Quality Assurance or Quality Control?

Just after 7am this morning I was telephoned by a researcher from BBC 5 Live to ask what I thought about the new ‘tables’ tests for Year 4 pupils? Not a great deal at that time of the morning was my first and honest thought. However, early morning phone calls are an occupational hazard for anyone prepared to make a comment on issues of public interest and that response wouldn’t do. Some calls of this nature develop into big stories and make headlines: others disappear onto the modern equivalent of the editor’s spike, either dumped or relegated to a footnote in a new bulletin.

Sometimes, you don’t get a call back, as promised, but a text message saying that the item isn’t proceeding either due to other stories taking precedence or some similar phrase, as happened this morning and you then wonder whether the point of view you expressed to the researcher was too similar to those everyone else was expressing and what they were looking for was a different view to balance the debate?

On the story about multiplication tests  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-43046142 or ‘checks’ as they are being called, my view is that they should be scrutinised through the lens of whether they are a quality control or a quality assurance measure? If the former, then they are likely to be required of all teachers at the same time. The results then tell us on that day how well the age group are doing. We would possibly expect summer born children to do less well than those with a longer exposure to schooling and those that have remained in the same school to do better than those pupils that have already been subject to changing school one or more times. Pupils will a poor attendance record, for whatever reason, might also do less well.

A quality assurance check would allow the DfE to provide both an expected level but also to help teachers diagnose why those pupils that don’t reach the level expected fail to do so. The DfE might them provide some research into what will work with these pupils to help them reach the standard expected of most children at that point in their education. Such an approach, rich in a developmental approach aimed at helping the system, is more expensive than a simple check that will allow Ministers to blame failing schools and by implication their teachers through the medium of the Ofsted inspection.  If I was in charge of Ofsted, I might want to take the DfE to task for making the job of improving our school system a bit harder if it further reduced trust in the inspection system.

I guess that the DfE cannot afford to spend money on diagnostic tests and a simple pen and paper exercise to be marked by teachers in their own time looks more profitable in terms of political capital.

Take this new the test when a pupil is  ready; collect the data electronically and then let the results tell the DfE if their choice of Opportunity Areas is the correct one or whether key areas such as South East Oxford City have been consistently overlooked for intervention and extra resources? In this technological age, we need to harness the resources at our disposal to help both teachers and their pupils to learn effectively not just impose more burdens on everyone.

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A new direction for education?

The speech from the Secretary of State, Mr Hinds, to the world Education Forum was interesting in several respects. This blog will reflect upon two points; technology and teaching and the curriculum.

I have long been an advocate of the use of technology to improve learning. Ever since I was responsible for technology hardware when teaching in the 1970s and bought a Sony video pack to record both PE lessons and rehearsals for the school play I wondered whether the age of didactic memory dependent learning was coming to an end? Of course it isn’t, as children need to learn and internalise the basic of literacy and numeracy as well as survival and communication skills and many other aspects of learning for life. But, I guess we don’t teach logarithms these days and many might no longer know their northings from their eastings yet successfully manage to navigate using their mobile phones: technology has meant changes.

Personally, I think the Secretary of State might want to start any quest for greater understanding of the role of technology in learning in the future of schooling with teacher preparation and the views it inculcates into new entrants. Do preparation course of all types from Teach First to a Russell Group university find space for thinking about the future. Are they helped by the DfE informing them of cutting edge research into learning and the use of technology? Indeed, does the DfE fund enough research projects into this area, especially to help raise the learning achievements of pupils with special educational needs? Can we close the gap for these children and enhance their life chances through a better use of technology?

Mr Hinds mentioned the curriculum in his speech and the recognition in business, where he was previously a junior Minister, of the importance of soft skills. What he didn’t mention is the importance of culture. In that respect, teachers with experience of the world of business can bring invaluable insights into the lives of pupils and the understanding for the many teachers that have progressed from classroom to university and back to the classroom. I don’t in anyway denigrate that pathway but, especially for the school leaders of tomorrow, there is a need to broaden horizons in a way that hasn’t bene possible for much of the past twenty years.

