Archive for the ‘policy’ Category

A good day for English education?

July 15th, 2014 by Graham Attwell

govetweet

The departure of Michael Gove as English education minister will be greeted with celebration and relief by most teachers and educationalists in the UK. But although his pronouncements and policies appeared as arrogant, narrow minded, reactionary and sometimes just bizarre, there was a direction and theme which underpinned such policies: privatisation. Gove and his policy advisers, not to mention friends and lobbyists, wanted to privatise schools in the UK. In a time when profits are hard to come by, public services represent a huge untapped market for capital. And the removal of Gove alone does not mean that the dream of giving education to the private sector has gone away.

Nicky Morgan will probably be less abrasive in pursuing such a dream. But she also comes from the right wing of the conservative party. As the Guardian reports:

Morgan, a trustee of the Conservative Christian Fellowship, voted against same-sex marriage partly because she could not reconcile it with her faith. This is likely to be the reason that Cameron split the women and equalities brief, handing the latter to Sajid Javid, the culture secretary, and leading to accusations that she was the “minister for straight women”.

She was privately educated at a girls’ day school before reading law at Oxford University and going on to become a corporate lawyer.

The Erasmus Plus programme, innovation and policy in Europe

December 19th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

We sometimes forget the role of politicians and policy makers as major stakeholders in education and training. Yet decisions, particularly at the level of structures, qualifications and funding have a major say in how education and training is provided in different regions and countries.

Despite the limitations on their power in the filed of education and training, in the last two decades the European Commission has come to play a major role through their sponsorship of various funding programmes. Probably the most important has been the Lifelong Learning Programme (LLP), sponsored by the DG Education and Culture. The LLP, which ended earlier this year has funded a series of sub programmes for projects and exchanges for higher education, vocational education and training , schools and adult education, with a transversal programme around policy, language learning and the use of technology for learning. And although sometimes seemingly over bureaucratic, in general the programme has worked well.

The major thrust of the LLP, as the name suggests, has been to promote innovation and social inclusion for lifelong learning. At the same time exchange programmes like Erasmus and language projects and the development of a European educational credit programme have promoted mobility and discourse between institutions, teachers and learners.

Now the EU has adopted a new programme, called Erasmus Plus. Although claiming to be a continuation and further development to the previous programmes, Erasmus Plus is very different. Apart from lip service, at first glance (of the over 200 page guidelines) there appears little focus on lifelong learning. With limited exceptions, innovation and the exchange of best practice also no longer appear to be a priority for Europe. Instead the major focus is on individual exchanges visits between institutions and institutions and companies. It is not difficult to guess why. The European Union is panicking at the level of youth unemployment and the potential instability this may cause. And to ameliorate the impact of youth unemployment they are diverting resources into producing temporary education and training opportunities. Spending on education and training is not a bad answer to the economic crisis. Indeed it is noticeable that whilst the UK and many other European countries have been cutting back on education spending and provision, Germany has been increasing the number of university places as a reaction to the crisis. However I cannot help thinking that the new Erasmus Plus programme is a short term answer and that moving away from proper funding of innovation and the development of new practices and pedagogies of teaching and learning represents a retrograde move. Of course, the LLP and successor programmes were only ever supposed to be additional and transnational programmes, on top of national and regional initiatives and funding. But the reality has been that in the face to such severe cutbacks in expenditure of educational research and development they have become an important source of funding for educational innovation in many European States.

It is possible that I am not properly understanding the new programme. I hope so. But at least on first reading, it seems to be a reaction to many different and countering lobby groups, with concessions made to the strongest of the lobbies. The only hope is that as it is put into action, some coherence and sense may emerge.

 

The cost of austerity and privatisation

April 22nd, 2013 by Graham Attwell

There is growing concern over the consequences of the English (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have different policies) government’s cutbacks and privatisation of  careers guidance for young people. The International Centre for Guidance Studies reports on a discussion paper called ‘Cost to the Economy of Government Policy on Career Guidance: A Business Case for Funding and Strengthening Career Guidance in Schools‘ from Lizzie Taylor who is an Careers England Affiliate Member. “The report claims that the economic consequence of current government policy on career education is an escalating annual cost to young people in reduced and lost earnings, reaching £676m p.a. in 2018 before dropping back slightly to £665 m p.a.2022. The total cost in reduced and lost earnings to young people in the period 2013 to 2022 is estimated as £3.2bn.”

