Sunday, 29 January 2012

Stage not Age

A recent media story has been producing some interesting conversations amongst educationalists. Basically it's about a class of 12/13 year olds at the Winifred Holtby School in Hull taking their GCSE English examination more than three years early.

Many schools enter students for exams one years early. This particular English teacher recognised that this one class of students were 'unique' within the school, producing work way above their age expected standards. The fact that twenty six of them achieved A's, B'S or C's at GCSE despite their supports this view. Whilst a few may retake their exams (four got D's) the other have already started GCSE English Literature with the expectations of starting 'A Level' courses two years early at age 14/15. Fantastic.
And why not? I am a real supporter of students being able to do things, new courses, projects and exams, when they are ready, not only when they reach some specific age set arbitrarily. It is all about 'stage not age', - if they are motivated and an do it, why shouldn't they? It may be administratively inconvenient, but that's an organisational issue.
Some comments under the story have referred to the fact that they may all have got 'A's' if they had waited until they were sixteen - a more usual age for taking GCSE examinations. But if they mature enough and are capable of doing and understanding the work now, why would you ask them to wait for three years. This success may well motivate them to do more and even better, thereby becoming more aspirational about their learning and plans for the future.
Asking them to wait for years for no legitimate or logical reason is far more likely to demotivate and demoralise them. Why would anyone want to do that?
So, a massive well done to the students and well done to the school for having the confidence to allow students to learn when they are ready, not wait until they hit random age targets!
To read the full story click here.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Thoughts on Finland's Education System

Another in the series of occasional guest posts - this time by Elaine Hirsch commenting on the Finland's education system. (Elaine Hirsch is kind of a jack-of-all-interests, from education to technology to public policy, so she is currently working as a writer for various education-related sites and writing about all these things instead. She currently writes for an online school resource.)

Imagine school with shorter and fewer days in class, no bells, and teachers who go by their first names. Imagine reading in warm slippers by the fireplace between classes, and doing no more than half an hour of homework every night. This is the education experience Finish students experience from K-12 to master's degree programs, a fact which is validated through Finland scoring the highest among international school systems.

Year after year, Finland's K-12 education has been at the top of PISA's international survey results for students' academic skills, and unlike the similarly high ranking South Korea, has done so without a cram school in sight. Sadly, this is in contrast to the
United States, whose position continues to fall and consistently lags behind countries such as Slovakia and Barbados in several subjects, despite higher government spending on education.

If Finland's educational success is not due to rigorous schedules, scoring scrutiny and intense competition, what is its secret?

The results are surprising. Finland spends almost $1000 less per year per student than the United States, and many Finnish schools do not boast a great variety of extra-curricular activities or employment of the latest technology. Instead,
Finland's schools differentiate themselves through more fundamental and very basic differences.

Finnish teachers are very well regarded in society, and share equal social status to doctors. 25% of young Finns select it as their vocation, but only 10-13% are admitted to teacher training programs, due to the high volume of applicants and the caliber of those seeking to join the ranks. In the United States, the bottom third of graduates enter the teaching profession.

Money is also not the answer. Finnish graduates are drawn to teaching because it offers great job security, a respectful and comfortable environment, and a very high degree of autonomy. Teachers are encouraged to be creative and self-sufficient in their teaching, and tailor the needs to their students. Successfully following this model is easier when the country's brightest graduates are the nation's teachers.

Parents and teachers teach children from a young age the benefits of being resourceful, and those new to Finnish society are often surprised by see young children walking through the woods to school alone, and carrying their own bags. Finnish parents show a keen interest in their children's education, and collaborate with teachers regularly.

Finnish schools emphasize comfort and respect in every aspect.
Schools mimic a home environment, with comfortable furniture and wholesome free lunches. Finnish schools are not ranked against each other, and students are not streamed into special programs according to ability, but struggling students do receive extra tutoring. As there is little difference in standards from one school to the next, no schools are disadvantaged or have to cope with the issues that many urban US schools struggle with daily.

Finland's 96% graduation rate, compared to 75% in the US, means that far more students are prepared for higher education. Economic disadvantage not does prohibit college attendance, as college is free and grants are readily available. After ninth grade, Finnish students choose either an academic or vocational track, meaning they are allowed to specialize to their strengths from an early age.

