Wednesday, 26 January 2011

ICT Integration?

Just walking around a school and rather bemused to see furniture placed on a floor box with four sockets (that did work), and a wandering extension lead with four sockets placed beside it ... Health and saftety would love it!

Bizarre, but not, I am afraid, unusual.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Storage again...

What happens if someone wants to store a double bass?
Storage is always an issue in schools - there is so often not enough of it. As I contribute in a small way to the design of schools, I always look to see how other people address the storage issue. We all know that teachers as a profession have a reputation for being some of the worst hoarders ...... Even after a clear out when facing a move they have a lot of 'stuff' to support learning and students.
Visiting a new school recently I was slightly bemused by one music store cupboard - to describe it as narrow would understate it.... either they only operated a one way through it or it only allowed one student at a time to claim their instrument. Not sure what would happen if someone played the double bass or sousaphone! Now admittedly I did not speak to the music teacher involved in this school, but it just looks as though it is not a particularly effective space.
Storage has to work efficiently, its design has to be considered just as much as that of other spaces, it has to be a support for teachers, not an irritation.

Monday, 24 January 2011

It's a shame that...

I was very sorry to read that one of Knowsley's Centres for Learning is due to close after just two years due to poor student recruitment. The issue appears to be the fact that it is a joint faith school, in a strong area of religious identity. According to news stories parents are choosing to send their children to single faith schools a short distance away. Despite what some sections of the press are discussing about 'trendy schools' and PFI, the fact is that students were making significant progress. That's what schools are about!

The Centres for Learning are based on new small Home Base designs providing a number of agile learning spaces, for students to work in small learning communities in a variety of ways using a range of technologies.

Even the fairly negative media story was forced to acknowledge that the school has achieved good results with an increase in the number of pupils achieving at least five good GCSEs including English and maths from 20 per cent in 2009 to 35 per cent last year. This is a really significant improvement, especially in Knowsley and beats any other improvement in the area in recent times. The agile learning spaces must have helped contribute to the efforts of students, leaders and staff.

The decision to replace all the secondary schools in Knowsley with the Centres for Learning was a brave and trend setting decision... many schools all over the UK and globally are taking many aspects of their design and incorporating them into new learning environments. I still think that they are fab designs.... it's just a pity that a school that was actively helping students do better has had to close before it really achieved it's potential!

Eye's Up!

Eyes Up! It's interesting really how few people look upwards as they move's not considered important. But this is a missed opportunity. (One Headteacher once said that he thought I was ready for headship after we had walked the school and I was spotting issues with ceilings and floor coverings - pity he was not talking about learning really!)... but seriously, many people do not look to the ceiling.

Schools do their best, especially if hey are helping themselves, but really when we run services across ceilings they do have be done as neatly as possible and made to look as though they are meant to be there. Otherwise they look really shocking! Working in one school at the moment I cannot help but compare it to Phelps High School in San Diego - every service is painted a different colour every student knew what each pipe/colour does, it is a true learning environment .... one works, the other doesn't!

LA's challenge

It had to happen - it was inevitable - a group of local authorities taking the new UK government to court about the abolition of the 'Building Schools of the Future' scheme. 'The Independent' newspaper summarises the story well.
The main thing is that we now have a proportion of students in the UK being taught in some fabulous learning environments fit for the Third Millenium, whilst others are in really substandard accommodation, more suited to the 19the century, with no current hope of anything happening about it. That just can't be right or fair. We all want students to have equal opportunities - they should have! We all know that the environment makes a real difference to learning despite what some may proclaim. Whilst the UK's deficit has to be addressed, I am just not convinced that education is the right area for such significant cuts.
This will be a very interesting court case to follow..... for the sake of our students!

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Students and Technology

The recent BBC report on Steve Beswick's (Director of Education, Microsoft) interesting comments on students not fully using their technology skills in schools at the BETT show, highlights a problem that many of us have been saying for ages.

