The Educator's PLN

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I'm on the train back to Preston after a very inspiring but in some ways frustrating two days at the schools network conference.
Don't get me wrong, the conference is and always has been phenomenally successful in promoting thought by providing world class speakers and practitioner workshops to stir and stimulate our schools to become the best that they can be.

This year my own learning journey of inspiration was again fuelled by Sir Ken Robinson (I never tire of hearing him). He urged us, for the sake of the children in our schools, to be creative and use digital technologies. Lord Putnam similarly said that the development of digital competence was of critical importance. I can't help feeling that his message was always going to receive a good reception from the conference hall, but it's those schools who are working in isolation and who won't find solutions to la filtering of all the great content out there, who will continue to work in isolation. The digital divide between the schools who are energetic and embrace 21st century technologies and those who don't is growing by the day and the need for a framework of entitlement for those schools not engaging with this agenda has never been greater. The children in those schools deserve the same entitlement! Please don't interpret this as a request for ofsted regulation but there has to be a minimum entitlement. We then have to ensure that expertise isn't lodged with just the ICT co-ordinator or head of department. It is critical that ALL teachers embrace and embed digital technologies into their practice. Why on earth wouldn't you?

The youth sport trust and tim Pendergast talked to us about inspiring every child to be the best that they can be. Tim talked about his incredible personal journey and the core skills of resilience, resourcefulness, reciprocity, risk taking came through time and again and I can't help but feel that we have a duty to develop these skills and attitudes through our work with children and young people. Again this isn't a one stop shop, it has to be embedded into everything we ALL do allied with the highest expectation of our children and young people. For some of our children we are the only ones who believe in them!

Alan November talked about flipping our educational expectations so our kids do the bulk of the work, which in turn promotes their learning. He asked the question " who owns the learning?" this approach to learning came across loud and clear in Finland where the teacher does no more than 40% of the talking and the children do at least 60%. The Finns also talked about learning as discovery! Wow! What a great way to see learning. Too often in western education systems learning is about collecting facts to pass a test, which then act as stamps in a learning passport which entitles you to a place at college or a job. Learning becomes linear and functional, I think Lord Putnam described it in this context as the handmaiden of the economy. But education is much more than that.

Education and schools are about developing self esteem and as Claire Young so eloquently described, it's about skills for life and employability. We all know kids who were great at passing tests but had no social literacy. This too is the unwritten but equally important curriculum for all schools.

Later on Thursday evening we were treated to one of the great educational speakers after dinner speakers and comedian this country has to offer......and also Gervase Phinn! Gervase is passionate about learning and children and it oozes from every pore. This is grounded in a life as a teacher and inspector who appreciates that schools are just data organisations but in some cases critical life support systems for children. This contrasted sharply with our Education Secretary, Mr Gove. Whilst Gervase was eloquent and passionate, Michael was eloquent but evasive. He talked about children without a convincing passion which stems from being there and doing it. Our disengaged learners he referred to recalcitrants! Gervase talked about how he engaged one of michael's recalcitrants to recite the most wonderful account of the nativity. And you see that is the problem! That in essence is the cause of my frustration.
We have wonderful people with great ideas to take education and learning forward but whilst we have economists and businessmen or at best non educators giving education a direction we essentially create the following metaphor.

There are many schools who create a field full of opportunities for children. These opportunities are wonderful in developing self esteem, confidence, relationships, resilience, determination, broader understanding of the world around us, innovation and creativity as well as the important core skills of Maths and English. This essentially is our broad and inspiring curriculum.

However for all state schools there is the time when mr Gove as our farmer, herds us all over the cattle grid to be milked for data. Unfortunately some of our more fragile kids fall through the gaps in the cattle grid and never recover.
What then happens is that is the quality of the milk is assessed for specific things and despite the overall health of the animal, the quality of the data means that there is a prescribed diet of things that M Gove and ofsted feel will make a difference to the quality of the milk. Unfortunately although the milk/ data might improve slightly, the overall quality of the animal suffers. the curriculum becomes narrow and the child poorer for it. The really tragic thing is that this happens more often to those children who most need a broad and balanced educational experience because they don't get it at home.

Essentially it is not schools who narrow the curriculum but governments. Mr Gove doesnt want to consider Finland with the best education system in the world as they have no testing or inspection instead going all the way ton hong kong and Singapore with totally different cultural expectations. Finland trust their teachers and schools, raise teaching as the highest of all professions. Finland have created a society where materialistic gain has low standing in favour of traditional family values of love, respect and the common good. There is a lot to learn from Finland.

