The sins of the father…

Today, a story was released in the Daily Mail (I will not be linking as I am not a fan, but will attempt to paraphrase fairly) about a letter received by a parent regarding a debt owed for school dinners.

The article explained that the parent had received a letter (later shared online by @richardA from the Guardian amongst others – see below) that explained they were late to make payment of £75 for school dinners by one week, and that if the arrears weren’t paid by the following week the school would take action.

The action to be taken was this: as from the following Monday, the child would be placed into lunch isolation. They would receive a sandwich and a piece of fruit only. They would spend the entire 60 minutes in isolation. Only when the amount was paid back in full would they be allowed into family lunch with their classmates.

Now, the article went on to say that the parent had paid the money and the child had still received isolation the following week. The head teacher was quoted as saying that the child had been put into isolation for a separate incident (as it turns out, for misbehaviour at the bus stop).

That is pretty much the story and it has caused quite a little furore today, both below the article in the Daily Mail (as most articles in the Daily Mail are designed to do) and online, on both Twitter and Facebook.

I think it’s fair to say that there are elements to this story that shouldn’t be taken at face value:

  • why would a parent contact the Daily Mail about this unless to kick up a fuss; were there underlying issues with the relationship between the parent and the school?
  • the school in question is always in the news for being a free school, a school that espouses “no excuses” as a behaviour policy, a school run by a head teacher who has been held up by political parties as either being a saviour of education or someone not to be lauded at all.
  • the letter appears to have been sent to many parents (it is addressed: Dear Families), but the details are specific to the parent in question with regards to date, amount owed and consequences.

I have two comments to make about the letter (not the article) which was shared:

  1. The first thing I noticed was that the letter was written poorly. It had capitalised “Sandwich” and “Faithfully” and the word “overdue” was written both correctly as a single word, and incorrectly as two. Am I being unkind when I say that this shouldn’t be the standard of a letter sent out to multiple families about a debt payment?
  2. The second thing was the aspect of the letter that seemed to cause the most concern with others. Why on earth were children of parents being punished by being placed into isolation for the parent’s inability or even unwillingness to pay for 6 weeks of lunch up front? The school was out of pocket by £15 by the time the letter was sent. Also why was there no indication in the letter that the school was willing to discuss alternative methods of payment for those who might be having financial difficulties. Remember this was addressed to ‘Families’, with ‘Yours faithfully’ as a sign off; a generic letter to all who had not yet made payment.

Here is the letter for reference via this tweet from @richardA 

cohnobnusaapnj1

So back to the furore. Comments were made about the fact it was this particular school and its “no excuses” ethos that was the problem and that parents should know the rules and follow them. But here was a parent whose son had just joined the school a couple of weeks before, being pulled up and the child threatened with isolation.

Of course there is more to the story; Tom Bennett posted in his blog a full and frank explanation of the back story from the head teacher. I would link, but in my opinion the information shared by the head teacher should not have been posted in the public domain as it contains detailed information on the educational attainment of the child, former behaviour, history at other schools and details about the parent such as financial difficulties and their behaviour and I am concerned it identifies too much personal information about the already named child. It was clearly the reply to the journalist at the Mail and even they only published a small portion of the information. UPDATE: I’ve just read a tweet by another journalist Alice Woolley saying their lawyers would have been unlikely to sign off publishing full content of email from the head.

Suffice it to say, there is history between the school and the parent already and this incident was only part of the story. But in my opinion the school failed to do the right thing here on three points:

  1. The head teacher explained in her email to the journalist that the letter was intended to bring the issue of non-payment by the parent to a head. This implies that the letter was intended to be sent to the parent directly. In that case it should have been addressed appropriately so there was no avoidance of doubt.
    To suggest this was being sent to more families was potentially misleading.
  2. Citizens Advice has the following to say in categorising harassment by creditors:
    • putting pressure on you to pay all the money off, or in larger instalments when you can’t afford to;
    • trying to embarrass you in public;
    • telling someone else about your debts or using another person to pass on messages, such as a neighbour or family member;
    • I would argue that all of the above apply to the letter sent:

    • The money was asked for in full; the pressure being that the child would be kept in isolation for an hour each day until the the payment was made.
    • The embarrassment in public was by proxy: a child would be removed from the normal lunch sessions and kept in isolation. This would have been public in the school as the classmates would have been aware of the situation; remember this isolation was not intended to be due to the poor behaviour of the child.
    • Telling someone else about your debts; tricky one here – most children are aware if their parents have or have not made payment for something at school and most schools will communicate a debt via the child in the first instance; however it would have been made abundantly clear to the child, that the parent owed money to the school, due to the threatened isolation.
  3. My final comment is regarding the principle of punishment of one person for another person’s behaviour. The head teacher wrote in her email to the journalist that the child had made great improvements in the short time at the school (just four weeks). They had no problems with him: no fights, quick improvements to academic attainment and a child happy at the school. The problem, she said, was entirely with the parent. So why on earth would the school impose a punishment upon the child – by isolating them for an hour each day (during the social time in school) – for the debts and behaviour of the parent? This is not on. A child can (and should) be held responsible for their own behaviour in school; they are not responsible for the behaviour of their parents.

