Monthly Archives: September 2013
Dear Secondary school teacher,
Hello, I know you don’t really know me, but I was the primary school teacher who spent a year of my life helping to get those first-years ready to come to you. I know… I didn’t do a perfect job, did I? That pains me more than it does you, believe me. For every 90 minutes you spend having to struggle with Ethan, remember I probably spent nearer 1000. Maybe if you’d seen how he was doing a year ago, you might feel differently? I know I did! You have no idea how proud I was of what he and I achieved last year, nor how scared I was about sending him off unguarded into your territory. I hope that his fears were as unfounded as I promised him they were.
But that’s not why I’m writing. Every cohort will have its Ethans, and I’m sure that this time last year I was tearing my hair out, too, wondering what had been happening over the past few years for him along with others. Such is life.
I am a bit concerned, though, to hear that you’ve re-tested every student we sent to you. You see, it just seems such a great demand on your time – after all, you could have been using that time to get to know those kids, and to start teaching them, and I’m sure you’d rather have been planning exciting lessons than marking tests, wouldn’t you? It seems a shame for the kids, too. I’ve spent a year telling them about the opportunities that secondary school has to offer, and the options that will be open to them. And your colleagues gleefully came to tell them all about the hour-after-hour of excitement and engagement that you were going to offer them, so it seems a bit harsh to bombard them with assessments in week one.
Rumour has it that you feel you have to do it. After all, Ofsted are breathing down your neck and you’ve got to demonstrate progress. But no-one has explained to me yet what the baseline testing is meant to achieve. After all, Ofsted will look at the KS2 data whether you like it or not, won’t they? So, I’m not sure what the rush to test is for?
Perhaps you’re worried that our results aren’t reliable. Well, to be honest, so am I! I’ve seen the quality of marking sometimes, but we’ve also tackled it where necessary. And it’s true, there are a couple of results that raised eyebrows with me when they arrived too. I never thought Callum would achieve Level 5 in Reading, but that test paper all about Pokémon rather played into his hands. But then, I did explain that to the Head of Year who came down to meet me. Did those notes ever reach you? I must admit, she didn’t seem to note much down as I was explaining, but I did give her my detailed information about each of them so if you take a look at Callum’s you’ll see it there. I also explained to her that we were disappointed that no-one from your English department was available to support our moderation of Level 5 and 6 writing. We did draft someone else in eventually, but hopefully next year, eh? It’d be good to finally get that transition programme you keep mentioning on the open evenings really underway, wouldn’t it?
While I think of it – did you sort out that problem with Anna? Her mum explained to me the confusion the other day. Again, I did tell the Head of Year who came in about her absence during the tests, but I suppose it’s understandable that a missing score gets counted as a zero on your system. Hopefully you’ve managed to pull her out of the SEN maths set and put her up in the G&T group where she belongs. Mrs Carter said she only noticed it when you sent home her targets and said she was on track for a grade D. It seemed a bit odd since she’d got enough marks in the Level 6 test to get that, if it hadn’t been for the wretched broken leg that morning.
Well, as ever, like I’ve said to every member of staff who’s ever deigned to speak to me from your place: if you ever want any background information on any of the children we’ve sent to you, I’m always at the end of the phone, or you can drop me an email. Or I’d still be happy to come up, like I said. I suppose it’s hard to imagine being prepared to do that when you only see them for a few hours a week, but do remember, they were my focus five days a week last year. I know them inside out and miss them hugely. I’d be only too happy to help you in moving them on as quickly as you can.
After all, I suppose really, we’re all working towards the same thing.
There is sometimes a tendency in schools – or businesses or any other large organisation, I suspect – to do things the way they have always been done. The mantra of “if it ain’t broke” and similar phrasings show our tendency to prefer the status quo.
But, with drivers such as Ofsted, league tables and forced academisation, schools are now forced to look at what they do in great detail to drive out poor practices and supplant them with better ones. The focus – at least in theory – must always be on the benefit for the students. There are plenty of arguments about how this is achieved, and Mr Gove is very quick to condemn the unions and others for preferring to defend their own priorities above those of students. In some respects he is right. The work of schools should be entirely focussed on achieving the best outcomes for students. Schools’ methods, practices, processes and approaches should all be geared to be for the benefit of the people whom they are intended to serve.
And the same ought to apply to government.