The Secretary of State might want to ask why the DfE has a target of training about 1,000 PE teachers, but only just over 200 business studies teachers. I don’t doubt the PE number is correct, especially if we are to provide the Olympic champions of the future and possibly ever win the football World Cup again as a nation. But, do we need more teachers of business studies in our schools? The sector failed to even meet the low target the DfE set using the Teacher Supply Model for 2017 trainees; it was missed by 20%. Yesterday, TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk issued an amber warning for the subject to schools registered with them. Already, in 2018, sufficient vacancies have been advertised to mean there won’t be enough trainees to go around again this year. At this rate of progress, the trainee pool with be exhausted before the end of March, even earlier than last year.

Education needs to take both business and technology seriously: the new Secretary of State might be just the person to help them do so.

 

A National Vacancy Service

Tomorrow, the DfE is holding a meeting to brief recruiters about its plans around a service publishing vacancies for teachers and school leaders. In the light of the demise of Carillion, is this new service a move based upon foresight by officials of the need to protect services from private sector enterprises or a belief that State operated services can do the job cheaper than private companies?  This is an important issue, since there are many in the government and among its supporters that see nationally operated services, of the type a vacancy service would presumably offer, as little more than a return to recreating nationalised industries.

At this point I must declare an interest for new readers of this blog. Some years ago, I helped form TeachVac to provide a free national vacancy service for teachers and for schools to save money on recruitment advertising, through the use of modern technology to bring together schools with vacancies and those looking to apply for such posts. TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk and its offshoot for international schools, TeachVac Global, www.teachvacglobal.com are now the largest since source for teaching posts in England and can help to attract teachers back to work in England. All at no cost to the public purse.

TeachVac also had the added bonus, of providing real time information on the labour market: something the DfE will no doubt also want to play up about their service. This week, TeachVac will have already a recorded record number new vacancies for teachers and school leaders since schools returned from holiday just over a week ago.

As I pointed out recently in the blog post about business studies teacher recruitment – blink and they are gone – a large proportion of vacancies recorded so far in 2018 are in and around London. As of yesterday, 58% of recorded vacancies in 2018 were from schools in London; the East of England or the South East with just 32% located in the other six regions. The percentage was the same for both vacancies in the primary and secondary sectors.

Is this because these areas are seeing the fastest growth in pupil numbers and are already adding new vacancies in expectation of their growing rolls? Is it because teachers in these areas are leaving in larger numbers. TeachVac Global is certainly seeing interest from teachers wanting to consider working overseas. Is it because these schools feel the new National Funding Formula doesn’t hurt as much as it could have done and they now feel more confident on their spending for 2018/19? There are other ways of answering these questions: TeachVac at least points out what to ask.

TeachVac will shortly be publishing two reports on aspects of the teacher labour market during 2017. One reviews primary school leadership and the other considers main scale vacancies in the secondary sector across England. Details of the cost and how to obtain them will be available on the TeachVac web site. As a free service, TeachVac is happy to discuss data provision for teacher trainers, schools, MATs, diocese, local authorities or indeed anyone interested in labour market real time data on teacher vacancies.

 

New Job: Careers Person

The news that the DfE is again taking careers education more seriously than it has done in recent years must be welcomed. We still have a long way to go to return to the idea of work experience for all and encouraging primary schools to talk about the world of work, but what is now being proposed is a start. The former programmes cost a lot of money and were of variable quality. At least not much money is being spent this time around, presumably because the government hasn’t actually got it to spend.

The £4 million of funding won’t go very far if spread evenly across all secondary schools; perhaps £250 per year group if a school is lucky. Even if the cash is only going to 500 schools, then that still won’t be enough to buy even half a teacher’s time, let alone other costs.

