Thursday, 31 January 2008

Workplace Qualifications - whats the problem?

I am both pleased and disappointed about the announcement concerning the introduction of the new accredited workplace qualifications being introduced by McDonalds, FlyBe and Network Rail in the UK. These new qualifications will be recognised by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) and courses can achieve upto 'A' level equivalence - or Advanced Diploma. Companies involved have met all the very rigorous criteria set out in the Qualifications Credit Framework (QCF).

Pleased because I genuinely believe that all employees who want to undertake continuing education or professional development should have the chance and also to have their efforts validated and be given credit for it. It allows employees to gain additional relevant qualifications which will broaden their career opportunities within that industry.
Disappointed though to read some of the online comments to this story with people dismissing this development as worthless, and talking about 'A' levels for flipping burgers - which just demonstrates that they have no clue what they are talking about. Unfortunately they tend to come across as old duffers who are still complaining that we don't still learn Greek and write with quills. Times have changed and the pace of change is quickening - they obviously haven't.
Some universities have also noted that, at this stage, they may not recognise these qualifications - for the majority of the people that these courses are aimed at this will not be a problem - initially!! I am sure that even these bodies will be more flexible in their response as they become more established. If the more traditional universities don't recognise them - there are other agencies that are, right now, developing workplace degrees - right up to Doctorate level. NO agency can afford to say a catagoric 'No" - times are changing too fast.
I am confident that these are really just the start of a flood of such vocational qualifications - the three companies indentified are just the trendsetters and give their employees a real opportunity to develop a career path for themselves - isn't this a really good example of developing life long learning opportunities?

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Empty Landscape .... or the future?

The photograph may look rather bare as two students pose on what is no more than a mound of fill - what is represents however is the position of a new secondary campus.

Students are genuinely excited by the current plans that promise state of the buildings and 21st century learning styles. To prepare for this people have started talking to students about how they learn best and what they wish lessons "looked like".

Should we have done this ages ago? Absolutely yes - in fact people have. The challenge is to accept what they tell us and then adapt practice to adopt some of their ideas. Things cannot continue how they have always operated - times are changing too fast.

In many cases, in a number of countries, I often wonder if it is teachers hindering progress in adopting the wider range of learning styles that students want. In my experience including in the UK, the answer is far too often yes they do!

Interesting challenge with no quick answers .... but change they must and change fast!

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Project Based Learning - a good example

A fabulous example of project work at its best was revealed in Grand Cayman today. It really is a fantastic demonstration of 'how to do it'.

The objective was to celebrate the Cayman Cat Boat as part of the national 'Heroes Day' celebration and produce a scale model for a sculpture for public display. The majority of what was really known about cat boats remained in the heads of the men who built and sailed them - dare I say these men are 'not as young as they used to be!' To complete the project much work had to be done in a fairly short space of time.
There are any number of ways to approach this in schools - 'talk and chalk' - ' go and find out and report back' 'write an essay' or a project approach. The first three styles many students would find deadly! They already get too much of that approach.

As a project the elements include: cultural history, research, interviewing, writing and editing, mathematics, technology including design, artwork and actually building a half scale model all to a time scale. The scope for total ICT integration is massive, the multidisciplinary curriculum aspects obvious to everyone.
The actual result is a fantastic sculpture, totally accurate in detail accompanied by a small book, complete with thoughts, memories, interviews and photographs. 'Heroes Day' celebrations included full size authentic catboats, the book and the unveiling of the sculpture.
This is a great mini case study of how to do project work - the concepts are totally transferable into schools - it has really captured the imagination of so many people! This would be so easy to transfer into schools - communication and joint planning is vital, passion and commitment the key!

Friday, 25 January 2008

Cayman Education Ministers' work recognised

Politicians frequently get 'knocked' by the media but far less frequently get recognised and praised, especially for education related issues. It is therefore really special that the Hon, Minister for Education, Hon. Alden McLaughlin has been recognised as 'Person of the Year' in the 'Cayman Net News' newspaper today, specifically for his lead and commitment in the education transformation process.

The congratulations are already pouring in, many of us believe it is really well deserved. Typical of the Minister however, is that he has been very very quick to point out to the media and everyone who calls in that whilst he may be the lead it would not have been possible without the support of his family and team. Modest politicians - lets have more of them!

Congratulations many times over to 'the boss'!

Click here for full story

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Work Experience - starting younger than usual - but is it too young?

Day One: Our two Interns meet the Hon. Minister
Students at one of our small high schools started a 'home grown' programme last year called 'Learning Through Internship' (LTI) where their 13 and 14 year old students spend several hours each week at work for three months. In this years programme which has just started I again host two students in the Ministry and we try to ensure that they get a real positive, varied but demanding experience of what work is like.