Even Deuteronomy had figured that last point out.

 

If you’re desperate for the links to the Daily Mail and Tom’s post I’ll put them up, but I’m assuming anyone reading this is aware of the story.

 

Have I got precision for you!

I know I’ve got a bit of a reputation for pedantry, especially when it comes to DfE curriculum documents. I promise you, I don’t scour them all looking for mistakes. That would be petty. But when they’re physics bloopers or causing a ruckus, then I like to look into things a bit more.

What follows isn’t a judgement on whether the DfE are right or wrong about exclamations, only that I think their instructions and definitions lack clarity and precision, and that this topic is likely to be very confusing for 10/11 year olds (and under).

Firstly, I fully accept that the exclamation debacle is not about whether students are only allowed to use exclamation marks after exclamations that begin with what or how. It is about the definition of an exclamation and in an attempt to calm the waters, the DfE have sent out this clarification:

Exclamations

Instructions in the clarification document

“The use of an exclamation mark does not change a sentence into an exclamation”. Of course it doesn’t! No one said it does (though some have had a joke about banning exclamation marks).

Let’s read the top line together shall we: The national curriculum states that an exclamation is one of the four forms of sentences.

Yes it does, here it is:

nc sentence forms

And the rest of the relevant detail (they discuss exclamation marks a lot too).

NC sentences

There’s the example: What a good friend you are! [exclamation]

So what’s the problem?  Well, one example is rather vague isn’t it? And looking online for resources that schools use throws up some anomalies. Let’s ignore English schools using American English resources (a troublesome situation perhaps).

Here’s the second resource in a google search for sentence types exclamation

http://www.primaryresources.co.uk/english/pdfs/sentence2.pdf

And a task from it:

Examples sentence types

How do we know which are the exclamations?

In a SPAG test the only correct answer is What a mess! [EDIT more on this later]

But depending on your definition then Stop! and Oh no! might be classed as exclamations:

an abrupt, emphatic, or excited cry or utterance; interjection; ejaculation

http://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/exclamation

An exclamation (also called an interjection) is a word or phrase that expresses strong emotion, such as surprise, pleasure, or anger. Exclamations often stand on their own, and in writing they are usually followed by an exclamation mark rather than a full stop:

How wonderful!

Ow! That hurt!

Exclamations are also used to express greetings or congratulations:

Hello!

Well done, lads!

http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/words/exclamations

The DfE don’t really mean exclamation when they say exclamation. They mean exclamation clause.

The only clear definition I’ve found about exclamation clauses comes from English Grammar Today via the Cambridge dictionary website:

We use exclamations to express surprise or shock or a strong emotion about something. The type of phrase or clause associated with exclamations is called exclamative.

We usually form exclamatives with what or how. In writing, we usually put an exclamation mark (!) at the end of the exclamative:

What an amazing car!

How I love the summer holidays!

http://dictionary.cambridge.org/grammar/british-grammar/exclamations

The suggestion here is that there are different forms of exclamations with certain exclamation clauses (exclamatives). But they don’t just include what and how forms as shown further down on that page.

There are interrogative exclamatives that appear like questions but aren’t: Have I got news for you! which is functionally the same as I’ve got news for you! but the I and the have are inverted. It’s not a question, you wouldn’t answer yes or no (it’s not even a rhetorical one). It’s an exclamatory statement (and a commonly used one at that).

So here’s the thing: the document that test developers are to use is very specific about what is and isn’t allowed for the test.

Exclamations2

Instructions to SPAG test developers.

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/439645/2016_KS2_EnglishGPS_framework_PDFA.pdf

Those weasel words are such a problem (for me as a parent): For the purposes of the test.

Everywhere there are resources children are using to learn to read and write from. And there are exclamations throughout them. I’ve just been through my daughter’s reading books. They’re everywhere. Some are interjections, some are what or how sentences. Some are imperative.

It’s confusing, and as my series of tweets from earlier this evening suggested – the DfE would have done well to define exclamation separately from an exclamative clause which is what they’re testing in the SPAG test.

(there are more below that one)

Anyway I leave you with an exclamation; how would you categorise it?

“Boy, do I hate being right all the time!” 

Dr. Malcolm in Jurassic Park

*Thanks @DiLeed for the retitle.

 

EDIT – Martin Galway has added a further twist in the comments below – I will summarise here:

I spotted something as I went to sleep last night, that was still bothering me this morning, and then Martin wrote to me on twitter asking if I minded him adding a comment – I said of course. What a comment [he wrote]!

You see, the clarification document at the top of the page in trying to make things better, adds another constraint:

Exclamations3

Wait a minute!

Let’s recap the new rules (from Martin’s comment  below). Perhaps a check list would help the students:

  1. Phrase begins with What / How?
  2. Does not take the form of a question?
  3. Subject + verb?
  4. Exclamation mark?

OK so lets look at the examples we’ve got [as pointed out by Martin]:

What a mess! (from the online teacher resource I found – and I thought passed the SPAG test)
This passes 1,2 and 4 but not 3 which was added in the clarification document! <- 10 points from Gryffindor.

