Another way?

Business Plans Don’t Suck – Mind Games Do

Originally uploaded by pinkpurse

I woke up this morning and came across two Telegraph articles via @schoolduggery that, at first, look like teacher bashing.

In the first, we have some quotes from Michael Gove on the day before tougher Ofsted rules come into force with sound bites like “zero tolerance of poor teachers” and comments such about how Ofsted “will even assess how well teachers ‘articulate and mouth’ the sounds of letters” and “check payrolls to ensure the salaries of weak teachers reflects their performance”.

In another article we are told that “Those admirable goals have earned him the undying hatred of organisations and individuals who put the interests of inadequate teachers above the interests of children who need, and are entitled to expect, a decent education.”, with several comments about the introduction of performance related pay for teachers.

What worries me is not that teachers are being measured against a high standard, or that the dreaded ‘O’ (who are expected to come knocking any day) will be taking a tough stance. What worries me is all the talk of those teachers who are judged to be ‘not good enough’ being sacked or (effectively) fined. It’s the punitive aspect that scares me the most. If we were to translate that into the classroom then we would be giving punishments to students who are underachieving. We could expel those working towards an E or an F within a term instead of a year*. As it is, I find that shouting at, restricting the free time of or otherwise punishing students who aren’t flying high doesn’t have a particularly good effect. Giving them support, encouragement, engaging them, differentiating resources, etc, etc, etc. all seems to have a much more significant effect.

It is particularly worrying when you see schools drop from Good to Unsatisfactory in the course of a single Ofsted inspection, when you see an ‘Outstanding’ teacher three years on the trot suddenly labelled as ‘Satisfactory’ on the grounds of a single observation. Measuring the ‘performance’ of teachers is not as simple as timing a race or counting the profits, and in such a subjective environment we find observations and appraisals can appear more as an ordeal to be survived rather than the positive, constructive activities they are meant to be.

I’m not saying that there are no teachers out there who are sitting back and not giving the best for our students. What I am saying is that creating an atmosphere of collegiate support and positive help for those who might need it is likely to have a much more powerful and lasting effect than threatening teachers with frozen salaries or a P45.

 

* Just to clarify, this is a response to a comment in the first article (“Heads and governors will be able to sack the worst-performing staff in just a term – rather than a year – under new “capability” procedures.”). It is not the case that any school will expel a pupil for achieving poor grades.

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Don’t Panic!

don’t panic towel

Originally uploaded by norrix

Well, by now you really ought to be aware that the secretary of state for education, Michael Gove, has had quite a lot to say this morning on the topic of ICT and Computing provision in schools.

I’m not actually going to say too much about the speech specifically, but more about the consequences.

What I will say is that the rhetoric and soundbites in the media outlets* had me pretty disheartened first thing – but reading the detail in many of those reports and the speech itself I think everything’s going to be fine (and if you disagree, just go to make-everything-ok.com).

I’ve seen forum threads, tweets and comments all day from teachers in turns ecstatic, perturbed and distraught at the future prospects for careers, subject areas and the academic future of our students.

ICT provision at KS1, 2, 3 and 4 is still compulsory. And so it should be. Students need to know how to use computers to complete tasks – modelling, presenting information, research. This may be delivered in a cross-curricular format, at least at KS2 and 4. It may be taught as a discrete subject.

Maybe this will give SLTs and HoDs the push they need to look at which elements really should be taught in a cross-curricular format. Maybe Science and Maths will be given some formal responsibility for delivering some of the above. All schools now formally have the freedom to choose the most appropriate method. I would more than happily let my Maths colleagues deliver spreadsheet skills and modelling techniques. I’m not suggesting that cross-curricular is the only way to go, but I spend so much of my time making up scenarios to give the skills a context that it does seem there’s an opportunity there.

And what of the Computing side of the curriculum? I’ve been teaching Computing topics at KS3 for years. Initially just when ‘no-one was looking’ (especially the kids), but increasingly explicitly as the years have gone on. And I’m hardly alone. Gove has been quoted suggesting that in the near future our 11 year olds could be creating 2D animations. I started delivering Scratch lessons to my Y7s in 2006 I think…

At KS4, those studying a GCSE or other Level 2 course in ICT can continue to do so and I’m equally certain that ICT qualifications will be around for a long time. With the expansion of Computing topics lower down, there should be more opportunities for Computing to be popular as a formal qualification, and this is a good thing. It’s about choice and exposure.

Some are clearly concerned that Computing is for a niche, or at best a minority. I wouldn’t go that far, but History, Geography, Music, Drama, Art… they’re none of them for everyone at KS4. And again, nor should they be. But now, hopefully, all schools will have Computing at KS3 so that students can make an informed choice, and all schools should be able to offer Computing as a qualification so that students have an opportunity.

What changed today? For me, actually, very little. I had a great discussion with my Y9s about their options (as planned), practiced search techniques with my Y8s (as planned), created radio adverts with one Year 11 group (as planned), had a go at coding a theatre booking system with my Y11 Computing group (as planned) and looked at the TCP/IP stack and common protocols with my Y12s (as planned). Tomorrow will be similar. Y7s creating a database, Y13 creating an interactive Flash product, Y10 video editing, Y12 practising working with arrays – a broad and balanced curriculum made up of essential application skills, creative use of computers and the study of how to make computers work for us.

The future is not what a politician tells us it will be, the future is what we do with what we’ve got.

* BBC News – “The current information and communications technology (ICT) curriculum in England’s schools is a “mess” and must be radically revamped”

Telegraph – “‘Dull’ technology school lessons to be replaced”

ZDNet – “‘Boring’ IT classes face being axed”

I could go on…