Monday, 30 March 2009

The blog hits a hundred...... countries that is!

I am always amazed and a bit humbled by just how many people do click onto my blog. It is, after all, just me and my thoughts at any particular time. I do try not to be pretentious, trite, heavy or make it something it's not'. I must admit I do usually quite enjoy doing it and it does act as quite a good personal record of just some of the fab things I get to do as I wander around aspects of 21st century education.

Even more amazing is that the number of countries that people have visited the blog from has now risen to and exceeded one hundred (One hundred and one to be precise.)

Just to say a real thank you and, .... please keep reading... and commenting if you wish!

Screaming guitars not for me..... not yet anyway!

So I gave in and tried my hand at ‘Guitar Hero’ over the weekend (the Wii version)…. And yes – those that know me also can predict that it was not a great musical success with me being ‘booed’ off stage at least three times for failing to finish the song - with many many mistakes. (and yes it was the easy version!),

I must admit it was great fun and certainly made me focus and really concentrate on a variety of skills simultaneously, left and right hands doing different things, watching the screen – and the notes to be played were certainly whipping along fast at one point. No contortions or leaping with screaming guitar sounds for me – I was too busy concentrating.

Lots of people knock games such as this, but it really does develop a range of skills including cognitive development, co-ordination, concentration, multitasking and personal challenge (along with being able to have just plain fun). Wii's are now in many schools serving a variety of very useful educational purposes - I'm sure that everyone will have them soon.

Back to Guitar Hero though - my eldest daughter, still a teen ( only just!) is, inevitably, not just better than me, she is very accomplished at it. She must have spare time on her hands… maybe I should do something about that…. Schools should definitely not write this form of technology off!

Do I want to do it again - yes definitely. I failed to finish last time and that is something I don't like doing - ever!

Discussing BSF.....

In a busy week (last week) I was also invited to an invitation only round table discussion on BSF organised by think tank 'Policy Exchange'. Just eighteen of us, including Tim Byles from PfS, along with representatives from education, ICT, contractors, BECTA, RIBA, politics and academics discussed our own perspectives of the BSF process and impact of it.

This was just a very first meeting of a longer piece of research involving lots of people which will, in turn, lead to a written report which will hopefully inform / support future decisions.

Sessions such as these are always really stimulating session once people gain confidence and as people speak honestly about intention, reality and solutions. One challenge will be to harness all the different views!

Certainly the time went very quickly, I suspect many of us could have stayed and discussed far more! Perhaps I will get another opportunity...

Creating Great Remodelled Schools

Chairing the Conference
I was honoured to be asked to chair BCSE's national conference 'Creating Great Remodelled Schools' in Nottingham last week. I have chaired a number of national conferences here and abroad - this was certainly a very busy one!

The 140 or so delegates enjoyed a very very packed fast paced agenda looking at many aspects of remodelled schools and other projects with several case studies! Along with a number of workshop sessions it was the first national conference on this really important subject. This is surprising really as 50% of BSF projects are concerned with remodelling not new build, and an even higher proportion of the Primary Capital Programme.

With input from CABE, architects, local authorities and more, there was variety, enthusiasm and passion .... As ever one of the real highlights was a short presentation by a group of primary students about their newly remodelled (and environmentally very friendly) school.

Even better was that as they finished a little early, as Chair, I asked them a totally suprise question about what they liked about their school. With almost no hesitation they each gave a totally different answer as I walked the mic down the line. This is quite unusual for an unprepared answer and showed a real ownership of all aspects of their school, what it was trying to achieve and what it stood for. Thery certainly impressed the audience! As I noted to the audience there should never be an education conference that does not hear from the students at some point - after all thats why we're here!

Evaluations of the conference were very positive but I think a followup should include more input from Headteachers and staff who have lived trough the whole process - again learning from peers.... but that is for another conference on another day (please!).

(Slides from the Conference will appear on the BCSE website soon).

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Cayman Islands - 21st Century Transformational Learning Campuses growing fast!

