How does the sole focus on outcome measures affect our students?

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Who we are, what we do and how we behave is exclusively determined by the way which we are nurtured into world. Most of us have, at one point, studied Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. With most being involved in the debate, “nature vs nurture.” For all, including myself, this was one of the first concepts of the reason I am who I am because of the way I was raised. So who decides who I am and how I think? Do my parents have free and conscious choice over the decision they make when raising me? Or is that already predetermined?

So where do we begin when deciding? The best place is to start is by defining what education is and the outcomes we want from it? As a teacher I’m not even aware of what we want, as a society, for young individual. When I think of a good education for students educational performance springs to mind. For example 5 A*-Cs, number of A-levels, degree above a 2.1. No educational establishment is monitored for the type of students it is developing. Why not? Mainly due to difficulty (Labb & Loeb: 2010).

Some definitions of philosophical outcomes of education:

  • “An adequate education may be conceived of as one that is sufficient for someone to participate fully in both the economic and political life of a country” (Ladd & Lobe: 2010)
  • “Humans have an ability to praxis, [a process of conscious engagement and reflection on the application of knowledge to problems.]” (Freire, 2013).
  • Students have a desire for life long learning.
  • Possibly, students achieve at least 5 A*-C’s GCSE’s including maths and english.

In reality most people would like to hear that our students are receiving a diverse, culturally enriching education that prepares every individual for future success, but I think that most know this isn’t the case. I say this last one light heartedly, because this is an outcome measure not an ideology – I don’t think anyone sees having 5 A*-C inc M&E grades defining them as a person. However, the gravitas this measure has over the education of our students means that it might as well be an ideology.

This measure was originally introduced into the classroom to summarise what a pupil new academically and then translate this into a future job position (also known as a proxy). This provided useful economic data, indicative school quality information, but provides absolutely no information on the non-academic value that students are being provided with. As a result, classrooms have shifted from providing a “whole, enriching, culturally diverse etc” education to one where, inadvertently, is solely focused on pushing out results for one proxy.

If who we are is determined by how we are raised and educated, how will the inadvertent over emphasis on examinations in our lives affect us? If asked to define your education, would you discuss how culturally enriching it was or your grades and the institutions you went to?

References

Labb & Loeb: 2010 – https://cepa.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/The%20Challenges%20of%20Measuring%20School%20Quality.pdf

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Bringing meaning to the purpose of academies

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The logic behind Academies

Free Will is what most believe to be the ability to actively engage and change the world around you and for most we believe that we have a conscious ability to be so. True conscious ability, as I have written about before, is not as conscious and we have first thought. History, society and education all influence how our conscious develops and the perceptions of which we take from the world. The idea that our perceptions of the world might not be are’s, but could possibly be the influenced by the interests of someone else feels very dehumanising. Yet, how society allows others to be educated is exactly this. Forced curriculum, denial of ‘truly free’ choice and the expectations that all individuals will ultimately finish education looking identical.

The true humanist education is one where an individual is provided with the opportunity of choice, reflection and action. To exist in a society where we are free to make our own decision is one where we believe that we to play a part in influencing the community and world at large. Yet, this freedom is only given to most during their adult years. So, if you live a quarter of your life without choice, reflection and action will you ever consciously engage with these? Or will your perspective and the decisions you make reflect those that you have been given?

Progressive education, originating in the late 19th century, was developed to educate students to be prepared for the world of the future. In doing so there was a focus on developing a critically engaged individuals who was educated with the skills to, communicate, evaluate, understand, reflect and take action in response to the world around them. This supported a person to have the ability to make a free, conscious, choice.

The purpose of Academies

If we want a humanist education then we must provide opportunities for a person to develop a critical consciousness and develop their own perspective on the world. However, this can only occur if we provide a person with the opportunity to make critically informed choices. Steve Hilton argues for this type of education in his new book. To paraphrase, if we know, and want, every individual to be their own person then shouldn’t we be pushing for schools that provide a spectrum of opportunities (schools ranging from traditional forms of education to forms of highly progressive education, to everything in-between, subjects specialists etc) for students to chose from?

Primary Focus

The primary focus of academies is to remove power from central government and deliver this to the local communities. Stakeholders of the community are able to influence the people they develop in their small section of society as well as offering a greater diversity of schooling experiences, this drive genuinely empowers a community to become involved. To increase community engagement and support local industry, charities and other organisation are encouraged to invest into these schools to support their development. Yet, investments come with the reflections of interests. For example, a type of education that would support individuals working at their company. However, is it in a companies interest to provide a spectrum of opportunities? Would a management consultants really need their staff to have an understanding of art history?

