Thursday, 7 February 2013

Does Gove get it? It seems he might.

On Saturday evening I wrote a blog post about my concerns over Michael Gove's proposed reforms to GCSE.  I concluded by writing:

"He (Michael Gove) was right to stick to his guns in the early days but now he needs to demonstrate a little more understanding and humility.  He must listen to his critics and engage with their concerns or he risks weakening the very education system he wants to improve."

This morning I woke up to hear on the radio that Mr Gove has decided to scrap his proposal for a new English Baccalaureate.  While I suspect it wasn't my post on Saturday that pushed him over the edge, I am nonetheless delighted that he has had the courage to accept that his plans were wrong.  I hope this marks a new willingness to engage with educationalists.  Our education system does need improvement and there are plenty of good people willing to engage with progress.

Coverage of Mr Gove's decision can be found on the BBC website

The Olympic legacy - don't let pupils down

I wrote recently about our acquisition of a sports centre and how it will benefit not just our pupils but also the local community.  I am particularly keen that local primary schools access the facilities and  make the most of the opportunity to get into sport and a healthy lifestyle at a young age.

Last evening I had a meeting with my Director of Sport and one of my Deputy Heads about increasing the amount of cricket coaching we provide to our pupils and access for local clubs to our indoor nets.  Last Friday, I met with Kent LTA to discuss new coaching programmes at the sports centre (both indoor and outdoor and, again, both for our pupils and others).

All this makes an article in today's Guardian particularly relevant.  The demand for sport is huge and yet there are real concerns over potential cuts to funding for sport in the state sector.  An announcement is expected in the next fortnight and I hope the government does the right thing for young people in our country.

Click here for the article online.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Effective revision - mind maps

When I was revising for exams I used to rely on re-reading my files and occasionally making summary lists.  Since I started teaching though I realised that, while I seemed to have blessed with a naturally retentive memory, this wasn't either the best way to revise or indeed an effective method for many of my pupils.

Repetition of material and finding ways to access the right information lies at the heart of good revision and increasingly I prefer mind maps (often called 'spider diagrams').  Starting in the middle of a page with a core topic, lines come out breaking it down into sub-topics which are then broken into further sub-topics.

It is an incredibly visual way of presenting an area for revision which shows the whole topic and allows you to see the interaction between different areas.  It also relates to how the mind stores information (from the general to the specific) so works with our preferred way of retrieving information.  The best ones I have seen from my pupils have been highly colourful (different colours for different types of information or to show strengths and weaknesses of different ideas).

The prompt for this post was seeing a really good article in today's Daily Telegraph (click here).  Well worth a look, and unlike The Times, no subscription required. As an example, here is a mind map summarising potential impacts of global warming.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

50 great websites to make you smarter

Having just posted concerns about Michael Gove's capacity for considered reform here is a more positive link to The Times online where there is a list of 50 fantastic websites for education.  Some you may know, such as Mathletics which really motivates younger pupils.  Others you may not but they are all worth a look.  (Subscription to The Times is required).,19E5H,7ERWL8,49S6C,1

Does Gove get it?

Is Michael Gove's touch deserting him?  It is not that long ago that, as a new Secretary of State, he was being praised in many quarters for his desire to bring back increased rigour to our education system.  Tackling grade inflation and seeking to ensure that all pupils receive a good academic grounding is certainly something to be welcomed and in his early months in office he was right to stand up to his critics.  Recent weeeks though have seen some well justified criticisms about lack of consultation and an ill-considered haste in the timetable for change.  More troubling though is that the publication last week of Performance Tables for schools has flagged up a real question as to the extent to which Michael Gove actually understands education. 

For the first time they have included as a measure the percentage of pupils gaining 3 A Levels in what are called 'facilitating subjects'.  These are the three sciences, mathematics, classical and modern languages, Geography, History and English.  All of these are traditional, rigorous subjects and presumably this is why Mr Gove wants to use them as a measure.  There are though serious flaws in his logic:
  • The list of subjects comes from a Russell Group document entitled 'Informed Choices' and is a group of subjects most commonly regarded as compulsory for related degree courses. 
  • They are not a complete list of traditional subjects (note that they do not include Economics, Politics, Religious Studies, Ancient History etc). 
  • They do not take into account the necessity of Art or Music for related degree courses. 
  • Or that the Russell Group clearly states that it is not necessary to have only 'traditional subjects'.  They are entirely happy with a mixture of two traditional and one of the more modern / practical / creative subjects.  Indeed, Art or Design Technology are valued for Architecture at Cambridge alongside subjects such as Maths and Physics. 
This is a really worrying sign of Mr Gove's lack of understanding and something I say as Head of a school which comes out well under this measure (8th out of the 37 Grammar Schools in Kent and Medway despite taking in a broader range of pupils and 8th out of 19 independent schools).

A similar blind spot is in his planned reforms at GCSEs which will see a new English Baccalaureate comprised of five compulsory subjects (English, Maths, History or Geography, Science and a Language).  There is nothing wrong with those subjects per se but it does not include any of the creative subjects such as Art or Music and has no place for Religious Studies and there is a concern that, nationally, many schools will not devote resources to subjects which don't count in league tables.  While that will not be the case at my school, or others like it, it causes me concern for education across our nation.

In recent days, Michael Gove has come under fire from universities, Heads and MPs on the Commons Education Select Committee.  He was right to stick to his guns in the early days but now he needs to demonstrate a little more understanding and humility.  He must listen to his critics and engage with their concerns or he risks weakening the very education system he wants to improve.