It really has been a long time since I have referred to the blog which I started whilst Strategic Development Advisor (Education) to the Minister of Education in the Cayman Islands. I am pleaseed to see that it is still running and being updated.

Anyone checking up on it recently will see that two of the three cutting edge designed new high schools are now well under way, even to the stage of staff taking tours of the construction site. (Unfortunately the third is on ice, temporarily - the credit crunch has also hit Cayman you know). Even more exciting are the 'flythroughs' of the interiors which have also just been posted. (See below for link). These fab and totally transformational spaces were designed in concept by world leading designer Praknash Nair of Fielding Nair International, in conjunction with Professor Stephen Heppell and international architects oWp/p of Chicago. I was fortunate to have worked closely with all of them for a long time and remain a senior consultant for Fielding Nair,

I was really lucky at having been involved in all this work from a national strategic level right through to teacher and student level. One of the regrets at leaving the Ministry and Cayman Islands was knowing I would not be there to see all the preparation for teachers and also, not seeing the new schools on completion. I was just so involved for so long! (Mind you the exciting opportunities in the UK are also fascinating!)

To hear about and see the progress on the learning campuses that has been made from both reports by friends but also blog posts is just so encouraging and exciting.

There are literally people all over the world who are watching these campuses being built with real interest and the requests to visit started just ages ago. Even I get asked if I can arrange visits for people even though I am now based in the U.K. When you see the images - you can see why!
To view the CI education blog click here
To view the internal 'flythroughs' of the new Learning Campuses click here

Monday, 23 March 2009

Late start for teenagers is happening already..

Following on from my blog entry "Sleepy Teenagers" about Monkseaton High School considering starting school later for some students, the Times Educational Supplement this week carried a story noting that Hugh Christie Technology College in Kent already does this. Three hundred 14-18 students start at 11.30 and finish at 5.30 on three days a week. (It applies to all (It applies to all Years 12 / 13 students and selected Year 10 and 11 students)

According to the story by journalist David Marley this revised timetable has had a “powerful impact”. Parents and teachers have apparently given very positive feedback from this approach.

Sensibly they do this three days a week and start early on Fridays to allow for an early finish for all. (The remaining day has no formal lessons).

The impact of this has apparently contributed to what is predicted to be the equivalent of at least a grade difference across the board. Exams results rising, attendance rising, behaviour better, better relationships at home with parents / young people in the morning,

I have always said that those Heads and staff willing to be brave to support students achieving better and becoming more engaged with their learning deserve support. We have to do some things differently and be willing to be brave. What we do depends on the context and students. This approach wouldn’t be right for everyone but I am delighted that for this school the brave innovative decision appears to be producing very positive results. This will allow other people to learn from good practice – the more the better really.

For previous blog post on this subject click here.

Outside learning but Interesting decisions

A great outdoor space for students - for learning, working, socialising, relaxing... BUT....
Visiting a UK school recently I was admiring just one of their outdoor spaces complete with ampitheatre type seating, a courtyard and on through to an under cover largely glass protected area. This clearly allows students a whole variety of situations and opportunities for socialising, for working, for performance and provided a series of other working opportunities.

More and more schools are now being concerned about the potential of learning through external landscapes and architecture - this is a great space.

I was very sad though that, at the time of my visit, the whole space was banned for students because, at the school boundary just behind the seating after a strip of grass and the other side of a very high fence, was a river. I don't know of the causes behind the ban, so can't comment - they must have been good, but what a waste of a wonderful facility.

Whilst I think that this decision will be changed soon, something has clearly gone wrong here for this decision to be made, either in planning or in over protectionsim of students. I can't help but think of all those schools backing onto busy roads, railway tracks and yes - rivers. Students live in a very busy 21st century world with all sorts of risks and challenges. We have to be able to teach them how to work in all sorts of environments.

I can't help but think that there must be a better solution...

Somewhere, over the fence in this long grass is a river..

Friday, 20 March 2009

Is making coffee a 21st century learning skill?