The picture of private investment into academies does not reflect the ideal from which they were established on. How money moves in society is largely dependent on the interest of those who control most of it. An example of pre-academy influence is the investment into the Arts, in particular music, where a local authority spent £1.15 per child in the community during 2012. As a society we rank subjects and value them based on their relative commercial use in the future, with the arts featuring near the bottom. When thinking about the number of arts based big businesses willing to invest into schools the number is ‘surprisingly’ low. This might mean that unregulated business investment could begin to warp the spectrum of schools we want to see.

Distorting academy success

Academies are proven to enhance the educational outcomes of their students (2), but abuse of this is causing a widening gap in inequality. Under the Labour government only schools that were disadvantaged became academies. However, under new reforms any school in any community can now convert into an academy, this was typically high performing schools (5) which were not disadvantaged. In doing so the positive returns, originally identified in academies, will deliver better results for the most advantaged, reinforcing the inequality gap (2).

It is always dangerous to assume that correlation implies causation, but recent party changes now means that all underperforming schools are to become academies, this goes against the founding principle. The autonomy which we want to see in our schools will be replaced by the pressures of adhering to forced engagement where the investors and the recipients of funding have conflicting visions on what they want to achieve for their community. Therefore, supporting a very general education. (Solution for profit academies (3)). Therefore, it could be dangerous to assume that forced academisation will result in success. Previous success has only arisen after careful and thoughtful negotiations.

Academy applications

The current changes in the present economic situation in the country is financially squeezing schools to become academies, as opposed to schools selecting increased autonomy. An in-house review of the academy application process identified,

“There was no dominant main reason for conversion but the most frequently cited were: to raise educational standards; to obtain more funding for front-line education; and to gain greater freedom to use funding as you see fit.” (DoE, 2012)

This notion simply reinforces schools are experiencing funding constraints, rather than innovating, the academy system offers an opportunity to alleviate these restrictions or innovation by efficiency. This contradicts the fundamental changes we hope for. So are academies really improving by authentically innovating or are we just seeing an improvement in the efficiency of teaching methods as a result of enhanced funding? (For example, larger SEN departments, more resources, easter revision etc.)

Conclusion, but by no means the end of discussion

It is clear that the original autonomy that was envisaged for our academies, which did originally work, have been stripped away and streamlined to a one size fits all. Financial constraints and the reflection of business interests is twisting our schools to make cuts and innovations through efficiency as opposed to actually genuinely creating a 21st century education.  This started as a great vision, but we have ended up sacrificing the power of choice and free will of the next generation as a result of politics and funding restraints. Is it worth it?

References – (1) Paraphrased from Radio 4 Archive Opinions on Philosophy

(2) http://cep.lse.ac.uk/pubs/download/cp325.pdf

(3) http://schoolsweek.co.uk/there-arent-enough-academy-sponsors-for-coasting-schools-so-why-not-let-for-profit-providers-try/

(4) https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/187560/DFE-32058-2012.pdf

(5) http://www.newschoolsnetwork.org/what-are-free-schools/free-school-news/education-select-committee-optimistic-about-impact-of Further reading https://www.croydon.gov.uk/sites/default/files/articles/downloads/academies.pdf

Education is what remains when you have forgotten everything

“Education is what remains when you have forgotten everything”person-optical-illusions-018

What do you perceive?

Perceptions on the world are dependent on how we process the information which enters through one’s senses. The analysis of this information is dependent on a predetermined subconscious response. We are not aware of how we are perceiving a scenario because this analysis is ingrained, intrenched and programmed through systematic conditioning to the world around us. Yet, this conflicts with our perspective of ourselves. It conflicts because we believe that all decisions are independent. We are aware that our conscious feels transient, or not real and it doesn’t feel as if “someone else” can influence it, because of this trait. So, if we are unaware about how we perceive the objective is it possible to ‘truly’ perceive the objective?

