Who remembers the OHP now?

The Centre for Education Economics has produced an interesting research digest on the ‘Evidence on uses of technology in education’.  http://www.cfee.org.uk/sites/default/files/CfEE%20Annual%20Research%20Digest%202016-17%20-%20web%20version.pdf?mc_cid=9c5c208670&mc_eid=11bc2206a8

Now, the use of technology isn’t new in education and much technology, such as the cassette tape-recorder, banda copiers and the OHP has come, gone and faded into the memories of those of us of certain ages. Throughout the whole of my life, the problem all too often isn’t the technology, but rather the way teachers and others are taught to make use of it in helping the learning process.

If I was still teaching geography, I guess I would have a string of web sites open on my interactive whiteboard to let pupils watch for a magnitude 6 earthquake; a volcanic eruption and at this time of year the development of hurricane activity in the Atlantic Ocean, all so as to engage all my classes in knowing the dynamics of these natural events and possibly encouraging them to find out more. Today, I would have a web cam streaming live from somewhere in the USA celebrating the 4th July. All this is low level motivational use of technology.

I am convinced that data recording can help play an important part in pinpointing where resources are needed, although all too often teachers are required to create and input the data. The next generation of learning technology should address that issue. Indeed, I wonder whether we should be spending the cash currently expended on research into driverless cars into improving the learning process for those we fail at present in our education system. I always wonder whether, with the development of technology we need, those preparing the next generation of teachers are as open to new possibilities and to enthusing the next generation of teachers to be aware of the way the world is changing as I would like them to be.

I first used a word processor in 1979; it revolutionised the work I could undertake for the dissertation I was researching and eventually writing at that time. From mail merging the letters accompanying my questionnaire, to changing spelling mistakes the day before submission, there were lots of small advantages. However, the real benefit was longer to arrange and rearrange my thoughts and analysis to produce a higher standard of writing that would have been much more challenging to achieve with just pen and ink or that other disappeared piece of technology, the typewriter.

This blog would be possible without the developments in technology and I would only be able to communicate with the outside world if someone, as the TES did in 1998, offered me the opportunity to write a column for their magazine.

Indeed, TeachVac, www.teachvac.co.uk our free to schools and teachers job board is the product of disruptive new technology that has driven down the cost of communicating teaching posts to the audience seeking them out.

As we approach the 150th anniversary of the 1870 Education act, I remain an optimist that technology can improve our lives for the better and reduce the learning deficit some many children still experience, especially at the start of their formal education.

Immediately after writing this post I came across the following BBC video posted today that raises many of the same issues about technology and learning


Well worth a view.

System autonomy or a system for the future?

Hard on the publication of the report from the social Mobility Commission, headlined in the previous post, comes a report from the Centre for Education Economics, the re-named CMRE or Centre for Market Reform in Education. This is a body that avowedly believes in market solutions to improving education. Their report is entitled ‘Optimising Autonomy; a blueprint [sic] for reform. http://www.cfee.org.uk/sites/default/files/Optimising%20autonomy%20-%20Web%20.pdf?utm_source=CMRE+News+and+Events&utm_campaign=15cd691116-The+Centre+for+Education+Economics&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_9bd023bfaa-15cd691116-92109333

Now, generally I find the former CMRE view often too market orientated for my taste, but this new report by James Croft bears reading as it makes some interesting observations. I remain un-reformed in my view that if the democratic process has a place in education at a national level then it also has at a more local level. This report does at least recognise some role for local authorities, but it might be better if they were to have worked through case studies of what can actually happen. How much might bussing in rural areas cost to achieve greater parental choice and is it worth the expenditure. A key question surely for a centre concerned with economics one would have imagined.

I also conclude that if competition was such a good idea then large retail chains would not impose the discipline that they do on their stores. I think, more important, as I have said at two different conferences this week, is the issue of technological change and our approach to education. The ‘free marketers’ have become too obsessed with the ‘wrong’ question of parental choice and have missed the issue of how education should respond to a changing environment and what the consequences are for the system as a whole.

Before 1870, England assumed that parents that wanted education would seek it out and pay for it. With the advent of greater suffrage and votes for all came the thinking about educating the electorate and a necessity for State intervention; something many other countries had already embarked upon. Parents often now choose to rectify the deficiencies of the State system through paying for private tutoring and home schooling is on the increase.