MPs are very quick to remind us that their purpose is to serve when it comes to election times. But the way in which government is so often run does not match that focus on those whom it is intended to serve. I’m thinking particularly of the latest in a long line of soundbites drip-fed to the Tory-friendly media in advance of proper announcements. Once again, teachers, schools and indeed opposition MPs find out about the latest radical changes to education policy and accountability not through parliamentary processes, or even a formal press conference or release, but through an article in the Telegraph.
Sam Freedman (@Samfr) – who knows more than most about the “workings” of policy at the DfE – could say only that it’s been happening for years.
Sam Freedman (@Samfr) September 29, 2013
He is, of course, right. The Labour government were doubtless equally guilty of this. But that doesn’t mean that we should just allow it to continue.
Much as a school should have the interests of students’ education at the very core of all that it does, so parliament and government ought to have the interests of democracy at the core of their business. That is, after all, the only reason we have such organisations.
It is too easy for politicians to dismiss the arguments of those who say that “it doesn’t matter who you vote for”, when they also show such dismissive disdain for the workings of parliament. Now perhaps it is too easy because too much power has been devolved to individual ministers and departments? Perhaps it’s because the party system holds a stranglehold over the decisions and choices of individual MPs? But whatever the cause, it isn’t acceptable.
Members of Parliament have a duty to hold the government of the day to account, and it seems they are no longer willing or able to do so. Something needs to change.
Written as part of September’s #blogsync project.
The Purpose of Education
Part of me wonders where even to begin. And part of me feels guilty that I don’t already have this clearly defined in my mind. After all, if education is the mainstay of my life’s work, then surely I should know why I’m doing it. But, of course, reality is that there are many competing “purposes” which impinge of my work, not all of which are part of my philosophy and not all of which I properly address.
That said, after some brief thought, I ended up with a not-entirely-unpredictable conclusion. To me, the purpose of education is Broadening Horizons.
I think it’s worth contrasting this with some things that might otherwise come up and with which I can’t agree. For example, although a socialist of sorts, I don’t see the purpose of education as being to remove inequality. Obviously I would hope that it might go some way to doing that, but that is not its purpose. After all, if it were simply that, then it would be far simpler simply to hold back the opportunities of the ‘haves’ in order that the ‘have-nots’ might catch up.
It also isn’t simply about employability. Again, hopefully the by-product of a good education is the employability of its recipients. But again, if we were looking only to fill job posts then there must be easier ways.
I think the reason I reached Broadening Horizons as my conclusion is because of its over-arching nature. Each of the students in our care will take something different from the education offered to them. For some it will be limited, for others it may be a springboard, but most importantly for all of them it ought to offer something that they might not otherwise have encountered.
The offer seems more obvious for those children from backgrounds where even basic literacy and numeracy present a challenge. In these cases it is absolutely necessary that the horizons of such children are broadened to encompass some of the essential building blocks of social life and communication. True, they are the basic skills of employability, but also of engagement in wider society, of culture, of pleasure and so much more.
But even at the other end of the extreme, education should offer those who seem to have much, an opportunity to have some knowledge or experience of that which is ordinarily outside their existence. In an affluent area, with well-supported students, the basic skills are of course just as important. But so too are the opportunities to recognise that not everyone lives in the same way. To recognise too that things have not always been so.
The latest incarnation of the National Curriculum, which Mr Gove and his allies consider to contains the greatest of all that has been said and done (or various other combinations of verbs) offers something of this. The recognition that there are many aspects of history, society and culture which are valued widely and so should be shared widely with our children is not an unreasonable one. That’s not to say that I believe that the choices made are always correct, but the underlying premise is sound: that all of our students deserve something more than just a diet that resembles that which they already know.
Other blogsync entries can be found at
Debates go on quite regularly about the place of ‘relevance’ and ‘engagement’ in classrooms. I’d argue that all learning can be relevant if we value it for what it is. And true, sometimes it’s useful to have familiar content or contexts as a starting point, but the true purpose of education ought to be about more than that. It should be taking that which is familiar to our students and showing them how their experience fits into that of the wider world; introducing them to knowledge, ideas and experience which they might not otherwise have met.
The 0.4 hinge-point of Hattie’s work is now familiar to many: we talk of a difference between that which works (pretty much everything) and that which makes more of a difference than any random intervention. We need to look at schooling the same way. Our purpose should be to have a far greater impact on a student’s life, to introduce them to more, to broaden their horizons in a way that might never have been achieved had it not been for those important years of education.