To truly perceive the objective suggests that every observer will be able to view the subject and remove the same inference. Therefore a person has to be told how to think, leading them to build the same conclusion as someone else. For example, didactic education means that information is pre-digested and regurgitated to students, removing true conscious engagement and only enables thinking by the means of someone else. Yet, this isn’t always the case. Art shows a physical expression of a perspective, but observers take a variety of inferences. These inferences are influenced by historical and societal experiences that influence how they perceive the objective. Therefore, our perspectives on the world are based on the experiences in our life to date. But isn’t this a false dichotomy? The very nature of development results from predetermined thinking, so thought can never be truly authentic.

It’s at this moment of realising this paradox that true conscious thinkers are able to influence how a society cultivates thinking within itself. If how we think is based on prior experiences, then are experiences should be free from the thoughts and influences of others. Therefore, we should be provided with opportunities to build our own understanding of the world, by solving our own problems, investigating our own questions and developing our own method of understanding the information that we are processing. But, there are limits to this. We cannot freely learn to walk, talk and operate in society without guidance. Therefore, during our development a balance must be struck between opportunities for free thought and guidance when learning basic grammar, we must be able to interpret the grammar through which we require to transform the world. So, what is required from education?

Education should be an environment where individuals are encourage to critically evaluate, solve problems and bring meaning to their own questions about the world and the reality which surrounds them. Assessments and exams should be a thing of the past, they are a means to quantify attainment they do not provide an opportunity to develop as an individual. Will we be able to assess students? Not quantitatively. Will we be able to quantify what our students look like? Probably not. We should see education as the qualitative development of individuals who will be able transform the world around. Through the freedom of their own thoughts students will be empowered, independent and leaders of their own world.

Knowledge is the Key

knowledge-exchange

Knowledge is the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject. The benefit of having knowledge is one’s ability to apply this knowledge to abstract scenarios. For example, a satirical comedian applies their knowledge of current affairs for comic value. When problem solving a lack of knowledge will render the problem unsolvable. In both cases, a poor understanding of the knowledge required will result in poor mastery.

The cognitive stuff

“Make it Stick” (Brown et. al; 2014) is possibly the most influential educational book that I, and many others in the educational world, have read. It provides a understanding of how we learn, linking cognitive neuroscience to classroom practice.

The book focuses on:

Learning is misunderstanding – Generating an enhanced of self-awareness, what do I know and not know?
To Learn, Retrieve – Increasing retrievel and experiencing difficulties when retrieving information enhances retention.
Mix Up Your Practice – Cramming doesn’t work, practice multiple skills, subjects and activites simultaneously.
Embrace Difficulties – The more difficult it is to recall information the better.
Avoid Illusions of Knowing
Get Beyond Learning Styles
Increase Your Abilities –
Make It Stick

My teaching, before reading making it stick was episodical, regimented and centred around the teachers performance. This made in the moment learning, known as encoding, a priority. But, despite outstanding lessons, student progress at the end of a unit on knowledge would always be good, but not outstanding. The power of retrieval, highlighted in Brown’s book, stands out as the most effective tool to develop mastery in a subject.

Recollection of information is, “on-the-fly reconstruction of elements scattered throughout various areas of our brains.” (Mastin; 2010). Thus, the difficulties associated with memory recollection is one’s ability to piece together the jigsaw of random memories that scattered throughout one’s brain. If we can enhance the process of constructing these puzzles then we can enhance recollection and mastery.

A study by Brown et al (2005) on the effects of frequent testing show its benefits. For those students who recalled knowledge on a regular basis retained more information over a six week period in comparison to the control group. So, by increasing the demand on pupils to recall information increases the retention of knowledge. In simple, what can be done in the classroom?

Recollection focused activities.

Crossword, simple question based game – Fun, simple, engaging and solely focused on incorporating enjoyment with recollection of information.

Who, what, when, where, why, how. – An opening activity that provides students with an opportunity to discuss previously encoded information with their peers. This increases strength and neural density of connections between different hemispheres of the brain.

Google sheets – An online platform for students to complete prepared multiple choice questions on a certain topic (refer to Joe Kirby’s questioning techniques to increase rigour of questions). The students can view the responses of the entire class, this information can be used by the students as a form of reflection or by the teacher to inform future practice.

Weekly quiz. When visiting Long Road Sixth Form College some great practice was being carried out. At the start of each week sixth form students would be expected to answer 10 questions that were linked to any lesson over the prior 4 weeks.

References:

Brown et. al. (2005) – Make it Stick

Mastin, 2010 – http://www.human-memory.net/processes_encoding.html).