Designing a knowledge rich curriculum? A discussion around knowledge…

adorable blur bookcase books
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Epistemology is a personal thing (I’m going to leave numbers alone here), but with the current Hirsch-fuelled push for knowledge in school curriculums/curricula, how one perceives knowledge is, and must be, important. I’m of the opinion that we don’t just teach knowledge to children – a posteriori, we develop their abilities to create knowledge in future known and unknown situations, a priori. I don’t just want explicit knowledge taught to them, I want them to develop tacit knowledge. We need children to develop motivation and curiosity into finding or creating, through reasoning, new knowledge of all kinds.  Because once their teacher has gone, we need them to be good at creating or sourcing knowledge and knowing that it is knowledge and not buzzfeed bunkum.

Yet, I’m not convinced we have really dug into our ideas about knowledge and its longevity. If children need some knowledge only for a GCSE assessment and never ever again then the experience of learning that knowledge needs to confer upon them some kind of transoposable habitus type advantage else what is the point of learning it? Habitus, is a Bourdesian term:

…acquired, socially constituted dispositions” (Bourdieu, 1990, p.13)

and it does have limitations as it is not empirical evidence (it featured in the somewhat criticised EEF’s study on setting). Yet there are many times when we want to know about non-empirical knowledge – powerful knowledge even. The habits and tacit knowledge that people develop through being a part of society are still seen as important even if we reject Bourdieu’s notion of habitus.

Is extraneous knowledge actually part of successful habitus of powerful knowledge? Do we seek to locate it and thus it drives an innate curiosity which develops our ability to develop tacit knowledge? Knowledge of the powerful does seem to be the ability to challenge and locate the knowledge that is being presented as well as knowledge which others can’t easily seen as readily powerful (ballet, plays, etc.)  – something Bernstein has inspired quite a bit of work around. I once read Don Quixote simply to understand an intertextual reference in The French Lieutenant’s Woman. Should we all understand when someone is tilting at windmills? Or are we reinforcing the cultural elitism of this sort of ‘knowledge of the powerful’ by insisting on this?

One of the things I wrote about in my book was rapid knowledge acquisition and disposal. Disposable knowledge I called it. If you want to do something quite obscure in Office Word or Excel, just as a once off, with no need to understand how it works, you don’t go on a long in-depth course on Office. You simply google and youtube the knowledge, find some direct instruction, apply it, and then forget it. If you need to know it again, you’ll google it again, get the direct instruction and achieve the outcome again. You use google as your long term repository of such specific knowledge and the direct instruction needed to access it for your needs. That to me is a really key skill for the modern world. It’s still based around knowledge, but it rejects rote learning, retention and the rest for some types of knowledge. It also suggests that direct instruction could be used in the wrong way as well as the right way. It really depends on why I need the knowledge. If I need the knowledge on a regular basis or I need to understand why and how the knowledge interacts with other knowledge then that is quite different. This is where key knowledge comes in – vocabulary, mathematical reasoning, foundational concepts and so forth.

I’ve also got issue with the verisimilitude of knowledge, to use one of my favourite Sherlockian words. That’s the truthfulness of the knowledge. In a post truth world, these are good questions to ask. I learn facts, but when I go to use them again later in life I have to check my understanding because the chances are that what I thought were ‘facts’ have shifted. A simple example would be ‘dinosaurs were wiped out by an asteroid.’ I would have to check the knowledge behind my fact every time I needed to use that as the ‘truthfulness’ of that ‘fact’ habitually shifts.

Facts are also contextual. Ask yourself: what were the years of WWII? At one level, you’ll say 1939-1945. However, a historian would say – ah, well, that’s a very European perspective. So facts change depending on the level or perspective of which you are studying them and we aren’t really debating that transition of knowledge from one level to another enough. It suggests we need to really think more about curriculums/curricula for KS3, 4 and 5 and how they connect.