The programme worked really well last year and several students got offered part time jobs. Additionally companies offered additional training with a number of students really improving their work ethic and attitude at school, apparently as a direct result of this programme.

Students undertaking this experience are younger than is the norm. Traditionally students are 15 / 16 when they do work experience and some colleagues have expressed the view that students following the LTI programme are too young and don't get enough out of it.

I really do not agree with this view - students are maturing earlier, they do want to know the reality of work and practical experiential learning is the best way to achieve this. This carefully planned experience is linked to record keeping, research, journals and a range of business organisation questions to answer. The students with me are keeping their records electronically via personal blogs with hyperlinks to all sorts of resources.

Inevitably there may be a minority of students who make mistakes, but the more of this type of experience where students can see the relevance of their learning and the reasons certain decisions are made the better! Equally - the earlier the better.

One teacher noted that it may undermine the block work experience students do in later years - I suggest just the opposite. Students will be more informed, better prepared and increasingly aware. What MAY need to happen is that employers and the teachers have to have higher expectations of what the students are capable of doing. This is not child minding but developing our future young people and workforce! 'Same old, same old' or 'this is what we do (and have done for decades)' just does not cut it anymore!

As a highlight, our two interns unexpectedly ended up meeting the Hon. Minister on their first day as he came by to ask a question. Manners, attitude and speech were absolutely superb from both. Who says our young people can't do it?

Always great meeting new professionals

Michelle Swanson, Theron Cosgrave with Principal, Deputy Principal and students from one of our primary schools.
A really exciting part of my role here has been meeting a range of professional colleagues I may not have met through my work in the U.K.

This week I have been really fortunate to be working with Michelle Swanson and Theron Cosgrave of
Swanson and Cosgrave Consulting (also Associates of Fielding Nair International). They are really a very dynamic team helping us as we plan for professional development with teachers to prepare them to consider their teaching styles within the new teaching spaces. They bring a wealth of experience of working with teachers on change, small schools and teaching and learning.

Whilst they say they have learnt from their visit here, as always working with dedicated professionals we all learn all of the time. A great team who I am looking forward to working more with over the next few months. They are great and I am sure they will go down well here with our professional colleagues!

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

'Hot desking' versus 'own space' (even if they're not there much!)

People are really very interesting about their need for their 'personal space'! In a fantastic new office, (designed by Prakash Nair and FNI) we have placed several peripatetic staff, attendance officers, educational psychologists, facilities co-ordinators, ICT technicians, senior eduation staff - all of whom are 'on the road' the vast majority of the time.
The office comes equipped with small bookable meeting rooms, for confidential phone calls, meetings etc, a conference room, cafe area, video conferencing and a totally 'wireless' environment. It also has formal working areas (on movabe tables - not desks) and informal meeting spaces on sofas etc. For personal storage they have lockable pedestals on wheels and secure filing faciities. All tables are movable for total flexibility of space allowing all sorts of functions from meetings to training to take place.
With so many staff on the road so much of the time it makes little value for money to give everyone an individual office which stays empty most of the time. By having a flexible hotdesking environment staff can come and go as they need, just sitting somewhere and turning on their laptop - even the printer is wireless. If necessary they just have to wheel their pedestal to a new location.
Some people love it, some have got used to it and some hate not having their own space for photographs, flowers, plants, paper racks and other 'stuff' laid out.
Inevitably people have preferred locations or tables but a few get quite worked up if someone else is sitting there or if a meeting is taking place - there are always other spaces that they can work at.
I am frankly surprised that professional people who admit it makes no sense value wise to give everyone offices, then argue that they need their own 'untouchable' space even though they are there so little. Perhaps it is because the space is so new and they need to get more used to it. Perhaps we have challenged their comfort zone too fast.
Whilst there are people in the system who have stressed that they would love to move there as it is such a flexible space, not everyone is convinced. Before anyone else asks - this is not a gender thing - male and female staff both like it or are not sure about it.
It just makes sense to me and I really don't understand the personal space thing for such a short period of each day/week!
The office design is just great and the design will be reflected in the education support staff areas of the new schools we are building. The basic message though is that, frankly, we must model our own ability to be flexible in our working habits before as we ask teachers and students to do just the same!

Monday, 21 January 2008

Sweet Fun Furniture

No comment really except these funky colourful stools caught my eye at the BETT show - I thought they were just great for a primary school library or similar. My colleague thought they were horrible - funny how tastes differ!

Friday, 18 January 2008

A 'Cracker' of a meeting venue...

