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Welsh GCSE reforms don’t go far enough – time to remove them

Words by Barry Mansfield – Director at Halcyon London International School in Marylebone

In light of the Welsh government’s changes to GCSEs – which include a slightly lower emphasis on exams, and a nod to the importance of digital skills – it is surely worth asking whether we could be braver. Can we finally admit that everything about this qualification is wrong? Or are our leaders too attached to the idea of a ‘Great British Education’ to accept the need for change? And what alternatives are there?

Over my career, I have had the privilege of working in many places around the world, and of learning with educators from many different cultures. For all the rich differences, there are some startling similarities woven into almost every educational system.

It is very rare, for example, to find any advanced, wealthy, nation openly admitting that its educational system might be unfit for purpose. Usually, the most humility one could hope for would be an admission that A.N. Other System may have benefits one could learn from. Consequently, it is vanishingly rare to find nimble, responsive, educational systems welcoming of change. I cannot recall even a chance of a moment when underlying philosophies about how we learn, and their resultant design principles, have changed in the U.K.

There is also a slightly awkward nativism about this, which leads many in this country to harbour the delusion that everyone else is envious of a Great British Education, whatever that might be. But we’re not alone: most developed nations feel the same way about their systems (ask your French friends), and so the understandings that underpin our various educational systems are often defended in a most unquestioning, incurious, way.

Fortunately, we all seem to err in the same direction, meaning that those of us who advocate for change have a reasonably homogeneous target to aim for. Even if you had never previously thought of schools as being industrial, Taylorist, production lines, everyone in the sector saw that Ken Robinson Ted talk, when he eviscerated our current approaches. No-one can say they were not warned, but that was 16 years ago and there’s still no real sign of substantive change.

This brings me to a second similarity between many school systems. Most tend to look on schools as they would traditional trades or cultural monuments – that there’s something so vital and essential about what we do (maybe to national identity, or cultural memory?) that all of it must be preserved. No-one thinks of school practice as having anything in common with the agility or imagination or the willingness to change of, say, a digital start-up, despite the obvious fact that many students aspire to be in just this kind of dynamic environment. 

This stasis is also underwritten by years of experience; the people who have the power to change education are products of it themselves, often being hugely successful at school before travelling, with relative ease, through the best universities and successful careers. Where is their incentive to say it doesn’t work? Outsiders – those let down by our education system – are without a serious voice, and their ‘failure’ can be conveniently ascribed to some lack of personal responsibility. It is a form of privilege not to have to question one’s own education.

It feels to me that GCSEs are almost the apotheosis of this failure of imagination. It would be hard to think of a less relevant or less useful qualification, or one that has failed so comprehensively to adapt to changing needs. It is also a testament to, and defender of, two particularly obvious untruths: firstly, that cramming knowledge, often presented entirely inauthentically and abstracted from real life, into one’s head and then repeating this data in an examination, is a meaningful preparation for the workplace and citizenship; and, secondly, that individuals own knowledge – to believe, falsely, that teachers can decant information into individual children and that because a child can then repeat this data, that they ‘own’ this knowledge or can make good use of it. 

The reality is that GCSEs are no more than a transaction. All that students will learn is a) how to take a test in order to access the next test, at 18; and b) how to be most efficient at gaming this system. The latter might be a useful skill in the real world, but let’s not kid ourselves that these examinations are worth more than that. They started life as a hybrid between two systems with different purposes – Grammar school GCEs, and Secondary Modern CSE’s – and their bureaucratic birth is forgotten, so long ago that most of us would struggle to find any rationale for them now. 

GCSEs are there because we lack the courage to admit we’ve lost our way, and that a system that maybe served a good purpose thirty years ago, is no longer useful. They are there because we still cannot find the will to change our A level system into something more modern, flexible, creative and relevant, and so we need the ‘backstop’ of GCSEs to fill-in the missing data of students’ experience at 18+. Maybe they are also still there because of a lingering chauvinism: that a solid ‘English’ education is better than something found elsewhere in the world. Certainly, we are encouraged in this erroneous view by the popularity of British universities, and the numbers of non-British families who send their children to English public schools. But this is to draw wrong conclusions from disconnected data.

