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Coping with the physical and mental damage of Covid-19

27 Aug

The summer term of 2020 will be memorable.  Who would have thought that when the new year broke, we would be on the cusp of experiencing the most gruelling time on this planet testing the leaders of schools and academies to the limit?  This is what precisely happened as we approached the end of the spring term.  Having originated in a market in Wuhan, China, at the tail-end of 2019, Covid-19, the virus, leapt from bats to humans.  Since then, this microscopic predator has wreaked havoc on humankind, laying low many people’s lives, devasting the world’s finances and disrupting civilization as we have known it.  The world’s scientists, at the time of writing, are frantically trying to find a cure to fight the enemy and a vaccine to stop it from entering humans and creating more mayhem.  At the earliest, they will not know if they are successful until the year ends and 2021 dawns.

Education – among most aspects of life – has been clobbered by Covid-19.

Schools and academies have been compelled to shut down during the summer term of 2020 and, at the time of writing, are directed to reopen in September 2020.  However, the government has a fight on its hands with the unions, especially as scientists have now discovered that youngsters from the age of 10 upwards can become infected with the virus and worse still, pass it on to adults – teachers, support staff and, of course, their parents.

School and academy leaders have on the one hand to do everything possible guard their communities – pupils and staff – from the virus and, on the other hand, act as “piggy-in-the-middle” between the government that is determined that institutions will open in September and the unions who justifiably fear for the lives of their members.   Their leadership will be severely tested trying to promote peace between two warring factions.

In the middle of it all are the children, who have suffered greatly, the poor and disadvantaged more than the rest.  In my mind’s eye, I see two bulls at war with each other – the government on the one hand and the unions on the other.  The ground on which they do battle are the schools and academies, and the lives that they imperil the most are the children.  I often wish that if they must fight, they take their feuds elsewhere.  However, they don’t, and they can’t.   The curious feature of this conflict is that both sides aver that they take the stance that they do in the best interests of the children.

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Assessing Testing

4 Jan

Confession time for me.  It is easy to pontificate if one is a consultant as I am.  When in charge of an organisation or institution and constantly under the public microscope, it is a different matter.   So, what follows may well be in a sermonising vein.  But don’t pass judgement until you have read what follows.

Competition does not have the kind of benefits the UK government’s claims it does.  This is not to say that it is unnecessary.  However, much credence has been given to its seeming advantages.

We need tests and examinations to determine how well our children are doing and ensure that the young people who qualify to become the future movers and shakers of our society succeed in life.   I wouldn’t like to be operated on (for the removal of a cancerous tumour) by an unqualified surgeon who hasn’t passed a raft of medical examinations.

However, the value we put on tests, examinations and league tables has a detrimental effect on those schools/academies who are struggling to improve the quality of education.   To start with, tests and examinations tell us only so much about what is happening in an institution, which has responsibility for imparting to future generations the knowledge and wisdom of the current and previous generations together with helping them develop skills to navigate the chopping waters of the future.

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Teach children to fail well and fast

17 Aug

Summer is a time of tests and examinations and autumn of league tables.  Throughout the year we have inspections.  All three have one thing in common.   Achievement.   God help children if they fail and thus threaten their schools/academies with a lower rank on the national league table.  God help schools/academies if they fail their Ofsted inspections.   The education culture in our country appears to be obsessed with success and terrified of failure.   I question whether this is the culture we should be promoting.

Education is sometimes compared to a three-legged stool.  The first leg constitutes the disciplines/subjects that are taught, often, discretely, subjects such as mathematics, history, geography and music.  The second leg is each of the cross-curricular themes that help develop children in a rounded manner – such as expression/language and the ability to think.   The third leg is the way education is promoted, e.g. how teachers teach (e.g. telling and teamwork) and enabling children to learn (e.g. discovery, imitation and observation).  The late Professor Ted Wragg of Exeter University ascribed a different metaphor to this calling it the cuboid curriculum.

But there is a fourth leg (going by my analogy) or dimension (going by Professor Wragg’s one) – i.e. the qualities that we wish to promote within our children, a key one being resilience.   Intrinsic within resilience is managing and coping with failure.   Because every school/academy wishes to be at the top of its league table, governors, headteachers and staff do everything it takes to succeed.  This desire is both, intrinsically and extrinsically, passed on to the pupils.   And when they fail, their skies come tumbling down on them – as it did with chicken-licken in the toddler’s story.

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How do 15-year-old pupils in England compare to other top performers across the world?

31 Dec

I        Overview

In mid-November 2017, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released data on its “three yearly Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)”. PISA consists of standardised tests in reading, writing and mathematics taken by students from different countries at the age of 15. The data is then used to compare the young people. Data is matched with how young people fared in examinations taken in their home countries.

John Jerrim and Nikki Shure of University College London Institute of Education produced an excellent analysis of how our English pupils performed, some of the key points of which are summarised below.

