more than 60% said they would like the option to attend a workshop or formal training on peer reviewing. At the same time, over two-thirds of journal editors told the researchers that it is difficult to find reviewers

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