I note the MP David Lammy’s outrage at the lack of black students in Oxbridge. Let’s be honest, it is not the knowledge they learn for the GCSEs and A Levels that are getting white, privileged and privately educated children into Oxbridge. There are many state educated children from a whole range of backgrounds that apply, don’t get in and yet have the same grades. The successful applicants must be learning some kind of knowledge not taught as part of the GCSE and A level curriculum. Even the schools with the strongest behaviourist approaches are not producing the knowledge being looked for here. What is that knowledge? How is it perceived by the interviewing tutors? I rather think it is more tacit knowledge than the explicit knowledge of the GCSE and A level assessments. Is it the subjectivity of the selection process or is it the poor design of curriculum in schools? Certainly others think the problem lies with schools not Oxbridge. 

One modern knowledge or skill, explicit or tacit, I am currently writing about as part of research, is that the modern student arrives with a transposable habitus of resolving problems through electronic social and work networking through multiple layers of privacy. If we meet a problem the first thing we do is employ our networks and communities to research and resolve the issue with the privacy setting adjusted depending on the type of problem to ensure we can get the level of criticality required. Even the highest cabinet ministers and MPs have WhatsApp groups to help them collaborate around problems like this. Reese-Mogg directly influences the Conservative party through his powerful European WhatsApp group. Collaboration is in the PISA test. Should we be teaching them knowledge about how to develop physical and electronic social networks to resolve problems? To understand how privacy can change the type of information being constructed? Is social interaction knowledge another domain that we need to develop in young people? And I mean physical social interaction not just electronic!

We also need to revisit the concept of ‘skill’ to reconcile the many contrary ideas currently manifesting around this area. We can teach the knowledge of grammar over and over, but it is not delivering quality composition. Originality, curiosity driven by extraneous knowledge, non-empirical knowledge, reader response and so forth are all shadowy areas in the notion of skill and the knowledge behind skill. When I read about the education systems we are supposed to be emulating, such as Singapore, then they all seem to be moving towards a model of developing skills and other non-empirical aims or virtues such as resilience or, something attracting funding in the UK, ‘character’, through a beefed up arts and outdoors curriculum with a reduction on the pedagogies of rote learning – we seem to be swapping curriculums (I’m going Amercian with this term I think) and pedagogies with those we seek to emulate.

What does this mean for teachers? It means before we head down the labelled ‘knowledge rich’  path that is currently vogue with some (and be warned, read: learning pyramids, learning styles, growth mindset, brain gym and every other clickbaitish educoncept that people cite repeatedly for a short period of time) there is a need to investigate the mapping (as Sue Cowley argues) and teaching of knowledge (as Debra Kidd explores) and the way knowledge interacts with the development of skill so that we can bring better criticality to the debate behind teaching knowledge in order to ensure that it is used effectively and with longevity. It is good to see the debate is moving, but there is still a need to develop some of the answers.

“Whatever people say I am, that’s what I’m not”: Renewing perceptions of Teacher Education in the UK

pexels-photo-301926.jpeg

About a year ago, the Head of our School of Teacher Education, Juliet Fern, wrote an article in the Guardian, suggesting that Universities should take a more advanced role in the way that teachers get trained later on in their career, as a way of helping stop some of the problems that we have with teacher retention in this country. What was most revealing to us as a group of academics were the “below the line” comments concerning what Juliet had written.

In between the widespread apathy and general derision towards the idea of Universities playing any kind of role in teacher education, there was a huge amount of misunderstanding and a significant lack of knowledge about what it is that teams like the one we belong to here at UOB are trying to do. Like the character of Arthur Seaton, (from Alan Sillitoe’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, whose words above were  subsequently appropriated by the Arctic Monkeys)  we felt the need to address what people think they know about us.

