Archive for the ‘POLITICS project’ Category

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.

Countering right wing ideology and blind prejudice

August 16th, 2011 by Graham Attwell

I have spent many years living in Pontypridd, in the South Wales Valleys. During this time I also spent several years living in social housing on a housing estate where many people were unemployed. Nealy everyone I knew who was unemployed wanted to work. True, some of them suffered from chronic illness or disability – all too often caused by depression. But most simply couldn’t get work. Many had few qualifications.There were also a considerable number of single parents, unable to work due to childcare responsibilities.

People were reliant on social benefits to feed and cloth their children – and yes to go on an occasional night out. But then as now it was very hard to survive on benefits. however families helped out plus there was generally (not always) a sense of solidarity and community support. Many people also worked on what we called ‘hobbles’ – off the cards (illegal work) – mostly for a local Christmas decoration company paying little more than £1 an hour.

But some, like me had degrees. And for two years I was unemployed. I admit I took to lying in my job applications. After endlessly being told I was overqualified I forgot to tell people about my degree. And at the same time no-one was looking for history graduates in the valleys.

None of these people were lazy. None were afraid of hard work – quite the reverse. Few people would choose to live on benefits. It is simply that within the limits of their qualifications and responsibilities there was no work.

And so I get angry when I hear ideologically driven nonsense from people like UK prime minster Cameron – who wouldn’t even last half a day on one weeks social benefits – that poor people are “culturally” unique, dependent on welfare by their own design and workshy.

And such nonsense is shamelessly peddled by the popular press who produce all kinds of spurious and inaccurate statistics to back it up. Even the Department of Work and Pensions has got in on the act, this week being forced to admit that its false its claim that there had been a 30% rise in people on disability living allowance over eight years was in fact “distorted”.

All the more welcome then that the UK Higher Education Economic and Social Data Service has released a new web page entitled “Understanding the riots: Data that can inform new research”.

The article states:

The recent street violence that erupted in parts of London and other English cities is sparking heated debates about the underlying causes.

Policy makers and the public want to know more. For researchers, there is a wealth of data to consult.

In August 2011, areas of London and towns and cities across England experienced outbreaks of rioting, looting, crime and arson unseen since the riots in Brixton and Toxteth of 1981.

While the situation has calmed for the moment, media coverage has raised many questions, for example:

  • How has socio-economic discontent and the rise of consumer culture contributed to the unrest?
  • How do young people see their lives and opportunities in an uncertain world?
  • How do the police use their powers and resources during civil disturbances and in the wider policing of communities, especially with regard to race, and how does the presence of gangs affect community life?
  • Given the role of technological and social media as an agent of communication in the riots, how has the rise of the internet and mobile technology changed society, especially among young people?

ESDS provides access to a range of qualitative and quantitative data resources that can give researchers contextual information to make analytical sense of these issues.

The article goes on to provide access to a number of relevant studies. But the ESDS also provides access to a wide range of statistical resources. And the sooner social science and education researchers start making use of these statistics the better. The problem, I suspect, is that analysing such statistics takes some skill and time.

Even more is the problem that academic researchers are not used to telling their story in a way that connects with people. Whilst I would not want to see research presented ‘Daily Mail’ style, I think there is much we can do to think of new ways of connecting with the wider world outside academia and making considered research and analysis available to counter blind prejudice and ideology (more to follow in next few days).

UK parody of apprenticeship not a way forward

August 15th, 2011 by Graham Attwell

Having spent much time in Germany working as a researcher around vocational educatio0n and training I am a big fan of apprenticeships. True, the German dual system of apprenticeships has its weaknesses, but in general if offers a respected and high quality training to over half the age cohort. As Wikipedia explains,  there are some 342 recognized trades (Ausbildungsberufe) where an apprenticeship can be completed. They include for example doctor’s assistant, banker, dispensing optician, plumber or oven builder. The dual system means that apprentices spend about 50-70% of their time in companies and the rest in formal education. Depending on the profession, they may work for three to four days a week in the company and then spend one or two days at a vocational school (Berufsschule). This is usually the case for trade and craftspeople. For other professions, usually which require more theoretical learning, the working and school times take place blockwise e.g. in a 12–18 weeks interval.

