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Educational musings

Over the past few weeks I’ve been laying out radical changes, which may benefit the education system within Scotland. I’ve worked closely with education establishments on a number of projects although I’m no teacher.

In Scotland we took great pride in being able to boast that we hade the best education system in the world. What we didn’t mention was that our reign as best in the world was a long, long time ago. Our education system still worked pretty well until the late sixties when the basic structure of the system was altered in an attempt to create a more level playing field for our children.

It’s patently obvious that this system hasn’t worked and the longer it has been in place the worse things have got. How do we know the education system isn’t working? Because the system is aimed almost entirely at having our young people achieve a degree whilst at the same time the quality of the degrees available have been greatly diluted.

In order to address this, significant and far-reaching change is necessary. This is required so that our young people have a real opportunity to achieve their full potential. This immediately flags up a significant problem; since all of your young people are individuals with differing strengths and weaknesses could we ever develop a flexible enough education system, which would provide the learning, experience and support on an individual basis?

The easy answer is of course NO. Then this is qualified by saying it would be far too expensive, the additional resources required would require substantial budget increases, which are just not affordable. I would argue that we cannot afford not to give every one of our young people the best possible opportunity to be the best they can be. As a country we need this, as a country we have successfully achieved this albeit on a much smaller scale and a long time ago.

The first ten points I’ve identified are as follows –

  1. EVERY pupil/student should achieve their full potential;
  2. EVERY student teacher should achieve their full potential;
  3. There is NO PLACE for politicisation within education;
  4. There is NO PLACE for religion in any area of education;
  5. REDUCE the size and influence of local education department to the lowest possible level required to support schools.
  6. EVERY pupil should be treated as an individual and not be subject to a dress code.
  7. Successful methodologies and best practice should be adopted in order to provide the BEST learning experience possible for pupils/students.
  8. The pupil/student RATIO should be around 6:1.
  9. Teacher advancement would be measured solely on pupil/student ACHIEVEMENT.
  10. Schools should EXPLOIT the greater school community to provide a rich content learning experience for pupils/students.

Essentially the system would need to be developed on the basis that every learner would receive the encouragement and support they required in a manner tailored to their needs. The learner becomes a partner within the educational system. They have needs and wants which require guidance and support which builds on their strengths and helps them be aware of their weaknesses.

This can’t be done in a class of 40 or a class of 20 for that matter. Whilst various strategies have ben tried and tested to stream learners by age and ability the basic flaws have not been addressed. The flaw of course is that each time leaners are streamed they are placed into one of three sub-groups: the top 5-10%, the middle 80-90% and the bottom 5-10%. Their position within these streaming may alter depending on subject or peer group although it is unlikely that they will dramatically vary their over all group. If they do then it’s likely that a much higher position in a subject stream exposes a potential talent whilst a much lower position in a subject exposes a lack of suitability for that subject.

The central aim is to have every learner achieve his or her full potential within a system, which encourages and delivers the correct environment for this to take place.

This can only be achieved if teachers are also supported and encouraged to achieve their full potential as a teacher. The management structures within schools would then have to alter with teachers being the most important element within each school. This would almost certainly reduce the role of the Head Teacher who would no longer be directing the activities and structural delivery of the teaching. Head Teachers would teach and work directly with all teaching staff to enable “every learner achieve their full potential”.

The structure of teaching career paths would have to alter significantly too. Good teachers would not be promoted out of teaching they would be promoted to increased teaching not just of learners but of student and lesser experienced teachers. In such a system teachers would be able to gain more money and status within the school based solely on their ability as teachers.

Administrators would be there to support teachers to maximise teaching time. Perhaps they would be student teachers learning not just how to teach but also on what is required to allow good quality teaching to take place.

I’ll return to this subject again and again over the next few weeks.

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Posted by on February 8, 2012 in Education, Politics

 

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Achieving full potential within the entire education system.

This is another blog article which was previously posted at the Subrosa blog and it is reproduced here with permissions.

A New Year and an old topic, education. I can’t keep away from it. Mrs TT is a teacher and I am a great supporter of meaningful education, which is appropriate for the needs of our young people and our country.

Education itself actually causes many of the problems we have to face on a daily basis, be it education itself, or any other of the hundreds of other topics which take up our leaders and politicians time. Our leaders and politicians come either from independent schools or a comprehensive education background, which is fair enough as long as this does not also encourage elitism and division.

