Sunday, 7 December 2014

What do School League Tables Really Tell Us?

As a private tutor I am often asked for help 'to make sense of' the barrage of facts thrown at my tutees by their teachers in class.  The majority of my tutees come from schools 'high up' in the league tables.  I believe this to be the case with many other private tutors.  After private tuition a student's grade may often increase by two or more yet it is the school that gets the credit for this in their position in the league tables. Hence my original question: 'What do School League Tables Really Tell us?'  The fact that private tuition is the largest growing business says it all.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Why are Teachers made to use their valuable time so inefficiently?

Why are Teachers made to use their valuable time so inefficiently?

First of all what do I mean when I talk of efficiency?  Efficiency is (output/input x100) % so when I speak of efficiency in relation to teachers’ time I refer to the time they spend on a task compared to how much it enhances the learning of their pupils. Based on this definition of efficiency, two very inefficient tasks are marking and data analysis, both of which are banes of teachers’ lives.
The absurd amount of marking that teachers ‘have to do’ occurs for two reasons:
     Parents, governors and inspectors falsely believe it enhances the performance of the students: it does not.
2)     It is quantifiable and so is useful as a task that can be ‘box-ticked’ on a sheet.
It takes hours to mark a class set of books together with the comments for correction and how to improve or progress to the next level.  The books are often returned to the pupils days later at the start of a lesson on a different topic.  The reality is that the pupils look at the mark, glance at the comments if they can read them (the teachers’ comments may be illegible to the pupils) and that is it.  The teacher does not have time to discuss each comment with each pupil and they have to ‘press on’ with the syllabus in order to complete the necessary work ready for the next test.  Also, so much has happened in the pupils’ lives since they did the work that the impact of the comments is often lost. 
The time spent marking could be used far more efficiently in researching resources or keeping abreast of all the excellent educational tools and ideas out there such as the ‘flipped classroom‘ and ‘twiducate’ to mention just two. The reason teachers are not given the autonomy to use ‘marking time’ as suggested above, is because by using it in this productive way they cannot be ‘checked up on’ and boxes cannot be ticked.
Data Analysis
As with marking, data analysis takes up much of the teachers’ valuable time.  The ‘worth’ of a school or of a teacher is now measured by the number of A*-C grades that have been obtained in certain subjects.  The ‘worth’ of a pupil is measured by how many A*-C grades that pupil has obtained in these certain subjects.  The above has resulted in schools and teachers focussing their efforts on trying to obtain these grades and ignoring what education should be, ie. to create independent learners.  As a chemist, I now think schools have become ‘A*-C grade’ factories and pupils not achieving those grades in the ‘certain subjects’ as by-products of the factory. 
It is wrong that a teacher’s worth, pay and prospects should depend on this data.  It is always ‘how can we get this ‘D’ up to a ‘C’?’  It is never ‘well done for getting this student up from an ‘E’ to a ‘D’.  Is there any wonder 50% of maths and science teachers leave the profession in their first three years.  Also it is the committed and conscientious teachers who are leaving.
When I was doing my Diploma in Education at The University of Sheffield back in 1969/70, I’ll never forget the words of my professor ‘You are entering teaching at a very interesting time’ – if he only knew how right he was.  Had I been told, back in 69/70, the ‘state of affairs today’ I should not have believed what I was being told.  What I do believe is that the majority of changes have not been for the better.  In those days teachers were given the autonomy to use their time for the benefit of their students, not, as today, being told how to use their time for the benefit of appeasing Ofsted.
I feel saddened when I go into school and see and listen to committed teachers so frustrated by being shackled by ‘the system’. 
As in many walks of life, policy decisions in Education are often made for financial gain or by those who have not spent time at the chalk face.  If they had to spend a year or two ‘actually living their decisions’ in the classroom and at home they would never make those decisions in the first place or be in that 50% leaving teaching within three years.

I rest my case.

The Way Forward

The Way Forward

Saturday, 15 February 2014

HappyBird - the best value-for-money tablet out there

I've been at the chalk-face of education for 43 years and I have a passion for educating students to become independent learners.  Tablets are a great way to promote independent learning and allow 24/7/365 learning.  As a chemist, tablets will not allow me to write chemical equations or draw chemical structures.  The HappyBird tablet has changed all that.  With the integrated ipen one can write a chemical equation on ordinary paper.  This equation is transferred real-time onto the tablet.  As far as I am aware no other tablet has this built-in facility. This facility makes it, for me, the best value tablet out there.
I recommend it to anyone particularly to those who need to write equations or draw diagrams.
Check it out at:

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

How Teaching has Changed - But not for the Better

After reading this week's 'Secret Teacher' in the Guardian, the point I want to make is that if the 'decision makers' had to live the life of a teacher for a year they may be less inclined to impose all the unnecessary tasks upon teachers. Tasks that actually impede the learning of the students. When I began my teaching career in 1970, teachers had autonomy, teaching was fun and so there was a relaxed atmosphere in the classroom.  The students sensed that and much more learning was done as a result because teachers were allowed to focus on 'what increased learning' instead of what kept Ofsted at bay. In those days the students mattered, now it is statistics that matter.

Fracking explained: opportunity or danger

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Let's Play Fairly

Teachers have to undergo rigorous assessment to qualify as
a teacher. Should not, therefore, those decision makers that 
create the rules that make teachers' lives unbearable, also 
have to qualify for their roles?  I suggest a suitable 
qualification may be gained by undergoing a year of 
teaching difficult classes together with all the admin work 
and assessment/observation that go with it.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

More Thoughts

After being at the chalk-face of education for 43 years I KNOW teachers are being asked to teach what they are not trained in. We often hear about lack of passion, but passion is something that students sense and comes with knowing your subject thoroughly so you are at ease in the classroom. Just as students sense passion for the subject they also sense inadequacies in subject knowledge and this is the cause of many discipline problems in the classroom. It is not the fault of the teachers but of systems that have lost focus on what they should be doing. The focus is now on keeping Ofsted at bay and appeasing regulators, not about educating students to become independent learners. In my opinion what happens in most schools is a nonsense. Relationships and a relaxed environment underpin effective learning: the current climates prevent the relaxed environment. Teachers are too tired through focusing on unnecessary tasks and so arrive in the classroom preoccupied. The way forward is to start with a blank canvas, decide what we, as educators, should be doing (educating our students to become independent learners) and put things in place which promote this.