It might also be true that our lack of courage in making change sits much deeper, beyond the rational. After all, if it were just about intellectual debate, surely we would have joined the dots by now.  Maybe, to make effective change we also need some emotional courage, too; to understand our unspoken biases and unfiltered constructions. For many of us, our sublimated understandings about, and emotional ties to, English school systems are very deeply embedded. 

Let’s take an obvious example; Hogwarts. It is one reason why Harry Potter works so well, because it functions as an instantly recognisable character, modelled on the kind of boarding school that upper-middle class parents aspire to. It has quintessentially English values that connect all the characters together, and the reader is drawn into this; we are not-so-subtly invited to indulge in incoherent imaginings of some idealised, romantic, traditional schooling, where it was so much better in the past. This is a fantasy, of course, but it is alive and well in our imaginations and is not a rational place. 

The past is tricky, and we tend to remove the blemishes and anxieties and mistakes we have made. School is sanitised in the same way, and as adults we quietly forget its inefficiencies and inequalities, and send our children back for more of the same, except that maybe we hope our experience will help us to game the system and get our children ahead.  We have to confront this communal, collective, amnesia and try to do better for our children. Abandoning GCSEs, and looking toward a broader, authentic, baccalaureate experience, founded on conceptual learning and prioritising skills’ development, would be a big step in the right direction.

 

Brighton Hill Community School supports teaching, learning and innovation with new, high-performance WiFI from Redway Networks

Brighton Hill Community School has future-proofed its network and delivered a secure, mobile learning environment for its students and staff with a new Cisco Meraki WiFi 6 solution from Redway Networks.  With student numbers doubling in the last three years and plans to reach full capacity in 2022, the school’s aging wireless network needed replacing with a robust, secure wireless solution that would deliver speed and efficiency across the school site to support high-quality teaching and learning.

Brighton Hill Community School is a co-educational secondary school located in Basingstoke, Hampshire.  The school has 1100 pupils and 150 staff and prides itself on providing the best teaching and supportive environment where its students can thrive. 

Existing WiFi needs replacing  

Brighton Hill’s existing WiFi was ten years old and needed replacing with a more reliable, next-generation wireless solution that would deliver sophisticated performance and was built for high density student and staff use.

Tony Eden, IT & Network Manager at Brighton Hill Community School says: “We were having coverage issues with our existing WiFi which had basically come to the end of its life.  With our plans to increase student numbers and replace some of our IT computers with laptops and tablets, the first stage of the process was to upgrade the wireless network infrastructure.”

Once the school had determined its requirements, it reached out to Redway Networks as it wanted to use a wireless and networking specialist as opposed to a general IT company.  Tony says: “When I spoke to Redway Networks I was really impressed with their technical product knowledge, the advice I received and their approach.”

Brighton Hill selects Meraki    

Once Redway Networks had been selected, its engineer performed a predictive WiFI survey using a map of the school’s campus (which includes three separate buildings) to determine the new wireless design, which was verified using Ekahau’s heatmapping software.  As Tony is the is the only network manager at the school, Redway Networks knew that having different vendor solutions for WiFi and switching and with no central management would make on-site network management harder, so they recommended a Cisco Meraki cloud-networking solution to deliver a powerful, secure network that could be managed easily from a single cloud dashboard and would deliver reliable connectivity for the school’s ever-growing demand for a more mobile friendly network.  Tony says: “I really liked the Meraki product and as it is ‘under one basket’ so to speak, I knew Meraki would deliver a great insight into our network with scalable cross-platform visibility.”

Redway Networks delivers an exceptional service 

Redway Networks provided a seamless installation of Brighton Hill’s Meraki cloud-networking solution which included high-efficiency WiFi 6 access points, layer 2 PoE switches and end-point systems management with a 10-year software licence, automatic firmware and security updates and professional services and support. 

Tony says: “Meraki has given us a robust, future proofed wireless network that is really simple to use and with the cloud dashboard I can manage the network from anywhere, which gives me more network visibility.  We currently have a bit of a hybrid between student laptops and desktops in the IT suites, but the plan is to bring ICT into the classroom environment with the roll out of more laptops, which I know will be seamless with Meraki.

Tony concludes: “The whole experience with our new WiFi from Redway Networks was professional and the service we received was absolutely brilliant.  The job was completed on time and the aftercare and support has been excellent.”