Just a very light hearted comment really, but having just spent the day travelling to and from Rotherham (from London) with colleague Prof. Stephen Heppell, maybe part of the social skills we should teach is how to make a decent cup of coffee. The cups we had today on the train were either terrible or just plain bland. How could it be so bad? But is it a life skill? :=)

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Kidzania - a great idea

Kidzania - not sure about the name but an interesting short article in the free newspaper 'Metro' today about a new facility in Japan, (one of ten worldwide..... so far), where young children can try their hand at a range of possible careers with more realism than ever before.

They can try undertaking open heart surgery, midwifery, radio broadcasting, car mechanics and so on, using real equipment although some of it may be reduced size. What a simply fab place for active learning, for collaborative work, for trialling, exploring and evaluating. You can just see how the engagement of the learners would be total.

It's a great idea and one that you can just see being replicated all round the world very very fast! It just looks like real fun learning! (interestingly the first such facility opened in Mexico).

The issue is, I guess, how far is this from the other learning experiences of the young people. If it is just a one off event, and the rest of their education is content or totally teacher led then it could be of limited value and just a one off piece of fun. If the rest of their learning is interative, exploratory, collaborative and this project enhances their experiences, then so much the better.
Discussing it briefly with Professor Stephen Heppell he made the good point that if all schools had agile spaces then these resources could be used anywhere, and then move to other schools and may have rather more value.

Where is there one in the UK or rather when will there be one in the UK? If you know, let me know!

To read the full Metro story click here

21st century learning - the future is challenging......

Day two of the Education Guardian BSF conference focused on transformation. Again amongst a variety of good sessions, one that really held my attention was the feisty key note presentation by Keri Facer, Professor of Education of Manchester Metropolitan University.

Challenging the audience about the future, via dancing robots, eyeborg technology through to education, her high speed presentation held everyones attention.

2025: a time of:
  • massive familiarity with machines (many will have taken over human roles)
  • "insanely rich information landscape"(merging of physical and virtual information)
  • massive amounts of personal data, genetic data, MRI
  • moving from individual communication to network
In this context, she posed the question: "what sorts of schools will there be and what sorts of schools won't be irrelevent"? All agreed with her view that the biggest obstacle to innovation was the assumption thet 'nothing changes!"

The transformation agenda is risky, but the solution is not to avoid the risk but manage it. we just HAVE to change and be constantly aware and adapting how we work. There are loads of strategies for doing this, including:
  • piloting and prototyping
  • trialing teaching spaces
  • monitoring impact of change (with 'get out points')
  • learning from others
  • ensuring commmunity 'buy in'
  • agreeing relevant success measures.(How do you identify and measure what has changed?)
  • learn from mistakes - need to model to students what it is to trial and innovate
  • be very clear of the risk of doing nothing!
I have heard Keri speak before - she always has a great presentation style and is always challenging.....

and no - no one did answer her question of about having an operation in twenty years time.... would you rather have an operation by a dedicated robot or by a human with all the frailities that could be involved? "We don't know" seemed to be the main feeling - I don't!

Huge interest in the breakout sessions


Students and ICT....

Visiting the Education Guardian BSF ICT Conference this week provided yet more opportunity for some really exciting discussions about the approaches to the BSF programme, and the importance of technology.

A particular personal highlights was the contribution by Professor Angela McFarlane, Professor of Education, University of Bristol.

She spoke passionately about the use of technology in schools and noted that although it is an assumption technology has made education change - much of any perceived change is superficial, and underneath little if anything, has actually changed in what is happening and being learnt. Simply pumping technology into schools will not change anything. It is still a content led world but "this is not preparing young people to do things they need to do in a 21st century world."

She also challenged the myth that all young people knew how to use the various new technologies well, especially regarding how to use them effectively for learning. Who is teaching them?

On multi tasking she noted that many people can multi task well, young people are often quoted as being masters at it and yes they often operate in short time scales. However she reminded the audience that young people do need to be able to concentrate for a long period of time, and need to be taught resilience and persistence on particular tasks. "Not all young people have butterfly brains though" quoting the example of video games which take time and real focus. A key issue is that students still need to be told the relevance of what they are doing and why they are doing it - still a major failing for many schools and one reason why students don't engage with work at times.

