Thursday, 3 December 2009
Tuesday, 14 July 2009
Thursday, 4 June 2009
- People - '"We naively thought, I guess, that by providing a beautiful building and great resources, these things would automatically yield change. They didn't," said Jan Biros, associate vice president for instructional technology support and campus outreach at Drexel University and a former member of the SOF Curriculum Planning Committee.'
- Process - the school planners worked 'to design the underlying principles and goals for the school' using a Microsoft framework but '"Working within this framework often felt more like an academic exercise than a productive process," said Biros'
- People Development - 'The training that Microsoft gave teachers prior to the school's opening also was extremely limited, panelists said. Educators' participation in the project was confirmed only weeks before the school opened, and as a result, many educators could not adequately work the technology needed to enhance classroom learning.'
- Support - there 'was no dedicated technical support', all learning content was supposed to be supplied via wireless 'Yet educators frequently encountered problems accessing the internet, because the school's wireless connection often would not work.'
Wednesday, 25 March 2009
It is an HE focused paper but has a great deal within of use to all who have any involvement or interest in the secondary schools rebuilding programme, BSF. You can download it from http://tinyurl.com/dmaoqn.
The analysis of learning spaces that maps the specificity (spectrum from single-use to multi-use) against the formality (spectrum from informal/unscheduled to formal/scheduled) on the x and y axes of a graph was very thought-provoking. (page 2)
It is an analysis that I think would reveal unintended patterns within the space planning going on in some BSF projects. While secondary schools are going to need a large number of formal scheduled spaces, the new approaches to curriculum and learning do indicate a need for some informal and unscheduled spaces.
The author, Shirley Dugdale, advocates a 'Learning Landscape' approach to building design. This encompasses "the total context for students’ learning experiences and the diverse landscape of learning settings available today—from specialized to multipurpose, from formal to informal, and from physical to virtual." The goal is to "acknowledge this richness and maximize encounters among people, places, and ideas, just as a vibrant urban environment does." In HE students will learn most of their stuff outside the lecture theatre and seminar room, so the thinking makes a lot of sense in that environment. My understanding is that is what BSF is trying to help young people develop towards during their secondary school experience. If I'm right, then this paper should have some important insights for BSF.
To make life easy Shirley explains her top strategies for getting this done. The following ten are described in the main section of the paper.
- "collaborative, with active learning and group work,
- blended, with learning and other activities happening anywhere/anytime, enabled with mobile technology,
- integrated and multidisciplinary,
- immersive, with simulated or real-world experiences, and
- hybrid, combining online with faceto-face learning activities, augmented with mixed-reality experiences."
Wednesday, 18 March 2009
Wednesday, 11 March 2009
Merlin John (here) reported Becta's Stephen Lucey, executive director for strategic technologies as welcoming the news.
Computing UK followed all this up (here) with a quote from Tim Byles, chief executive of Partnership for Schools, indicating that BSF managed service providers don't do open source (or words to that effect).
No news on Finland (yet).
Friday, 6 March 2009
The epractice website is a useful source of european news in relation to ICT in public service across the eu.
Tuesday, 3 March 2009
The foreword is by Tom Watson MP Minister for Digital Engagement. (As an aside I've just remembered reading that the Government is looking for a Director of Digital Engagement in the Cabinet Office - Seb Schmoller's website was the source.) I was delighted to see that the government wants to 'share and re-use what the taxpayer has already purchased across the public sector – not just to avoid paying twice, but to reduce risks and to drive common, joined up solutions to the common needs of government.' Sounds great, but I wondered what exactly that might mean. Later in the section on policy this appears: 'Where non open source products need to be purchased, Government will expect licences to be available for all public sector use and for licences already purchased to be transferable within the public sector without further cost or limitation. The Government will where appropriate seek pan-government agreements with software suppliers which ensure that government is treated as a single entity for the purposes of volume discounts and transferability of licences.' (Apologies for lack of page references but the document isn't paginated.)
Microsoft licensing rules are byzantine, but my very shallow understanding is that Microsoft likes the idea of transfer of licenses as much as I like having my teeth extracted. I don't want to drift into Microsoft bashing (others do this much better), so I want to point out how long and difficult it was to persuade a web development software company that licenses could be transferred between the host school that my organisation is based within and the CLC itself. My view is that this policy represents a move to a less cosy relationship with the industry. This is a good thing.
