In calling for better teaching and better leadership in secondary schools, OFSTED and its political masters are failing to recognise the fundamental problem facing formal education.
There have been three interesting contributions to the ed-tech debate by the BBC in recent days. Yesterday, 10 December (link here, for 4 weeks only, and listen from 2:17:38), Chief Inspector Michael Wilshaw complained on the Today programme that too many secondary schools were providing an inadequate standard of education, due mainly to poor quality teaching and leadership. Today, the Today programme covered the problem that schools are having in teaching the new Computing curriculum (link here, for 4 weeks only, and listen from 02:39:00). The two items are connected in that they both demonstrate that the education service continues to fail to recognise its own fundamental problems. It also fails to recognise the importance of the message in this year’s Reith Lectures, given by Atul Gawande, ostensibly about medicine (listen to lecture 2, The Century of the System).
Tim Oates’, Chair of the Expert Panel responsible for the recent review of the National Curriculum, has posted an interesting video about assessing education without levels. I agree with large parts of the video but suggest that in some respects, Oates’ model is unhelpful
I am grateful to Harry Webb (@websofsubstance) for the link to Tim Oates’ recent video explaining the report of the Curriculum Review body, which resulted in the abolition of levels in UK schools.
No-one, either individual or committee, is going to get everything right. The first thought that occurs to me from viewing Oates’ critique of our current assessment regime is “how could people—how could the whole system—get it so wrong last time round?”—and if people got it so wrong last time, how can we be so confident that they will get it right this time round? Those who produce recommendations for politicians to implement need to be very cautious when the harm caused by mistakes at this level can be so great. Even if the drift of those recommendations is substantially correct, everyone involved in such processes should welcome a continuing debate, which is the only way that we will avoid spending the next couple of decades up yet another blind alley.
Current models of ed-tech are based on theories of progressive education which are in turn based on a false understanding of what learning involves.
I wrote the following piece as an assignment during my PGCE, which I completed in 1990 at the Institute of Education in London. It was to some degree an exercise in letting off steam, a cry of exasperation at the complete nonsense that I felt we were being prescribed on our reading lists. I publish it now, partly in response to Harry Web’s review of Gert Biesta’s the Beautiful Risk of Education. It is also relevant to a Twitter conversation yesterday in which my interlocutor suggested that it was up to teachers to ensure that the curriculum was “developmentally appropriate”.
Ed-tech (the subject of this blog) rests on education theory—and there is a chasm opening up in the current debate in this area between those who think that education is essentially an exercise in development, driven from within; and those who think that education is an exercise in socialization, driven by the transmission of knowledge and values from the society in which the learner is placed. I take the latter side—see my recent article for Terry Freedman’s Digital Education—and to anyone who cries foul (or at least “false dichotomy”) I would say, you take the latter side too. Because while those who believe in transmission (or socialization, as I call it in this essay) also recognise development as a necessary prerequisite for achieving certain sorts of understanding, those who believe in education driven by internal development generally appear to view external influence and transmission as illegitimate. That is why the question is not “should children develop?” (of course they should) but “should education socialize?”.
And to those to whom I have promised some use-cases, to illustrate how the sort of education technology that I am advocating will work in practice, let me say, in passing, that I am working on it.
The ed-tech community should listen carefully to concerns being raised about the effect on our children’s development of excessive time spent online
Baroness Greenfield recently wrote an opinion piece in the TES, restating her view that education technology is not just ineffective but may well be positively harmful. “More pseudo-science poppycock”, harrumphed one prominent ed-tech tweeter, who was quickly supported by others. “Actually, she makes some rather sensible points”, said I. “No, no”, said my interlocutors, “the Baroness has been completely discredited. But if you are going to blog about it, please keep it short”. “1,000 emollient words”, I promised.
I am not sure how well I managed to be emollient—I am afraid it is not a style that comes naturally to me—and I certainly failed to keep it short. But, if you are interested in ed-tech, then I think its intersection with emerging neuroscience, and the controversy that has blown up in this area, are worthy of careful consideration.
Those of us advocating new approaches to ed-tech in UK schools need to take the time between now and the next election in May to build a case that does not assume that the argument for technology in education is self-evident.
Two days ago, a UK government re-shuffle removed from their current posts all of the sponsoring Ministers for the Education Technology Action Group (ETAG). The likelihood that this report will now have any significant influence is slim. This might represent a lucky escape because I saw no evidence that ETAG was going to produce any convincing or coherent argument for ed-tech that went much beyond saying we should adopt it “because it’s there”. This is not a position that is going to cut any ice with Ministers of any political party. The following post is copied from an email sent to the ICT Research Network, a reflector originally established by Becta and now managed by ALT and NAACE. It responds to a conversation bemoaning the uneven extent to which schools have pursued “digital normalisation”.
Why Liz Truss was right to call for more professionally produced learning resources; and why the profession misunderstood her when she talked about “textbooks”
Liz Truss, Minister in the UK DfE for Education and Healthcare, has been calling for a return to textbooks. The headline story masks a more complex argument that bundles together several different strands. Instead of dismissing Truss’ call as regressive, it should be brought together with Matt Hancock’s ETAG initiative to stimulate a serious debate about how teachers can be given better tools of the trade, which exploit the opportunities provided by digital technology.
A summary of my recent contributions to the debate around ETAG
To many on the ETAG committee, I am undoubtedly seen as an awkward and disruptive influence—something like the know-it-all who keeps putting their hand up at the back of the class. They have already changed the medium through which their consultation is conducted, shifting the emphasis away from Twitter (which provides me with the opportunity to challenge poorly justified contributions) to an online form, which keeps submissions private and unchallenged. At the same time, the committee retains in public a stony silence in the face of my arguments, while one prominent member of the committee complains (in a context in which he is clearly referring to myself) of the activities of “trolls, spammers, abusers, and self-publicists”.
Well, as its formal consultation finishes, it is time that ETAG publicly acknowledged the debate and made a serious, substantive response to the criticisms that I and others have raised. Because if they do not, it is increasingly clear that their report will be ignored by government, just as the FELTAG report was effectively ignored before it. This post contains a list of links to my various substantive contributions to the debate, most of which are on other people’s websites.