Parsons Green Prep announces new head

Parsons Green Prep is delighted to announce that Dr Pamela Edmonds will be joining PGP in September 2022 as the new Head.

 

Dr Edmonds is an experienced Head with considerable success as a senior leader in prep schools, with wider engagement as a member of the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) Educational Advisory Forum and as a team inspector when called to inspect for ISI in the independent sector. She is currently the Head of The Hampshire School Chelsea, where her all-encompassing approach to pupils’ personal development and promotion of the highest standards of teaching and learning, from Early Years through to the transition to senior school, have led to national recognition, including a nomination for ISA Junior School of the Year 2019. Previously, Dr Edmonds was Head of St Cedd’s School, a 3-11 Choir Association school with an outstanding track record of grammar school places and academic, sport and music scholarships to HMC schools.

 

She gained her undergraduate teaching degree at the University of London Institute of Education reading mathematics and Physical Education and graduated from the University of Bath with an MEd in Educational Management and a Doctorate of Education (EdD).

 

As Director of Studies and Head of Boarding at Holmwood House Prep School, she was responsible for the welfare of boarders, the academic profile of the school, taught mathematics through to Common Entrance and coached the netball teams to success in IAPS tournaments. Dr Edmonds was Head of Mathematics at Queens Gate School in London in the 1980s and has knowledge of first-class educational practice from around the world, with senior management experience in top 3-18 international schools in Tokyo, Singapore and Bangkok. She is a member of the Independent Schools Association (ISA) and has been a serving member of the Independent Association of Prep Schools (IAPS) since 2015.

 

Fundamental to Dr Edmonds’s approach to education is the conviction that all children must be supported with the very best pastoral care system to enable them to flourish personally and excel academically. She encourages children to balance the breadth of their academic studies with passions beyond the classroom. Her commitment to enabling pupils to meet the challenges of life is evident through her promotion of STEAM and passion for a personalised curriculum that provides challenge and fosters articulate, confident, independent-thinking children, equipped with the strength of character and resilience for success.

 

Alongside her school commitments, Dr Edmonds is a keen bridge player, enjoys reading, loves the theatre in all its forms and, when time allows, can be seen jogging from Kew to Hammersmith. She enjoys a challenge and lists climbing Mount Fuji, competing in the Channel Yacht Race 1985 and, most recently, attempting to learn to play the saxophone as some of her highlights. Dr Edmonds has two daughters who were educated in the independent sector and who now live and work in London.   

 

On receiving the news of her appointment to the role of Head, Dr Edmonds commented:

‘I am incredibly excited and honoured to be appointed as the next Head of Parsons Green Prep. The warmth of welcome and family ethos, underpinned by a deep-rooted culture of care and drive for academic excellence, resonate with my own values. I look forward to getting to know the children, staff and parents in the months ahead. Parsons Green Prep has an exciting future ahead and I am thrilled to be a part of it.’

 

Lucinda Waring, the Proprietor, commented: ‘The interview team was immensely impressed by Dr Edmonds’s depth of knowledge and understanding of education and how her values and vision for the future echo those of PGP. This is an exciting time for the school and as we emerge from the pandemic we do so not only as a healthy and strong school but one that is excited to take on the challenges of the future with confidence and passion.’

 

GCSEPod becomes an official sponsor of the APPG on Race Equality in Education

++ Leading EdTech company supports All Party Parliamentary Group in aim to diversify the curriculum ++

EdTech company GCSEPod has become an official sponsor of the APPG on Race Equality in Education.  The APPG’s aim is to support children and students from ethnic minority backgrounds, to enhance educational environments, and to increase racial diversity in teaching across the UK.

 

GCSEPod is a leading EdTech provider, and the firm has played a central role during the pandemic in helping learning continue throughout the last year, with record numbers of students accessing content.  GCSEPod offers 28 different subjects to students. The ‘pods’ are short sharp video downloads (between 3-5 minutes long) which students can access from any device at any hour of the day.

 

GCSEPod have already launched their CAACH project, which celebrates British and Irish Authors of African and Caribbean Heritage, to help try and diversify the curriculum.  It is first in a series of planned special projects that aims to shine a light on subjects that have historically been overlooked in education; these Pods explore the literary contributions of the African diaspora in the UK and Ireland.