Currently, we’re considering in some detail about what our PGCE should really be like. This is because we’re involved in one of those review processes that Universities conduct on a semi-regular basis. However, instead of seeing this as a box-ticking exercise, we’ve taken the opportunity, as a team, to think very carefully about what it is we believe in. A close look at the comments below Juliet’s article would suggest that we don’t believe in (or know) very much, but this is a public narrative that we would want to challenge. The fine detail can be found  in our PGCE Rationale Document  but perhaps more succinctly, the kind of teacher education we pursue here at UoB is about three things

  1. A pluralistic approach to teaching and learning
  2. Creating a mobile, but sustainable workforce
  3. Developing teachers who can think for themselves

That first one is from an academic point of view, the most important. At the heart of the PGCE course is the notion that trainees need to recognise that there are many ways of teaching the young people that we work with and that this recognition requires that they think about how they view things like knowledge, skills, pedagogy and evidence. For us as academics, it means exposing them to as many different perspectives on teaching and learning as possible, but also acknowledging that this exposure needs to happen in philosophical and theoretical terms as well as practical ones. Consequently, we are unapologetic about teaching a range of philosophical and theoretical ideas about education alongside practical strategies that trainees need in the classroom.  Recent work by Steve Courtney from the University of Manchester makes this argument better than we can, but suffice to say this first principle of teacher education is tied into a belief that teacher education must be, at least, partly located in the University, and not wholly in schools.

From a professional point of view, the second principle is most important. More than ever, we need a mobile workforce, who can work in a range of different environments. We are fortunate that we have a diverse school partnership here at UoB, from the neo-traditional to the progressive and also those who reject this dichotomy. Our trainees need to be able to work in these environments and everywhere in between, and our PGCE must prepare them for this, even if the trainees don’t personally concur with the educational philosophy of a particular setting. This level of preparedness is essential in a time of massive teacher shortages.

Finally, we would conjecture that those teacher shortages have occurred because of an inability to get teachers to do the third thing on our list. We are interested in developing teachers who stay in the profession for the long term, mainly by encouraging them to think beyond their immediate environment, and to think about the bigger picture; so not asking just, “How can I contribute to this school?” but also, “How can I contribute to the wider profession through my work in a number of schools?” . Not just “Can I get a job?” but “Can I get the right job for me?”. Not just “What do I need to know to pass this course?”, but ” What do I need to know to make a successful go of the profession?” This kind of sustainable thinking about teacher education is what Juliet Fern was hinting about in her original article. It is the kind of approach to teacher education we have seen in  the Netherlands, which has, historically at least, seen much better teacher retention rates.

It is also, as Viv Ellis has pointed out, similar to the approach of the Norwegians – an education system refreshingly free of some of the simplistic debate about teacher education seen on social media. We believe that this approach will produce a more resilient, more professional, more academically engaged and more effective teaching profession. Interestingly, a number of colleagues from other institutions agree with us and we particularly welcome Teacher Education Exchange’s comments on Subject Knowledge, which are in sharp contrast to some other developments in this area (It is worth noting, that many items on the Brierly Price Prior (BPP)PGCE reading list are also on ours – pluralism has advantages for everyone!) We also believe that we will make mistakes along the way, but like all education, these are the things we learn from.

10 things they hate about your subject

pexels-photo-256548.jpeg

Does it worry you when a pupil says they hate your subject? It should. That’s a strong word hate. And then applied to your subject like a knife in the heart. Nobody should be hating a subject. They especially should not be hating your subject.

Well actually, they hate performing in your subject.

They hate performing in P.E.

They hate writing for the view of others.

They hate reading aloud.

They hate doing maths and showing their working out publicly.

They hate taking exams in your subject.

In all of these, they hate performing in your subject. They hate publicly displaying: their body, their misconceptions in maths, their ineptitude in speaking modern languages, their poor reading aloud in front of others and their difficulty writing out their ideas; for public ridicule as they see it.

So who are ‘they’? They are pupils and adults who have had a negative experience of performance in your subject and have developed an aversion to it. This can be especially cemented when they do the final performance – the examination or assessment. And all of this fits into the contemporary agenda of mental health, but don’t think it is a new problem. It’s just modern life involves more performance these days.

