Schools Week have published my review of the best blogs of the week.
A couple of things I really should promote before it’s too late:
Firstly, I am speaking on a panel discussion at an event tomorrow based around “Character vs Knowledge? What is the purpose of education?” This is organised by the East London Science School and The Education Foundation. Details (and still the chance to buy a very cheap ticket) can be found here.
Secondly, assuming my contribution survives the editing process, I should have a chapter in Changing Schools: Dispatches from the Front Line of England’s Rapidly Changing Educational Landscape This book, which is now availble for pre-order, is edited by Robert Peal and should also have contributions from, among others, Doug Lemov, Daisy Christodoulou and Tom Bennett.
If you are a connected teacher, reading blogs and following Twitter, you could be forgiven for thinking that nobody believes in learning styles any more. It’s been discredited again and again. I was dismissing them 5 years ago. Just a few minutes searching online (and knowing that adding the word “debunked” to a search for an educational idea is always worth a try) shows that while there might still be material out there promoting them, learning styles are no longer the mainstream idea they were a few years ago. They are often used, perhaps along with brain gym, as an example of nonsense that we don’t believe any more.
To think they have gone though, is a mistake. Whenever this comes up teachers can give recent anecdotal examples of observation forms or teaching and learning policies that still push them. I can find recent blogs that promote them (e.g. here or here) and or that mention them in passing as if they were still credible (e.g. here). They are the walking dead of pedagogy, still shuffling about long after they should have been buried.
However, we shouldn’t be surprised at finding a few mentions in blogs (although we perhaps should be surprised I found several just from this month). Blogs are just one person’s opinion and are not always up to date. Last year I seem to recall discovering that at least a couple of blogs of the blogs I read about learning styles were by people who had gone overseas for a few years, and missed the fact that learning styles were no longer in fashion. Nor should we be surprised that some schools take longer to get over old fads; they may also have been the last to adopt them. What is of more concern is where learning styles are still being taken seriously by those whose influence is felt more widely.
For starters, a source sent me a copy of material used for a course at the University of Warwick for undergraduates wanting to become teachers. Here’s the details of a session held in January of this year:
However, the most incredible example of the continuing existence of learning styles is in the one area of education most conspicuously left alone by Gove, Early Years. In the statutory framework for the Early Years, in effect from September 2014, the section on assessment requires the following (by law):
Assessment plays an important part in helping parents, carers and practitioners to recognise children’s progress, understand their needs, and to plan activities and support. Ongoing assessment (also known as formative assessment) is an integral part of the learning and development process. It involves practitioners observing children to understand their level of achievement, interests and learning styles, and to then shape learning experiences for each child reflecting those observations. In their interactions with children, practitioners should respond to their own day-to-day observations about children’s progress and observations that parents and carers share. [my emphasis]
So here we are, 5 years after the blogosphere cottoned on to learning styles being nonsense, and they are still being taught by educationalists in a top university, and it is required by law they be assessed by EYFS practitioners.
I had the inevitable holiday run in with phonics denialists on Twitter. Not really worth rehashing any of it here; none of the arguments are new. However, I hadn’t realised that a lot of them, including primary teachers (and presumably this may also apply for a lot of primary teachers who are not denying the evidence for phonics on Twitter) are not actually aware that the main arguments used to deny the usefulness of the phonics screening check have now been discredited.
We now have the results from the students who took the phonics check in 2013 and did their key stage 1 reading assessment in 2014. And (from page 12 here) we learn that:
Pupils who do well in the phonics screening check do well in reading at the end of key stage 1. 99% of pupils who met the expected standard of phonic decoding in year 1 went on to achieve level 2 or above in reading at the end of key stage 1. 43% of these pupils achieved level 3 or above in reading. 88% of pupils who met the expected standard of phonic decoding at the end of year 2 achieved level 2 or above in reading. Only 34% of pupils who didn’t meet the expected standard of phonic decoding by the end of year 2 achieved level 2 or above in reading.
Looking at the more detailed results from here (Table 14) we can break down performance in the KS1 assessment by the results of the phonics screening check. The differences between those who passed 1st time (blue), those who passed 2nd time (red) and those who didn’t pass (orange) are striking.