Prof. McFarlane also discussed the fact that the level of student performance using ICT is often dictated by by the groups they associate with. If the group is generally not confident in ICT use , the group will not improve as fast as others. Admitting non competence in ICT technologies is particularly embarrassing for young people as so many of their peers appear to be be so confident in particular aspects of its use. It "is a stigma issue". This is an issue that schools need to be able to recognise and have a remediation solution for. With so many schools developing VLE's etc , if a student does not know how to log on on day one they are potentially going to find it hard to catch up. And of course, she referred to the challenge of school banning the sites that are the ones students actually use, including Facebook, You Tube, Bebo and so on.

Her final plea was that it was the duty of schools to be able to teach youngsters responsibility and to be a responsible of user of ICT.

Good stuff with very imprtant messages and of course, as usual, Professor McFarlane makes perfect sense! The question is who is listening and who is doing what about it?

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

The Great Schools Campaign attracts even more support...

The launch of the British Council of School Environments (BCSE) 'Great Schools' campaign continues to gather support from a wide variety of people. The most recent of these include Kevin McLeod, (from Channel 4's 'Grand Designs'), who has long been a keen BCSE supporter. Kevin dropped into their offices recently to record a couple of short videos outlining his support for the Great schools campaign. To view his campaign support click here.

He is also passionate about the importance of environments that respect the students who use then, who in turn, respect the environment. To view these thoughts click here.

I am a great believer that all students and educators deserve great learning environments that motivate, encourage, facilitate and engage learners, no matter what their preferred learning style. The more we can do to support the realisation of this, no matter how little the detail, the better.

A significant number of people already support this campaign and I am sure that more will also be filmed demonstrating their support in the future. For more detail of BCSE's Great Schools campaign launch click here. To view BCSE's website click here

Monday, 16 March 2009

External Spaces in Schools

External spaces in schools are really important. Well designed ones are a real asset for students and staff. The Causeway School, co-located with Hazel Court Secondary School (for students with SLD) in Eastbourne, share a great, well established courtyard space with plenty of mature planting.

Its design allows multiple uses including areas that can be used for a variety of activities including; external learning, social spaces, semi private / reflective spaces and play. It is just a really relaxing and attractive place to be for the whole school community in the very heart of the school. This really is one of the better examples designed almost a decade ago and is really well maintained.

Advertising Education..

I was kind of surprised to spot a new hoarding advertising education today, specifically promoting the new Diplomas... (well not so new now). I don't think I can ever remember seeing one before on this type of subject. (But then again perhaps I have just not been looking!)

The thing about Diplomas is that there are still huge numbers of people who don't really know much about them, so the more information people have access to about current learning strategies the better.

Is this the right or best way??? I guess if the DCFS hoarding gets even a few people asking about Diplomas or even thinking about education it is worth it. Interesting strategy though. What's next?

A good start to the day..

My walk to the station is usually in the very early morning (well 5.30) and my return very late. Hence it is usually dark with nothing to see. Today, on my way to a school visit on the South Coast, I left later. Being fortunate enough to have to cross the River Thames, today I could really appreciate a) the view, and b) the early morning light.

The sun and lots of light really do make a difference. On four occasions today people started conversations about the importance of windows for students and also noted what a huge difference it made on the mood of people when the sun was shining. Nothing new here, we all know loads of daylight is a really important feature in schools and that everyone needs to be be able to look up from close up work to see long distances, thereby keeping their eyes and brains active. Therefore the external environment is also important, even if it is in the middle of a large city.

The secret is to ensure that designers put the windows in the appropriate place for the intended use of the space, so that teachers don't spend ages trying to block the light all out. Typical comments about windows made to me recently include windows being a) too high for wheel chair users, b) too low for ICT rooms thereby creating all sorts of issues on computer monitors, c) not enough glass and d) too much glass. We all have enough knowledge and experience now so should be able to get it right.....