Pupils who dislike performance based aspects of a subject can be found in any room of people. I’ve met so many people who tell me a variation along the lines of: ‘I had a negative experience performing in an area of a subject and this has affected me in all walks of life.’ These people make life choices, career choices, struggle in specific relevant situations and employ avoidance of activities & circumstances: a life time of different experiences all rooted in a negative experience of performing in a subject at school, e.g. ‘I didn’t like speaking in front of the class and now I avoid all public speaking wherever possible.’ I meet TEACHERS who don’t like public speaking. It’s a real thing this is. Teachers!

This must not be confused with the stretch and challenge agenda.  This agenda is focused on removing differentiated learning outcomes. A good teacher knows exactly where a pupil’s comfort zones and barriers to learning are. They engage with the pupil using a high quality relationship to create trust. Once established, they then use that trust to take the pupil beyond their comfort zone in such a way that the pupil feels supported and stretched at the same time.

One question I find helpful to ask myself is this: do I want them to read 3 books or 1000 books? If I want to achieve the latter, then I need to find a way to ensure a pupil enjoys the performance of reading. Does a P.E. teacher want the pupil to play the sport in school and never again or do they want them to enjoy sport itself for life? We have to think about the long term outcomes even when we are thinking about assessment outcomes. It is important – we need to achieve both the outcomes (performing in assessment) and the inspiration (performing in life) together. There is no good in having one without the other.

Don’t forget there is a good side to performance – I am not saying performance is a bad thing. I read an interesting article on science experiments which said the reasons for doing experiments are a mix of learning and of generating curiosity, motivation and an interest in chemistry. It suggests that when children meet challenge, if they have enjoyed challenge before in the subject they are more likely to persevere and to have better self-efficacy. It is a bit like doing a five kilometre run and then going home and doing some quite difficult mathematics made much more interesting by the fact that your five kilometre running performance has provided the data. Successful performance is brilliant. Life changing. Inspiring. Alas, so is a negative experience of performance and not in a good way.

The next time you meet a child or adult who dislikes your subject, ask some questions. What is it they don’t like? Is it a performance aspect? Is there a single incident which has taken root and created this aversion? Install a new updated experience of performance. One in which they are taught properly this time. Don’t let them move forward still hating your subject: for the rest of their lives.

Be like #GarethSouthgatewould – teach them to own the process.

I resign! How teachers now grow their careers with disloyalty

numbers-money-calculating-calculation.jpg

I am serious: teachers need to be disloyal more often if they want their careers to grow and their working terms and conditions to be healthy.

Ask yourself; if you stay with your car insurance provider, bank, phone, TV, car breakdown, electric or gas provider or any other provider – are you rewarded for your loyalty? No. Instead, you are seen as a cash cow. Every time you roll over the insurance or keep your ISA unchanged what happens? They up your premium. They lower your interest rate paid. The people getting the best deals are those shopping around. It isn’t actually necessary to switch. You simply get yourself a fresh quotation, pick up the phone and call your current provider asking to be put through to ‘cancellations’. Once there, you cite your fresh quotation and offer them the opportunity to match it. If you can’t be bothered to do this for any of your providers, then you only have yourself to blame when they raise their prices just for you and not the others.

And now the same is true for teachers. You need to be shopping around for schools. There are many schools that are very keen to recruit. They have a shortage of teachers and a shortage of teachers who will take the stress and accountability of Teaching and Learning Responsibilities. They might offer you an extra point on their payscale – just for coming to work for them. They might offer you a TLR responsibility which enhances your career. They might inflate your position: Assistant Headteacher status and you only have to be a Head of Department?  They are incentivising it for you. But are they doing this for the staff they already have? Not always, no. Ms Loyal Teacher is often looked over for that TLR. She will have to fight hard for the pay progression and then half the time not actually get a payrise – the school simply can’t afford it. However, if you are a good teacher and you get a good offer – well along you go to the SLT and see if they will match the offer.

Now I must point out that I don’t agree with this. Teachers who see a year group all the way through their time in the school are worth their weight in gold. Pupils like it, parents like it and yes, teachers like it. The best behaviour management, the most accurate differentiation and the best teaching comes from those who have taught the same children all the way through their school journey as part of a stable teaching team. The quality of relationship between the teacher, the children and the families of those children really does drive a better experience for all. Indeed, many teachers and dare I say it utility bill payers, would be much happier with a system that rewarded loyalty not disloyalty.