 

Anthony Coxon, co-founder and director of GCSEPod said:

GCSEPod is delighted to become an official sponsor of the APPG on Race Equality in Education.  The work we have already done with the APPG has shaped our company’s values and commitment to developing and diversifying our network of contributors.”

Lord Woolley of Woodford, Vice Chair of the APPG on Race Equality in Education said:

“We’re very excited to have GCSEPod on board with the APPG for Race Equality in Education, of which I am Vice-Chair. It’s crucial that policymakers and EdTech providers work more closely together to better support the next generation of children, particularly pupils who are racialised – and, having the right educational resources are fundamental if we are to advance race equality”

Kinteract is ‘music to the ears’ for Music in Secondary Schools Trust

 

Edtech platform provides learning continuity to musical programme of excellence

 

Founded in 2013, the Music in Secondary Schools Trust (MiSST) provides funding for classical instruments for secondary schools with a disadvantaged or challenging student intake. The Key Stage 3 curriculum, known as the Andrew Lloyd Webber programme, gives schools the resources needed to produce high level, imaginative performers, composers and critical thinkers for GCSE, A-Level and beyond. With the aim of transforming educational and societal outcomes through the provision of classical music and expert tuition, the trust provides opportunities for children and young adults from all backgrounds to showcase their talents and be part of a programme of excellence that is unrivalled in the UK.

Out of tune technology

Supporting over 6,000 students, MiSST found that using a digital platform to share resources would benefit the learning experience, improve collaboration between pupils and teachers and reduce manual workload. For example, when a student is asked to practice playing a musical instrument, they should be able to access sufficient guidance or the supporting resources to learn outside of the classroom.

Yet, the edtech software it was previously relying upon did not meet these expectations. The common challenge was that the software was complicated to use and out of sync with the requirements of the music curriculum. Secondary school children found it difficult to navigate and struggled to find the specific supporting materials.

With the impacts of the Covid-19 forcing schools to turn to remote learning, the trust needed to find a user-friendly platform that would not only be easy to implement but would also accommodate their immediate needs to provide continuity to schooling. This included the functionality for uploading bespoke resources to be shared with pupils and music departments as well as access to single point of contact to help with any enquires. In the long term, MiSST also required a solution that could grow with the trust over time, offering additional features that could allow more opportunities for children to flourish while improving efficiencies for teachers.

Hitting the right notes

After searching the EdTech market for a solution, MiSST found that Kinteract’s cloud-based intuitive teaching and learning platform would compliment its approach to education, influencing their decision to implement the software across its partnered schools in the height of the pandemic. Due to lockdown restrictions and social distancing measures, the Kinteract team delivered several online training sessions with heads of departments within each school to ensure staff had the confidence to use the product.

With 20 schools subscribing to different virtual learning environments, the trust experienced benefits from the ‘get go’ as Kinteract gave them the opportunity to have a centralised place for all MiSST resources. Applications such as Google Drive were synchronised within the platform, enabling immediate access to learning materials. This, coupled with the ability to upload and share files to the content library has not only saved valuable time and driven efficiencies for both teachers and students, but it has also meant the learning journey for a pupil is uninterrupted; giving them the materials to practice and study in a home or school environment.

Opting for a phased strategic implementation of Kinteract to ensure users are familiar with the software, MiSST will be adopting its other features gradually. The functionalities of the platform go beyond typical edtech and offer a more holistic view of a student’s development. In addition to integrating third party communication tools, it can capture a child’s achievements, milestones, strengths, and competencies; allowing music teachers to set tasks and monitor progression aligned with a pupil’s skill level. Take for example a pupil learning the Saxophone. A teacher may ask them to learn a particular song or work towards the next grading level and set them a program to follow. The pupil could video themselves playing the instrument and upload it to the platform, providing evidence for the teacher to observe and assess.

 

Rachel Landon, CEO at MiSST said: “Kinteract has provided us with an impressive solution to the challenges we were previously experiencing with our content library. Pupils and teachers now have easy access to the material they need at the touch of a button – something that has proven invaluable during the pandemic. Going forwards, we’re excited to use the platform to evidence the students’ hard work, share progress with parents, and bring together the music community’.