What a lovely day! (example from the Test Specification document from the DfE!)
This passes 1,2 and 4 as well. Their own example doesn’t pass the requirements in the clarification document! <- 50 points from Slytherin 😉

How exciting! (2nd example from the Test Specification document from the DfE!)
This passes 1, 2, and 4 – but this has neither a subject nor a verb. Again the example they have given the test developments doesn’t pass the requirements in the clarification document! <- 200 points from Slytherin

Boy, do I hate being right all the time!
This doesn’t pass 1 or 2, but it has a subject, a verb and an exclamation mark 🙂 <-20 points from Gryffindor

So let me spell this out for you: the examples for the test developers contradict the clarification document!

From Martin below:

The fact that the frameworks continue to linger online with examples that are not creditworthy strengthens your point. Contradictory materials have led to confusion, and have led to all sorts of inference going on – some inferefences complete/some not. For my part, until the writing exemplars came out, my colleagues and I thought this would only appear in the test. The framework said:”For the puprose of the test.” So it seemed a reasonable deduction. Now that it is required in teacher assessment of writing for KS1, somehow these constructions will need to appear in the range of evidence.

What a total and utter stupid mess [this is]! <- 100 points to Gryffindor 🙂

Public reminder – things I will write about.

Alex, you need to blog about your ideas on:

  • teaching the photoelectric effect with no equipment.
  • video resources for supporting teaching of astrophysics
  • mini coding projects for GCSE Computing.
  • why Hour Of Code resources are useful for supporting computing classes with non-specialist teachers – but beware…
  • The computing curriculum and digital skills (ICT, computer science and cross curricula)

 

Grades 9-1… a complex picture.

Damian Ainscough has written a blog post about the new GCSE grading system.

Ofqual have released digital postcards explaining it as well:
OfQual GCSE Grades post card

And in response to Damian’s question on twitter I had an attempt as well. Firstly I produced this tweet:grades twitter

It’s difficult to produce an accurate representation in a tweet, but I gave it a go.

But then I did this

Grade Changes

The middle section of this image needs some explanation, meaning that this example is probably too complicated – Damian certainly thought so when I showed him; however I reckon it is worth thinking about.

Ofqual state that broadly the same proportion of students will achieve a grade 4 and above as currently achieve a grade C and above. And the same statement is also used for 7+ and grade A (with the top 20% of those students awarded a grade 9). So I used the 2014 data for Maths and English (2015 is similar, but subtly different – I might redo this image with 2015 results). It is important to note that this is the percentage spread of of results nationally, not a guide for grade boundaries.

I think this image is important as it highlights a few things: for example that the expectation is that roughly the same number of students (perhaps fewer) are expected to get a 9 as the number of students that currently fail their GCSE. And that the new floor grade 5 is a large jump up if your school cohort is similar to the national picture – meeting it is going to be a very big ask if your school cohort results are distributed towards the lower end – remember comparable outcomes means that this spread is also related to the national KS2 data.* ***

Anyway please pick this apart. I produced this visualisation partly to see if it was useful and partly to see if I could**. Let me know via twitter or in the comments.

*Note: this is a fuzzy generalisation based on English and Maths results from 2014 (via Mike Cameron) – your mileage willvary subject by subject and year on year.
** The reason the grades aren’t equally spaced on the left hand side is so that the G1, C4 and A7 points line up. I had originally spaced them equally on both sides. Another visualisation I made last year is a bit simpler but doesn’t display the floor levels
image

*** I’ve looked into the 2015 and 2014 data and noticed the following: in most subjects roughly 25-30% of students achieve a C so if the bottom of a 5 (the new floor)  is going to be the top 3rd of a C, then 17-20% of students will automatically fall through the floor – as the same proportion of students who get a C or above will get a 4 or above. Under the new system up to an extra 1/5 of all students sitting most GCSEs will not get above the floor grade.

Hold the front page: Schools Week already spotted this in June – http://http://schoolsweek.co.uk/grade-changes-set-pupils-up-to-fail-their-gcses/

— Further edit – this one is quite special 🙂

If we look at the Additional Science results we have a further oddity – the plan is for the top 20% of A/A* to get a 9. And so the idea is that A* equivalent students are spread between the top  of 8 and the 9 grade but if we look at additional science result A-A* in 2015 add up to 10.8% of students – 20% of that is 2.2% but the number of students with A* s were 1.9% of cohort. So in science we might have the odd situation that we’ll get more students with a 9 than we used to get with an A*. 7 and 8 will just split up the A grade. I don’t think that this was the intention.

#ASEChat 21 Sept 2015 – Live (ish) Blog

Welcome to the #asechat evening session on 21 September. I’m your host this evening and I will be attempting to live blog the chat (If @MissMcInerney can manage the Edu Select Commitees this should be a walk in the park – HA HA HA HA).

Press F5 for updates.


