Bacc to Bacc- looking at practitioner-led developments

The politicians have had their say: EBaccs, TechBacs, AdBaccs, Liberal Arts Baccs….. but the profession is fighting bacc!

I live for the day we have evidence-based policy making, and what better than to look at two Baccalaureate models emerging from the chalkface rather than the hustings.

Click here to access my introduction to the issues (on the Progressive Awards Alliance website)

Click here for a brief summary illustrating how close the two models are in terms of vision, design principles and practice.

Next week, I will highlight some of the differences, and suggest how they could be resolved.

Of Boxing Binmen, Business Leaders and Brilliant Secretaries of State

Today, I attended a really excellent Teaching and Learning event, organised by CIty of Leicester School Improvement Service. Alistair Smith was in fine form with an opening address on expertise. Due to the good offices of my old and dear mate from teacher-training days, Chris Fallon, I was given an opportunity to officially “launch” theProgressive Awards… most apt, as the event was held at the National Space Centre!

I was also really privileged to be part of an expert panel that closed the event.

Estelle Morris, in my opinion, was one of the most respected SoS Education I think we have ever had. Why? Because she had taught! She knew and understood the challenges at the front line. She talked the language of the professional practitioner. She was an inspirational leader; she inspired good followership. Today, she spoke passionately about evidence-based practice… and, most importantly, the desparate need for evidence-based policy-making. Amen!

No less passionate in his views of education was Mike Kapur. He is one of these unstoppable executive dynamos with a social conscience who gives business and enterprise a good name. Not only involved in the leadership of the National Space Centre and the Leicester Sports Partnership Trust, he is also Chair of the CBI Enterprise forum. If his vision to get every business in the UK offering two week internships to school-age young people (note his choice of words…not work experience… internships), it would truly transform Careers Education for the good. I could talk to him about employability skills within the curriculum for hours… and probably will! (-:


And finally, one of Leicester’s homegrown finest, Rendall Munroe, the “Boxing Binman”, ex-British, Commonwealth and European super-bantamweight champion, who challenged for world titles… and still has the hunger to train hard, train harder, and go for glory once more. But a more self-effacing champion you could hardly meet: he is as proud of his work with disadvantaged youngsters in Leicester, and the fact that he only missed one day sick in eight years as a binman, as he is about his successes in the ring. A remarkable man.

A really enjoyable, thought-provoking and affirmative day: when teachers are left to their own devices, learning can lift off! Well done to Leicester City School Improvement Team for putting the event together at such a great venue.

Will changes to GCSEs really “light up learning”?

Yesterday, Gove announced the revamp of the GCSE. We can now see the detail, although many of us anticipated the “content” (what an apt word!).

Guardian Article: the changes subject by subject

It will be really interesting to see how teachers and learners, and schools, respond to this new challenge.

There is no doubt, with an emphasis on terminal written examination, the skills neessary to pass these exams lie in the academic domain: detailed recall, articulation of knowledge in written format, abstract cognitive manipulations… If these exams are “done” well (really well, and by “done” I mean in terms of detailed specification, marking criteria, content, aims and objectives), I can see how preparation for A-Level, and then Further/Higher Study, is fully and nobly supported by these changes.

However, I am also concerned that a curriculum aimed fairly and squarely at an academic elite will fail to “light up” the learning journey for many in the system.

We grow and change: the journey from concrete thinking to abstract manipulation is well described by the likes of developmental psychologists like Piaget. One thing they will all agree on is this: higher order cognitive function is not switched on like a tap at 15 years old. Some have it by 12- some by 18; others will never develop it.

For some pupils, the learning journey up to the age of 16 needs to be centred fairly and squarely in the concrete world, building functional, real-world thinking, enabling and supporting, for example, the english and maths of everyday life and work. With this broad, solid platform, progress to more abstract thinking does indeed become more probable.

A really significant study from America has made me think: Large swathes of the post-16 learning community will never ever use, for example, the “higher algebra” taught in High Schools. The will need maths for sure, but will need to apply fundamental mathematical operations, rigorously, regularly, and in combination, in unfamiliar settings and to solve unprepared problems. The study illustrated that, in the dash to cover “higher order” maths because the syllabus demanded it, some learners did not get the appropriate exposure and immersion to these building blocks, and so failed to build their maths abilities on firm foundations.