Other #blogsync 7 entries can be found at: http://blogsync.edutronic.net
Over the last few days, the team at the TES have been once again recommending their TES Pro software, this time at a knock-down price. Now, it would be fair of me to say that I am a big fan of the TES website, and think that the resource bank is a massive success of which it should be proud. I also have a lot of time for Michael Shaw who seems to be managing the TES Pro launch; presumably an attempt to monetise the otherwise free-to-access wonder of TESConnect.
The heavy promotion of late, quite understandably, led @kalinski1970 to post this:
I've looked at it a few times and I still have no idea whst tespro is for and why I would pay to have it (esp the storage)—
(@kalinski1970) September 01, 2013
with which I agreed. Certainly I haven’t seen anybody else rave about it. Indeed, I couldn’t find anyone else say they’d even used it! Today, @MrMichaelShaw replied to the original message suggesting that, aside from the storage space, there was plenty of “exclusive content” to make it worth the £20 outlay. In response, I suggested I would sign up for the free trial and review it, so here is the outcome.
What does it promise?
One of my initial issues with the whole thing is trying to work out what it’s meant to do, or have.. or be! So first, let’s look at what it promises. The promotional blurb on the website looks something like this
It claims to offer four main things:
- Weekly digital version of TES
- 30GB of storage space
- Planning tools/Calendar
- Library of resources
I’ll tackle each of those in the order I stumbled across them when I was first exploring.
When you first sign up, the website suggests that you set your time zone in the calendar settings. I found this at the bottom of a section that gave the opportunity to put in term dates. I put my term dates in, presuming that it would mean that they appeared on my calendar for the year. No such luck; I’m not sure why it asks for them because it doesn’t seem to affect the calendar itself at all.
I also put in the working hours of my school. We happen to start at 8.45 and finish at 3.15 – a not uncommon structure. But it seems TES can only work in whole hours. It lets you over-write the times with other minutes, but it certainly wouldn’t be easy if someone wanted to enter their weekly timetable – and almost impossible if you have a fortnightly one!
I couldn’t work out for whom this might be useful. I already use Google calendar on my phone & laptop, at home and at school, and so it wouldn’t work as a replacement for me. But it also seems that it might be rather complex for someone who has so far stuck with a paper diary.
I could only presume that it would be the way in which it connected to the rest of TES Pro that the benefits would become clear. More of that later.
Library of Resources
Michael Shaw suggested that even if storage was not your thing, that the exclusive content alone was worth the sign-up cost of TES Pro. So next, I looked at what was on offer. There are two sections of the TES Pro tool alongside the calendar, but at first I wasn’t entirely clear what the difference was.
It turns out that the difference between storage and binder is negligible. It just appears to be two different ways of organising the same content – but you can only upload to one, and you can only add to the calendar from the other!
The Teaching Practice articles in these sections are PDF versions of pages from previous issues of TES Pro. These may well be valuable to some people, although as far as I could tell, they are all articles that are freely available through a search on the website.
Thus, the ‘exclusive’ content must, I presume, come from the Teaching Compendium. At the moment this contains exactly three articles written by Mike Gershon, and some “bonus” material in the form of PDF versions of booklets that TES used to give away to recruit newspaper/magazine subscribers.
The three articles are apparently the start of a monthly series, but as it stands there are just the three on the topic of literacy across the curriculum. This was a bit of a disappointment to me as a primary teacher, but might I suppose be of more use to someone who is working on such things in a secondary school. The details suggest that more articles will appear each month, but they too looked like they’d be rather secondary-focussed. It’s notable that Mike Gershon is celebrated as a regular contributer to the TES Resource bank, but has just two resources tagged as suitable for KS1/2.
The ‘Essentials’ guides from TSL are reasonably decent. These would probably be of genuine use to an NQT or trainee teacher, containing such resources of Tom Bennett’s behaviour guide and the like.
Overall, I wasn’t sold on the idea, and certainly not for the cost of even £19.99, let alone £30 per year!