However, just like we have to be disloyal with our insurance, banks, utilities and other providers, so we now need to be disloyal with our school employers. Hopefully, it just takes calling the cancellation hotline to get you better working conditions, but what is the truth? I change home insurance, utility providers and the like just as regularly as I keep the provider after shopping around. The game has changed and teachers who stay in the same school are not doing their careers and working conditions any favours. It used to be that you would stay in the school and earn the right for extra money or responsibility. Now you need to leave, shop around and find new school employers who appreciate your fine teaching skills. For a year or two anyway.

Update:

Since publishing this blog we have seen the Dfes report come out which shows fewer teachers in the profession which is being driven by those leaving the profession not being offset by those entering the profession. The NFER blog shows that in particular, it is those teachers of working age leaving, not retirees that are causing the issue. The number of teachers aged 50+ has gone down from 23% to 17% in 2017. The question now is whether it is a normal part of modern culture to move around, not just within education, but from education to other industries. Certainly, maths and physics teachers are leaving teaching to earn more money elsewhere according to Sam Sims at Datalab.

Is the answer to incentivise those in the profession to stay in the profession? To stay in their schools? Currently, we are incentivising entrants to the profession to enter and only 67% of them are staying. Could some of that money be better spent elsewhere? Could those who stay in the profession for a very long time be rewarded with an earlier pension age? Could we award some kind of pecuniary bonus for those who achieve lengthy landmarks of time in a school or the profession?

Part of the problem has to be that some people think that headteachers are ‘moving staff on’ to help balance the books or because they feel staff have stagnated and need moving on. These people are the most expensive teachers at the top of the UPS band. Could the dreaded ‘capability’ rule be amended to afford more protection for those at the top of the scale when or if they stagnate? Laura McInerney says: “It’s not just about stagnation, I think you can become a less good teacher if you are given a bonkers timetable, an unsupportive department lead or zero resources.”  Whether it is true or not, the image that older experienced teachers are being pushed out of schools could mean some are jumping rather than waiting to be pushed – and jumping right out of the profession.

Keeping teachers in the profession and spending less doing so is a goal that unites the political spectrum. The drumbeat is firmly on entrants at the moment, but we have got see it is more than workload that is driving teachers out of the profession.

Understanding the effect of the Autonomous Nervous System on children’s behaviour – Guest Blog

behaviour management

One model of explanation often applied in determining the learning and behaviour of any  child is the state their Autonomous Nervous System (ANS) is in. It is worth knowing a bit about this as the ANS gene expression is changed by poor early attachment experiences, excessive stress and trauma.

In any situation, a child’s brain is neuroceptively (fast and unconsciously) assessing environmental safety.  Many children find school a reasonably safe place and respond accordingly; some will find school and learning unsafe. This blog does apply to all children, but focuses by illustration on children who have experienced adverse childhood experiences. If a child’s  life  means that their experience of things is fraught with danger signals, then the child’s ANS will be sending danger signals to the rest of the brain and to the body. The child will then excessively look for danger in the EXTERNAL environment and excessively experience danger INTERNALLY – even from the most unfathomable of stimuli; when we experience an internal feeling of danger we tend to look externally for the source. This chart by Ruby Jo Walker highlights it well.

IMG_0435

According to Stephen Porges, who has pioneered work on the role of the vagal nerve, the ANS operates on a continuum of response from complete safety to extreme danger. It is helpful to divide this up into three zones of SAFETY, DANGER and LIFETHREAT. When the ANS judges both internal and external environment to be safe then this represents a child’s optimal arousal level. In this state, the child is most ready to learn. This is not about an element of challenge or stress but the assessed absence of danger. It is this state, that most children are in when in school, that is elusive for the child who has experienced significant adverse life experiences.