We learn in different ways, at different rates. I would far rather re-invent an examination process around these “facts”, and steward the learning journey, than put a stake in the ground, defining the finish line, then rank everybody on a 1-8 scale based on how close they get to it.

Visit for a different take on the examination process.


New Ways of Accrediting English and Maths

I would welcome your thoughts on this new initiative. There is considerable disquiet about the way GCSEs are going. By joining the Progressive Awards Alliance, you can be part of a change movement that could influence the future of regulated assessment.

Please consider joining.

Ken Robinson: How to Escape Education’s Death Valley

Yet again, another 20 minutes of brilliance from a gifted communicator and educator. Every time he talks, I find it inspirational, and it spurs me on to the possibilities of change.

If you haven’t got time to watch the whole clip, here are some jewels about diversity curiosity and creativity:

3′:30″ “human beings are naturally different and diverse… and education systems are based not on diversity but conformity… measured against a narrow set of standards…”

5′:00″ on ADHD “10% of kids being diagnosed. I don’t say there is no such thing. I do not think it is an epidemic…if you sit kids down hour after hour doing low grade clerical work, don’t be surprised if they begin to fidget! Children are not suffering for the most part a psychological condition… they are suffering childhood”

6′:00 broad curriculum gives children a chance to prosper…

6′:25 “… if you light the spark of curiosity in a child, they will learn for themselves…”

7′:30″ “…education is about learning…”

8′:42″ “… the dominant culture in education today is not about ‘learning’, it is about ‘testing’… curiosity has been replaced by a culture of compliance…”

9’50” on creativity in schools …..”instead, we have a culture of standardisation…”

12′ 59″: it is the responsibility of the system to engage the learner…. not the learner’s responsibility to comply to the system

14’30”: system leadership is too much about “command and control“…. it should be about “climate control” (policy makers treating education like an industrial process)

16′ 30″ and finally, on the culture of schools and the excellent “Death Valley” metaphor



ken robinson

Creativity and Science- unleashing the artist in the geek, or the geek in the artist PART 1

I consider myself extremely lucky.

I have managed to combine a career in education with one in the performing arts. I have been a Head of Science and a Director of Music. Seeing education and learning from these two perspectives has really opened my eyes to the power and potential of a balanced and inter-connecting enquiry-based curriculum… compared to the damage that can be done through the current polemic based largely on the acquisition of knowledge into “silos” of academic subject-related content.

My music teaching benefited hugely from my experiences trying to introduce the first NC framework in Science in the eighties. Despite being an unworkable and over-prescriptive behemoth, it really did give me an understanding of the power of a well designed spiral curriculum, with knowledge and skills progressively building on knowledge and skills. Likewise, I tried to introduce as much creativity as I could into my science lessons.

I have always been concerned about problem solving in the school context. Most exercises, aimed at of course passing exams, are “closed” activities… variations on 1+1=2… even up to the highest routine cognitive activities within A-level Maths or Physics.

Real life seldom presents such order and predictability.

Within Music, “composition in context” is a form of open problem solving (for example,  creating a sound track for a silent video clip). This is a great example of 1 (compose soundtrack) + 1 (for a video clip) = anything you want it to be.

So in Science lessons, I did my best to create space for free thinking and creativity.

Two small examples: One day, one of the Year 10 students described how a carrier bag fell apart in the supermarket car park, and the chaos that ensued. This was the cue for two weeks of experiment design, investigation and exploration: “Which supermarket made the toughest carrier bags?” “How do we know?” “How could we test an hypothesis?” “What are the variables?” “How can we control the variables?”

On another occasion, in the period of revision leading up to the Year 11 final exams, we decided to design and create a range of active games to help the kinaesthetic learners in the group. It was absolutely wonderful seeing a group of 16 year olds from a challenging multi-cultural inner-city community, boys and girls, running around doing timed multiple choice science tests by trying to knock down skittles labelled A, B, C, D and E with footballs, hoops and hooks…. magic!