I think a centre dedicated to education economics might well look beyond the issue of for profit or not in schools and widen the debate into ‘for profit’ activities in education and how we achieve the aims of social mobility discussed in the previous post. Especially, what part will changes in technology play in the future shape of learning for our citizens and their families?

The general election was a good example of backward thinking, with the debate largely about selective education. Why should the State pay for this form of education over any other. Again, an interesting question for economists to discuss. I suspect the return on State investment is much greater with non-selective education across all government services. But such a calculation is notoriously difficult to undertake effectively.

I am interested to know where Labour stand in the debate on the politics and economics of schooling. As a left-winger for most of his career, does Mr Corbyn want to see a return to full State control and is that local or national. After all, Labour nationalised the NHS in the 1940s, so presumably is comfortable in keeping schools out of local democratic control?


Class rules: not OK

The Social Mobility Commission is an advisory, non-departmental public body established under the Life Chances Act 2010. It has a duty to assess progress in improving social mobility in the United Kingdom and to promote social mobility in England. Today it has published a report which finds that nearly half of people (48 per cent) believe that where you end up in society today is mainly determined by your background and who your parents are. This compares to 32 per cent who believe everyone has a fair chance to get on regardless of their background.

The Social Mobility Barometer uncovers feelings of deep social pessimism among young people with half (51 per cent) of 18-24 year olds agreeing with this statement compared with 40 per cent of those aged 65 and over. The full report can be accessed at www.gov.uk/government/organisations/social-mobility-commission and is based upon data collected in March, well before the announcement of the general election, although during the period when campaigning in the shire counties for the county council elections was already underway in some parts of the country.

Although the report makes depressing reading in many aspects of its conclusions, there are some interesting and more optimistic observations on which those that believe in greater social mobility can use to build. It is clear that the country almost certainly did feel at the time the data was collected for this report that austerity had gone too far in hitting the poor. 49% thought that those ‘who are the least well off’ did not receive enough government support and this rose to 61% for ‘those just managing’, whereas 58% thought that ‘those who are the most well off’ received too much government support. I am sure that those sentiments played out in the voting patterns in the general election. What, because of my age, I call the 1945 effect. That was the election when the population was finally able to express an opinion on the 1930s decade of hardship and ignored the win in the war voted for Labour and social justice.

Anyway, back to the Social Mobility Commission’s report and a few other interesting nuggets. There are clear regional divides, with London and the South East being seen as the area of opportunity and the North East being seen as a part of the country where you may have to leave to seek opportunities elsewhere. Wales and Northern Ireland are also seen as ‘go from’ areas, something the DUP will no doubt be discussing with the Prime Minister in terms of the price for supporting her government.

The fact that 64% of respondents said that they had received a better education that their parents is encouraging and something we do need to preserve for the future. The supply and recruitment of teachers is absolutely key to achieving this goal. Respondents placed education as the future outcome where prospects were brightest over the next ten years with 40% expecting the next generation to receive a better education. There is a lot of trust being placed in us as educators by society.

It was also interesting to listen to the Oxford Dictionary representative on the radio this morning talking about the level of understanding of the use of language among primary school children. The fact that ‘Trump’ is their word of the year is also very reflective of how engaged young people generally are in what is going on around them.

Of most concern in the report is the fact that there is still general acceptance that educational opportunity is still shaped by background, with those from poor backgrounds having least opportunities and that the level of opportunity deteriorates between school and university.

I have written about the education divides locally in Oxfordshire in previous posts, this report reaffirms what we need to do. Recruit the best teachers and properly fund the schools in areas of least affluence and motive the parents to understand and support the benefits of education.

For government, spread the wealth from London and South East by opening up opportunities elsewhere or continue to see a southward shift in the population that could be accelerated after Brexit.




Job Done Mrs May

We will create a single jobs portal, like NHS Jobs, for schools to advertise vacancies in order to reduce costs and help them find the best teachers.                                                         Conservative Party Manifesto page 51

Good news for the Conservatives: this already exists and is free – TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk is now the largest teacher job site in England and is free to all users; schools to place vacancies and teachers and returners to locate jobs that meet their needs.