I have also long bemoaned the poor apprenticeship system in the UK, which was largely abolished with the demise of the Training Boards in the 1970s. Many young people are forced into inappropriate university courses which provide poor training for their career and result in large personal debts. So in theory I should be happy with today’s House of Commons library research, as reported in the Guardian newspaper, which shows that the coalition exceeded its target of creating 203,200 apprenticeships for people over 19 in the 2010-11 financial year, creating 257,000 new apprentices. And I am sure that the headline will be seized on by apprenticeship advocates in Germany and other parts of the world as welcome news that the UK has indeed at last re-established a reputable apprenticeship training system.

Sadly this is not so. The research shows that the biggest increases in apprenticeships are in health and social care and retail; indeed one of the most dramatic increases was in the “cleaning and support service industry”, where 1,930 apprentices were created in the academic year 2010-11, compared with 360 in the previous academic year. In other words the majority of the apprenticeships have been created in low skills service industries.

One of the major problems for comparative researchers is how apprenticeship is defined in the UK. Apprentices are defined as paid employees who gain practical skills in the workplace as well as receiving training outside work. In other words any programme which provides external training for employees as well as some form of practical skills training can be counted as an apprentice and therefore employers are able to draw down subsidies for the training. This goes some way towards explaining why the largest increases were for ‘apprentices’ aged over 25 where numbers nearly quadrupled, from 36,300 to 121,100. And perhaps the most telling figure is in the average length of the so called apprenticeships. In Germany most apprenticeships take three years to complete. But in the UK, apprenticeships lasting longer than a year rose by under 2% while those lasting less than a year increased by over 30% on 2009-10.Overall, the proportion of apprenticeships lasting longer than a year dropped from 47% to 41%. Indeed many appear to have been shorter than 12 weeks!

Whilst any increase in work based training is welcome, the new programmes being introduced in the UK are a parody of the idea of apprenticeship. And sadly the credibility of apprenticeship training as a whole is likely to be reduced, both in the eyes of young people and from the viewpoint of employers.

The streets are full of people who have no ambitions, or have ambitions but can’t fulfil them

August 12th, 2011 by Graham Attwell

Despite all the thousands of words written about the riots in England it is hard to find many considered ideas or indeed undertanding or just sense. This video interview by the Guardian newspaper with Chavez Campbell who had  predicted riots in London – six days before they actually occurred  stands out – and provides a realistic, depressing and chilling message that is being ignored by main stream politicans and media.

Interested in Digital Storytelling and Web2.0 Tools?

December 21st, 2010 by Graham Attwell

Are you  interested about exploring ways to express opinions and being more engaged in politics using Web 2.0 tools?

On 10 – 16 April 2011, there is a seven day workshop being held in Chania, Crete, Greece sponsored by the EU Grundtvig programme.

The Workshop is being organised by the POLITICS project aiming at developing skills for using digital storytelling to develop a dialogue and involvement in politics, at local, national or international level.

The Workshop will examine issues as how Facebook, YouTube and blogs can be used for digital storytelling. The 7-day course will include  practical sessions and hands-on labs) on familiarizing with the use of social networking and Web 2.0 tools to participate in online collaborative educational activities and the development of stories based on political issues of interest.

A full description of the Workshop is now available here.

Applications for funding are eligible from all EU Member States (including Turkey, Croatia and FYROM but not Greece since it is the host country) and should be submitted by 27 January 2011. Selected application will receive a grant covering all travel, accommodation and expenses.

Guidelines about the application can be found here and for more information, please contact n [dot] marianos [at] agroknow [dot] gr

Government policy to rid us of troublesome thinkers and artists

November 23rd, 2010 by Graham Attwell

Here is the first in a series of videos we are going to be featuring looking at the present economic and social crisis and the future of educatio0n. In this video comedian Stewart Lee talks about university funding and the arts and refers to government policy as a deliberate strategy to rid us of “troublesome thinkers and artists.”

Politics and Wales – a glimpse of sunshine

November 11th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

I have been in Cardiff for the last three days, attending a workshop organised by the EU funded Politics project. Pontydysgu are a partner in the project which aims to use Web 2.0 and social software tools for people to learn about politics. Although the subject is great there are as ever problems. How can we get young (and not so young) people to communicate between different cultures and different languages. Some of the partners are schools or working in the school and vocational learning sectors. As such the teachers are using the politics resources and (under development) platform to scaffold learning for young people. Other partners, like Pontydysgu, wish to develop the platform and tools for self directed learning by young people. Is it possibel to develop resources, tools and an overall platform which can cater for such different approaches to learning. In some ways it is more difficult to develop the platform for self directed learning, as the resources and platform need to at least assist in scaffolding the learning. And despite progress in such areas as recommender systems and the provision for supporting peer based learning, I think our understanding of how to use technologies for scaffolding learning is still inits early stages.