Question 1

So, kicking off with supporting primaries (paraphrasing):
@cleverfiend says that the support needs to be really broad – this is resource intensive
@oboelizzy the north+east midlands ASE have strong support for primary
@MsSuperScience – good links but rural means lots of feeder schools.
@SteveTeachPhysics – do we support them enough. Probably not.
@feedthegoat1967 suggests that in his experience primary schools do not see science as a priority.
@stevethedoc1 it’s all about communication – visit primaries, set up a TLC and find out what needs and wishes are from primary and secondary.
@anhalf keen to do this: prim sci teaching trust PSTT.org.uk
@anhalf needs to be better comms and trust btwn pri/sec… but challenging to get to that #asechat
@teach_well I think subject knowledge support for pri tchrs much needed.

Question 2

@viciascience To help sec sci tchrs understand KS2 science, read the assessment framework just published by DfE. ow.ly/SuyVq
Be good if pri tetras could share good practice with sec on formative assessment, summative assessment and record keeping.
@stevethedoc1 commission says not about tracking but about making sure they are getting better. Less admin more learning!!
@anhalf New curriculum clear on outcomes..secs need to trust us that we will do that!! Tricky when they also have to prove progress #asechat
@stevethedoc1 partnerships NOT either phase DOING it to other

Question 3

@StevetheDoc1 must be share, so much from last thirty years still not seen or used by majority.
@viciascience Just back from Huddersfield teach meet where we were sharing ideas and resources. Inputs from Twig / Smart Learning #ASEChat
@a_weatherall brilliant but that’s just to a few. I mean much more widely and openly.
@alomshaha Suspect lot of informal sharing already happens. Problem is, if everybody shares, who pays for creation of resources?
@a_weatherall the associations who are so worried about science in schools being seen to be excellent should do so.
@stevethedoc1 that is the big question, always to so few, how do we get everyone, 23,000 Primary in England
@alby I’d rather share ideas than resources. The obsession people have with resources drives me nuts.
@secretphysicist I think ‘resources’ should be free. You tend to reap what you sew in my experience.
@alby I disagree.

@dannynic perhaps better use of local clusters supported by the ASE – local sharing/CPD
@ellieERussell Sometimes online (twitter, blods etc.)good as geographical neighbours might not be like-minded in style
@stevethedoc1 but we need to get at schools or depts more than individuals
@dannynic ASE could get involved in creating more accessible content – perhaps bite-sized videos and webinars?
@cleverfiend I would have liked SSR from @theASE to be this #asechat
@SAPS_News Personally think we need to be open about sharing failure as well as success – though it’s harder to do #asechat
@viciascience Section in SSR called sci notes exactly for sharing good ideas #ASEChat
@robbutler what do teachers want from the ASE that they can’t get from social media? Authority? Trust? Reputation? Ideas?
@oboelizzy SSR still an excellent way of sharing ideas also EiS, IMO online useful as well but not instead
@SAPS_news From personal experience – networks I can ask for local advice, exchange support, keep abreast of issues
@NeedhamL56 buddies! Like minded people who recognise the importance of subject specific interactions, wider than sch
@oboelizzy the more answers we can get to this q the better, so ASE can really move fwd and be the best!!!
@robbutler we find primary members engage more with our events. Is it lack of specialist knowledge? Being more open to ideas?
@stevethedoc1 identify and nurture presenters from teachmeet thru pop ups into workshops, mentoring needed.
@viciascience Conferences allow in-depth conversation and sharing of ideas. Want more teachers to present
@a_Weatherall this is a good idea. And maybe video TMs more #asechat – youtube excellent way to share ideas
@hrogerson Has any mention been made of the quality of the practice that can be shared? Sometimes it might not be that good. runs and hides
@viciascience Remember one size never fits all. Need multiple ways to support teachers
@Dr_hern we’ve benefited from the Ogden Trust getting us working with other local physics teachers. @ogdentrust

More on the Royal College of Teaching

In which I discuss some of the reasons for the College of Teaching, as I see it, as well as a suggestion for a membership structure.

On valid criticism

Peter-OToole_Anton-Ego

Anton Ego © Disney/Pixar

For some reason, it always seems harder to come up with positive and useful plans for any project than it does to criticise and complain about decisions made. For example (some valid) criticisms about Building Schools for the Future were made by politicians in the early days of the last parliament and most of the projects were scrapped without much apparent thought for the effect this would have on schools, schools’ budgets, and schools’ places (see, there’s another criticism; I said it was easy). The government through the DfE decided to concentrate on developing the Free Schools programme assuming it would provide the places instead of handling the places allocation directly themselves or through LAs. It is easy to criticise this decision too, and yet, as was pointed out to me last night, it’s a complicated process to ensure that places are ready for the future; it requires a lot of effort, communication and collaboration to develop the optimal solution. The same is true for encouraging enough people to join the profession through an appropriate training and qualification route, or providing an appropriate method of assessing practical work in Science qualifications. It’s easy to criticise decisions but much harder to come up with good, credible and robust solutions.