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Evidence based decisions...

Where is the evidence? was the proclamation last night at the launch of the CfBT research initiative 'Evidence matters'.

A packed meeting, with keynote speech by former Secretary of State for Education; Baroness Estelle Morris, heard the plea for more decisions concerning education to be based on real evidence. Specifically she called for pedagogy to be really evidence based and for the politics to be taken out of classroom pedagogy.

She also noted that many schools face a range of similar issues. For every issue there is somewhere which has found a solution. What we are not good at is creating a national solution or even sharing the solution with others. All too often schools are working in silos, when really there is no need for that to happen.

More and more people (and countries) are beginning to talk about pedagogy and making decisions. The better the evidence they use to make decision the better the quality of response should be. The evening went on in this vein with philosophical debate tempered by real life research and use of evidence from school staff.

The event also featured the launch of the new education evidence portal website. Most education professionals, especially teachers, do not really have time to research. This portal will help people find educational evidence from a range of reputable sources using a single search. It is designed for both professional and lay people interested in education and children's services and really should be a great tool as it further develops.

To visit the eep site click here.

It is always great to be in a room with so many people really passionate about improving the education for students and eep should be a great resource for all those interested in education research. A great initiative CfBT!

Lets talk about.... BSF

It's always good to review and evaluate current practice, especially when it potentially affects learners around the country. Being interviewed yesterday by leading centre right think tank 'Policy Exchange', we discussed many aspects of 21st century learning and teaching as well as issues around BSF.

I am a fan of the total revamp of our secondary school provision. However I am equally committed to a system that is transparent, effective and has a proven positive impact on the learning, teaching and achievement of the students within them.

It's good to talk and as we get nearer to an election it is so important that education does not become the inevitable political football it so often does. The focus must be ongoing improvements of the system. New learning environments are a key part of this.

(NB: Just in case you wondered I am only one of many being interviewed as part of a much bigger research programme so panic not).

The Shed

I visited a very successful Sixth Form College yesterday and had a fab meeting with senior staff about learning in the future and the implications for both them and students. It was really inspiring to see such positive and constructive ideas coming out, in addition to their ongoing discussion on their dedicated learning wiki.

What did suprise me though was my arrival for the meeting. Lots of people all over the world who are involved in designing new (and remodelled) 21st century learning environments mention the importance of a welcoming entrance for students, staff and visitors. I totally agree with this.

I was met by a very pleasant security man. The surprise was the fact that he was having to lean out of a window of a wooden shed to do so. It really was quite bizarre and something I have not seen for a very long time, let alone in a school this century!

I know that this particular college is hoping for a new building - if there was ever a case for better facilities being needed - here is a great example. They deserve it.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Sleepy teenagers..

I was really interested to read in the news this week about Monkseaton High School where Headteacher Dr. Paul Kelley is suggesting that lessons for teenagers should start at 11.00, rather than the normal school time. His own research, supported by neuroscientist Russell Foster, chair of circadian neuroscience at Brasenose College suggests that students perform better with a later start.

Monkseaton has been in the news before with trialling very short lessons to keep students engaged and involved. These have apparently seen student achievement rise. (See links on BBC news page - link below).

What I really do like about this though is that here is a Headteacher who is really always trying to work out how to best support the learning of his students for education reasons and not get trapped by organisational clutter.

If we are really talking about personalisation and 21st century learning and teaching we really should be addressing what works best for students.

After all there is no educational reason why school starts at 9.00. There is no educational reason why there are thirty in a class. (is it because there used to be 30 Roman soldiers in a cohort?). There is no educational reason for the long summer holidays (traditionally because of the needs of harvesting the crops). There is no educational reason for grouping students by some random age groupings based around birthdays.