The creative element of both these activities, in a scientific context, involved setting problems without known answers. I had no idea what experiments the learners would come up with, given the limited range of science equipment available in the average school lab. I had no idea what games the Year 11 would come up with. But in devising the games, selecting the questions to revise and agreeing the answers, a lot of learning was happening, albeit obliquely. In devising the experiments, we also encountered and reflected upon materials,  elasticity and forces (although, for health and safety reasons, revolving 1 kg weights above your head on strips of plastic, faster and faster, until the plastic snapped did not get passed the scrutiny commission!).

There are rich rewards open to teachers and learners who work together, across the subject divides, to create new learning opportunities, drawing from their own subject knowledge and experiences, but open to the possibilities presented by other disciplines.

The 21st century is being defined not by the accumulation of knowledge, but by the creation of new knowledge. The geek and the artiste must unite!

A Brilliant Prezi from Andreas Schleicher

Sometimes you have to be patient, even on the internet.

This is a massive presentation, with graphics and embedded video…. lots of them.

So, click on the link, then go and make yourself a cup of tea… because it will take ages to load.

But when it does, you will truly be “scip”-ing 5 years into the future of education! The best bit of CPD I have had for ages!


Headteachers’ Round Table Conference- Reflections

It takes something special to make me travel to Harlow!

More specifically, travelling by road from Bath to Harlow… in the rush hour… on a Friday. There’s nothing actually wrong with Harlow, it’s the M4 and 25 on the way that really puts you off!

But I did it, arriving on time at the splendid Passmores Academy, home of a vibrant school community under the caring, passionate and expert care of Vic Goddard, ready for the second major meeting of the Heads’ Roundtable.

For those of you who are unaware, the Heads’ Roundtable began as a  group of “twitterati”.

Twitter is an interesting social medium: it tends to be populated by individuals who have the knack (or not) of spreading thoughts, words, encouragement, complaint or vitriol in 140 characters or less. Quite often, you read these effusives in dispair: but it does take a special talent to sit on your a**e and talk (type) out of it at the same time.

But others are determined to go beyond rhetoric… actually do something: thus the Headteachers’ Round Table (HTRT) was born.

HTRT actually do want to change the world (of education). They are not interested in politics or polemic. They are only interested in securing the best possible outcomes for their schools, and for their learners. They are giving of their time, their energy, their experience and their expertise…. actually, I should be using the term “we”. HTRT made it abundantly clear that everyone who was there on Friday, who attended the previous conference, who contributed to their alternative consultations with concerns, thoughts and comments for system improvement, should all consider themselves members of the Roundtable. I like that.

Well, it was worth the six hour round trip for a number of reasons:

  • getting a feel for Vic’s school. You know, you don’t need Ofsted to tell you how good or bad a school is. All you need to do is visit and walk around unannounced during a breaktime or a lunchtime. I was struck by the unpretentious loveliness of Vic’s hordes; comfortable in their school, happy to “be”… and I was happy to be there
  • making real progress in terms of articulating a curriculum framework that supports a “whole education” experience, not just a set of filtered qualifications that have been deemed to “count”. It’s great to see Whole Education there, as well as my old employers ASDAN, looking for synergy with emerging thinking. With my “Modern Baccalaureate” hat on, I was delighted to see so much convergent thinking
  • and, not afraid to grasp a difficult nettle, a lengthy discussion on school accountability. No one there shirked the responsibilities that come with the post of “school leader”: in fact, the track record of many of the Heads there in terms of engineering school improvement in the most challenging of circumstances was immutable. However, all present lamented the unduly punitive and negative process that is called an “Ofsted Inspection”. I for one will look forward to the HTRT Consultation on this topic.

A final point: I have been amazed that some have criticised the HTRT, for being a “closed shop”, a small “inner circle” with a few acolytes in attendance, who listen in revered silence to their 140 character intonations. Well, despite my Catholic upbringing, I hold a candle for no one! By working with, and within, the Heads Roundtable, I feel I am actively contributing to the advancement of education. I feel my views are being listened to, and that we are helping to shape future educational thinking and direction of travel. This is in stark contrast to the body politic.

Apparently, if you count the twitter followers, there are now 8,000 sitting around a very large table indeed. Excellent!!!