A child with the above issues exists far more with the ANS in a state of readiness for danger or even life threat – even if no such threat exists in the environmentA danger state is represented by hyperarousal and readiness for fight, flight, rage or panic. A life threat state is represented by hypoarousal, freeze, dissociation and collapse. When someone has an extreme phobic response to a relatively innocent stimulus then this is what is happening.

This understanding sheds some light on the issues surrounding these often very difficult to manage children. We tend to look at our external environmental strategies to see if they will work and often cannot see why they don’t work. However, these strategies simply will not work if the ANS is experiencing the external or internal child environment as dangerous. Where does this leave us then? Our focus needs to be on getting the ANS in the right place rather than on the poor behaviour resulting from the ANS response. Quite simply we also would behave in inappropriate ways if our ANS was misfiring in this way. When working with these children it is helpful for us to acknowledge poor behaviour and response to learning as adaptive rather than maladaptive. That leads us to the question, ‘Why might this behaviour be adaptive?’. Once we have asked ourselves that question it can lead us forward in our search for good solutions.

We can take three routes to modifying the ANS response and in ‘learning the child’, we can try to find the right combination of routes. The first route works primarily on the body and physiological response generated by the ANS. The second route works primarily on the emotional state itself to create a sense of safety. The third route works on the cognitive (executive function) ability to apply a brake to the ANS. This whole brain way of working represents a powerful model for working with these children.

 As teachers we need to ‘stand still in order to move on’. This means finding the time to stand back and ask the question ‘ Could this behaviour be signalling something more than is immediately obvious? By being prepared to view behaviour as a signal of adaptation gives us the space to become thoughtful and reflective rather than reactive. It enables us to be better teachers and children to learn better.

 The author is a former SENDCO and advisory teacher for looked after children. He currently runs a consultancy – advising schools and children’s homes on working with children with SEND backgrounds.

The Limits of Educational Research – Part 1: John Sweller

pexels-photo-707676.jpeg

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,

Prevent the dog from barking with the juicy bone.

Silence the pianos and, with muffled drum,

Bring out the school bell. Let the learners come.

(Adapted from, and with apologies to, WH Auden)

Few people who hear the poem adapted above, realise that WH Auden originally wrote it as a piece of satire, mocking the sort of eulogies that are  delivered for public figures who don’t really deserve them.  The fact that the poem is often seen as and used as, a heartfelt tribute at funerals, suggests that it is easy to misrepresent  a poet’s intentions by making use of their work in such a way that its original meaning is lost, and the same might be said of educational research. John Sweller’s work on cognitive load is often promoted by a group of teachers and researchers who have come to be identified as “the neo-trads” or neo-traditionalists.  However, just like when a legion of summative assessors leapt misguidedly upon the Black and Wiliam Black Box and nearly broke the system with their enthusiasm for inefficient assessment of work and learning, so we need to be careful before doing the same with Sweller’s work on Cognitive Load Theory (CLT).

Sweller is working just as hard as Wiliam did in correcting misunderstandings about his work. Like any good researcher, Sweller acknowledges the limitations of his work. And it is these limitations which fail to cross the divide from research to school teaching that we need to pause and reflect upon.

Many people forget that Sweller accepts the constructivist view of learning – namely that we learn because of a set of mental structures (often referred to as schemata) which allow us to construct meanings and information from that which we perceive of the outside world. The difference for Sweller is what this means for teachers. For social constructivists, like Jerome Bruner, this construction is facilitated through the individual’s interaction with others and the world they inhabit. It is a journey of discovery rather than a  guided path. For Sweller, this is the problem. The mental structures with which with he is concerned need to be built in a particular way, and this is where the teacher comes in. They must teach certain things in certain ways which develop the architecture of the schema, allowing them to be stored in the individual’s long term memory. For Sweller, teaching methods which allow students to discover things for themselves do not do this.