Back to the foreword where Tom Watson is adding that 'We want to encourage innovation and innovators - inside Government by encouraging open source thinking, and outside Government by helping to develop a vibrant market.' This also sounds very admirable. Later it is asserted that a key objective will be to: 'embed an "open source" culture of sharing, re-use and collaborative development across Government and its suppliers, building on the re-use policies and processes already agreed within the CIO Council, and in doing so seek to stimulate innovation, reduce cost and risk, and improve speed to market.' Marvellous. This is the kind of thing commentators have been arguing for, so I hope that this will be heartily welcomed.
The paper is peppered with terms to warm the cockles of all the open-source advocates, 'open standards', 're-use', 'open document format' and so on.
The final section is an action plan. This is well worth reading, but all I want to say is that the actions proposed make me think that the government is deadly serious about achieving these objectives.
As a final comment I wonder how far the procurement policies proposed here will be able to impact on the BSF processes across the country. In my view it would be a very good thing if they did.
The comments about the very slow improvement to achievement in ICT are the main findings highlighted by others including the BBC (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/7919350.stm). But I'd like to draw attention to the second section of the report (Section B from page 29 onwards).
This section starts by asserting that assessment of capability in ICT is still a very significant problem in the state sector. One in five of the schools Ofsted visited had no systems for making these judgements and so students were given the same work in different places. As worrying is the finding that: 'In the majority of the primary and secondary schools visited, teachers did not evaluate specifically how well pupils and students applied and used their ICT skills when working in other subjects.' (page 29) and that 'Most of the primary schools visited missed opportunities for pupils to become involved in peer or self-assessment...' (page 29).
Ofsted then devote a couple of sides to analysing the qualifications at KS4 in ICT. The report is pretty damning in its judgements on the new vocational qualifications. I was taken aback. Here is a particularly cutting observation.
'Accreditation of the vocational qualifications is based mostly on the assessment of coursework... Consequently, they are often demonstrating what they can already do rather than being taught new and more difficult skills. Sometimes, teachers direct students’ work too much. In some of the lessons observed during the survey, teachers led their students through the steps necessary to demonstrate that their work met the accreditation criteria. Students were able to meet the criteria, whether or not they had understood what they had done.'(Page 31)
It is a view I think I would have to agree with. It doesn't seem to be very helpful to the present issues around the introduction of diplomas that the government is facing. The report also describes the vocational qualifications as 'limit[ing] the achievement of higher attaining students' and failing to develop the really important ICT skills for the future such as 'manipulating data and programming' (page 32). Ofsted really puts the boot in when they state that there needs to be a 'proper evaluation of the challenge posed by vocational qualifications ... if they are to retain credibility with students, parents and employers.' (Page 32) In other words these vocational qualifications aren't rigorous enough, they don't teach the right skills and students can pass them without knowing even the undemanding content they do encompass. Ouch.
For a professional working with schools to embedd ICT I read the final part of section B 'Getting ICT to the learning' (page 35) with very great interest. It contains a very great deal of wisdom about the issues around integrating ICT across the curriculum. For example my own experiences are very much in accord with this observation from the report: 'Nationally ... although the use of ICT in other subjects is generally improving, the picture this survey establishes is one of patchy provision and inconsistent progress.' I nearly shouted aloud in agreement when I read 'Progress in using ICT to improve learning in other subjects is sometimes limited because its use was not sufficiently considered when planning the work or because of individual teachers’ lack of understanding of when and where ICT might make a difference.' (Page 36) Another hallelujah 'Schools have successfully created a demand from teachers to be able to use ICT to improve learning in other subjects but are rarely able to meet it. Most primary and secondary schools have chosen to centralise the bulk of their ICT resources in networked computer rooms. This is necessary for whole-class teaching of ICT but the result is that resources are often extremely limited elsewhere for work in other subjects.' (Page 36) The practical problems of enabling access to ICT for students through all their lessons is still a very big and serious limiter on teacher use of ICT. Ofsted think that mobile devices might be an answer. I'm not sure. You can't edit video on many handhelds I've seen. This is an issue that isn't going to go away.
Friday, 20 February 2009
With the schools I work with it seemed that we needed to take a couple of steps backwards and look at the whole communication strategy the school employs. In fact it turned out that the schools had never considered communication with parents in this wider sense before. I've just been supporting this by creating a survey that they have used to ask their parents about how and what they want communicated.
The answers the parents gave were in the end not very clear cut. One said "The preferred method of communication would differ in different circumstances. For general purposes I would prefer letter format, but for emergencies, such as illness I would prefer a telephone call." Letter was still (marginally) the preferred method of communication. But I think the point made by this parent probably means another survey of views with a little more sophisticated questioning needs to happen.
The preference for letters might also mean that parents were thinking about messages and not communication in general.Once a better picture has emerged I think the schools should then be thinking about how the web based communication fits into that bigger landscape. I'll post further developments with this as they arise.