A place of useful learning…

March 26th, 2013 by Cristina Costa

This is what, in my opinion, every University should be and what research should also support. This is also the vision and goal of the University of Strathclyde; the reason why it was created. And I must say that it goes very well with my own vision of what a University should be about. So I am well proud to be part of it now.

 

The University as “a place of useful learning” ~ Professor John Anderson

 

This Friday I attended the DIALOGUE symposium which Dr Rob Mark, my line manager, hosted at the University as part of his involvement in a project with the same name.

The DIALOGUE project is seeking to improve the links between research and practice in lifelong learning by promoting a dialogue between researchers, practitioners and policy makers.  The project is highlighting models of good practice as well as exploring ways of involving practitioners in research.  Through the sharing of knowledge and experience, it is hoped the project will lead to new ways of working and improvement in the transfer of knowledge both within and outside the university.
The project is also seeking to promote a research-practice dialogue around 4 themes:

Access and progression

Quality assurance and enhancement

Learning and guidance

New media

The event started with talks from a group of guest speakers who shared their views and experiences in bridging the gap between research and practice. Some of the talks inspired very interesting debates.

I especially liked Prof. Yvonne Hiller’s presentation. Not the least because she went straight to the point and talked about issues that we all face and which need addressing, especially at policy and strategy levels.
Professor Hiller, who launched the Learning and Skills Research Network in 1996, mentioned something that is no longer news to us, but which somehow still puzzle us:

practitioners don’t read academic journals!

I would say that there are different reasons to this: firstly, the culture of reading academic papers by non academic audiences is not there; secondly, access to academic papers by practitioners is very limited; thirdly, the register and style used in academic papers is probably more complex than it needs to be. Let’s face it, academic language is no one’s native language. (we could also ask, what do researchers read besides academic publications?)
The questions that immediately sprung to my mind:

why do researchers elect academic journals as their main means of dissemination?

Why don’t we choose other channels of communication that are more accessible?

Why aren’t all researchers blogging, for instance?

(…I had to introduce the technology, didn’t I?)

Unionization and New Media

Photo by truthout.org License: (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Open blogs allow to spread knowledge wider and farther. And bloggers can use a less formal, more fluid speech that may appeal to one of their main target audiences: practitioners. As a ripple effect practitioners could also blog and as a result of that both parties might as well find a common ground through which they can achieve a deeper understanding of each other. And if not blogs, why not networks, or whichever way it is easier for both parties to establish communication?
But none of this is as simple as it may sound.  A suggestion to something that seems so obvious these days, such as a blog, is not a quick win amongst researchers, and I would dare say also not necessarily that popular amongst practitioners.
As I tried to make sense during my PhD…. the use of the social and participatory web to produce and disseminate knowledge and create conversations implies a deep change not only in terms of practice but the philosophies that support those practices. Old habits die hard and blogging, for instance, doesn’t come easy. It becomes even harder when there is no strategic vision supporting it.
Take REF as an example (You’ll probably have a similar system in your country…?). Formal publications are a core element in this research assessment exercise. The *one* element people are more focused on and concerned about. Since there is no explicit (I mean, spelt out) mention on the way the participatory web can have a positive influence on how research is communicated, may reach larger and more diverse audiences, and/or generate impact (aside from being published on a webpage), no one (or shall I say only very few) are taking (what they consider) risks. People (are persuaded to) follow the same, old conventions, i.e, what has worked for them in the past. A publication in that hard to publish journal often does the trick. The problem is that the journal is  not only one that is hard to publish in, it is one that is hard to have access to! This does not generate innovative ways of working, and it certainly doesn’t close gaps between research and practice.
I guess what I am saying is that we not only need to make an effort for research and practice to meet, we also need to promote changes in policy if we want the partnership between research and practice to work. Change cannot come only from top-down nor merely from bottom-up. Both need to meet half way through the process of implementing measures that will inspire the development of new approaches and practices. For this to happen we need to achieve true communication between all parties involved. Policy included. This is what I hope the DIALOGUE project will achieve.