Many young people are so much more expert in the use of technology than schools give them credit for, or allow them to utilise in schools. Frankly, many schools are holding students back from learning in the way that they want to learn. As Steve says - they have so much potential that is being untapped.
I am currently working with a number of new school build / refurbishment projects - the integrated ICT conversations are far too often still being based, at least initially, on "what we do is..." or "how our students learn is...." or is just not a priority at all.
It appears that much, in reality is about teacher confidence in:
  • the use of technology in 'public'
  • uncomfortable about students knowing more about it
  • not being comfortable with students co-teaching peers or helping them plan lessons to include technology
  • not wanting to change an approach that they consider works for them
Equally there is some pressure to revert back to teaching methods of the past - but surely, it is all about balance. The use of technology should be seized as a real opportunity to engage the widest range of students, not as THE way of learning, but as a tool that the vast majority of students like to use for a wide variety of tasks.
Whilst I accept that there is concern by some Heads about the use of things like, for example, social networking, for example, there are schools that can and do make it work very effectively in some most challenging locations. We are planning learning spaces for the next thirty forty years- looking only 'at the now' is actually not helpful.
Those schools that think lessons do not need to fully integrate technology really are still not accepting the present context, let alone the future!
To read the article in full - click here.

Monday, 17 January 2011

BETT 2011

Another interesting and crowded BETT Show passes... featuring all the very latest and best things in educational technology. With more people registered to attend than ever, it was, on several days crowded with people seeing what was new.

Inevitably some of the 'stuff' looked pretty similar, but if you looked hard enough, there's always something intriguing and new...... The seminars and sessions looked interesting and were certainly well attended.. It was also, of course, a great opportunity to network and catch up with people not seen for ages.
What was good this year was the increase in students on some stands actually using the products and demonstrating the context... these, as ever, were a really good advert for what they were doing There have always been students on Professor Stephen Heppell's stand, (his theme this year being visual learning). As always the media were buzzing around his exhibit area all show.
What is fascinating is that some of the fab students from Lampton School have been there each year for five years. Not only were they seasoned pros at talking to interested spectators, they were also mentors to the younger students 'learning the ropes'. Talking to them certainly beat talking to a bunch of men of a certain age wearing grey suits, or some garish dodgy tee shirt try to look corporate, 'branded' and trendy.... oh dear..
The fab students from Lampton School demonstrating approaches to learning on Professor Stephen Heppell's stand being interviewed by yet another media crew
Students were also demonstrating and learning on the Lego stand..
Few stands were showing educational FF&E this year - there was a really colourful range here though
I must admit to feeling fairly sorry for one demonstrator (photo below) who bravely ploughed on with her prepared script, including informing us that there was several experts available to help of all interested.... the problem was, no one was listening to a word she said... a fairly hard thing to achieve in a show as crowded as BETT was this year... I'm sure she had more people later...
Is there anyone listening??

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Engineering in Action...

Not directly education related, but an amazing piece of engineering took place over Christmas in Caversham when an entire railway bridge was removed and replaced in one go with a much bigger bridge. Even better, the whole event was captured on a time lapse camera... the resulting film, which does not last long, is really amazing.
The new bridge, weighing 1,000 tons was moved on a powered machine, with 257 wheels all of which steered independently.. a truly amazing piece of kit.
Months in the planning, the operation was completed early, including replacing all the railway tracks etc.. This was an amazing project in an area surrounded by schools. I just hope that they had a chance to be engaged with it by Network rail and the construction company involved..., especially those students studying construction and engineering. It really was just too much of a good opportunity to miss... but did they??
To watch the short You Tube video click here

Exam time...

Visiting a school this week I saw the inevitable sign about exams being in progress. In fact, whenever I go into schools, I nearly always see a sign for exams of one sort or another being underway..... They take an increasingly large amount of time (and space) in a school life.

There is a new focus from the Government on going back and increasing the number of terminal exams, as in the more traditional approach to assessment as one aspect of a strategy of improving standards. Just like I did when I went to school.
We ALL want standards to improve, but I hated exams, (I'm not the only one) - and much preferred other forms of assessment where I always seemed to do better.
The aspiration for increasing student success is fine, we all agree - there just have to be a combination of strategies to ensure measuring knowledge and skills really reflects what has been learnt.