One of the best meeting venues this week was on Prof. Stephen Heppell's racing yacht 'Cracker'. Rick Dewar and Trung Le from oWp/p (Chicago) came to London to visit Stephen Heppell and myself for a meeting - the boat was a great place to hold it. Whilst it was cold outside, the boat was as warm as toast.
Whilst the mint for the Pimms dominated the interior photograph, we stuck to coffee as we got on with work - but it really was a very comfortable venue.
I really enjoy working with all these guys, they are just great, extremely experienced, innovative people to work with, We all get on very well with great results so far. I hope that there will be many more projects we can work on together in the future.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Drab outside but such exciting ideas inside....

Recently I visited Knowlsey in Liverpool, UK, to attend a meeting with the Executive Director and senior staff of Children's Services, along with Professor Heppell and team members of Balfour Beatty. Whilst the Department building itself is incredibly bleak, they are in the process of building new 21st century very exciting secondary learning environments. They are also addressing the issues of ensuring that education leaders and staff understand and can deliver the new 'paradigm' of education to maximise the opportunities for students.

This exciting and essential transformation is not an easy journey and it is very tempting for people to want, in new buildings, to reintroduce a few extra walls here and there, worry about the discipline issues they had last week in their poor inadequate classrooms in a poor environment and eventually end up with environments that could have been designed 150 years ago that mirror what they have now.

The strategic implementation of moving to a new paradigm is crucial - taking the staff and students on that journey is a key aspect that takes longer than many believe. They have to know and believe the benefits. However, to really transition change, those leading the charge have to be brave, committed, be even braver and let everyone know that this is what we are going to do, so join the party! People for too long have heard about change, don't believe that they have seen much, if any, and where they have they perceive that it has just caused them loads of extra work.

The opportunities on offer for students in Knowlsey are just fantastic - people really have to embrace it.

There are so many similarities with the work and that we are doing in the Cayman Islands it was refreshing to see that another authority, just a fraction ahead of us, are concerned about similar issues. There are so many ways that we can work together to learn and benefit from our experiences and opportunities.

Education Law reform

Whilst in London we spent a considerable time continuing to draft the new education law for the Cayman Islands. Working with an extremely talented and experienced law team, the bonus is the real high quality intellectual debate as each point is discussed, the implications nationally and culturally, along with all the strategic consequences and 'knock ons' of our decisions.

The effective working relationships we have developed within this group ensured real focus and honesty about what we can achieve and what we need to consider for the future. Stimulating, exciting and fun are not always words associated with drafting laws - working with this group really helped us make maximum use of our time. (If only all meetings were like this!)

Friday, 11 January 2008

International Questioning

Whilst I have done other posts about the annual 'Ministers Seminar on Technology in Education' it has so dominated my life that it warrants another post. It attracted more Ministers than ever and followed a new format this year where just three Ministers, and other educationalists were quizzed in depth on their presentations.
The presentation covered all aspects of the education transformation process from the initial 2005 Education Conference, all the strategies, the implementation phase, through to the design philosophy and plans for our new schools. The whole presentation was supported by a complete slide show with photographs, video clips that illustrated all aspects of the talk, along with images of the new schools.
The Hon. Minister and panel, which included me, then underwent intense questioning and comments from Ministers and senior officials from numerous countries including the UK, Ireland, Iraq, Pakistan, New Zealand, Ghana, Malawi, Tanzania, Anguilla, Malaysia, Oman, Eygpt and Gibraltar. Challenging and exciting!
It went so very well and it was, frankly, amazing to see the international interest in our story, with some countries acknowledging that they had been following the Ministry blog to watch the progress.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Ministers Reception

It was interesting talking to both the Rt. Hon. Ed Balls MP, UK Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families and Professor Stephen Heppell about the education transformation work that we were undertaking in the Cayman Islands.

Representing our Minister and delegation, I was impressed that he stayed quite a long time, considering how many Ministers were in the room. We discussed a variety of issues with us, including the scope of the education transformation programme in the Cayman Islands, which he clearly was already aware of, right through to our thoughts about the raising of the school leaving age.

Students Voice Heard Internationally Twice

Such was the interest in the Cayman Islands presentation we ended up having to do it twice in succesive one and half hour 'back to back' sessions. The feedback has been tremendous from countries all around the world!

An essential part of the Hon. Ministers presentation to the Ministerial Seminar on Technology in Education was to really stress how much consultation we have done with all stakeholders, including, most importantly students. We consider this so important that our brochure not only has a photograph of a student with a quote, but the Ministers presentation ended with a short piece of video of the student talking for herself aout her hopes for the new schols heling her being recognised not just in the Cayman Islands but around the world.

As I sat and listened to contributions from Education Ministers from all round the world over the two days, I noticed that no one else quoted a student and few even referred to them except to give national statistics of numbers.

If people are really talking about students being at the centre of everything they do - why don't they ask them more? They do have a great deal to offer!