Wednesday, 18 February 2009
This one is from the National Audit Office and can be downloaded from here. The NAO is concerned with value for money and effective use of money. This is not a report about the learning and teaching in BSF schools. Nevertheless it is worth a look if you have an interest in BSF, at least read the executive summary (only 10 sides).
The opening sections explain the byzantine funding arrangements. They are baffling.
The report contains a number of very instructive graphics, diagrams explaining the funding arrangements, number of new schools built against the targets and so on, and I've tried to copy some into here but without success. If you want the pleasure of these you'll have to look at the original report.
The substance of the report is about value for money and here the NAO are equivocal. They explain that 'projects have been slow to provide data, and PfS has not yet collected enough on their whole life costs to enable us to come to a firm judgement on the projects’ overall value for money. There is also limited data on schools procured through other routes to provide ready benchmarks of all aspects of their costs.' (p24) The report does find that Academies were significantly more expensive to build than BSF schools, BSF £1,850 per square metre average costs compared to £2,240 per square metre for Academies before the programme was integrated into BSF.
'There is no statistical difference between the average price of BSF schools and PFI schools built before BSF was launched. The prices of schools procured through other routes are not collected centrally.' (p24)
The report also finds some benefits from the use of the LEP as well as some shortcomings. The report echoes the findings of PWC when it says 'BSF requires significant time commitment from school leaders, who told us that it creates considerable pressure on their ability to carry out their other duties. Some Local Authorities provide their schools with additional resources to plan and procure BSF, including to cover teaching while leaders (Governors, Heads, Deputies, and other senior staff) commit time to BSF.' But 'School leaders in our focus groups told us they often felt left to manage alone.' (p27) This is unacceptable. I also wondered about the observation, 'The best design of each individual school developed by bidders during the procurement process does not always win, because: the Local Authority scores bids on a variety of factors of which design counts for only 18 per cent...' I understand that LAs can't make a choice solely on design quality, companies selected must have the capacity and the experience necessary to be successful. Yet 18% seems very low.
It is very interesting that the views of LAs and private sector partners differ significantly when asked about if the LEP is a good approach to renewing school estate and equipping it to be capable of improving educational outcomes. It is hard to say exactly as the figures are not given but around 65% of the private sector partners thought that the LEP was either 'effective' or 'highly effective and worthwhile'. Only about 28% of LAs were of the same opinion. Quite why these opinions differed so widely I couldn't explain. The report does not even note this variation. I would be very keen to hear from anyone involved who thought they could explain this.
There is positive judgement about PfS in the report. But the NAO does note that PfS performance targets are all about timeliness and not quality and an implication that this isn't helpful to the main task at hand.
The report includes detailed case studies from Manchester, Bristol, Kent, Lewisham, Solihull, Lancashire and Ealing. There is a great deal of informative material in these and I'd cover this if I had the time. Again I recommend the report to you, but don't go there looking for answers to questions of educational quality.
Friday, 13 February 2009
Nick Page is next and makes some similarly straightforward proposals to improve BSF. He wants greater preparatory work with schools. He wants more testing and experimenting before schools begin. I particularly appreciate his reference to City Learnining Centres (p 11) as good places to do the experimenting. He says 'Every project should have a link university who can help provide the research methodologies and support'. I'm sure most observers would say these are very sensible ideas. His focus on the human process of thinking through the whole thing makes a lot of sense. It made me think about the PWC report I wrote about a few weeks ago - visible here. Lack of funding to schools to help them prepare is highlighted in the report.
Rosemary Luckin, (Professor of Learner Centered Design, London Knowledge Lab, Institute of Education) has, in my opinion, some of the most interesting reflections.
'Teachers have a vitally important role in the realisation of the transformative power of technology, but this role is continually evolving and teachers need support to operate effectively in a ‘perpetual beta’ world.' (p 14) This made me stop and think for a minute. What makes google docs so powerful is their ability to add functionality, or alter the interface on the fly. They can watch the effects and decide whether or not to keep the change or try something else. Teachers should be able to use technology to support a similar process with learners.
She says on page 15 that BSF needs to 'explore how the school can be designed in a manner that enables it to continue to evolve'. A fabulous point I think. Learning is at the centre of this dynamic, and without the ability to change, what point would there be in educationalists and learners finding out what is effective and suboptimal in their buildings?
Bob Harrison of Toshiba Information Systems is the last contributor. I was struck by this question.