If you were around for the debates over the introduction of the check, you’d know that the following claims were made at the time:
If you know anything about testing, you’d know that a test that identifies loads of pupils (in fact a big majority of the cohort) who will have a 99% chance of succeeding at the next level, is incredibly useful. And even the 66% figure for indicating those who will do poorly in the reading assessment is remarkable for a 5 minute check. Which teacher would not want to know if students were in the blue, red or yellow distributions above? This is remarkably extensive information about probable future performance gained in really very little time. It also tells us the first 3 claims above made by opponents of the phonics check do not match up with what generally happens. Those who do badly in the phonics check (particularly twice) are rarely good readers. Check performance tells us a lot about subsequent reading scores. Those students who have been most effectively prepared for the check, also appear to be better prepared for the reading test.
Of course, the last claim of the opponents, that teachers already knew all the stuff the check told them, could be true. But given the impressive figures for the predictive ability of the phonics check, I think the burden of proof now lies squarely on those who claim that teacher assessment would be more accurate.
I was perhaps a bit naive with this post. I didn’t guess that the general response for phonics denialists would be to claim that everybody already knew that performance in the phonics screening check would be closely correlated to reading ability and effectively deny that any of the claims above (except perhaps for the claim that teacher assessment would be more accurate) had ever been an issue. So just in case there is any doubt that people claimed that the phonics check would cause problems for those who could read and would tell us nothing about reading ability, here’s a link to a letter opposing the phonics check from June 2012.
Please note it contains the following claims:
we [don’t] believe that this will help parents know how well their children are learning to read…
They will not show whether a child can understand the words they are reading, nor provide teachers with any information about children’s reading ability they did not already know…
The use of made-up words …. risks … frustrate [sic] those who can already read
…using unrealistic, arbitrary benchmarks in the checks plucked out of the air is of benefit to no one.
The signatories included:
It also included Stephen Twigg and Lisa Nandy who were both Labour frontbench education spokespeople and the prominent anti-phonics activist Michael Rosen.
This was not some fringe group. These were the loudest enemies of the phonics screening check. And they were all utterly wrong.
Anybody know if any of them have acknowledged this?
Today it was announced that the government will fund the “Claim Your College” coalition of vested interests and their scheme to create a professional body for teachers that’s actually open to “anyone with an interest in education”.
Either the government hasn’t read the proposals, or simply does not care what they are funding as long as they can say something about education during the election campaign. They are promising to make “significant funding available to the ‘claim your college’ consortium – a coalition of leading organisations in the education sector – to support them in their endeavour to establish an independent college of teaching, which will be owned and led by the teaching profession” [my italics]. Where this ownership is meant to come from given who is setting this group up and who is allowed to join it is beyond me. But now they seem likely to have something like £12 million of public money to play with. Worse there is the suggestion that:
It is expected that the new college of teaching might take on greater responsibility for areas such as professional standards and continuous professional development, should it so wish, thus moving stewardship of the profession out of the hands of the government and to the profession.
So that’s not just money, but also power over our professional development, in the hands of a body that has no mandate from the profession, only one from vested interests including (as I pointed out here) at least one private company selling professional development training.
Now, this sort of thoughtless spending of public money would be challenged by a competent opposition spokesman. In fact, in any other sector, it probably would be. Could you imagine Andy Burnham standing by if the government proposed giving power over doctors to an organisation set up by pharmaceutical companies? But in the Bizarro World that is education, the opposition seem as dead set on this quango as the government. In a speech today Tristram Hunt implied that the College of Teaching, rather than being a product of vested interests holding meetings on weekdays, lobbying for public money, was a grass roots product of social media:
…we need an element of trust. To reject an affliction which seems to bedevil Westminster culture. I call it the cult of the big reformer. A sort of alpha male compulsion to see public policy through the prism of your ‘reforming legacy’.
But you only have to see how social media has sent a shockwave through the teaching profession and its conversation about a new College of Teaching, to see how profoundly out of date this attitude really is.
… the days of education by diktat must come to an end. More than ever before change in education must come from the bottom-up. Through decentralisation. Through devolving power.
Yes, that’s right. He thinks that chucking money at vested interests to regulate, sorry, to assume stewardship of the teaching profession is decentralisation. If he’d actually read the conversations on social media about the College Of Teaching, he’d know how few of those involved are actually teaching now and how little say those of us in the classroom have had.