Can the Web be a place of useful learning?

I think it can help achieve that goal. Now the question remains:

How do we go from here?

Many more questions were raised during the symposium but I will leave them for future posts since this is already a long blogpost. Meanwhile I would love to know how you deal with these issues in your country/institution.

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.

The changing world of work

October 31st, 2012 by Graham Attwell

As explained in my previous post, last week I visited the Hub Westminster in central London. The Hub is located on the first floor of New Zealand house, the New Zealand embassy near Piccadily.

The hub website explains

We believe there is no shortage of good ideas to solve the issues of our time. But there is an acute lack of collaboration and support structures to help make them happen. The HUB was founded to address this need.

We set out to create spaces that combine the best of a trusted community, innovation lab, business incubator and the comforts of home. Spaces with all the tools and trimmings needed to grow and develop innovative ventures for the world. But above all, spaces for meaningful encounters, exchange and inspiration, full of diverse people doing amazing things.

The idea has been spreading like wildfire and resulted in the emergence of a global movement. To date, there are 25+ open HUBs and many more in the making, from London to San Francisco, Johannesburg, Melbourne, Sao Paulo and Milan.

Not withstanding the hype, the Hub was impressive. It consists of a large open working space, with different small work areas, and different meeting areas. there must have been some 60 or 70 people there last Friday. some spaces seemed to be for particular teams, others were hot desking areas.

True, the tech area is very different to more traditional industrial and craft sectors. But it illustrated to me how work is changing. And although European Commission policy recognises the centrality of small enterprises for future employment and economic growth, I think they have been slower to think through the implications of this in social and education policy terms.

Probably the biggest problem for micro and small businesses remains access to capital. and for micro businesses without fixed assets, and with a business plan that is yet to show profits, banks may be even more unwilling to lend that to start ups in more traditional areas of the economy.

Equally such start up businesses are heavily reliant of skills and knowledge. yet the traditional education and training systems seem slow to adapt to new and growing areas of the economy and to the needs for higher level continuing learning than traditional qualifications structures provide.

If SMEs are to play such a key role they are going to need state support. The present EU policy seems to be based on reducing legislation and providing targeted help. Yet the ‘system for targeted help may be to inflexible and slow to meet real needs on the ground. I am also unconvinced that merely exempting SMEs from employment legislation is the right answer. Germany has some of the toughest employment legislation in Europe, yet has a record of thriving SMEs.

One of the issues may be the level of decision making and the forms that decision making takes. More transparency and social involvement in decision making processes could improve the quality of support for SMEs. equally there is a need for more localised economic planning. This, in turn, means better access to data and ideas for those responsible for such planning.

I am not arguing against private sector initiatives to support SMEs and job creation. But I would argue that the public sector has a key role to play and that we need more democratic and open processes if that support is to be effective.

Similarly, we need to re-look at social systems to see how they can be adapted to changing patterns fo work including access to food and recreation systems, transport, nursery provision and education and training.

 

 

Policy, practice, economies and SMEs

October 24th, 2012 by Graham Attwell

I spent the morning looking at EU policy on Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). It was pretty hard going – after list of different measures together with endless reviews (mainly asserting how successful the policies had been followed by announcements of new measures to deal with the things that had not worked).

But policies are important – especially in education and training and in areas of economic and social policy where markets alone are clearly failing – although it is difficult to think of any area where markets are succeeding! One of our first tasks under the Learning Layers project which starts on the 1st of November will be to undertake a macro level review of the environment in which SMEs in Europe operate. This will be background research to help us develop a User Engagement Model and Guidelines for best practice to inform the work in developing technologies to support informal learning in the medical and building and construction sectors.

Here are a few things I found out.