But…..Sweller is clear that his ideas do not constitute “ a theory of everything”. Most of the data which supports his theory comes from the subject domains of Maths and Science. He doesn’t feel that Cognitive Load Theory works as a way of informing instructional design unless what is being learnt has a high level of what he calls “element interactivity”, namely, the number of different elements that must be considered simultaneously in the instance of learning – say, something like a complex equation. Interestingly, an Australian academic called Arianne Rourke has tried to apply Sweller’s ideas to the Art classroom , but only in the sense of using worked examples to teach students about the history of design and designers – an area of Art education that we might see as being largely a matter factual information, rather than the affective matter of expression or interpretation.

The real problem with CLT then, would appear to be its adaptability and scalability. Can it, as a basis for instructional design, be adapted to subjects like Drama, Geography or DT? Probably not, though it might be worth thinking about areas of these subjects where CLT might have an application? Could it be scaled properly across schools so that everyone was using it to inform their teaching? Again, probably not, but some teachers might benefit from thinking about cognitive load and where this idea was advantaging or disadvantaging learning.

The Parnassian Phoenix and the GCSE Language Carpet

pexels-photo-164446.jpeg

If you recognise words in that headline, there’s a reason. It’s an intertextual reference to Edith Nesbit’s Phoenix and the Carpet combined with an obscure movement in reaction to Romanticism used as an adjective in a pejorative sense. It then takes the GCSE Language and suggests it is on the floor, on the carpet, knocked down by some unknown force which I am about to expound upon. Or perhaps the carpet is the new GCSE Language itself, exciting and new at first, but once the Phoenix makes it a magic carpet it starts to get frayed with the children constantly having adventures with and on it, wearing it out.

I am referring to the nonsensical GCSE Language exam revision that we are seeing in a pseudo norm referenced scramble to meet the criteria in a better way than around 55% of one’s national peers. Children learning ever more complex and obscure language devices to better impress the examiner. I remember studying Parnassianism at university, its weakness and how well that resonated with me as a reader. In a nutshell, the surface of the Parnassian text is so ornate, so layered with technical features, that it obscures the actual meaning the text is trying to convey to the reader due to an opaque and impenetrable layer of verbosity. Hopkins uses it to describe competent but uninspired poetry.

I’m not alone. The Fake Headteacher posted a tweet which provoked a nerve:

Fake Headteacher

This started a debate partly inspired by OFSTED’s conversion to machine learning. Is the future of English Language GCSE marking one where a machine is counting the techniques? Is this what good writing now looks like?

Sophie and Joe

@_MissieBee and @joenutt_author both raise really important points. In a modern world of fake news and bot authors, we are not developing original authors. We are in effect developing bot authors. Writers whose work can be read by bots with no recognition of thought and ideas. How we can get them to appreciate the new A02 phrase from AQA ‘effects of writer’s methods to create meanings’ over in GCSE Literature if we are not doing the same in GCSE Language?

Double or Quits: Triple Science and the Ethical Dilemma

cube-six-gambling-play-37524.jpeg

It is a straight forward choice isn’t it? If you intend to do sciences at A level and beyond you should be doing triple science: that holy trinity of Physics, Biology and Chemistry. If you don’t, you should do double science. Right? Well, there are some ethical points to consider.

If you want the best outcomes, grade 7-9s in your science subjects, then don’t forget there are only so many to go around give or take a couple of percent. Despite OFQUAL’s constant assurances that we have not returned to norm referencing, they are still adjusting the grade boundaries to ensure that results are broadly similar from year to year. Guess where all those top setters Grade 7-9s are? Those pupils benefitting from value added top set status,private coaching and determined aspirations are all in triple science! Looks like a blood bath for those top grades over there. If you are thinking of trying to manipulate your Progress 8 outcomes what might you put your pupils in for? Double Science of course! However, you should not be doing what’s best for the school should you – it should be what’s best for the pupil, right? And if that means cramming three subjects into the same amount of subject time as two subjects then so be it.