Then, far too many of them go to Oxbridge and are taught the same subjects in the same classes and come out with the same degrees. Sure they put a left or right spin on it but it boils down to the same thing. Very few of them have run a business, far too many of them have gone into marketing or the softer side of the business world. Armed with Oxbridge theories and precious little experience they attempt to run the world by becoming politicians and then leaders.

If we want a great education system in Scotland and the UK we really need to start at the beginning again. The Curriculum for Excellence looks good on paper but it seems unlikely to succeed at least at secondary level, the jury is still out. Maybe it could work and work well but there are a number of flaws; teacher training, council education departments, central government and teacher career paths.

Teacher training has been hijacked for political reasons. A level playing field for all pupils/students is never going to work, a lack of competition for pupils/students is never going to work and dumbing down the content of courses cheats every single person in our nation.

Education, if it is about anything at all, is about to ensuring that EVERY pupil/student achieves their full potential. The current system does not allow this to happen. A teacher cannot give enough time to each pupil/student to ensure that this is the case. The system then is WRONG. The system has to reflect the core aim “that EVERY pupil/student achieves their full potential”.

To achieve this “every student teacher has to achieve their full potential” and again the system of student teaching has to change to achieve this.

It would be difficult for the political left or right to argue against this. Obviously they would but this provides a further significant change to that part of the process. There is no place for politicisation in any area of education.

It would be difficult for the different religions to argue against this. Obviously they would but this provides a further significant change to that part of the process. There is no place for religion in any area of education.

This then would have an impact on the local council education department. The easiest way to achieve this is to reduce the size and influence of the local education department down to the lowest possible level to support schools.

In reducing the Education Department down to a much smaller size, significantly more resources could be provided directly to schools for schools to decide on what is best for their requirements. This would also require a different relationship with central government and the development of a much improved funding model used to invest in every individual pupil/student, student teacher, teacher and school.

A centralisation of teaching resources could then be developed and shared nationally to stop continual wheel re-invention and duplication whilst promoting best practice in line with the aim of every school and every teacher to ensure EVERY pupil/student achieves their full potential.

This would then require a different type of management to be introduced to schools. This along with other steps required to achieve the first five aims listed below will, be the subject of next weeks post and possible at least one further post to follow. Meantime please feel free to comment.

Identified aims –

  • EVERY pupil/student should achieve their full potential;
  • EVERY student teacher should achieve their full potential;
  • There is NO PLACE for politicisation within education;
  • There is No PLACE for religion in any area of education;
  • REDUCE the size and influence of local education department to the lowest possible level required to support schools.
 
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Posted by on January 7, 2012 in Education, Politics

 

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Uniforms, uniformity and individuality, uniqueness

Uniforms. They’re everywhere. In shops, on the street, in shopping malls, railway stations, airports. You name it. Everywhere.

The Polis for example now wear spanking uniforms. Lots of different types. Body armour too. Pointy helmets in the right place only of course. To set the uniforms off Police Cars have gone silver. Very fetching. Even their flashing lights have gone disco and their sirens? Well, if they hear a siren on a USA TV  cop show and it sounds good then it should work equally well in Scotland

The Fire Brigade. They’ve also introduced colour.  They can’t afford to be left behind. They have a sort of mustard thing going on at the moment. Helmets are shaped much more interestingly and even some fire engines have gone white.

Nurses uniforms. Well things have certainly changed since Barbara Windsor squeezed into one. Name a colour and there is a nurse or some other health worker who will have pulled a uniform on in just that colour or shade. Kind of tricky to know who is a nurse and who is an orderly or a cleaner if you don’t have a shade chart though. And ambulances are going yellow.

The Army wear camouflaged uniforms when they are “in theatre”.  The Army kind of needs a uniform. Maybe not all the time but mostly. You don’t want to shoot one of your mates instead of the chap shooting at you because he has the same clothes on now would you? The Red Coat Uniform may not be a great choice these days however. A flamboyance which is no longer affordable.

Hi-viz rules. Elfnsafety likes hi-viz. You’re much less likely to get squished if you wear hi-viz.

So uniforms are for identification, belonging and protection as well as identifying status.

In business the uniform is a suit, collar and tie. It’s not nearly as popular as it used to be. I don’t wear a tie. I wear a suit when I have to but never with a tie. I don’t wear a tie because I just don’t like wearing ties. Most days I’m in jeans. When I worked more in IT than business I worked with businesses who should have had a dress UP Friday. They certainly couldn’t have dressed down any further. There uniform was no uniform.

