Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Summer CPD made EASY!

Me in Zanzibar

This summer has been dedicated to an amazing delayed honeymoon in Dubai, on safari in Tanzania and then a week on the beach in Zanzibar... it was GREAT!

However now it's back to business and a number of education bloggers have been helping with the new years' preparation. I agree with Tom Sherrington when he said, "Over the last two years, I’ve found that I can engage much better with the ideas in some of these books when I’ve seen the authors express their ideas directly – either in person at a conference or through some of the video material on the internet." (<here>). It's also why I love TeachMeets, teachers expressing ideas from the books in a real and practical way!

Tom's post, "Contemporary educational ideas all my staff should know about" <here>, is a great starting point for beginning conversations about the most up to date ideas. This is vitally important, as every now and again I hear staff talking about learning styles and even brain gym!

Shaun Allison has also put together an excellent collection of videos <here>. In time where staff can really take control of their CPD, this is an easy and accessible way into many contemporary ideas. They are ideal as a starting point for discussion in a school or department session, or simply as a bit of personal viewing! 

The Educators on BBC Radio 4, <here>, has also brought some up to date educational ideas to the general public; teachers were listening and ready to blog, particularly when John Hattie made an appearance. Two great overviews of this are found <here> (concise from John Smith) and <here> (a little longer from David Didau).

That's me started off... (tickets are also booked for ResearchED 2014: see <here>)

I wonder how I can bring a few more colleagues along with me this year? I got 9 staff to TeachMeet Havering (in our school!) at the end of term and I'm ready and refreshed to start these conversations again.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Are GCSEs Important?

Image courtesy of JISC

"Don't worry about your GCSE results! I never use mine!"
"I can't even remember what I got for my GCSEs!"
"No-one has ever looked at my GCSE certificates!"

These are some of the things I have read today, on GCSE results day, via social networking sites.

I can see how they are easy statements to make as the older you get, the further away the GCSE results day is, the memory fades. The stress, the worry, the nervous anticipation, the hard work in the build up...

Here are a few reasons GCSEs do still matter...

GCSEs often determine sixth form destination
Many schools have a minimum requirement, as do many colleges. Apprenticeship courses and other training programs will also have certain demands. These requirements do drastically vary; some are happy with 4/5 C grades, with Bs in subjects you want to study at A-Level. GCSEs are a good indicator of performance at A-Level and is the only externally verified qualification you have to your name at the start of sixth form study. Your results also directly affect your predicted grades which may be used by sixth forms and colleges to decide on applications. The better your grades, quite simply, the more options you have.

GCSEs determine subject studied at sixth form
The majority of sixth forms only allow students to take A-Levels in subjects where they have achieved A or B grades. Requirements for other courses such as BTECs will vary, depending on the subject. Most sixth forms will require you to redo English and/or Maths if you have not got a C grade at GCSE as a condition of entry. Subjects studied at sixth form will naturally open or close doors for university study or job prospects...

GCSEs may determine which universities you can apply to
Some universities require high A-Level grades. There is an assumed connection and based on your GCSE results, some universities will not consider applications of students who got Bs and Cs at GCSE. Popular universities and competitive courses will naturally be more effected by this.

GCSEs may determine university courses
Most universities want at least Cs in GCSE English, Maths and sometimes Science. Some universities have specific requirements for other subjects, with certain grades... sometimes a B or even an A minimum or preferred. Obviously the subject choice at A-Level often determines university courses and if GCSE grades were limited, this would effect all further study.

GCSEs may determine your career
Some career related courses such as engineering and medicine expect GCSE grades in Sciences and Maths at grade A... some even now specify A*! Social work, teaching and nursing expect at least a C in English, Maths and Science - even if you have A-Levels and/or a degree. Even jobs that do not require higher education have minimum requirements and with the general increased level of expertise and education across the UK, more and more jobs have a competitive field.


"The job of exams is not to be hard, it is not to be easy...[ ] The job of exams is to test learning and produce adequate differentiation across the full range of candidates. This, amongst other things, is why we need what that charming individual called "Exams for Thick People". The job of an exam is not to let clever people show off, it is to actually assess people, and that means differentiating between D and E grade candidates just as much as it means differentiating between A and B grade candidates. Complaining that exams are getting easier is just a socially acceptable way of complaining that we're no longer restricting education to a privileged elite." Daniel Hemmens

We have never established exactly what GCSEs are for, and O-Levels before them. There is two possibilities:
  • Are GCSEs (and A-levels) intended to differentiate pupils to help sixth-form colleges and universities with selection? This would indicate the A*s in any given year are the brightest of the cohort. The ability of an A* in 2014 would not necessarily be the same as an A* in 2004.
  • Are GCSEs (and A-Levels) intended to mark a certain standard – an A grade pupil has a certain set of skills, a C grade student a smaller set? This would indicate in any given year that there would be similarity in same-graded students.
Each model would look very different and debate is difficult. Whatever the purpose, to have a universal benchmark in education is difficult. Exams could never stay static and could we ever have two people 20 years apart with a similar exam / qualification?