For us to truly make the dream which several articulate speakers have illustrated in Birmingham over the last two days, a reality we need to:

* change the focus of inspection over the next three years away from raw and often misleading data to a broader appreciation of the development of the whole child, implanting Gervase Phinn's DNA and passion in all inspectors
* unshackle the teaching profession and trust those schools doing the right things
* demand from schools, school leaders and teachers that they repay the trust and faith in them By creating schools which create children and young people not just fit for tests but for life and employability to make a contribution to our society
* every child must be told that they can make a difference

Mr Gove holds the keys but we must all bang on his door until he opens it to all the things we , as educators know are right.
As time Pendergast so clearly stated "once you make a change, you just don't know where it might take you."

We have to be the change we want to see.

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Comment by andy mellor on December 11, 2011 at 12:16pm

David, I agree. That's why robust assessment data has to be able to be used by school leaders to assess the quality of teaching and learning rather than to punish school's with less advantageous catchments. What the government is doing through Academies which whether we like it or not, is increasingly giving schools the wherewithall to reward good quality teachers whilst taking action over those who quite frankly shouldn't be teaching. We will all have come across teachers like this and the legislation has so many loopholes that taking appropriate, proportionate and staged action to support but also potentially dismiss those who aren't making a difference to kids, is near impossible. Australia has a 12 week rule and it is incumbent on the teacher to prove that they should still be employed. These are the tough conversations that we need to have for schools to be trusted. The problem in the past is that heads and school leaders haven't had the tools to be able to have these tough conversations. The landscape is changing and I think we should grab the opportunity to show central government that we can be trusted and can manage our schools far better than them.

Comment by David Tebo on December 11, 2011 at 11:52am

Thanks for the great thoughts. I agree with most every point. The struggle I have with the comment below and the idea of trusting teachers needs time to play out. I am a huge fan of great teachers and they should be held in high regard, but to trust them simply because they are teachers is not fair for all student. Standardized test data does a poor job of testing the quality of the animal, but a well rounded set of data is need to identify student and teacher needs. I think some of the issue is that for a long time teachers have wanted to be respected as professionals, but on average don't work  that way. The days of teaching by feel and teacher and classroom centered activities has passed. For the trust that you reference to take place the status quo model of instruction that we have seen for 100 years has to change. The cultural implications of that inside school buildings is daunting at times for even the best systems. I believe that teachers need a level of support in this change that we as leaders haven't even started to address. That falls, not on the backs of teachers, but on the back of poor administration and weak leadership. In the land of nice it is time for tough conversations so we can support great teachers and our students in new ways.

Thanks for the insight.

Comment by andy mellor on December 7, 2011 at 9:06am

Agree completely! It is true that not all schools are exploiting digital technologies and there is a real concern from what I've seen that things are moving so quickly that there are now some schools who have fallen 5 years behind in the space of a couple of years.

Education should be led by educators who are trusted to put things right. Unfortunately it is led and directed by politicians, businessmen and the economy and whichever colour they are they try to "fix" the stuff the previous administration did "wrong" with schools. Essentially we are batted about and told them we're not doing this or that or that standards are not what they should be based on questionable data.

We are effectively a political plaything with which politicians can appear to be busy.

Comment by Cherryl Drabble on December 7, 2011 at 8:51am
I've read your post with interest. So Ken Robinson urged us to be creative and use digital technologies in our teaching. Do most teachers not do this? It's a valid point that he makes but I would argue that many teachers do this already. I'm not convinced that it's possible to teach outstanding and innovative lessons without the use of digital technology. Similarly ICT is generally not a discrete subject. In my school it is embedded across the curriculum. This could be confined to special schools but I have every reason to believe in my mainstream colleagues. They may teach the lesson as a separate subject but I'm confident it's used in every subject. This must be open to all children if they are to become competent citizens of the future.
The next point of interest for me is what are we educating our children for? This was the subject of a recent ukedchat and the answers were varied. Personally I agree that education is to develop self esteem and confident citizens of the future.
I think you've captured the thought for the day. While education is run by business people and economists we will continue to create a generation of people who are able to pass tests and quote targets but are not sufficiently equipped for the world of work. Teachers need to be trusted to do right by our children. Otherwise why are investing tax payers money in training for our teachers.
Comment by John Hobson on December 3, 2011 at 12:42pm

Agree with the views: having flipped the teaching this year it's a lesson how it can transform quite difficult groups into hives of industry!

However, I'm not sure that can expect much hope from OFSTED as the new incumbent wants to go back to the Victorian model of linking pay and performance (try and get staff to apply to work in a failing School  then...) and teavher's appearance (see I've come to terms with the current path continuing until there's a fresh election at least.


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