Curiously, £1 million more is being spent with the private sector on 20 career hubs bringing together a range of partners. What is missing from the announcement by the DfE is the part that IT will play in this new world of support and encouragement.

Inevitably, the term social mobility creeps into the DfE’s announcement. At the rate the term is being used these days it will soon join a former Secretary of State’s observation that ‘everyone must be above average’ as a meaningless terms trotted out at every opportunity to show an awareness of the divide between those at different levels in society.

There wasn’t any mention of entrepreneurship in the announcement that seemed to equate careers advice with obtaining the right qualification. Working life can and should be more than deciding whether you want to work with people, things or numbers. What sort of environment you will be happy in can also be important, especially as young people don’t seem to have the same degree of work experience at weekends and during the holidays as was available to former generations?

Perhaps what is missing is a motivational social media campaign to stir young people into action; not to do more to them, but to inspire them to do things for themselves. What is also missing is the recognition that areas of the curriculum have been decimated by the actions of successive politicians. Design and technology, music and even the other creative arts subjects may play important parts in the lives of our young people if artificial intelligence really does wipe out a whole range of existing careers over the next twenty years.

Because, 20 years ago few of those reading this post would have had an email address; a mobile phone or even a computer capable of much more than word processing. I don’t know what the new jobs will be; games developer is one that didn’t exist when I was young; there weren’t data analysists to the same extent either, and the whole social media revolution has created opportunities for some to make money from blogging, unlike this author that just does it out of interest.

 

Social Mobility Commission

It is not really surprising, to see that the whole of the board of the Social Mobility Commission has followed the lead of their chair and resigned. I commented on the Commission’s most recent report in a previous post. Officials at the Commission have talked to me about teacher recruitment in the past and are clearly aware that good teaching can have an effect on educational outcomes. This was something the Liberal Democrat Education Association discussed at a conference in Oxford yesterday.

So, who might replace Alan Milburn and be handed the responsibility for chairing the Commission, assuming that the Commission retains its present form and function? Perhaps, David Laws, former Education Minister of State and briefly Treasury number 2, in the coalition government might make a good choice? He has spent his time since being ejected by the electorate in 2015, building up the Education Policy Institute as a leading think tank, and is well on the way to making EPI match the Institute of Fiscal Studies as the leader in its area of expertise. However, with experience beyond just education and a wide range of contacts, David would make an excellent chair, with a good head for data and understanding of the machinery of government. He was also heavily involved with the introduction of both the Pupil Premium and the infant free school meals policies, both key measures to help achievement and further the possibility of social mobility during the coalition.

Of course, if he wants to stay where he is and thinks he can do more good at EPI, Nick Clegg, the original architect of the Pupil Premium is another name to conjure with for the role of chair. Andrew Adonis might be another name for the frame were he not presently heavily engaged with trying to develop the national infrastructure.

As an active Liberal Democrat, I make no apologies for suggesting two fellow Liberal Democrats for the exacting role of chairing the Commission. Other members that could sit on the Board might include a senior Labour figure from the Brown government, a Conservative peer and perhaps a well-regarded figure from the charity sector with long experience of social mobility.

We all know that exiting the European club was going to be a full-time job and that it came at a time when George Osborne had predicted that the worst of the effects of the crash would be felt by the weakest in society. Such factors make the work of any Social Mobility Commission more of a challenge, but no less important.

With the IT revolution once again picking up speed, and predications of massive job losses from the growth in Artificial Intelligence awakening the Luddite mentality in many of us, the Commission must act not only as the government’s conscience on social mobility, but also as a source of genuine new policies that are radical and forward thinking. More of the same just won’t work.

We have seen in Germany that the failure to ensure the success of the economy across the whole country has inevitably lead to the rise of the far right in politics. Social mobility is important, but we cannot ignore those left behind. They must not become the poor relations kept, for ever, out of sight.

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 not 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

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/magazine-40485293/the-futuristic-school-where-you-re-always-on-camera

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?