30GB Storage Space
This is a newly-increased volume, presumably to compete with the likes of DropBox or SkyDrive. That said, even at £20 a year, I suspect you could get something similar elsewhere. One theoretical advantage of the storage is the ability to save resources directly from TES. However, of course, to be sure that any given resource on TES is what you want, you would already have had to download it and open it on your own machine anyway, so this seems like a doubling-up in some senses. Arguably you can then quickly access the resources you have saved from any other computer. That makes some sense for those who might use the storage space by saving materials at home and then accessing them again at school. It also allows you to upload your own materials, which, again, you can then access anywhere.
There were a few flaws here, however. The files can be organised into folders, much like they could on your home PC. However, if like me you sometimes struggle to remember the exact filing place of a document, there doesn’t seem to be a search tool. That was fine when I had only 3 resources saved/uploaded, but if you got anywhere close to 30GB then I suspect there may be an issue.
Personally, I’ve long been happy using cloud storage through Sugarsync, Bitcasa and others, so I couldn’t quite see what was on offer here other than a weakened version of those things. But again, I wondered if maybe more would become clear when I looked at the “planning tools”
I presumed that this would be the big sell. The advertising promises that it will be time-saving, which really ought to be enough to persuade any teacher to part with their cash.
Except, I couldn’t work out quite how.
I watched the video of their planning approach and then wondered if anyone involved in the building of the website had ever planned a lesson before. The aim of TES Pro appears to be to allow you the opportunity to link some resources (your own or from TES) to some event in your online calendar. I suppose in an ideal world, if you taught the same cycle of lesson repeatedly then you could easily group your resources, attach them once and keep re-using them. But teaching is not quite like that!
I decided to test the theory. I have a powerpoint made for a maths lesson next week. This could, theoretically, have been something I found on TES so we’ll have to discount the time finding/making the resources (i.e., the actual planning of the lesson!) and just look at the next stages. To add the content to my calendar I had to:
- Upload the powerpoint to “my storage”
- Drag the powerpoint into a new “binder” (because you can’t attach a single item to a calendar event)
- Name & save the binder
- Add a new event to the calendar (Maths lesson 1.1)
- Enter the time/date of the lesson
- Drag the binder to the event
- Save the event
It probably took less than 3 minutes. But, of course, what I would normally have done is just save that same document on my laptop and wait the few seconds for it to upload to my cloud storage. Even before that, I would just have slipped it onto an email or memory stick. Of course, a similar process would be required in school to access the material. I’m really not sure where I’m supposed to have saved time.
Digital version of TES
I think that this, maybe, is the best way for TES to pursue their marketing of this whole product. Make TES Pro a bonus of subscribing to the digital version of TES and people who are interested in accessing the product digitally might see it as a saving rather than a cost. The web version of the magazine is like so many other web brochures. It works. I find it a bit fiddly (and struggled to be able to zoom enough at first), but by and large it serves its purpose.
An iOS and Android app is now available which allows you to access the magazine in a mobile-suitable format. I tried the Android version and have to say I was reasonably impressed. Finding the articles was easy and having a back catalogue could have its uses (although, again, it didn’t seem to be searchable at all). As someone who stopped reading the actual magazine some time ago, though, I’m not sure it would be enough for me – particularly as many of the articles again are freely available on the TES website in text form anyway – but it might suit others.
Newer teachers entering the profession are probably more likely to be reading on portable devices and so this may work for them rather than the large format magazine – particularly for those who commute via public transport!
If a digital subscription to TES were offered at £20 per year, with a free TES Pro subscription thrown in, then maybe it might sound enticing – a great deal to tout round the freshers fairs if nothing else! Particularly good for those who are usually wed to their iPad!
However, the currently promoted package remains something of a mystery to me. I couldn’t see where it could save me time, I found very little “exclusive” content, and what content there was didn’t really appeal to me; perhaps a trainee or newer teacher might feel otherwise?
The 30GB of storage space is certainly generous in comparison to many of the free offers available with other cloud storage sites, but offers nothing like the flexibility. (What happens if you want to download all your content at once; must it be piece-by-piece? Is the hope that users will find themselves tied in to renewing year after year to avoid losing all their work?)
It strikes me that TES Pro is an attempt to bring together some of the tools that teachers find valuable (DropBox, Google Drive, online calendars, TES resources, etc.), but in doing so a tools has emerged which is sadly a disappointment on each front compared to other freely-available options.
Maybe in the future as the content ramps up my opinion might change. But it’ll take a lot.