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.

Now parents are getting really concerned…

Good morning

I just thought I’d share some of the views that are being expressed out there by articulate and caring parents. Here is a snippet from some of the emails I am receiving:

“…When my son started in Year 12, A level exams were scheduled over three series, AS levels in Summer 2013, then A levels in January 2014 and Summer 2014. The school is now having to make rapid adjustments to accommodate the disappearance of the January 2014 series. My son would have done 5 exams in January 2014, now all those exams are being pushed into Summer 2014, in other words a modular course has been “skewered” into a linear assessment regime, whilst the curriculum delivery was planned as a two year modular course. This will bring additional pressure in terms of the sheer number of exams he will have to undertake in Summer 2014…”

These concerns are currently being raised by knowledgeable, well-intentioned and well-informed parents who can look ahead and anticipate the impact of change. It is only a question of time when this articulate caucus is joined by the majority, wondering what on earth is going on, as they reflect the concerns and worries of their sons and daughters.

Some young people in Year 9 and Year 10 are now feeling that they are now sitting exams discredited and abandoned by the Coalition… Year 11 pupils will once again get hit hard by comparable outcome adjustments, compromising the achievements of tens of thousands within the cohort… and many will be eligible to vote in 2015.

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 newqualthinking.net 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.