So, Mrs May, pick up the phone and call the team in Newport Isle of Wight and we will happily show you how the service operates. We are already saving schools millions of pounds in recruitment advertising and with government support, such as is envisaged for the supply sector, we can channel probably another £50 million into teaching and learning while providing accurate and up to the minute management information for civil servants and ministers.

This is one area where you can say, job done, even before the election.

Low cost private schools: any appetite?

Some of you may have come across the magazine that exists for those interested in investing in education. From time to time its journalists ring me up to ask about issues relating to the private sector in education As a business operator, albeit with TeachVac (www.teachvac.co.uk) using disruptive modern technology, I understand their need to assess opportunities and I happily share my thinking with them.

Recently, the magazine hosted a conference in London. Mostly, the topics discussed were in the higher education realm, an area of less direct interest to me at present than schools. However, there was a session about low cost private sectors schools and possible opportunities in England. Now that’s a topic of more direct interest to me, although they may not know that fact. Many years ago I undertook a piece of research for a client about the possible opportunities in the private school market for a low cost model at a time when school fees were rising sharply. My conclusion was that such a school might well struggle as it offered neither exclusivity nor the small classes that were both the trademarks of many private schools.

Has my judgement changed? Well, I haven’t done any in-depth analysis, so this is very much my first thoughts, but my hunch is that if anything the market is less propitious for new entrants than twenty years ago. With an expansion of selective state schools on the horizon, there may be opportunities in the primary sector, but less so in the secondary. Why pay for what you can achieve for nothing? Paying for tuition is also a cheaper option than paying for a school with some parts you won’t need.

Much could depend upon where the bar for entry to selective schools is set if the Conservative were to go down that path where they to be re-elected. Too selective and they will have little overall impact on existing comprehensive schools in most areas. Too low and we really have a return to the two-tier system of yesteryear. In that case, there might be an appetite in urban areas for fee-paying schools for those pupils that just missed out on a selective school, especially in a period of growth in pupil numbers. However, the existing fee-paying schools should be able to cope with that demand, especially if there were the transfer of some traditional entrants from these schools to the selective schools as parents feel they no longer have to shell out on school fees. You only have to look at what happens in areas with sixth form colleges with a high reputation and the distribution of fee-paying schools.

So, I think that I would be wary of thinking the future holds significant opportunities for the low-cost private school market. There might be some specific groups of parents still wanting to exit the state system but, while there is the chance of a free school paid for by the State, surely that would seem like a cheaper option for them.

Where I have always thought there might be a market is in the vocational skills area for the 14-18 age-group, especially if an institution is closely linked to the local job or apprenticeship markets. Even better, if you can persuade employers to subsidise the cost of the school in return for a fast track into the challenging sections of the labour market. The armed forces have historically understood this section of the market with their apprentice training colleges of yesteryear.

A school offering direct entry into the hospitality or travel industries, where the local further education college isn’t doing a good job, is one possibility. This section of the market also comes with less need for expensive building requirements associated with teaching the full range of curriculum subjects. So, find a niche that can be taught in traditional office type accommodation near a park or other outside space and in an urban area with good transport links and it might be worth creating a business plan; especially if the wages for lecturers can be low, but still better than when working as an experienced professional in the sector and you might have something worth taking further. But, there may well be some other opportunities in the education world for many investors.

Transfer at 14; good idea, badly executed?

Schools Week has been running a story about the failure of many UTCs and Studio Schools to attract pupils for September. Their latest news is that Plymouth UTC will now not take any pupils at 14 this coming September http://schoolsweek.co.uk/troubled-utc-plymouth-pauses-recruitment-at-14/ Here in Oxfordshire the news on that front is better, with two of the three UTC/Studio schools fully subscribed. Indeed, the Didcot UTC has made 120 offer for 120 places equal to its Planned Admission Number and the Studio School in Bicester exceeded its PAN of 50 with 53 offers to the 60 applicants. Now, whether or not they all turn up is another matter, and we won’t know until parents have considered issues such as how much it will cost to transport their child to the school.

The Space Studio School in Banbury follows the trend identified by Schools Week, with 16 offer for the 75 places available. But, located as it is in the grounds of the town’s largest academy it has always seemed to me to be a bit of an oddity.