Monday, 10 January 2011

League Tables....

League tables are frequently a bone of contention between teachers, schools, parents etc... but the new league tables, due out this week (Wednesday, 12th January 2010 at 09.30), will cause far more disturbance than usual.

The new league tables will include the newly announced measure of students passing the English Baccalaureate (EB) subjects at a C grade or above in: English, Maths, Science, a language and either geography or history at GCSE.
Headteachers only knew that this criteria was being included recently. Students and schools who grades are included in these tables did not even know of the English Baccalaureate criteria when they chose their options or took their exams. It's a new measure and one that schools didn't know about until recently. In fact, Headteachers only knew that this criteria was being included in the league tables a few weeks ago. I was with one Headteacher who has transformed his school, the engagement of students in learning and their achievement. When he got the email - to say he was fed is understating the case.
Many schools, including one of the ones I was Headteacher of, did not make taking a Modern Foreign Language at GCSE compulsory. There are a whole host of students who are not remotely interested in learning a language and it was, for them just not relevant. Forcing them to take one encouraged some students to 'switch off', this creates it's own range of issues, including behaviour issues. As a result, many schools, hundreds of them I suspect, will drop in the league tables to be published today.
Speaking to a Headteacher of a school in an area of second and third generation unemployment with huge lack of community and family aspiration, he just threw his hands in the air at the thought of motivating a lot of his students to study French, German, Mandarin or Russian. Having said that, there are always students in every group, who against all expectations, get motivated by a subject and excel.
There are other anomalies..... Catholic schools expect their students to study Religious Education (RE) at exam level - for some bizarre reason, RE is not included with History and Geography. Talking to a Headteacher of a very very successful Catholic school last week, she was concerned that all her students did RE but then also did a modular Integrated Humanities (IH) course. This IH course does not count under the EB criteria. From being a very successful school, she fears she will plummet in the tables as RE is not recognised.
Schools with a very high proportion of students where English is the second language do well, but frequently for a large number of students (not all) the focus is improving English - they will also drop.
Schools are now considering how they respond to this. Many are quickly readjusting their course options and curriculum to comply with the new requirements Some are ignoring them as Heads believe the increased academic requirement is just not appropriate for the majority of their students.
The other new aspect is the raising of the bar where schools are deemed to be unsatisfactory or not. The bar raises from 30% to 35% of students achieving 5+ A*-C grades. Add this to the new EB criteria - this will be a further issue for some. At least there is some flexibility: where schools can demonstrate that standards are improving they should not be placed in this category.
This whole initiative raises many issues:
In a time where there is a national shortage of language teachers, where are schools suddenly going to find the teachers? Applicants who are any good will certainly be able to pick and choose and, to a certain extent, name their price. Successful schools will receive the majority of applications, struggling schools will find it hard to recruit.
Equally, some schools will have to find more specialist teachers for History and Geography. I have already heard of some staff undertaking additional training in these subjects.
What becomes of all the very good modular and vocational courses that students undertake - some will survive, many won't.
Many would agree that the exam system needed review - many schools now start GCSE courses in Year 9, rather than the traditional Year 10, there are calls for GCSE's exams to be taken in Year 9 so starting even earlier - it is a bit of a mess.
In fairness, politically, if Secretary of State for Education Mr Gove is going to do this, he could only really make this dramatic move this year, so by the time of the next election, he can demonstrate an improvement against the new measure which will take two years to pass through the system.
It will certainly put more pressure on schools, staff and students. It will be interesting to see the figures when they are released and see the reactions to them.
To read the full BBC above story, click here

The James Review..... a waiting game....

When the new Government took office, one of it's first actions was to effectively stop many of the system changing Building Schools of the Future new / refurbished school schemes that had just started or were awaiting the formal start to the process. As predicted, many students 'lost' their new schools, despite being actively involved it the scheme development. Staff, parents and local authorities got very angry and, of course, very disappointed. Even existing schemes, well underway were instructed to save money wherever possible.