'How do we create a climate for the education workforce to innovate and be creative within a system which is “internally consistent and self sustaining”?' (p 20) This is at the heart of much of the weaknesses in BSF at present. I remember PM Tony Blair asserting that standards not structures matter and being sceptical. Very often the former are shaped by the latter. Our present school system creates institutions that are extremely risk averse and defensive. If BSF can be a tool for decoupling some of the engines that create this climate in schools then I'll be delighted.
Friday, 23 January 2009
'The report shows that BSF is making good progress, that there is increasing belief in all stakeholders that it will deliver strong benefits for teaching and learning, and particularly from schools as they actually go through the programme. There is strong evidence of satisfaction with their new buildings from the staff and pupils of the first four new BSF schools opened.'
Strange then that the actual report should say:
'.. staff ... were generally less knowledgeable than other stakeholders of the aims and objectives of BSF for their school, or the potential for the programme to have longer-term educational impacts.' and, 'Schools should review their communication strategies in order to ensure that the processes used to inform teaching staff are effective'.
I suppose if staff had known almost nothing at the last review then it would be fair to say they have an increasing belief in the strong benefits. Or perhaps the DCSF doesn't include staff as a stakeholder group?
I found these headline findings very interesting.
- 'BSF managers and directors in four of the 11 LAs interviewed stated that they did not provide funding to schools to enable them to implement BSF.' Although the remaining 7 did provide funds. I would have thought all schools would need financial support to undertake all the very necessary preparatory work for BSF. The report says 'Most [heads] said there was a shortfall, sometimes a large one, between LA funding received and the actual costs they had incurred' and so it goes on to recommend better funding. I've seen a very great deal of capital investment in schools be less effective because of a failure to invest in human resources. ICT put in to schools where staff receive insufficient training and support is just one example. So this is a particular disappointment.
- The effectiveness of the LEP (Local Educational Partnership) as a tool for delivery of BSF is examined. I find it very concerning that this was reported, 'Given that ICT provision and maintenance is one of a number of key responsibilities of the LEP, it is surprising that only one-fifth of headteachers (20%) agreed or strongly agreed that the use of a LEP for ICT provision and maintenance and other related services would be a good thing, and that negative responses were higher than for other questions ... (at 21%).' BSF has been a trojan horse for the imposition of managed ICT services in schools. This is an experiment. The evidence for the effectiveness of managed services in schools is limited at best. (See for example the Becta research I posted about here.)
- The views on the LEP itself were also worrying. 'Just under one fifth of headteachers overall (19%) thought that educational interests would be adequately represented in the LEP, with a higher number of positive responses from Wave 1-3 schools than from Wave 4-6 schools (32% and 13% respectively).' So even in the wave 1-3 schools two-thirds of the heads interviewed were not able to be confident that educational interests would be paramount to the LEP. If I was running Partnership for Schools (PfS - the quango steering BSF) I'd be very worried by these numbers!
- Further 'A small number of interviewees expressed concern that the contracting company might be too dominant within the LEP (reflecting the fact that the LEP model is 80% private, 10% BSFI and 10% LA controlled).'
Thursday, 22 January 2009
'The success of England's specialist schools is an illusion, with the extra money they receive and intake being the crucial factors, according to a report. A University of Buckingham report said the system had led to schools with names that "did not mean very much". It said 2007 research suggested pupils at schools specialising in music were more likely to get A grades in physics A-level than those at science schools. ' 'The authors of the latest study say specialist schools appear to do better because poorer performing schools were not granted specialist status. Professor Alan Smithers said: "All the SSAT's (Specialist Schools and Academies Trust) comparisons amount to is that if you take effective schools and give them extra money, they do better than less effective schools without extra money."
The study showed, he said, that the extra money pumped into specialist schools, as well as their intake of pupils, had the biggest impact on results.'
Goodness I thought this is pretty damning so I went to the University Of Buckingham's website and downloaded the report. That the title of the report is 'SPECIALIST SCIENCE SCHOOLS' is quite surprising. The authors are chiefly interested in the decline in numbers of young people choosing A Level Physics.
'Since 1990, physics entries, based on the annual returns of what is now the Joint Council for Qualifications, went down from 45,300 to 28,100 (38.0 per cent decrease), while total entries went up from 684,100 to 827,700 (21.0 per cent increase).' 'In this report we investigate what has prompted schools to choose particular specialisms and what contribution they are making in their nominated subjects. In particular, it has as its core questions: (1) are science schools increasing participation in physics at GCSE and A-level; and (2) are they improving performance in physics at GCSE and A-level?'
Given these objectives it is hard to understand how the headlines from the BBC came out of the research. The report itself isn't a very impressive piece of work. For example the attention grabbing comparison of Music and Science Specialist Schools looks unconvincing when there are only 12 Music Specialist Schools being compared with 159 Science.