That said, Tristram Hunt was probably focused on trying to deliver the worst speech on education from a British politician I have ever read. In what seemed to be an attempt to give an aneurysm to anybody trying to play Bullshit Bingo, he managed some outstandingly cliché-soaked passages of which the following extract gives a flavour:
But I don’t think anybody here would argue with me if I suggested we have only just begun to scratch the surface of what we could achieve. 3D printing; Augmented reality; Coding; Robotics; Big data; Interactive textbooks; Adaptive learning software; The technology is truly remarkable. So whilst I know it has been prematurely prophesied many times before, I do believe this is finally the moment when technology changes the way teachers carry out their craft. We will see schools where every lesson can be simultaneously tailored to the needs of each individual pupil; schools where data about the effectiveness of different pedagogies can be shared with teachers in real time; and schools where software has liberated teachers from the yoke of marking exercise books.
However, the needs of the economy will dictate a rebalancing of what we teach as well as how we teach it. After all, a creative age demands more creativity. A digital economy demands advanced digital skills such as coding and big data analytics; And a world class STEM sector demands we finally consign our deeply engrained cultural snobbery towards technical education to the dustbin of history. But as Andreas Schleicher of the OECD has argued – our schools system must also“prepare young people for jobs that have not yet been created, technologies that have not yet been invented and problems that we don’t yet know will arise.”
Between government ministers unable to tell the difference between the teaching profession and the CPD industry, and an opposition spokesman sounding like Shift Happens, this is a grim day for the politics of education. Perhaps my memory is playing tricks on me, but I don’t remember even Ed Balls being this hopeless, and the Gove era is a much-missed golden age compared with this shambles.
Last year, when we decided that we wished to step down as editors of Labour Teachers, we were keen that the site should continue: as a discussion space for Labour-supporting teachers (and those who want to talk to them) that operated without policy motions and activist-centred conferences, we believed and continue to believe the site has something to offer to the process of debating education within the Labour Party and amongst teachers. In an age in which social media has become increasingly important in the wider political discussion of schools policy, Labour Teachers retains significant potential to build support for Labour amongst educators as well as challenging and shaping the consensus on education within the party.
For that reason, we are delighted to say that prominent education blogger Old Andrew has agreed to take on the mantle of Editor of Labour Teachers. Andrew has a long pedigree in education blogging: his Scenes From The Battleground is required reading for anyone interested in the education debate, from the Secretary of State on down. He is a powerful and passionate advocate for traditional ideas of teaching in education, but has always made clear his commitment is drawn from his own left-wing beliefs. As a member of the Labour Party and the NUT, Andrew is well-placed to share and examine ideas for education emanating from the labour movement.But more than just sharing his own ideas, Andrew has shown a consistent commitment to amplifying the voice of other teachers on social media (including many with whom he has crossed Tweeted swords) via the Education Echo Chamber blog (and it’s even more comprehensive “Uncut” sibling) and his creation and curation of the most definitive lists of UK education bloggers available. Andrew has also written for Schools Week, highlighting excellent education blogging. As we have always been, Andrew is committed to offering a platform to the diversity of views on education, and under his editorship, Labour Teachers will continue to seek out differing perspectives from the chalkface amongst Labour supporters.
We will both continue to be involved with Labour Teachers, writing and helping out in other ways, but as we approach what may be a defining election for Labour, now is an excellent time for a new editor to take charge.
Andrew’s combination of firm Labour values, well-considered policy positions and desire for intense but open debate makes him the ideal person to take Labour Teachers forward, and we both wish him well.John Blake & John TaylorEditors of Labour Teachers 2011-2015
I’ll give more details on the Labour Teachers website as soon as I get a moment, but my plan is to organise regular blogging, at least a couple of posts a week, on the Labour Teachers blog from the start of April. However, first I need to recruit a range of teacher bloggers who are either Labour Party members or Labour supporters. I’m not planning to push an editorial line, I want a range of views and lots of debate. Anything on policy, Labour or being a teacher is fine. If you are interested, please email me using the “Contact Me” details on the sidebar of this blog or on Twitter @oldandrewuk. Happy to hear from both experienced bloggers (who are Labour members) wanting a regular slot (every month or every two months) and from new bloggers, or people who are Labour supporters, wanting to write something on a one-off basis.
Thanks to John & John for the work they’ve done and for giving me this opportunity.