Some, or perhaps most, of the criticisms of the proposed Royal College of Teaching have been well founded. It was indeed frustrating that one of the first consultations for the Royal College of Teaching took place at the start of a new school year during the working week. The idea that £12 million (over 5 years) is to be given to a new professional body with apparently no questions asked when it isn’t yet backed by the majority of teachers appears to many to be a frivolous use of taxpayers money. The idea that membership should be open to all seems like an own goal and could turn the Royal College of Teaching into a club for everyone with no mandate from or for practising teachers. The potential conflict of interest of the four groups that are running this initial consultation can be criticised. That there has not been enough communication to teachers outside the social media bubble is a real problem. Teachers had the universally disliked General Teaching Council thrust upon them, so it’s an easy leap to suggest that this isn’t going to be any different.

There are more questions (see Helen Rogerson’s post for a whole host) than answers at the moment: Who can call themselves a teacher in the College of Teaching? Why do we need a new College of Teaching anyway – what’s the Royal College of Teachers (est. 1846) been doing all this time? What is the Royal College of Teaching for? Wherefore Royal (or not)? I don’t have answers to all these questions and I only have a few responses to the criticisms (remember, it’s hard to come up with solutions).

If we keep looking going over the history there is the danger of not making any progress at all. So what I want to do is make a suggestion on the question of membership and what I see the College of Teaching is for.

Held to Account

Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales

I have been speaking to my uncle recently, who is a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants (for England and Wales) and has been all his working life, and I have asked him what it is about the membership model that makes it work? The bodies which look after the professionals that are able to call themselves Chartered Accountants are well respected and have a well established model of membership, training and regulations. An accountant or bookkeeper doesn’t need to be a member of an Institute of Chartered Accountants (for example ICAEW, ICAS or CIMA) in order to practice as an accountant, but if they are members, and are eligible, then they can advertise their Chartered status. The status defines their professional expertise, but also provides a level of prestige within their trade. The Institute of Chartered Accountants accepts membership from students, trainee accountants, practising accountants, as well as those who train accountants (most of whom are themselves practising but not all) and the retired.

The accounting professional landscape is very complex, and there are only a few similarities to teaching; for example there are many routes into accounting with many different qualifications that can be taken before an accountant might take on clients. One of the ways that accountants are held to account within their profession is they have to pass a practising certificate in order to be able to perform certain activities within their professional role – such as performing an audit. Teachers have a certificate system that enables us to practice, which is our Qualified Teacher Status (your mileage may vary). The right to practice as a Chartered Accountant can be removed by the ICA for defined reasons. In the teaching profession, the responsibility for administering the training of new and existing teachers in England and regulation of the teaching profession is currently handled by the National College for Teaching and Leadership, a government agency. The new Royal College of Teaching would not/should not be in a position to take on this role. And yet it’s been given a lot of money (£12 million would pay for 50-100 nurses over 5 years) to provide something for the teaching profession; but what?

The raison d’être

The conversation I had with my uncle, where he asked many of the same questions that other have posed over the last few months, revolved around what the purpose of this professional association is going to be. The initial proposals for the College of Teaching have suggested (see the FAQ sheet):

  • Challenging professional standards with validity, portability and accreditation
  • Professional recognition and status
  • A robust, respected portfolio demonstrating teachers’ development
  • Guidance and support from a College Mentor
  • Access to up-to-date research evidence to support more effective classroom practice
  • Access to professional knowledge that will draw upon academic research. Members will have the opportunity to contribute to a growing knowledge base that will help all professionals
  • Being part of a College that is recognised by schools who are committed to accessing professional learning, accreditation, sector-led standards and peer-to-peer review
  • Work towards better outcomes for young people as they enter an ever-changing and challenging global job market.

As I see it the primary objective would be to provide me, as a member, with the ongoing training and professional development support that I will continue to need throughout my profession. Why did my training, access to research on teaching, and certification suddenly stop after my PGCE (and QTS year)? Sure, my school has provided me with training on certain aspects of my practice, but there’s nothing really to take with me apart from what is in my head, or written down on my professional development record. I want something more, that I can measure myself against and commit to working towards as part of my professional development. Now, I could do this by myself or through my school, but not necessarily in a way that will mean my development is valued across the professional field. If, and when, I move jobs, what aspects of my professional development are transferable? I see the College of Teaching as an avenue for providing me with the resources and the development route throughout my career.

Who’s in? Who’s out?

One main sticking point is membership. I’ve written about membership and what defines a teacher before, and while there are those who feel my argument suffers from the continuum fallacy, others see the teacher question as a key point.

My suggestion to help smooth the impasse is that at its inception the College of Teaching should have a membership structure that identifies practising teachers, but not to the exclusion of others who would be able to contribute to the College’s raison d’être. To not include people who teach or train teachers in the College of Teaching seems to me to hobble the College in being able to give the development I want it to provide.

Here is what I propose (loosely borrowed from the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales):

  • Membership should be available to anyone training to be, currently practising or having previously been a classroom teacher.
  • Associate membership should also be available to anyone who provides ITT and ongoing training for teachers.
  • There should be a number of faculties that members and associate members can join starting with, but not limited to:
    • Practising Teacher
    • Trainee Teacher
    • School Leadership
    • Development and Training
  • Membership of a faculty should confer specific voting rights to you as a member with Practising Teacher faculty members having most privilege. I suggest that College of Teaching members who are not members of a faculty would have no voting rights.
  • There should be a number of special interest groups that relate to the sector / subject area that members can join including by way of example, but not limited to:
    • EYFS
    • Primary
    • Secondary
    • Maths
    • Science
    • English
    • Humanities
  • There should be the opportunity for members of affiliated teaching associations and unions to join the College as part of their other association membership (e.g. Association for Science Education) with the same faculty rules applying.