Uniforms conformity have a place but not in schools.  There is a family not that far from me with two wee girls. One goes to school and other is too young. The older girl wears a school uniform like almost every other child that walks through the school gate. When it’s not a school day the older girl is obviously encouraged to choose the clothes she wears with no guidance or input at all.

Last Saturday Mrs TT and I were at a local arts centre at event and coincidently, so were the family and the wee girls. The older one was dressed as a dragon, complete with tail, the younger sister was a dressed as a fox complete with tail also. Excellent. Other times we’ve seen then the older girl dressed in a myriad of colours. Again excellent.

We want and need our children to be individuals. We want them to be innovative, creative and have the confidence to question. I know the arguments for school uniforms, levelling, encouraging belonging and it looks nice doesn’t it?

Lot’s of schools all over the world don’t have uniforms. Children are in school to learn loads of stuff so they can take their place in society be it as a scientist, artist or any one or more of hundreds of potential careers.

Can’t we let our children be as free as possible, for as long as possible? Can’t we encourage our children to be individuals and not follow the herd? Or at least encourage them to recognise the herd and then personalise it for themselves?

We owe it to our children to help them develop into the people they want to be whilst ensuring they stay outside the walls of the nearest prison unless of course the uniform is quite fetching and it’s lure is undeniable.

 
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Posted by on December 14, 2011 in Education, General

 

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Buses, trams and Gaels

This article was originally written for and appeared on the Subrosa blog and is republished here wih permission.

We’re still in a fairly tricky financial position. The EU is teetering on the brink and it’s beginning to look like there is no way out. Not to worry though the last minute hard fought deal to save the Euro will be tomorrow nights news. Back slapping all around. 2 Trillion Euro fund to spend. Result! Oh goody!

In Edinburgh we have the trams. A billion pounds of light railway, falling well short of what it should have been whilst costing twice as much. The debt will have to be paid back by the council taxpayers. Oh goody!

Then we have the small question of the Edinburgh Gaelic School. Does this sound remotely familiar?

Exhibit 1.

The Scottish Government decision to provide capital funding of £1.4m to cover the cost of the project as identified by the City of Edinburgh Council.  Recently however new estimates of £3.6m have emerged, putting a question mark over the development of the school.

Result! ”That’s only just over 2.5 times the original estimate. Shortfall in funding? No problem. Borrow it. Use council money to pay for it. Of course there is no council money there is only taxpayers money. Oh goody!

Strolling swiftly along there’s the small issue of the statutory notices issued by the Council for repairs to Edinburgh buildings.

Exhibit 2.-

“The value of statutory notices issued by council surveyors has increased dramatically in recent years, from £9.2m in 2005 to more than £30m in 2010”.  

Edinburgh Council surveyors arrange the work through approved (well approved may not be the correct word) contractors and recoup the cash from homeowners who are told what is to be done, who will do it and what it will cost. Oh goody!

Exhibit 3.

“Edinburgh Council, the local authority, receives 15% of the final bill.”

So this system, designed to preserve Edinburgh buildings is a cash cow providing £4.5m to the council. Oh goody!

One final thought about Edinburgh. Let’s think transport. No not trams again. No. Buses. Lothian Buses. The only municipal owned Bus Company in Scotland. They provide a very good service. Well they would since they have an almost complete monopoly. Will they cut services, which may mean that people will have to use the trams? Of course not. Edinburgh Council wouldn’t do that. No way. Never.

Those brave souls staying out in tents (well maybe not staying out) without running water (well only until they nip home for a shower etc,) who are demonstrating about the unfairness of capitalism? You know the same ones as are outside St Pauls? Well maybe they should take a long hard look at Edinburgh Council. Maybe they would see some financial practices which make their present targets look like saints. Oh goody.

 
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Posted by on October 29, 2011 in Politics

 

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Green grow the children oh

I’m working from the lounge for a few days as we have a new kitten and that’s where she’s living until an acceptable level of peace can be negotiated between the new wee, tiny kitten and our considerably bigger existing cat. UN negotiators need not apply. They just don’t have the skills.