In addition of course, were numerous job losses, local authority staff, construction companies, ICT companies, educationalists and so on.
What did happen was the establishment of a Review to consider how the DfE capital expenditure could be distributed more effectively over the Spending Review periods 2011 - 2015. The "James Review', as it has become known, was created and instructed to consider how this may be achieved.
Their brief included how best to meet parental demand, make current design and procurement more cost effective and efficient, and overhaul how capital is allocated and targeted. The Review team were also asked to take into account allocation of capital funds to ensure new providers would be able to enter the system and enable the establishment of new schools. It is expected that priority will be given to funding new and refurbished buildings for Gove's flagship academies and free schools programmes.
Lots of people are waiting anxiously for this - obviously students, staff and parents, but also all those who have jobs depending on the outcome - including lots of education companies / staff, construction and ICT companies.
It was widely expected that the result of the Review would be made public in December 2010 - in fact, lots of decisions were due in December - including at least two totally separate schemes I am involved with, in different parts of the country, involving numerous schools.
It's now well into January 2011 and not a word has been heard... we' re waiting!!!!

Friday, 7 January 2011

iPads and learning....

It was inevitable - it had to happen - it started months ago and has continued to cause excitement... but there seem to be even more articles flying around now about the use of the iPad in schools. I personally believe they, or their successor, will absolutely transform learning in the future - it has already started in some schools.

A recent article in the New York Times about a school introducing iPads to replaces some books has set a flurry on responses from all over the places. To read the whole article in the New York Times read here.
The internationally respected Ewan McIntosh responded in the Huffington Post iPad Learning for all the wrong reasons with both critical and supportive comments about varying aspects of the story - I must admit the thought of iPad labs does seem to defeat the very purpose of them...
Bloggers have joined in and a whole host of comments are flying in response - Fraser Speir's blog being just one example.
Following Fraser's response, Craig Grannell from Scotland has written on about how every student in the Cedars School of Excellence in Greenock, Scotland gets an iPad read here.
The debate will continue but there is no doubt about the ICT in many schools in the UK that the 'genie is out of the bottle'. We can't undo what has been started or stop the use of devices in schools nor should we - technology is what are students use out of school and expect to use in school - those that don't are really being held back.
I have been critical in other posts about the lack of words from the DfE on ICT in schools, but as Professor Stephen Heppell said as we chatted over a coffee, the present regime has criticised so much in the the current education system, that the fact that they haven't really criticised ICT is probably a positive - I guess that's a positive way of looking at it.
As Fraser stated in his article when talking about education "Technology is the way we do business – it's how we teach. It's not a reward for doing traditional education well" - I agree - if we don't approach it from this way - we're doing something wrong!
To read Ewan's blog click on

Commuting and virtual working...

Walking past a scrum of people desperately pushing to get onto the London Underground this week, even though the gates were shut, really made me wonder why more people don't work from home. Rapidly increasing numbers of people already do - judging by this awful sight, which is not unusual - I think more should strive to!

The technology exists, many people really do not have to be based in a specific office to do their job. When I need to contact people, I often skype people, including representatives from the DfE - I don't need to sit and look at them, just be able to communicate with them.Bizarrely, many schools and offices still block programmes such as skype even for staff. Why would you do that? Filters can be organised to cope!
Many offices are chronically inefficient, especially in providing dedicated spaces for people who are rarely there, and could do their work from anywhere. They could hot-desk - many people do. It's all about being brave and trusting people.
Our young people are well used to IM, social networking and other forms of communication - it's about using these skills and adapting them to work situations - many people can cope, can company leaders? If not - why not?

Monday, 3 January 2011

Magazines Quotes

December was a bit of a media month in some ways. The interest in the blog post I wrote about Accrington Academy at the cefpi conference in San Jose has continued to gain interest from all over UK and also from abroad.

The year ended with my blog article on their presentation at the conference being reprinted in the latest 'Blue Skies' magazine and I was also interviewed and quoted in two articles in 'ICT for Education' magazine, one again on the Accrington Project, but also in an article about sustainable schools.
I enjoy doing interviews, especially having to think quickly and being concise - well I try anyway. I am very lucky to be involved with some great people, projects and ideas, some of which I predict will attract even more attention in 2011. I hope so, anyway!