Despite these good recruitment numbers, there remain for the schools in Oxfordshire the same issues rehearsed before in this column. Existing Oxfordshire secondary schools will lose the funding of 173 pupils if all those offered places move to the Didcot and Bicester schools. That’s the best part of £700,000 in one year. Over four years it would amount to not far short of £3 million pounds after allowing for inflation. Put this drain on income on top of the 8% the Institute for Fiscal Studies suggested might be the cuts to school budgets over the rest of this decade and you have the potential for financial problems at other schools.

To make the most of a system, you need a degree of planning or unlimited funds. We don’t have either at present and we don’t seem to have a government that understands that in times of austerity you need to make the most of the resources that you do have available.

The issue in Oxfordshire is, what will be the consequences for schools losing pupils at 14 and 16, whereas elsewhere the consequence is the opposite. What happens to the schools that don’t attract enough pupils to pay their bills? The silence from the Regional Schools Commissioners and the National Commissioner on the need for a rational approach is of concern. These civil servants must not be high priced rubber stamps approving new academies without understanding the consequences.

In the end, it will be the much maligned local authorities that will have to sort out ant mess. It may be no surprise that the Plymouth UTC operates in a selective school system. In such a system, few pupils will leave a selective school at 14 making it even harder to recruit from the remaining schools with the pupils that didn’t take or pass the selection process.

It is probably time to look at how the transfer of pupils at 14 is going to work in the longer-term: leaving it to the market isn’t really an option.

The place of people and technology in learning

Last August I wrote a post called ‘Back to the future’ where I discussed a story then doing the rounds about a possible apprenticeship route into teaching. (blog post 22nd August 2016) In the post I discussed Physics as a subject where recruitment challenges might require a new look at how we recruit and train teachers. If you need a higher point score to study for a physics degree than say for a degree in another subject that then allows for entry into a teacher preparation programme, are we artificially curtailing the possible supply of new physics teachers?

This week the think tank Reform has published a study about the future shape of employment in the public sector up to say 2030. http://www.reform.uk/publication/work-in-progress/ Following on from the publication, the Head of Education at Reform tweeted on a twitter account I used last year during the Police & Crime Commissioner elections asking what the institute of Physics (IoP) response was to the apprenticeship route. Teachvac www.teachvac.co.uk (the free recruitment site) was copied in on the tweet, so it eventually reached me.

The answer, Louis, is that I don’t know what the IoP thought, as they didn’t comment to me. As Louis then noted in a later tweet, there is a site for apprenticeships in schools, but such apprenticeships currently only cover support roles. The article in a recent Schools Week about the a speech by the Secretary of State http://schoolsweek.co.uk/greening-promises-qts-wont-be-scrapped-and-7-key-findings-from-her-college-of-teaching-conference-speech/ suggests that any move to create non-graduate teachers won’t find much support. That doesn’t make the apprenticeship idea a non-starter, but calls for an innovative approach. The issue is partly about the minimum level of knowledge, both academic and practical, you need before you can work in a secondary school classroom and how this has changed over the past fifty years.

As the Reform report mentioned teaching and Teach First, there is more of a debate to be had about teaching. I expect Reform will come back to this issue. In one sense the debate is, as elsewhere in the public sector, and as Reform acknowledge, around the issue of teachers and technology. Reform’s thesis seems to be some work will be replaced by technology and jobs will change their skill levels so the number of workers can be reduced. Seen through the other end of the telescope, the views is of fewer, but more skilled workers each being more productive.  My example is the horde of market porters that have been replaced these days by the software engineers writing the code used in the automated warehouse: far fewer, but far more skilled and locatable anywhere in the world, as a recent BBC story about India showed.

With a largely highly skilled workforce in teaching, the issue at one level is, can the government afford to pay for such numbers of teachers as the 3-18 engagement with education demands? As we approach the 150th anniversary of the Liberal government’s requirement for universal state schooling available to all parents that didn’t provide any other form of education for their children there is a real need to debate both the shape and staffing of the schools during the next 50 years.

This was a point I made in my recent talk to the Merchant Taylor’s Company Education seminar (see blog post January 2017) Think tanks can provide a place to discuss new ideas and stimulate debate as can blogs. Is this a debate worth starting about the relative place of people and technology in the learning landscape?