SMEs are important

Ninety nine percent of all European businesses are SMEs. They provide two out of three of the private sector jobs, contribute to more than half of the total value-added created by businesses in the EU and account for 99.8 per cent of non-financial enterprises in 2012, which equates to 20.7 million businesses.

The definition of an SME is policy driven

The EU definition of an SME has changed three times in the last twenty or so years. The European Commission currently  classifies medium sized enterprises as having less than 250 employees and a turnover of less than Euro 50 million or a balance sheet total of less than Euro 42 million. Small enterprises have less than 50 employees and a turnover of less than Euro 10 million or a balance sheet total of less than Euro 10 million, whilst micro SMEs have less than 10 employees and a turnover of less than Euro 2 million or a balance sheet total of less than Euro 2 million.

In reality the definition is designed to allow or block access to funding and other support to different sized organisations. It does not have any particular research significance.

There is limited academic research into SMEs

Despite the obvious economic importance of SMEs there is surprisingly little economic research. And much of what research there is seems to be based on unproven assumptions about for instance employment generation potential or intrinsic innovation.

SMEs and regulation

EU policy has focused on vertical measures designed to address a particular market failure and horizontal measures to improve the business environment. In recent years there has been a major push to exempt micro-enterprises from EU legislation or introduce special regimes so as to minimise the regulatory burden on them. Yet it is in the German speaking countries – those with higher levels of labour market regulation – that SMEs have been most successful during the economic crisis. And conversely in countries like Latvia which have highly deregulated economies SMEs have done very badly in the recession.

Work based learning and apprenticeship

At an overall policy level the EU has stressed the need for higher levels of qualifications and education and training as important tot he growth and competitiveness of SMEs, whilst introducing a common qualification framework to promote mobility. Until recently it has paid little attention to work based learning or apprenticeship. But once more – and of course there is no proven causal link – it is in those countries with strong apprenticeship systems that SMEs have been most successful.

More to follow ….

 

 

The problem – a major shortage of jobs

October 19th, 2012 by Graham Attwell

We are constantly being told that we have to improve our employability skills and qualifications for finding employment. Yet whilst more qualifications may help in getting a job, from a policy perspective if ignores the obvious. There is simply a shortage of work.

New research from the UK Joseph Rowntree Foundation explores the difficulty of job searching for young people seeking low-skilled work in three areas in England and Wales. Their overall finding is that the main problem for disadvantaged young people looking for work is fundamental – a major shortage of jobs.

Other key findings include:

  • Over two-thirds of applications (69%) received no response at all.
  • 78% of the jobs applied for paid under £7 an hour, while 54% offered the minimum wage. Only 24% of the vacancies offered full-time, daytime work.
  • In the weak labour market, 10 jobseekers chased every job compared to five jobseekers in the strong one.
  • Jobseekers who do not have high-speed internet at home are at a substantial disadvantage and can only search for jobs sporadically, rather than the daily basis that is required.
  • Applications sent a week after jobs were first advertised were half as likely to receive positive responses as those sent in the first three days.
  • The research found there was strong evidence that good-quality applicants from neighbourhoods with poor reputations were not more likely to be rejected by employers.
  • However, employers expressed a preference for local candidates with easy journeys to work.

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!

 

 


 

Investing in education is important

August 15th, 2012 by Graham Attwell

For a long time we have said that investing in education is key to employment and to the future of our communities and society. The trouble is we have not been able to prove it. Some comparative studies have suggested the higher levels of investment in high quality initial vocational education and training in Germany as opposed to the UK is because German companies have a longer term accounting for the returns on investment. In turn, this may be because of the higher proportion of industrial capital in Germany whilst in the UK investment capital is much higher.Equally Return on Investment (ROI) studies are usually look over a relatively short period. Also such studies are generally conducted on a micro level – looking at the return on investment for individual enterprises, rather than on communities or society as a whole.

A new UK study by the Centre for Cities provides a fascinating new insight.

As their web site explains: “The research, which uses Census data to understand the economic stories of our cities in 1901, also compares how cities have progressed across measures like population, employment, and wages to understand how some cities have become more successful than others.”