Altogether, 75 countries participated in PISA 2015, including all members of the OECD and the four countries within the United Kingdom. For the first time, China (previously limited to Shanghai) included four provinces – Beijing, Guangdong, Jiangsu and Shanghai. In England, PISA 2015 was conducted in November and December 2015, with a sample of 5,194 pupils in England from across 206 schools. The majority of England’s participating pupils were born between September 1999 and August 2000, meaning they came to the end of primary school during 2010, and were the last cohort to take the GCSE examinations before they were reformed.

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Assessing Assessments

18 Apr

Assessments in English schools are in a state of flux. There appears to be little likelihood that the government will be bring about a measure of clarity any time soon.   What exactly is happening?

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Data from international tests rain down in Autumn 2016 like confetti

1 Jan

In the last week of November 2016, the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) published its report on the Trends in Maths and Science Study (TIMMS).  A week later, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) – an arm of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) – published its findings.   Both are based on a battery of tests which samples of pupils/students took in 2015.

I        TIMMS

TIMMS is a survey of the educational achievements of pupils in years 5 (aged nine-to-ten year olds) and 9 (aged 13-to-14 year olds) in 57 participating countries, as well as comparisons of the curriculum and the teaching of Mathematics and Science.

The national report for England found that while the country’s maths results are now at the highest point for 20 years in both age groups, overall improvement is still lagging behind other countries. Since the first assessment in 1995, England’s score in Maths increased by 12.8% for year 5 and by 4% for year 9. Despite this, the score is behind top-achieving countries who have seen more rapid improvement. The East Asian group of countries continued to perform extremely well across the assessments.

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Changes to Key Stage 2 Standard Assessment Tests (SATs) from 2016

9 Apr

I        The arrangements

From 2016, pupils at the end of Key Stage (KS) 2 will continue to sit externally-set and marked tests in mathematics, reading, and grammar, punctuation and spelling. These will be used for school performance measures from 2016 onwards. A sample of pupils will sit tests in science as well, to give a picture of national performance in this subject.

Teacher assessment in maths, reading, writing and science will continue. Tests and assessments will reflect the 2014 National Curriculum and will be reported as scaled scores.

The 2016 assessment and reporting arrangements (ARA), published by the Standards and Testing Agency (STA), explains that the new KS2 National Curriculum tests (SATs) will consist of

  1. English reading: with associated resources of reading and answer booklets;
  2. English grammar, punctuation and spelling paper 1: short-answer questions;
  3. English grammar, punctuation and spelling paper 2: spelling;
  4. Maths paper 1: arithmetic;
  5. Maths paper 2: reasoning; and
  6. Maths paper 3: reasoning.

The ARA document states that the KS2 tests will be administered in the week beginning 9 May 2016. Table 3.3 on page 8 of the ARA document shows the scheduled days when tests must be taken. It explains that these dates may change.

The STA’s guidance about KS1 and KS2 test dates in 2016 explains that the KS2 science sampling tests will take place in the weeks commencing 6 and 17 June 2016.

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Uncertainty Continues to Dog Secondary Examination Reforms

9 Apr

In under a term, schools/academies will be expected to introduce new curricular arrangements in 20 subjects for GCSEs and A and AS levels – a tsunami of educational reforms.   At the time of writing, Ofqual (the Office of Qualifications) has still to approve two-thirds of them – i.e. 104 out of 156 new specifications – in nine subjects at the AS and A Levels and 15 subjects for the GCSE examinations.   The GCSEs include the English Baccalaureate qualifications in the sciences, languages, geography and history.

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Teacher-Workload Challenge: Review Groups’ Report to Government

9 Apr

On 31 March 2016, the three workload review groups commissioned by Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, released their reports.  Their findings and recommendations, which were accepted in full by Mrs Morgan, were as follows.

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Assessment – Performance Descriptors to replace Levels

3 Jan

Michael Gove, former Secretary of State for Education, abolished levelling – the tool schools have been using to determine the standards of pupils and the progress they make.  This was because it was supposed to be too complex and confusing.  Schools now have to decide how best to measure the advancements of their pupils.   On 23 October 2014, the DfE started a consultation on performance descriptors, which its experts aver will be a more effective method for making judgements on pupils’ abilities at the end of Key Stages 1 and 2. The deadline for responses was 18 December 2014.

Should these descriptors be adopted by the government, they will come into effect in 2016.  For the end of each key stage, the government will set the expected standards in reading, writing, mathematics and science.   During the in-between years, schools will be expected to make their own assessment arrangements. Performance descriptors for pupils at the end of Key Stage 1 will be in reading, writing and mathematics.  The government will provide one descriptor for the expected standard in science.   It will set a number of descriptors for English at the end of Key Stage 2 and a single descriptor at this stage for each of the subjects – reading, mathematics and science.   Key Stages 1 and 2 test results will be reported against scaled scores rather than levels.

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