Anyway, working in the lounge affords me a reasonable street view and at least three times a day it’s cabaret time. Mummies, Daddies, Grannies, Grandads, Uncles, Aunts, partners, brothers, sisters, next-door neighbours, friends, friends of friends, official child carers and Uncle and Aunty Tom Cobbly and all take primary and nursery children to the school nearby. I’ve mentioned in previous blogs about the ensuing chaos and danger, which it causes. Like all things though there are deeper issues.

Yesterday the school had it’s great unfurling of their latest Green Flag. A man in a suit raised the flag although he had to have help from the Jannie. (Well if you go to work in a suit your brain isn’t suited (glorious pun that) to manual, complicated tasks). A Teacher said some words and the kids cheered as required, altogether a reasonable thing to do? It’s keeping people in jobs after all. The school has to provide evidence of their “greenness” and somebody from a green organisation has to evaluate it and award a flag. There can’t be much wrong with that?

Well yes and no. Surely it depends on the amount of time the “environment” is afforded in the school day? There’s also the niggling thought that there may be some propagandising going on too? The carbon foot print and waste issues certainly form a part of what they do.

The schools carbon footprint is enormous. It is huge. It is bigger than a very big carbon thing. The number of car journeys required to take kids to school is huge! Not only is this a carbon issue, or I should say for those who think a trace gas, which is very good for plants and forms such a microscopic part of the atmosphere poses a threat to the Earth. Not a threat to humans however, we are dispensable, there is child safety which I’ll cover in a further blog shortly.

So their green efforts, kept within a reasonable part of the school day, are doomed before they start. They also seem to be able to spread litter around liberally too. It’s good that children learn about the environment but it needs to be kept in proportion and not interfere with their education, which will ensure they are employable in the future. The environment needs protecting from misuse and abuse, however, mother nature has a way of doing things which has worked for a very, vey long time.

We have to have children being properly educated for work as they are going to be paying the taxes, which will provide my pension. At this point you will probably have reservations that this will happen for yourself. I’m not counting on that to actually happen either. I think I’ll be working until a retirement age over 70 at least.

What happens when all the schools have green flags? Will they develop Green flags with fringes which schools only get if they complete a higher level of green adherence? And then it’ll be a green flag with gold tassles for an even higher level. And so on and so forth.

Where will it end? Easy. When the money they get runs out.

What a warming (further glorious pun) thought to end on.

 

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Fifteen steps.

This article was originally written for the Subrosa blog and appears here with permission.

The continuous political tinkering with the education system carries on a pace. There are good reasons for this of course, the current system no longer delivers the quality of output which employers require. Of course it may also be the case that the constant tinkering makes the problem worse. Change is expensive, constant change even more so

The latest major change being considered is that of teachers’ employment. The McCormac Review, carried out for the Scottish Government, has just been produced and interested and involved parties are beginning to consider the contents. I’m not going to go through the contents and the responses since it’s a large document, which covers many topics. Instead of the political machinations lets try a bit of free thinking alternatives.