Anyway, and changing the subject, yesterday morning we moved the workshop to the Wales Assembly, where we met our Regional assembly Member, Leanne Wood and went for a tour of the Assembly. It was a surprisingly good experience in allowing an international group of project partners to relate the work we are doing on education to the broader field of politics as a whole. And I was impressed by the Assembly building. None of that old fashioned privilege and tradition associated with Westminster. Instead it is a modern, energy efficient building (no need for artificial lighting and heated through geo-thermal energy), based on the idea of transparency. Young people were wandering around, interviewing the First Minister for a BBC programme. The sun may have helped to provide a feeling of hope, starkly contrasting to the gloom an despair t5ha Westminster politic engenders today.

Anyway that was the first three days of this week. If you were at the meeting, please feel free to add your comments on what you thought about our work together and the visit to the Wales Assembly.

How much do you know about Politics?

April 27th, 2010 by Jo Turner-Attwell

In May I will be voting for the first time in the UK elections. This means I have spent large amounts of time researching and discussing the different parties and what they have to offer and I am finding it extremely hard to differentiate between the parties. In discussions with other voters my own age I became very aware what little experience many of us have in politics and within my own experience, aside from the influence of parents, guidance in making this decision for the first time is minimal.
This video from the Yahoo election page shows the extent to which this lack of knowledge can extend and was a real eye opener for me.

I believe learning about Politics is something that should be embedded somewhere within standard curriculums in the education system to avoid this sort of ignorance.
Pontydysgu is currently working on a European project called POLITICS which hopes to increase knowledge of Politics on both a national and European scale.

‘The POLITICS project is built around an e-book “Straight into Politics”. Learners will be invited to form (transnational) teams online and develop a digital and humorous story based on the scenario of a politically active young person who is convinced they can change the world for the better and organizes a election campaign.’

If you’d like to know more about this project this can be found out on the project website at

Using Web 2.0 tools for learning

March 4th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

The EU funded Politics project is using a web based story telling process to encourage ypoung people to explore politcial involvement and develop their own ideas around politica;l issues and events.

The project intends to use social software and Web 2.0 software to develop learning pathways for participants in six different European countries.  One of the first tasks for the project has been to produce a report on Web 2.0 tools for learning. The report has been  written by Pontydysgu intern student Jo Turner Attwell, and and is based on previous work by Jenny Hughes in the handbook on Teachers Aids on Creating Content for Learning Environments (available for free download on the Taccle website) together with more recent materials posted on the Chalkface section of this web site.

You can read the introduction to the report below and download the full (14 page) version of the paper in ODT and Doc format at the bottom of this page.

Technologies are changing very fast. Up until recently Learning Management Systems – systems that help to organise and administer learning programmes for students and store and organise learning materials seemed to be the most important technology for creating and managing content. But since then, we have seen an explosion in the use of social networking applications like blogs and wikis, as part of what has been called Web 2.0. These are tools that make it very easy for people to create their own content in different forms – text, pictures, audio and video. POLITICS aims to provide Web 2.0 tools to enhance the learning experience achieved within the development of the participants own Politics story. The project hopes to improve the participants knowledge of Politics in their country of residence by leading them through a Webquest type pathway.  Embedding these tools into a platform designed to allow communication between participants and collection of resources helps to create opportunities for tasks inspiring creativity within these pathways.

There are currently a wide range of web2.0 tools and programmes, particularly those that are useful in a pedagogical way. Many of these tools are already widely used, such as the microblogging tool twitter, or the video sharing tool youtube. Some systems are simply designed for the sharing of content such as Flickr or Slideshare, however some social networking sites go a step further. Videothreads or PB wiki allows deeper interaction as people can add and contribute to the information or work already there. This means content can be created and edited collaboratively online.

Some of the applications listed below are specifically for creating content, for example, authoring tools, or for storing and sharing materials you and your students have created. Others, like online messaging tools, are essentially designed as tools for communication. Some can serve both purposes, for example blogs. However, it is increasingly difficult to draw a line between them. A Skype text message about the weather may be no more than a simple social exchange between two people but group text chats on Skype by members of a community of practice discussing their ideas can create a rich learning resource. It seems a fairly pointless academic exercise to try and differentiate between them. They are all useful tools and applications for teachers so we are including both.

odt version

Review of existing web20 tools25-1

Doc version

Review of existing web20 tools25-1

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