Saturday, 9 February 2013

Friday Reflection!

UK Education changes!

+Philip Spalding

A major week for educational announcements!  The Ebacc that was is not to be (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-21363396).   The much needed re-establishment of confidence UK education qualifications took another twist as stakeholder groups had their input taken on board.  As usual there were claims of U-turns on policy.  This negative phrase goes back to the Mrs. Thatcher declaration the "Lady is not for turning".  Since this time reversals of thinking have become even more associated with failure rather than compromise.  We try to teach children in school is tolerance, considering the other persons point of view, weighing up evidence and making decisions based on a balanced view.

Parliament and politicians reinforce the idea that one individuals opinions are either wholly right or wholly wrong.  In a complex issue such as educational qualifications we have a lot of vested interests from subject experts to exam boards who publish their own textbooks to go with courses that wish to preserve the present system.  Understandable as they have been allowed to create the status quo.  The idea of market forces and demand moulding educational choices has faltered in the educational sphere under the influence  of league tables.  Innovative curricular are often shunned in schools as they take the safe route of following the materials that have all the information produced by a limited number of publishers and exam boards.  Selection of exam boards qualifications are often based on the perceived difficulty of the exam board.

A new curriculum was launched for State Schools.  Again the reporting on this issue shows the combative point scoring nature of British politics.  Academies can choose to write their own curriculum but with Ofsted judging against a fixed set criteria it would take a very brave new academy to risk being out of step. The system appears broken and needs fixing.  All parties should be working to a solution that will not be used just for one parliament. It needs to be allowed to run long enough to be effective in bringing about confidence in young people's skills.  The educational establishment needs to step back and be objective rather than protecting it's own position.  Pupils have an 11 year training period (two and a bit parliaments life times).  The effect of changes at year 5 will therefore not be seen for another 11 years by employers interested in recruiting a skilled workforce.  At the moment the pace of revision means that 16 year old pupils over a five year period can be sitting very different exams.  The GCSE is therefore not a very easy way to compare candidates for jobs and college places who span a range of interests. We have a conveyor belt of school, college jobs that rely on the same age group

The question has to be asked who are the GCSEs actually for, the schools or the pupils who have to enter the stage of their life.  Are they fit passports for a modern society?  Should basic qualifications in English, Maths and Sciences be sat at 16?  Why not 14? We used to test at this age.  The system was scrapped not so much because it did not give a good judgement of skills but because the system collapsed due to a marking fiasco.  With the growth of University Technical Colleges and apprenticeships the need for large Secondary schools delivering academic qualifications to the age of 16 is disappearing.  With the raising of the formal school leaving age to 17 this summer and 18 the following year makes the qualification sat at 16 as a test at school leaving age irrelevant.

The impact of e-learning has not been considered in the new curriculum other than introducing computing as a subject instead of ICT (Information Communication Technology).  As a former head of ICT (and Science first) I have always considered ICT to be a tool and not a subject.  To be simplistic presentation and communication tools such as PowerPoint and  Word should be taught and USED in English.  Spreadsheets taught and USED in Maths and Science.  Use of YouTube and social media taught and USED in Languages which to my thinking does include English (or Communication as it is now titled in some schools), for that matter we should use languages in other subjects as science as well.  Design and CAD packages used in Resistant Materials (this used to be woodwork and metal work) and design subjects.  Where computing will fit has not been stated.  In the EBacc it was to be the fourth science.   Should it be part of Maths?  Do we have the science teachers (who generally biologists in the UK) who can deliver coding in two languages, one of which is text based?  Are we going to have a Scratch and Python literate (Python is available for the Raspberry Pi) school population?   Are we going to have e-texts and BYOD (bring your own devices) for the classroom?  Can school networks cope with 950 or more Wi-Fi connected devices?  Does education have to involve all pupils being in a building at once if e-learning is embraced?

A fundamental question of education's future has been the overriding theme in the news.  My own little project of the Haverhill Online Learning Community (HOLC) has been gathering viewers locally this week with the Local History Week.  I have had a lot views of the timeline and some expression of interest, converting this into active members is again the challenge.  I have had a good meeting with the local MP, who is also Minister of Skills and can be seen pictured sitting next to Michael Gove in this article,  for advice and publicity.  Watch this space for further developments.  Next week  HOLC  is engaged in a little Urban Gardening  which will feature in the Blog   and on the Website.

I will also have to find some time to re-engage with all the Google+ Communities.  Full time teaching in Harlow for the past four weeks has been instructive on some levels for gathering pupil's opinions on use of Tablets and how they see the education they are receiving preparing them for later life.  However, there are not enough hours in the day looking forward to finishing this assignment next Thursday and working a bit closer to home! Have also to buy new devices this week, HP netbook and Kindle have all died!  Looking to go as much Linnux, Chrome and Android as possible, but will still need one windows based Laptop unfortunately.  Expensive times!

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