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

School Visit

It was interesting to visit Swanlea School in Tower Hamlets, London in the U.K. today. This is clearly a very good school making further progress. The students and staff were great! Whilst I was very interested in the design of the building, in talking to the Headteacher she noted that whilst it was dramatic, she now wished that the buildings were more flexible, encouraging a wider range of Teaching and Learning styles.

The central 'street' was spectacular, but designed with no heating or a.c. it is, at times, very cold in the winter and very hot in the summer. Therefore the possibilities for creating permanent additional learning spaces is reduced and leaves it as a glorified corridor. By all means create schools to be great examples of design, I love futuristic buildings, but not at the cost of negatively impacting teaching and learning. There is so much scope, potentially, for a number of informal learning areas throughout this area, supported by an existing extremely robust ICT system which support every subject.

An interesting visit to a very good school!

Sunday, 6 January 2008

Aren't you taking any clothes?

"Aren't you taking any clothes?" was the question from my wife when she saw how much 'stuff' I was having to take in my luggage to the UK.... presentation bags, folders, brochures, resources, even one hundred metal tins for memory key 'give aways'. Others in our party each had loads to carry as well, but flying the following day also meant that I also had to take everything people had either forgotten or not thought about.... Lets just say the cases were heavy!

Today will be spent compiling the packs and working with the Hon. Minister on the final version of the speech and presentation prior to the conference starting this evening. The team work is great though

Saturday, 5 January 2008

Does size matter??

Photo: Signs for the four new smaller schools on one campus - converted from one large school
I recently read a media report that noted how the number of secondary students attending ‘titan’ schools (over 2,000) in the UK had increased fourfold to over 50,000 students, with many more in schools of 1,500 or more. One of the apparent reasons for this has been given as that as popular successful schools get requested more – they have been allowed to get larger…..but at what cost?

Whilst this is subject of a political debate in the UK it raises a number of issues. The key one is that of student identity, being known, feeling valued and having the opportunity to feel an important part of the school compared with relative anonymity of massive numbers.

Using my own experience of headship of small secondary schools right through to over one thousand students - give me smaller numbers every time. In one of these schools which became increasingly successful, existing parents were most concerned about not letting it get too large with the accompanying risk of losing that which was ‘special’, the increasingly good relationships and communication. I certainly did, for a long while, know every students name – as the school grew – I could not hope to maintain this important feat- -something I always did regret.

One of our successful moves in the Cayman Islands sixteen months ago was the conversion of a challenging one thousand big school into four smaller schools of 250 students as part of one campus, each with its own leader, own staff, individual identity, autonomy, uniform and initiatives. Whilst I am not claiming that this rapid conversion (achieved in 16 weeks) got everything right instantly, the response of all parents, most students and staff was overwhelmingly positive. Students feel that staff know who they are, what their abilities are , and as one students put it “a lot of staff have their interests at heart” – “there is no escape from not doing work or misbehaving, they (the staff) just want us to do well.” (NB most staff- not all – u that is a different subject right now!)

Our new high school campuses are being built on the same model – it makes much more sense to us right now.

Allegations in the UK that behaviour is worst in the larger schools is met by a Government response that many large schools “are in challenging inner city areas”. My contention is that these are precisely the sorts of schools where students need to have real identity and significance in the school if they are to have real hope of academic and social achievement. Our own more modest scheme has resulted in better behaviour, increasingly improved standards and improved pastoral care.

Interestingly the percentage of exclusions from smaller schools in the UK is decreasing whilst rising in larger schools. Schools in New York and Chicago have significantly improved behaviour and standards by creating smaller schools with better relationships.

As always the whole thing depends on management, leadership and effective, consistent systems. Of course large schools can work if they are run extremely well and focus on the students first and foremost. Ofsted confirmed that successful schools “knew and were able to detect and deal with problem students early” (their phrase not mine). They do acknowledge that there is a “certain point” where size affects achievement and note that schools can be split into houses or multi facility sites.

My concern is for those students that attend these massive schools that don’t create smaller groupings. The trend towards larger schools may make increased financial sense – but at what student cost

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Media interest increases

(Myself, Hon. Minister and interviewer Donna Bush on Cayman 27's 'DayBreak' programme)
There has been great media interest in the conference that we are working on currently including the TV interviews and lead story in both papers today. I, with a colleague, have spent a very considerable time without pause today 'wordsmithing' the speech and preparing slides for the Q and A panel session, of which I am member. I know that the Minister, myself and the rest of the team will continue to 'tweak' it again in London in the evenings, but it will be from a very concise base.

Already the media are asking for post conference interviews. Although we know that there is real international interest in what we are doing, it will be very interesting to actually see how other countries react in person to our story. I await this with real anticipation!