Let’s cut to the chase shall we? Discuss and develop the following –

  • Remove all incompetent, mediocre and ineffective teachers on an on going basis to protect the education system and it’s customers (parents and pupils/students). The fact that they are employed by Local Authorities should not mean they have a job for life, they should have a job as long as they are competent and fulfil the criteria required to appropriately educate the pupils/students in their care.
  •  Stop training teachers in numbers, which almost guarantee they will take a very long time to find jobs. The present system is wasteful of people and money; it is not the number of teachers being trained that is important it is the quality of the teacher trained.
  • Make it much, much, much easier for teachers to retire earlier than the government retirement age. Teachers have valuable experience and skills which must be exploited for pupils/students sake, however teachers who are no longer as enthusiastic or feel they have contributed as much as they can should be provided with an option to retire without financial penalty at a time of their choosing.
  • Contractually require retiring teachers to mentor four new teachers per year for at least two/three years following retirement. Providing best practice support and advice to new teachers based on years of success should help new teachers become more effective more quickly.
  • Ensure that teachers teach by removing all admin and providing support for planning and reporting aimed at maximising teacher to pupil/student time. This could also be a benefit in trying to ensure that all pupils receive teacher time rather than just the top and bottom groups in each class.
  • Provide a teacher career path, which is financially rewarding and provides seniority levels for good teachers throughout their career. This would ensure teachers had aims for their own improvement based on delivering continuous improvements in pupil/student progress and results.
  • Employ teachers who have the skills and talents to engage pupils/students rather than academics. Academic brilliance does not necessarily ensure good teaching skills; all teachers should know and be passionate about their subject beyond curriculum requirements.
  • Do not promote teachers away from teaching; becoming an administrator/manager requires a different skillset. However, do not employ administrators/managers who are not driven to support teachers and education and the delivery of the best outcomes for pupils/students/parents/teachers and the wider school community.
  • Reduce the number of Council Education Department Staff to the absolute minimum and divert all savings to teaching. Teaching has to be about teacher – pupil/student face to face time, everything else is secondary and the system of support should be lean and appropriate.
  • Remove, or substantially reduce, the time and money wasted in adhering to regulatory preparation, adherence and reporting.  Risk Assessments for outings for example should be carried out by administrators and made available to all schools.  Health and safety etc. should be paired back to reflect reasonableness.
  • Rethink the school year and develop a model, which is more flexible, does not set aside specific blocks of time for holidays and reflects our societal needs. It’s absurd that holidays are still based on archaic agricultural needs and religious celebrations and have start and finish times which are neither flexible nor reflect parents’ holiday flexibility. The main winners of the present system are the holiday companies who exploit and profit from this situation.
  • Take politics, religion and fads out of the curriculum of schools, colleges and universities. Large blocks of time should not be set aside to teach pupils/students politically, religious or fashionably motivated non-subjects which detract from job related subjects.
  • Subjects being taught should be prioritised on the basis of job market needs. These should be supplemented by external people being brought in to work, in partnership, with Teachers to deliver knowledge on the world of work. These people should be from a wide range of market activities, the arts, entertainment etc. etc…
  • An internal market should be created in which all schools, colleges and universities can share teaching resources and expertise. This would dramatically reduce “re-inventing the wheel” which currently takes place on a huge scale. This would allow resources to be developed and sold to other educational establishments and would also encourage teachers to share more widely whilst, at the same time, their schools and themselves would benefit financially.
  • Stability within Scottish Education should be pursued with vigour to allow consolidation and a longer-term development to take place at a pace which is sensible but which genuinely restores Scottish education to the higher end of world good education league tables. The reduction in continuous change would reduce costs and provide more time to teachers to actually teach.

As a country we already recognise the basic need for good education and a skilled and knowledgeable population and workforce. The Scottish Enlightenment was achieved on the back of a major drive to educate as many people as possible and to also encourage debate and opinion throughout Scotland (although some areas did not take part).

The SNP have broken one mould, here is an opportunity for them to break another. Think out of the box. Leave the Westminster way of doing things, way way behind.  I won’t be holding my breath however.

 

 

 
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Posted by on September 21, 2011 in Education

 

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It’s a class thing…

 

The new “Free Schools” are up and running then and the next batch being discussed.  That sounds like progress although only time will tell. There’s likely to be some fall-out and bad experiences but that happens with any new initiative. Just as long as no children are harmed during the making of the “Free Schools” programme.

To some however, children are going to be harmed regardless. They don’t see the “Free Schools” project positively at all. You may have heard them on TV, the radio or in newspapers? I’ve heard a few comments. “Divisive” seems to be a word that’s popular for the Local Authority Education backers. They also claim the new schools will be “elitist”.  They are even trying to go on the offensive to make sure parents don’t send their children to “Free Schools”.

It’s to be expected.

We already have different types of education available for our children. There are lots of different Independent Schools and it’s “you pays your money and your makes your choice”.  Why not?

Maybe some people have forgotten or perhaps choose to forget that we are still fairly free. We are still allowed to hold opinions and we can think for ourselves. We still have a reasonable amount of self-determination. People can decide, within certain limits, where their children go to school.

Perhaps those who favour Local Authority governed education should spend time trying to improve those schools performances? After all there’s always room for improvement. Onwards and upwards and all that.   In an ideal world schools should be sharing best practice anyway, regardless of which sector, religion, fee paying etc. etc. that would be fine if this was just about what’s best for children.

Our children are our greatest asset and we owe them the opportunity to be the best they can be. Education is their best chance to start moving in the right direction. That won’t suit them all but the school system should be able to cater for all manner of differing abilities and have differing teaching techniques to cope with that.

Politics should have no place in schools. It’s such a pity that education has become such a hot potato for politicians.

 

 

 
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Posted by on September 14, 2011 in Education

 

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