Out: Plans, experts and above all, leaders. In: Adapting – improvise rather than plan; fail, learn, and try again

These are my suggestions only – I offer them out to be critiqued and criticised without fear or favour as I’m sure they will be.

I also think if we stick religiously to the plan outlined in the initial proposal by the Claim Your College cohort or even the membership structure I suggest here, that we will come unstuck. It’s not currently an optimal solution but with bottom-up adapting and experimentation with these structures as the College takes shape we should get a solution that is.

All aboard?

The selection committee for the first board of trustees is being nominated for the Royal College of Teaching. For what it’s worth, the wheels are being set in motion. There is a lot money from the taxpayer being put on the table to push this body forward (that I would argue is largely unnecessary; I do want to know more about how this money is to be spent and whether it actually needs to be). The four groups who have set the initial course have said they will step out the way to let the College follow the route these trustees and the members wish to take. I know I want to be along for the ride, The question is: who else does?

Some recent reference posts:

http://johndavidblake.org/2015/04/04/for-labour-teachers-doubts-about-the-college-of-teachers/

https://cogitateit.wordpress.com/2015/02/03/the-three-ms/

http://geordiescience.blogspot.co.uk/2015/03/what-i-want-to-know-about-college-of.html?m=1

How much mathematics should be examined in GCSE Biology, Chemistry and Physics

Schools Week has reported on the GCSE Science Consultation response from Ofqual with a comment from Richard Needham @viciascience on the proposed percentages of maths examinable content: 10% Biology, 20% Chemistry and 30% Physics.

Now I don’t know the full mechanics behind developing exam questions and how these percentages will correspond to marks however it seems to me that these percentages are biased unnecessarily towards Physics.

Physics is traditionally thought of as being the subject with the most mathematics content due to the number of formula required, and in the new GCSE content, this requirement has become much stronger with an increased number of formula, and requirement to commit most of these to memory. However once a formula has been recalled or selected the use of it doesn’t require any extra mathematical knowledge to use it (except perhaps rearranging, and more complex formula with squared terms).

Contrast this will biology where students have to have an understanding of statistical techniques which aren’t used in the other two single science subjects.

GCSEScienceMathsRequirements
Here is the breakdown of mathematical requirements and how they contribute to the subject content at GCSE. There are 19 requirements for Biology, 18 for Chemistry and 20 for Physics. They seem evenly distributed and this doesn’t correspond to the 10%,20% and 30% split.

I am interested in your opinion of how import you feel each requirement is to the individual subject? I have prepared a questionnaire to collect this information, which I plan to share with Richard and use to form some collective response from #ASEChat teachers to the consultation.

It will take some time – but I would appreciate it if you would spend some time thinking about it.

The questions are all the same for each requirement – Rate how important it is to examine this aspect within each subject. Please rate from 0 – Not important (i.e. it’s a general mathematical skill, no special reason to examine within this science subject) to 4 – Very important (i.e. it underpins aspects of scientific understanding within this science subject).

I realise this is a big ask during your Easter Holiday. I estimate it will take around 15 – 30 mins depending on whether you leave extensive comments.

Here’s a link to the form or you can fill it in below:

On the College of Teaching and what defines a teacher

ClaimYourCollege.org

In 2012, just as the celebratory images of how proud we are of the NHS were being beamed across the world during the London Olympic Games ceremony, an unedifying debate on twitter (and beyond) began to ensue. The Sunday Times, a persistent stirrer of the education pot, had thrown a well-timed grenade in order to leak an intended publicising a policy*  from Michael Gove; to remove the requirement for teachers to hold QTS (qualified teacher status) in order to teach in the academy school system.

The horror: how dare the DfE belittle the role of teachers by suggesting that anyone could teach and they didn’t need to be qualified, and why just academies and free schools, etc. The reason why this debate was so noxious, is that it quickly became apparent that the revered QTS was not as ubiquitous amongst teachers as was originally thought. Many teachers who had done their PGCE, for example, but ended up working in F.E. (some through choice, others because that’s where the jobs were), had not achieved QTS, not because they weren’t up to the task, but because what was required for teachers to teach in FE colleges was QTLS (Qualified Teacher Learning and Skills). Did that mean they were teachers? It certainly made some feel that they shouldn’t teach in schools as FE was different some how. And then there were those FE teachers who couldn’t get QTLS because their college wouldn’t provide them with the mechanism to get it; because the IfL made it non-mandatory for a teacher in FE. Then there were the teachers who have been teaching in schools since before the PGCE, BEd and other ITT routes were dreamed up. They didn’t have QTS either. So the hashtag #NoQTSNoTeacher that went round during and after the opening ceremony was a rather selective and, to some, offensive sieve that created a divide between teachers in different settings and with different qualifications. Arguments were had and feathers were ruffled, but then we all got on with the job of enjoying the Olympics and the rest of the summer holiday.