Yes – three subjects spread over the same time as two subjects. You might ask questions: what exactly are they learning in triple science that they are not learning in double science and is it really the best preparation for A level sciences and science in higher education? What about those who do double science but would be just as good for A level as the potential Year 8 (options are earlier every year) or year 9 pupils sitting there and thinking about their options. Would not exposure to some triple content  put you at an unfair advantage over your peer who completed double science? I hear the “I told you so. They are not up to A-Level” – well if they had a second bite of the cherry they may have been fine!

Speaking at the 2018 ASE conference, Amanda Spielman said some schools are wasting talent by putting the choice of triple science and A-level  in the hands of attainment and not aspirations. Curriculum or attainment – what should be the driver of choice?

Bridging the gap – a voice from the boundaries

pexels-photo-207691.jpeg

As a group of experienced and qualified teachers who are also academics that are involved in Higher Education Institution (HEI) based teacher education, we exist on the boundaries of both groups. We both recognise the challenges of being a busy teacher and the challenges of exposing ideas to criticality. We are, in Wengerian terms: brokers. When we talk to teachers, we talk to them as fellow teachers. When we talk to non-teacher academics, we talk to them as fellow academics. We are uniquely placed to broker ideas from one community to the other as we sit on the boundaries.

Academics have to forge a career within academic publishing whilst being exposed to accountability systems from the world of HEI such as the Research Excellence Framework (REF) or the National Student Survey (NSS) survey. They work within definable parameters and have considerable scope. Teachers have their own accountability systems such as pupil outcomes in national tests and non-peer-led inspections systems. Much work has been done to bridge the two professions and the Education Endowment Foundation and the Chartered College are just two examples of this. However, these two institutions arose from the desire to bridge the gap between research undertaken in universities and schools who are responsible for delivering education at “the chalkface”.

Teachers still shy away from methodologies. More time poor than ever, teachers’ current focus is often towards meeting accountability measures. These measures are not always relatable to the aims of research. The academic treads ever so carefully with a desire not to do research to children, but with them (BERA Guidelines) and ever mindful of children’s rights as set out by United Nations. Teachers and schools impose experiments with a seeming impudence to these guidelines – insisting on hair and dress for declared gender, imposing negative sanctions on children, off-rolling or obstructing the needs of SEND children and other actions that would never be allowed as part of an educational research project. There is a need here for teachers and teacher educators to be able to write blogs about these topics which do not feature as part of research due to such ethical considerations in addition to blogs about educational research.

Standing at the boundary of both systems and having experienced both, teacher educators within a HEI setting have to look to stitch these two jagged edges together. Teachers need to understand the ethical issues that drive the way educational researchers work and educational researchers need to understand the very real and pragmatic issues that drive the way teachers work. Hosting blogs from both sides of these boundaries with editorial peer review will help us contribute our part to bridging the gap. We aim to host guest blogs as well as produce blogs so if you are interested in writing a one off blog and feel that peer reviewing would be of a help to you then please do contact us direct.

Peer Reviewed Education Blog

A welcome from the editors:

In an age when much comment about education appears to be both instant, and instantly polarising, do you ever feel the need to take a little longer to consider the issues at hand, and the views that you and your colleagues might have of them? As academics and teachers, we felt the same way; and so, the Peer Reviewed Education Blog was borne into existence.

We wanted a blog site which  enabled  people in education to write  one-off education blogs, upon which they could receive peer feedback and then publish their ideas, research and opinion.

We are an experienced group of educationalists and the purpose of these blogs is to disseminate research as well as ask pertinent questions of teaching pedagogy, teachers and teacher education with a view to stimulating debate. Whilst we will be writing blogs ourselves, in addition we will host guest blogs from our colleagues across the  educational field.

Not all bloggers will wish to reveal their identity – in the modern age, public publishing is challenging to some and it is important that there is space for this in any debate. We hope you appreciate the chance to consider some of the educational issues and debates that concern us all in what will hopefully be a more in-depth, and plural way.

Editors: Dr James Shea, Dr Gareth Bates and Dr Steve Connolly

“I am interested in language because it wounds or seduces me.”  ― Roland Barthes, The Pleasure of the Text

pexels-photo-301926.jpeg