Living Streets launches new tool to help children stay active at home


Living Streets launches new tool to help children stay active at home

Immediate release

Living Streets, the UK charity which runs the biggest walk to school project in the country, has today (25 January 2021) launched the new WOW Activity Tracker to help children stay active while schools remain closed to most pupils.

The Tracker allows children to log their daily physical activity, whether that’s a walk with family or skipping at home.
Children who meet the level of activity set by their school will be given a monthly badge award.

The WOW Activity Tracker is based on the charity’s award-winning WOW Travel Tracker, which monitors how pupils travel to school, prompts behaviour change and rewards those who walk, cycle or scoot.

The WOW Activity Tracker is available to primary children at the 2,000 schools taking part in WOW, Living Streets’ year-round walk to school challenge.  Pupils who are still attending school can use the WOW Activity Tracker in the classroom.  

Sport England data released this month showed a 22% increase in the number of children going for a walk last summer. Living Streets has launched the WOW Activity Tracker to encourage children and families to keep walking.

Mary Creagh, Chief Executive, Living Streets said:

“With schools, leisure centres and swimming pools closed, walking is vital to helping keep children mentally and physically well during lockdown. 

“Walking is simple, cheap and free to all. Many of us have rediscovered the joys of walking throughout the pandemic. We hope the WOW Activity Tracker will inspire children to keep walking during lockdown – and beyond.”
 
Notes to editor:

Contact: Kathryn Shaw, Media and Communications Manager, Living Streets / Kathryn.shaw@livingstreets.org.uk / 07545 209865

·     WOW badges are made in the UK from recycled yoghurt pot material. See our recycling pledge;  

·     When running WOW, schools see an average 23 per cent increase in pupils walking to school and a 30 per cent drop in cars driving all the way to the school – reducing congestion outside the school gates, increasing safety and helping in the fight against air pollution;  

·     With WOW, pupils log their daily journeys to school each day on the WOW Travel Tracker tool. Those who walk to school at least once a week for a month earn a WOW badge, with 11 to collect across the academic year.

·     Living Streets, the UK charity for everyday walking, has been running its walk to school campaign for over 20 years and currently runs WOW in schools across England, Scotland and Wales.

We are Living Streets, the UK charity for everyday walking.

We want to create a nation where walking is the natural choice for everyday, local journeys;  free from congested roads and pollution, reducing the risk of preventable illnesses and social isolation. We want to achieve a better walking environment and to inspire people of all generations to enjoy the benefits the simple act of walking brings.

For over 90 years we’ve been a beacon for walking. In our early days our campaigning led to the UK’s first zebra crossings and speed limits. Now our campaigns and local projects deliver real change to overcome barriers to walking and our groundbreaking initiatives such as the world’s biggest Walk to School campaign encourage millions of people to walk.

 

Between May – July 2020, 22% more children walked for leisure. Children’s activity levels down but many embrace new opportunities | Sport England

A Royal Question for a British Astronaut

The National Space Centre, home to the National Space Academy, yesterday welcomed Her Royal Highness The Countess of Wessex to meet with a small number of students and staff as they begin a very exciting educational year.

The Countess of Wessex joined British astronaut Helen Sharman at the National Space Centre as part of World Space Week to meet a small number of students from the National Space Academy Space Engineering course, which this year has seen a significant growth in applications, leading to a second student group being added for the first time.

The visit included a live Q&A session with Helen, that was transmitted (via space satellites) to a worldwide audience online.

Questions were kicked off by Her Royal Highness, who asked about inspiring the next generation of children.

The National Space Academy

In 2012 the National Space Academy established the UK’s first full-time post-16 course for students in Space Engineering. It is the only course of its kind, unique both in its subject matter and in its combination of BTEC qualifications with traditional A Levels.

More than 80% of its students, the majority having no family history of progression into Higher Education, have gone on to study degree-level University courses in physics or engineering or Higher Apprenticeship programmes with some of Europe’s leading aerospace and engineering companies including Airbus and Rolls Royce.

Several students who have finished their undergraduate and MSc courses have been awarded first-class degrees.

With the success of the course and significant career opportunities within a thriving UK space industry, this year there will be two cohorts of Space Engineering students to meet demand for places.

The Academy is part funded by the National Space Centre, the UK Space Agency and the Lloyds Register Foundation, with additional support from The Ogden Trust and PPG.

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