Why do I bring this up? Well because definitions of what constitutes a teacher have been raised again to support, in my opinion, an idealistic attempt to ensure some control for teachers in the fledgling College of Teaching; it has just announced its next draft of proposals for consideration after a few months of consultation and panel discussions.

I want to make clear that I’m not responding to specific arguments made in some of the posts I link to at the end. I am setting out why I think the College of Teaching needs to be inclusive in the definition of “teacher” and also why I think the people behind the latest proposal have settled on the membership structure they have.

The problem, as I see it, is that those advocating a very tightly guarded membership structure in the College of Teaching for current teachers of school children only (or those within 2 years of a teaching post), are making the same sort of mistake as the #NoQTSNoTeacher tweeters of 2012. Teaching as a profession spans the teaching of children as young as 3 in Early Years settings all the way up to 19 in sixth form, both in school and 6th form colleges. But does it stop there? Some would say yes; some would say that already the net is cast too wide.

Who do I think are teachers? Well I’ll provide some anecdotal examples: My daughter is currently four years old, passing through the last year of the EYFS of her education. It started at pre-school when she was 3 and will continue until she moves up into Y1 aged 5. She is currently taught by a teacher and teaching assistant (who is a fully trained teacher – who has taken a role as a TA). She was taught in pre-school and now in school following the same curriculum and the people providing her education are subject to Ofsted judgements, and so, whilst the setting is different I would argue that the qualified people running the preschool count as teachers; all of the people in this example are teachers in my opinion. Others disagree.

My wife worked at a F.E. college, teaching students Childcare Studies. She was training to be a teacher, following the PTLLS, CTLLS and DTLLS route. She stopped to be a full time mum, but had she not, she would have continued to teach 16-19 year olds as well as the same course to adult learners in the evening. She marked, planned, wrote schemes of work, wrote reports, did parents’ evenings, and taught lessons. This sounds very familiar. She didn’t class herself as a teacher by the time she stopped as she was still in the middle of her training, but had she carried on she would have been a teacher in my opinion.

My PGCE tutor Dr Anne Scott was a Biology teacher for 10 years in state schools after completing her PhD, including being Head of Department in a large state comprehensive school. She has been a PGCE tutor at the University of York for the last 15 years, also undertaking work to develop curricula for Biology for Nuffield foundation. I can testify that she had to mark my assignments as well as provide effective feedback and support through my 1st year of learning to teach. She taught many sessions to her students – she was and still is a teacher (IMO).

Phillip Moriarty is a Professor of Physics at the renowned University of Nottingham. He carries out research, but he also teaches courses to undergraduate Physicists and has a “very keen interest in outreach activities and primary and secondary teaching”. He has told me he would definitely consider himself a teacher (as would I), and depending on the distinction between teachers would possibly join a College of Teaching.

Four different examples of teachers who would possibly not be allowed in the College of Teaching (not Teachers, Teaching!) if some had their way. They would not be allowed to gain from the advantages the CoT proposes to provide.

The proposals are not perfect. I think the membership structure is not yet right. And should anyone be allowed to join as lay members but without voting rights? Possibly, probably not. But I believe the argument about what defines a teacher is one of the reasons the current proposals for the College of Teaching are staged as they are; to allow the sorts of teachers I describe above to join no matter what their status, and to work towards chartered membership should they so wish and if the College leadership decides they fit the bill.

Good luck to them all. I’d be proud to call them fellow members of the College of Teaching.

Some reference posts:

Schools Week overview of the new proposals

Here are two posts that oppose non-teachers joining the CoT by Andrew Old. I agree with his points about the 4 year wait till the chartered scheme gets off the ground, however I think his worry about all and sundry “with a beef about schools” wanting to join the College of Teaching will prove to be unfounded. As such I nominate Andrew to join the selection team for the founding committee members – I hope he’d do it.

The Learning Spy also argues that non-teachers as lay members of the College of Teaching is not a good idea.

A post from David Weston on why he believes in an inclusive College of Teaching.

The panel discussion I took part in with Al Moon from David Young Community College and John Tomsett from Huntington School in York and Raphael Wilkins from the College of Teachers (to be disbanded in order to form the College of Teaching).

*Sam Freedman has reminded me that it was an official announcement during the opening ceremony!

Artificial Intelligence – is coding like teaching? It depends…

Learn

In a former life I was a software developer. I designed algorithms and wrote computer code for a living. I had to learn to use the language that was most appropriate to tell the computer how to do the task I wanted it to do. I had to think like a computer, even when the solution might seem counter-intuitive. I had to be creative, and literal, for the computer does not know what you are trying to make it do. I had to ensure that information was stored correctly in the computer’s memory, and that it could be accessed when needed. I had to be careful to ensure that any problems the computer encountered while processing my code, were handled in the most appropriate way. I had to correctly link to functions that other developers had written to achieve the outcome I wanted from my program.

This morning I posed myself a question:

What makes programming a computer and teaching a child different?

I realise the answer can be simply reduced to the words: many things. I’m really not suggesting that programming a computer and teaching a child are the same, however the paragraph above has so many analogies bursting out of it, that I felt that comparing the two disciplines might be a useful angle to follow as I develop my teaching.