Any teacher will explain that it is inaccurate to compare two countries' education systems and conclude that the systems alone are the reasons for differences. Finland enjoys a far lower crime rate, and while the country may face challenges, few countries in the developed world compare in cultural, racial and religious complexity to the United States. That being said, the United States can still learn from the Finnish experience. Respect for teachers and for learning can't be bought with money alone, and often state curriculum and bureaucracy yields poor results as a substitute for a fundamental respect and enjoyment for learning.
For comments to Elaine - please post them below and I will ensure she receives them.. Thanks.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012


Although rather late - a few words about the annual BETT show this year. It seems to have been bigger and certainly more people attended than last year. Interestingly there was a much greater representation from foreign countries, including Singapore, Brazil, Sweden and the UAE amongst others.

This is the last year for BETT at Olympia - next year it moves to the Excel Centre. It maybe a bit further away for some but at least the technology should be more robust. Nothing can be more frustrating for those exhibitors at the worlds largest ICT show than having a variable (and often out) ICT capability.
Apart from the increasingly large and dramatic structures from suppliers there seemed to be a much greater emphasis on software and peripherals rather the more expensive kit. I did think that some of the presentations were particularly interesting this year. Inevitably Professor Stephen Heppell's stand was amongst the most visited with a rolling programme of presentations and Skype links to students from all over the world.
I was also pleased to listen to Ollie Bray, National Advisor on Emerging Technologies in Learning for Education Scotland talk about the virtues of using gaming as a key resource to aid learning. As ever, he was engaging and motivating with several examples of students and schools doing great things.... simply because they were given the chance!
And of course, Stephen Heppell was surrounded the inevitable television crews all show... no change there - people all over the world want to hear what he says, it's always motivating!

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Seeking Solutions to Problems

Spotted the other day near a local school, a very nice new brick wall outside a house, with an old car (all be it a Trabant) trapped in behind it.

What's really great is that a local primary school seized the opportunity to use it to set a problem solving exercise. Students were asked how they could get the car out of the front yard without demolishing the wall. Research, (the weight of the car etc) and lots of creative thinking came out from the students - would any of them work... unlikely but it created lots of interest using maths and science skills.
The real reason I like this though is the demonstration of teachers being flexible, seizing real situations and incorporating it it into existing curriculum work. It created interest, excitement and context. Great!

Not Motivating Students

A rather unfortunate piece of video surfaced last week showing Secretary of State for Education Mr Michael Gove addressing students at Haberdashers Aske school. What ever the purpose of the speech, it clearly was not aimed at the young people having to endure it. It looks rather more as though it was aimed at the media who were present filming him.
Teachers take assemblies every day in schools - to plan them effectively and capture the interest of students takes care and skill.
I'm not saying that Mr Gove can't relate to young people, but this is a very unfortunate piece of footage. To view it the video, click here.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

cefpi Article - Students Designing their Learning

Talking at conferences in the United States last year, (the cefpi Annual Conference in Nashville and NSSEA Conference in San Antonio), about the power of engaging with students in their own learning seemed to strike a chord with many delegates. There really was a surprising acceptance from many that we really must start approaching learning differently in the Third Millennium and involving young people not only in the planning and delivery of it, but also in the design of the spaces that they are expected to learn in.

I say surprising because at other events I have attended in the USA the delivery method has frequently come across as fixed. As for creating appropriate learning environments, Facility Managers seem to have made more decisions based on bulk purchase of vinyl flooring and chairs etc than ensuring spaces were an appropriate response to the appropriate pedagogy required. Add to that the thought of consulting students about designing their own learning......... and some have thought it was a crazy idea. But why wouldn't you?
This led to me writing another article for the latest cefpi magazine 'Education Facility Planner' entitled "Students Designing their Learning" The feedback has been excellent and very generous. I am humbled but pleased that people enjoyed it. To read the article in full, please click here. All comments welcomed - as usual!

Monday, 2 January 2012

Happy New Year!!

A very HAPPY NEW YEAR for all readers of the blog and I hope that 2012 is good for all of you.
My blog is read by many thousands of people from well over a hundred countries. I do know that posts have got fewer recently - I will do my best to resume 'normal service' during the year.
Thanks for reading and best wishes for 2012
Thanks for reading - as always.