The report, Cities Outlook 1901, “highlights the extent of the long term scarring effect that poor skills can have on a city and the people who live there.  The research shows that the skills spectrum across cities in 1901 is mirrored in their economic strength today.  Seven out of eight of the best performing cities today had above average skills levels in 1901; while 80% of cities with vulnerable economies in 2012 fall into the bottom 20 cities for skills levels in 1901.

Skills, they say, “are the most important factor determining long-run urban success, and therefore are a key area for policy intervention.”

The policy implications drawn from the report are quite general and modest. But they are important, nevertheless.

Cities Outlook 1901 illustrates the way that lack of investment is compounded over time. Failure to invest in skills or infrastructure in 1901 had knock-on long-term impacts on a place and its people over decades,while targeted investment in infrastructure and ongoing investment in skills succeeded in helping some places and people improve performance.

For policymakers seeking to learn lessons from the past when confronting today’s economic challenges, three themes stand out:

1. Short-term cuts in expenditure on the key drivers of urban success are likely to result in a big bill in the medium to longer-term.

2. Skills are the biggest determinant of success for cities, and are critical to the life chances of individuals.

3. Targeting investment in infrastructure can have a significant impact upon the economic prospects of a place.

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    News Bites

    Consultation

    Diana Laurillard, Chair of ALT, has invited contributions to a consultation on education technology to provide input to ETAG, the Education Technology Action Group, which was set up in England in February 2014 by three ministers: Michael Gove, Matthew Hancock and David Willetts.

    The deadline for contributions is 23 June at http://goo.gl/LwR65t.


    Social Tech Guide

    The Nominet Trust have announced their new look Social Tech Guide.

    The Social Tech Guide first launched last year, initially as a home to the 2013 Nominet Trust 100 – which they describe as a list of 100 inspiring digital projects tackling the world’s most pressing social issues.

    In  a press relase they say: “With so many social tech ventures out there supporting people and enforcing positive change on a daily basis, we wanted to create a comprehensive resource that allows us to celebrate and learn from the pioneers using digital technology to make a real difference to millions of lives.

    The Social Tech Guide now hosts a collection of 100′s of social tech projects from around the world tackling everything from health issues in Africa to corruption in Asia. You can find out about projects that have emerged out of disaster to ones that use data to build active and cohesive communities. In fact, through the new search and filter functionality on the site, you should find it quick and easy to immerse yourself in an inspiring array of social tech innovations.”


    Code Academy expands

    The New York-based Codecademy has translated its  learn-to-code platform into three new languages today and formalized partnerships in five countries.

    So if you speak French, Spanish or Portuguese, you can now access the Codecademy site and study all of its resources in your native language.

    Codecademy teamed up with Libraries Without Borders (Bibliotheques sans Frontieres) to tackle the French translation and is now working on pilot programs that should reduce unemployment and bring programming into schools. In addition, Codecademy will be weaving its platform into Ideas Box, a humanitarian project that helps people in refugee camps and disaster zones to learn new skills. Zach Sims, CEO of Codecademy, says grants from the public and private sector in France made this collaboration possible.

    The Portuguese translation was handled in partnership with The Lemann Foundation, one of the largest education foundations in Brazil. As with France, Codecademy is planning several pilots to help Brazilian speakers learn new skills. Meanwhile in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the company has been working closely with the local government on a Spanish version of its popular site.

    Codecademy is also linking up up with the Tiger Leap program in Estonia, with the aim of teaching every school student how to program.


    Open online STEM conference

    The Global 2013 STEMx Education Conference claims to be the world’s first massively open online conference for educators focusing on Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, and more. The conference is being held over the course of three days, September 19-21, 2013, and is free to attend!
    STEMxCon is a highly inclusive event designed to engage students and educators around the globe and we encourage primary, secondary, and tertiary (K-16) educators around the world to share and learn about innovative approaches to STEMx learning and teaching.

    To find out about different sessions and to login to events go to http://bit.ly/1enFDFB


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