Analogy 1. Code Dependencies

On Saturday 18th January, I attended Laura McInerney’s Touchpaper party at the Institute of Education. Michael Slavinsky led the group discussing problem 4 which asked the question: What determines the complexity of a concept?

Knowing I would be joining this group, my initial thoughts were added to the post above as the following comment:

I think an appropriate way to establish how complex a concept is would be to analyse the network of dependencies the concept has. The more dependencies, the more complex the concept is as it relies on a greater number of previous concepts.

We must be careful not to conflate complexity with complication (i.e difficulty in understanding). They are different things: A student might find a simple concept complicated (difficult) where as his peer finds a more complex concept uncomplicated (easy). I expect how complicated a student finds a complex concept will likely depend on how clear their understanding is of the dependencies.

A dependency in computing helps describe how different parts of a computer program are related and how the different parts of code should be processed by the computer and when. It is important for a programmer to understand the dependencies in order to effectively achieve their goal, but it is also vital for a computer to be able to process these dependencies effectively if it is to carry out the instructions given in an effective and productive way. There is clearly a link to this and the way we teach concepts to children. We scaffold, we build on prior knowledge, we link ideas. So our Touchpaper group concentrated on the idea that it might be possible to define a concept’s complexity in a similar manner. We also explored whether this may also help teachers develop their understanding of the order that topics should be taught (Michael has written about this in his reflection already.)

Here is a very simplistic first draft of the idea that I shared on the day, a basic concept map looking at Newton’s 3 Laws of motion.

Newton's 3 Laws of Motion

Not only are these concepts connected but they are also connected in different ways.

  • Linguistic dependencies – concepts might be described in different ways.
  • Numeric dependencies –  concepts that rely on a mathematical relationship.
  • Intuitive dependencies – concepts that have a link that might be counter-intuitive (or vice-versa blindingly obvious).
  • Multiple theories – concepts that are described by different competing theories, both valid or invalid.
  • Logical dependencies – concepts that require a logical step.
  • Domain dependencies – concepts that are taught in another subject perhaps (e.g.  Biology and P.E.).
  • etc

It seemed plausible to us that these links can be analysed and processed in such a way as for a teacher to be able to arrive at a value that describes how complex the topic is and to be able to use the map to help them plan an effective scheme of learning that will cause the concept to be less complicated for students to learn (and teachers to teach).

We are still working on much of the detail in the group and will have more to share in the coming months. But I wanted to blog the initial thoughts and hope to read some insightful (or indeed inciteful) comments and suggestions.

Other analogies

My intention is to use this idea of the computer coding model to explore other areas of my teaching and I will explore these in future posts including:

  • memory
  • logic
  • scope of variables
  • language of instruction

Blog relaunch…

SpaceX Falcon9 & Dragon lifting off last week (22 May 7:44 UTC) (photo: SpaceX / Chris Thompson)

Right, well I’ve just noted the date of my last post at my (aborted) attempt at a blog earlier this year and I am less than impressed with myself. 5 months later and after a lot of prodding from @teachingofsci (who blogs here; he’s been nominated for a blogging award don’t you know) I’ve managed to drag my fingers to the keyboard to crank up the blog again at its new home on WordPress. This sudden call to action is also partly due to the breathing space of a week with no teaching because summer half term starts tomorrow (at 3:05 pm).

I’ve decided that if write down what I intend to write over the next week now, then I will have to get the posts written. So here goes.

Coming soon on TSIAW:

  • Things I’ve Liked. Just like @teachingofsci I have been collecting favourites on Twitter, starring my RSS feeds and building up my bookmarks, and thanks to the excellent suggestion by @cleverfiend I am automatically storing all of these in one place – my Evernote account using the clever event->task service ifttt. So I will review and write about these in small blog posts as regularly as I can (starting with this weekend).
  • Virtual CPD vs School based CPD. I get a great deal of support and professional development from colleagues on Twitter. It truly is an amazing network of people that I have met (online and in real life) during the last 2 years that I have been on twitter. I am going to write a post comparing the CPD I can get in the school setting with virtual CPD (via Twitter and elsewhere) to highlight the advantages and disadvantages of each approach. I will be writing in general terms about the CPD I get in school for professional reasons.
  • My tuppenceworth on the DfE. I have recently been following the many pronouncements of Messrs Gove, Gibb and Wilshaw. I have remarked about the various  statements (and the reporting of these statements) made by the trite trio on twitter a lot recently, and I think I should reflect on some of my views in a more coherent manner (it’s not all negative).
  • Some physics. I really like @alby‘s website http://wordpress.mrreid.org/. He’s a physics teacher that regularly blogs about science that interests him and I have used a couple of his posts as springboards for lessons that I have taught. I also find that I retweet lots of science in the news without saying why I liked it or thought it was interesting (thumbs and phones and 140 character limits can put you off sometimes). So to kick this off I think I’ll write a little post about the transit of Venus due to happen on  5th/6th June. Posted!

Ok, 4 posts in a week. That should keep @teachingofsci quiet.