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About This Space

This space is a place to dump my thoughts, organise them, refine them and connect them to what others are saying on the same subject, so everything you read is a thought in progress, much of it not fully thought through. Any comments you choose to add will be gratefully read! At the moment I'm taking a break from teaching to work on my Masters and read up on some of the "big picture" issues of education, something I never had time to do while I was teaching, drowning as I was, in a quagmire made up of meetings that had nothing to do with children's learning, management-created paperwork that nobody read, mounting piles of marking (most of which had little impact on learning), emails that usually had nothing to do with children's learning and so much more time-wasting, energy-sapping, frustration-building, morale-undermining junk. After 10 years of teaching I'm finally able to see the forest for the trees. I'm devouring books, articles, blogs, podcasts and attending seminars. From the menu on the left you can find my main trains of thought. In the news items below are some of my more knee-jerk, blog-type jottings. At the very bottom of this page is my grandiosely-titled Educational Philosophy, which keeps changing the more I read. 


Progress on my Masters
Before I flew to the UK, I polished off my Research Methods assignment. So I have two in the bag, including the credits from a Masters unit I did with Exeter a few years ago (tutor and Board of Examiners notwithstanding). Now I have the leadership unit to work on. I've read the entire file, and found some articles to base my assignment around. The unit isn't as much fun as I'd hoped - more about critical reading skills than leadership and management,…
Back in Pest
I've returned from my trip to the UK armed with half a dozen books picked up from Blackwells in Leeds and the wonderful Waterstones in Gower Street, London (God, I love that place - but they need to put some seats on the top floor), and also a bunch of stuff picked up at the Education Show. Alas, my trip was extended for family reasons (the urge to be a good son and uncle), so the Education Show is a bit of a blur now, so I need to sit down and look at my notes.…
Education Show 2009
Arrived in a wet and windy Blighty for the start of the Education Show at the NEC in Birmingham. After handing over an inexusable amount of my money to British Rail (or whatever they are now), I travelled from Gatwick up to Birmingham and arrived amidst a throng of teachers. Many hauled bizarre carts that looked like they'd been made out of giant pieces of lego which they quickly filled with Pritt sticks and other shit for the classroom.…
The Rose Primary Review Interim Report Released
On Monday, Sir Jim Rose released the interim report of his primary curriculum review. There seems to be plenty of good points in the body of the report but it's still pretty vague (maybe deliberately, as it's only an interim report), and it takes a very pragmatic stance when it comes to whether the curriculum is delivered through subjects of cross curricular studies: "neither discrete subject teaching nor cross-curricular studies must disappear from primary schools.…
Trends in International Maths and Science Study
This study, done every four years by Boston College, was released yesterday. There's a lot to digest but the headline seems to be that England and the USA have risen up the rankings significantly. So too have Hungary, Russia and Lithuania. In Maths, England took 7th place amongst Year Nines (14 year olds) compared with 24th place (as the UK) amongst 15 year olds in the 2006 Pisa rankings (an OECD report into 15 year olds), while the USA took 9th place, which compares with 35th place in Pisa.…
Progress on my Research Methods Assignment
It's hard to get all that motivated describing the features, strengths, weaknesses and applications of case studies and action research, so I seem all too rarely to be able to sit and focus for several hours on my assignment. Today was one of those exceptional days and I seem to be moving towards a completed draft. It's not all that exciting (to say the least...sorry, Dr Murakami!) and since my first draft didn't include many citations,…
Department Dementors On The March Again
One of the principles that shapes my philosophy of education is that teaching is not something you can ever get perfectly right. It's one of the things I like about teaching - there's always room to get better, new things to try out - and teachers in this imperfect field, being additionally hampered by being human, are imperfect too. Hence my cynical reaction to the government's latest initiative to raise standards in "coasting" schools.…

My Educational Philosophy

Schools need leaders, not managers. School leaders should support, inspire and empower, guided by a living, breathing vision, developed and shared by the whole school community (including, and especially, the children). A school assembly should not be a time to "give out notices" or to tell stories downloaded from the Internet, but an opportunity to inspire and remind people of the vision. Any teacher (and students too) can be a leader. Giving someone a job title (eg co-ordinator of this, head of that, subject leader) doesn't create a leader, but it can empower people who simply enjoy telling fellow teachers what to do. All but one Head I have worked under seemed to believe that the path to successful learning was through good administration (and some of them appeared to think that good administration was actually the purpose of a school). This has given me a very jaundiced view of school Heads and I am very suspicious of anything that has been imposed from the top, whether it be by Heads, owners, LEAs, school boards or governments. I believe that decision-making in a school should come from the bottom-up, but this can only come through informed discussion and more time.

The purpose of a school is to develop the knowledge, skills, attitudes and actions of children. Everything done in a school should contribute to that purpose. If it doesn't, it's in the way.

The single, most effective factor in improving learning is a passionate, empowered teacher. By empowered, I mean teachers have the confidence, skills, support and knowledge to be able to do and justify the things that they believe will help the children in their classroom learn better. These are also the ingredients of real accountability, which is the ability of someone to explain the rationale behind their actions and decisions. Making teachers fill in paperwork, complete risk assessments, track test results on a spreadsheet and all top-down coercive measures and initiatives disempowers teachers and is guaranteed to suck out their passion, so their effect on learning is negative.

The single, most effective factor in improving teaching is teacher collaboration. Sharing good ideas, discussing their imperfections and observing each other makes teachers more effective, more confident and more knowledgeable. Training a teacher for a year and then leaving them isolated in the classroom doesn't. Nor does telling them what to do in a staff meeting or going through the charade of professional development sessions.

Test results are not an effective means of measuring high quality learning. Perhaps good learning isn't possible to measure, but it is something a good teacher notices. Teaching is part intuition, and more credit should be given to this. Summative assessment (assessment of learning) has periodic but limited use; formative assessment (assessment for learning) is a useful way of improving learning, but should focus on qualitative data, as well as quantitative.

Education is messy. Attempting to quantify learning and create standardised systems and solutions may comfort the systems teachers, but it doesn't contribute to a school's purpose.

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2 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    Your philosophy strikes me as admirable. However, I see a fatal flaw, and that is it's practicality. As it sands, the majority of people involved in shaping education policy are arch-egotists. Following your philosophy, requires, as you allude to, placing absolute trust in teachers. This will never happen for two reasons: Firstly, reasons of ego and control freakery on the part of the policy-makers, and, secondly, the fact that most people are attracted to teaching because it gives them the opportunity to exercise power over fellow human beings. This second point actually vindicates the way of thinking that you, rightly, criticize. The answer is to change recruitment policy for potential teachers. To do this involves an immense investment of time and effort on the part of recruiters, and also a selection process that would be to discriminating for today's political climate. This is not to say that it would discriminate on race, creed, colour, as we both know, it is ridiculous to do so, but would need to discriminate against personal philosophies.

    Other areas of life have come round to the idea of bottom-up thinking, but, such is the amount of power that the policy-makers have to give up, that, even if implemented tomorrow, it would take at least a generation to come to fruition. In the case of education, this is problematic because it would mean more-or-less neglecting a whole generation. If you were to adopt bottom-up thinking, however, you would have to agree that the pupils were the most important people in the school, which would mean a complete u-turn in the way that schools were administered. I agree with your piece in theory.

  2. Anonymous

    State education in the West is dead.  The majority of parents, children and teachers (if they are honest with themselves) know this.  The reason cannot just be blamed on curriculums and paradigms or social values: it's a question of having inspiring and knowledgeable individuals enter and stay in the job.  That's not happening.