Interestingly having talked to some teachers about this story I was amazed that quite a few would rather start school later themselves for at least some of the week, others wanted the status quo. A few agreed with the idea for the same reasons of learning and student engagement. (NB: he is not saying a later start for all students). Of course the added advantage that with a shift system is the school accommodation becomes even more flexible!
For full story click here

What do I think? I really am not sure right now about how I feel on this. Being the father of a teenage, it feels as though it should make a lot of sense. She certainly tries to keep different time zones to me.
I will be following this with real interest as will many others. I suspect that hDr Kelley may be right! All credit to him for being interested, motivated and brave enough to try to do the right thing for his students.

Sunday, 8 March 2009


Children and young people just love learning through play and activities. Visiting friends in Felixstowe this weekend we spent some time on a very cold and windy beach with my young daughters. Sandcastles were demanded - but what started as just play quickly became a whole discussion about types of sand and castles as we tried different things.

The girls were born and until quite recently brought up in the Caribbean. Sandcastles there were totally different - the sand was much drier, softer and finer - in fact it was really difficult to make decent castles at all as they just collapsed. As we undertook major construction one daughter chatted happily away about sand, (different textures and properties) and asking why it was different. The final full blown castle complete with moat (not shown), obviously a triumph of design and architecture, still lost water from the moat .... but it was her that told me why!

Research shows that most people learn by doing, by experimenting and by playing... rather than just receiving information. So why are so many people still expecting students to sit and 'receive' or copy notes from the board or book? Recent surveys show rather bizarrely that, if anything, the numbers of students being asked to do this is increasing. It makes really very little sense. The schools that have more students who are really engaged in their learning are those who involve them in the design of lessons and activities. Doesn't this just make sense?

The challenge for authorities and schools is to help teachers develop their skills in new ways of learning and teaching for the 21st century. Modern students DO know an awful lot about how they like to learn. They want to be active, collaborative, do research, use ICT, present and refine ideas and share them. They want their teachers to be experienced learners as well. We all know this and yet many teachers are still just too nervous to ask them to be engaged in designing their learning, which is just a real shame!

It may start with sandcastles, but this active learning already continues through nursery into project work in primary schools ...... so what happens next where all too often students are being turned off learning?

(So which sand did the girls prefer? Well the UK sand for building sandcastles actually... but overall they much preferred the actual beaches of the Caribbean - funny that!)

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

The 'Great Schools Campaign' starts

I am delighted that BCSE (British Council for School Environments) has just launched its Great Schools Campaign. The launch took place on Tuesday 24th February 2009 at Portcullis House. Great schools - great idea .... how can anyone associated with education not get excited about anything that moves us all towards achieving great schools. But how do we know and be able to prove what they are?

This potentially very important campaign, will last for 18 months, and aims to create a national debate about great schools and explore the role that schools and learning environments play in tackling social inequality and improving the life chances of children and young people
As part of the Great Schools Campaign, BCSE is also organising a major Inquiry named the 'Great Schools Inquiry'. Demonstrating the importance of this inquiry, former Secretary of State for Education Baroness Estelle Morris has agreed to be the Chair. This will be an independent, evidence based investigation that will feed directly into practice on the ground and into national policy development.
This is a particularly timely initiative with the increasing tempo of the BSF initiative and the start of the Primary Capital Programme. BCSE Deputy Director Ian Fordham speaks with massive enthusiasm of the considerable interest from people engaged in all forms of education in supporting this inquiry. I'm one of them!
The research and focused conversations will be fascinating.... but talk is easy. What I am really excited about is to see what impact this inquiry and campaign will have on existing and future schools!

Monday, 2 March 2009

Beautiful pavements can exist....

They always say people never look up as they walk around - but do they look down? Walking along a pavement last week I suddenly realised that I was not walking on the usual tarmac or concrete slabs but some instead really beautiful stone slabs. They really are pieces of natural art in their own right. I know several of my former art teachers would use them as a stimulus for a whole number of lessons.

Although probably horrendously expensive they really have added to the whole area which has just been given a whole new identity.

It really demonstrates that when we talk about 21st century external learning spaces, sensory gardens and stimulating environments et al, we really must consider every aspect of the space from the floor to above ground level. We really should be providing spaces where students keep on discovering new aspects the more they enter the space.

Even the ground / floor we walk on can be interesting