It cannot be argued that many students are passing more GCSEs and at higher grades. However is it over simplistic to say they are simply getting easier? 

Things to consider:
  • It was always tougher in the "good ol' days"!
  • Do you actually, with any accuracy remember how hard your GCSEs or O-Levels were? 
  • O-Levels were taken by top 25% and many failed while, GCSEs are for the majority of students
  • It is increasingly difficult in much employment to not have GCSE grade C in English and Maths
  • There is pressure of relatively high unemployment; education/qualifications can help job prospects
  • Far more students attend university
  • Education has a far greater emphasis in today's society; naturally pressure comes with that
  • Teachers (for better or worse) are able to focus teaching for the exam; League Tables/OFSTED forces this!
  • Students have greater access than ever before to online resources and websites which can reduce the effect of poor teaching/schools
There are students who have worked countless hours over the last two years to really achieve their first (of hopefully many!) qualifications. A student who has a clutch of A*-B grades will not necessarily end up with a great job, big house, fast car... but they have done something to set them on their way. Likewise, life is not over for the student who has a set of low grades... there are many ways to make your way in the world. I always tell my students they are worth far more than a set of GCSE grades; they are beautiful and wonderful in so many other ways. However to reduce or belittle anyone's achievements today seems a little mean and unnecessary. 
Congratulations to all students receiving GCSE grades today

However on the flip side... I bloody love this song:
"We busted out of class had to get away from those fools
We learned more from a three minute record than we ever learned in school"

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

The 10 Commandments of Tweets [with Students]

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

I began Tweeting for my students in January 2012. It was initially an experiment to see if there was any value or worth in using Twitter to communicate with students. I mentioned it to my Head of Department, who mentioned it to our Department line manager. There were a few brief discussions, but as it became clear I knew what I was talking about and had considered the implications, potential risks and consequences, I was left to get on with it.

Having watched The Social Network and working out I was probably in the first 100,000 Facebook users in 2004, and having used Twitter personally for several years, I was fully aware of the power (and the dangers) of such social networking tools; I had, in many respects, grown up as an adult with social networking.

I liked the idea that on Twitter students would 'follow' and not be 'friends' and that everything was transparent and could be checked by any member of my SLT. They could see my interactions, everything was public and could be read by anyone. There was also the great power of the Retweet!

However without a set of guidelines, or policy, advice or even really having an 'in school' sounding board, I needed some kind of personal framework. I spent a lot of time considering how I would utilise Twitter. It is also important that you never forget the risks, and that you are always aware of what you are Tweeting and to who. I devised a little reminder to myself, and to share with others (it's RE themed, naturally...); 

The 10 Commandments of Tweets with Students:

1 - Don't use your personal account for school; don't use your school account for personal.

2 - Don't follow students back [Justin Bieber news is widely available elsewhere].

3 - Don't just endlessly RT [It's boring and misses your chance to be personal].

4 - Don't just RT without checking [you need to read it and make sure it is suitable in content].

5 - Don't be available 24/7 [It's okay to take some time off as a teacher].

6 - Don't DM students [The good thing about Twitter is that it is very transparent].

7 - Don't use long, boring hashtags - it's not cool [Do add inconspicuous subject tags though – i.e. #REteacher #REchatUK]

8 - Don't just post links [Why should I click on it? Who is it of interest to?]

9 - Don't assume that just because you Tweeted it, and students follow you, that they'll read it.

10 - Don't be a boring Tweeter - sometimes it okay to say something a little fun!

Image courtesy of StickyJesus

I spoke to colleagues via Twitter and got some interesting feedback about what some schools are saying...

One staff handbook said, "On no account should staff involve themselves on social networking sites with children" only via school email. However the school had a number of Twitter accounts including a whole school one which were clearly not covered by this policy. This seems typical of the lack of guidance given to many teachers. Other schools insisted on 'locked' accounts and vetting each potential follower.

Another school had put together a policy, which is not overly complex but covers most areas:

The Purpose
To allow departments to disseminate key information relating to KS4 that will ensure pupils have access to important online resources that can be used in preparation for the exams.

The Benefits
• It allows us to model using social media responsibly
• It is a great way to communicate using the technology that many of our pupils use already
• It is instant access when new information is released by exam boards, key authors, well known speakers and relevant news agencies
• To share resources for revision etc (all information will also be available on paper for those who don’t have access to the internet)

Safety considerations
• Nothing is private. Teachers will not be following any pupils
• Everything that is written is available for everybody to see
• It won’t be accessed in school
• It will be only for KS4
• We have contacted numerous schools that already use it to discuss safeguarding concerns
• All accounts will be monitored by the teacher responsible for the twitter account and by [Senior Management]

Reminders [to staff]
• Never follow a pupil, make this clear to pupils
• Never retweet an article or image you haven’t checked first
• Bear in mind that not all pupils will have access to the internet
• Only use with KS4
• Always remind pupils about safety for example: nothing you write on the internet is ever private. Only write things you wouldn't mind your parents, teachers or future employers seeing. What you put on the internet will be used to judge what sort of person you are. Never write anything negative or unkind about anyone else.

