ResearchEd review of presentations

Praxis – a new platform to promote professional development through research inquiry.
Chris Brown A teacher of Science as well as an academic research at Cambridge University
 
Speaker discusses a possible mechanism for enhancing teacher led researcher into the classroom. The website Praxis has been developed to act as a forum for teacher research to be shared across a wider field as well as facilitating access and engagement in the praxis reflective cycle.
 
My Thoughts – What is being suggested is anecdotal and highly subjective due to large discrepancy on how individual research is conduct and reviewed. Therefore, work is valueless as no institutions will accredit or validate findings. Teachers do not feel valued when completing this kind of research. We need close, working, academic relationships with educational researchers. 
 
Chain effects? Impacts of academy chains on performance of disadvantaged students. 
Becky Francis, educational and statistical researcher at kings college.
 
A systematic review of academy chains from 2012 to 2015, measuring impact on disadvantaged pupils relative to peers in  mainstream schools. Conclusion, in general more academy chains are having a negative effect on the progress of their students in comparison to mainstream (LEA led schools). How did this situation arise? Many academy chains were allowed to expand far too quickly on unjustified evidence. Why was this permitted? London chains, improved returns for pupils, therefore policy makers assumed that this would also be reflect for the rest of the UK. What happened? Policy makers did not anticipate the huge variation of context across the country.
 
My Thoughts – Concerning trend of acting too early due to the short time frames between the electoral period. The damage of these reforms is likely to exacerbate the educational inequality within communities as resources and students can no longer be evenly distributed. We need a context driven approach where teachers and schools let other know what they need.
 
Flip the system 
Rene Kneyber, teacher, policy consultant, academic researcher and author (He says, all teachers should have these options)
 
A theoretical and philosophical discussion about how our educational system should be structure. Speaker opens by showing a the EduPolitical system where all information, how to teach, learn and manage schools is all disseminated from the top. This results in the de-professionalisation of the teachers as they have no freedom or mobility to explore their role. Therefore, in general returns for students are poor. Rene suggests that ,like Holland, the UK needs an educational system that is informed by those people stood at the chalk board who understand the context. When they ask or identify weakness, leaders then respond and government does what it can to support them. Subsequently, bring professionalism back to profession and empowering all teachers to take ownership of their own profession because what they do has real value.
 
My Thoughts – An inspiring speaker who made the point very clear. If education is so subjective and context specific, what we need is information directly from the chalk board. So, why are there no teachers currently in the whitehall to inform policy? I feel a bit tired of listening to the continual changes to the educational system which come from political ideologies as opposed to what is need in the class.
 
Using behavioural insights to improve education 
Raj Chande, researcher at PhD students for the behaviour team.
 
Research identifies how small changes in the patterns of behaviour can result in huge returns. The behaviour teacher have recently focused on sending a text home to parents when there child has an assessment coming up a week later. They found that simply sending a text home to parents saw performance increase by 10-20%. So, simply texting parents to let them know there son or daughter has an assessment costing £2 saw progress accelerate by 2 months, with greater returns for low ability students. 
 
My Thoughts – Very inspirational speaker who showed the power of changing the small things. The investment required per pupil to receive the level of gains that were being made was very impressive. I am dubious as to who is going to take the administrative role of the whole process. 
 
The five big policy changes for the new government 
Sam Freedman, Senior advisor to Michael Gove and Executive director at Teach First.
 
  • Resources: £3 Billion cuts to schools funding over 5 years. LEAs will disappear, early years and 16-19 interventions squeezed the hardest and will most likely disappear.
  • Infrastructure: More regional school commissioners – targets more academies and chains, lift coasting schools, not sure on other roles yet. Results so far suggest that they have had a poor impact.
  • Teacher supply: Teacher shortage, falling grad numbers, weak wages in education push potential teachers elsewhere. Crude incentives system which does’t support recruitment or retention. Student loans for PGCE is wasted money, all training should be free.
  • Leadership: 50% of heads will retire in the next 10 years. No good training provided to train people to become outstanding heads.
  • Expertise: Lack of quality professional development, teaching has suffered massive de-professionalisation. Lack of management training means people squeeze rather than effective manage makes working conditions worse. 
My Thoughts – High expectations, no resources; a dwindling recruitment field which lacks the ability to produce future leaders. Not great, expect to be squeezed as 25% of the education budget is being wiped away! Every school will feel this. 
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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

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

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).