[Hope this is okay to publish? It's the best one I've seen so far!]

I think this is a great starting point. It has been circulated to staff, students and parents, so everyone is clear on its purpose, use and potential.

The problem to overcome is the fear of social networking. Sadly some staff see it as an evil. I agree, it can get ugly, and many staff have had to deal with social networking causing a variety of problems in the school. It is hard when other staff do not have an interest in social networking. In the worst cases, you will receive a flat no. At the other extreme, you are left with no policy to fall back on for protection (me...).

There is lots to consider. Lots. It needs constant review too. There may be something you haven't thought of, an issues that arises. It needs to treated sensibility, in a considered way. A member of staff may make a mistake... just like in the classroom. Will the school then ban Twitter for everyone?

One of the most important things I read about social networking and schools was that "Every school has a social media and social network presence - are you going to ignore it or engage in it?". Your school and your staff will be discussed on Twitter, Facebook and numerous other places. If you have a school Facebook page comments and questions can be put there and answered accurately. I was told by students that I wasn't discussed on Twitter because I use it!

There is so much potential. SO much. I love using Twitter with students and it has been incredibly useful. I answer questions, help with everyday questions ("What week is it?"), homework help, last minute exam prep. I link it to my blog [here] and it's amazing how much students pick up, from the news and links I tweet too. Sometimes a 6th form lesson will begin with something they've seen on my Twitter.

I am not an expert. I am still learning. I still make mistakes. But this is the same as in the classroom right?

Don't just set up a Twitter account and start Tweeting. Speak to your school, follow any policy or guidelines in place. Talk to students, what do they want? Take your time, consider your purpose, what will your Twitter identity be? Try it, evaluate it, persevere with it, re-evaluate it, keep using it, don't give up, have a little fun...

Read more:

#TMLondon (11/12/12)
My first TM presentation, 'Using Twitter with Students': PPT & Full Audio & Video - 10:25:00 to 11:10:00

#TMEssex (18/3/13)
A new improved Tweeting with Students presented: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly Prezi

Saturday, 16 August 2014

New Challenges

I'm now in my 9th year of teaching (10th if you count my PGCE) and each year I try to take on a new challenge:

1st Year - Finishing off the year with 7 weeks teaching street children in Ethiopia.
2nd Year - Starting my part time MA in Catholic School Leadership.
3rd Year - Starting as Staff Governor.
4th Year - Becoming Head of House and becoming Link Training Governor.
5th Year - Joining Governor Policy Review Committee (nearly everything needed reviewing!).
6th Year - New school, new job... Assistant Subject Leader on RE.
7th Year - Edmodo/digital learning/leading staff CPD/joining TeachMeet world.
8th Year - NPQML (Regret!), arranging two major local TeachMeets, Independent Learning Project coordinator.
9th Year - New job... Head of Year 10 (or PDC - Pastoral Development Coordinator).


Some staff are very content to turn up, deliver generally good lessons, fulfil all their contractual obligations and be a success in doing this. They're not looking for promotion, and are quite content maintaining the status quo.

I like to challenge myself and push myself. I know I sometimes get complacent and to keep adding further 'plates to spin' keeps me fresh, enthused and focused.

However, I am also getting better at saying no and have this year had the confidence to turn down certain things. This gets massively important as sometimes when you appear knowledgeable, insightful and willing, you get put upon. I still lead as much CPD as some members of SLT.

It's also worth noting that some staff are desperate to 'climb the ladder' as soon as possible. I have always always been sure that I wanted to 'walk before I could run', so to speak. In a Catholic school promotion can be slower... Indeed at least one of my PGCE cohort walked straight into a Head of Department job! I was told "Heads of RE jobs in a Catholic school are dead man's shoes" and that can certainly be the case. 

9 years in, I should probably be a Head of RE. However I recognise that for the last 3 years I have worked alongside an incredibly inspirational Head of RE who has given me massive free reign. I have been working hard on being a really outstanding teacher and ensuring our department leads on teaching and learning within the school... I really believe we do. There is nothing more that I love than a colleague coming to ask about something that a student has said we do well. So much of this works because I've not been desperate to seek elsewhere to be a Head of RE. 

In all honesty, had I not go the job as Head of Year this year I would have had to consider leaving in the very near future in order to progress. Thankfully that has not been the case! 

Is the job not enough of a challenge in itself?

Of course it is. Government changes keep us on our toes enough, but I think the important question is how do we "keep the light burning, keep on dreaming"? [Dream Baby Dream - Springsteen]. Especially in a personal way.

This Year

Head of Y10... No doubt more blogs to come!