Saturday, December 31, 2005

How men and women use the Internet

The Pew Internet survey project has published "How Men and Women use the Internet", available online in PDF format.

A BBC story "Gender gap alive and well online" highlights some of the findings, such as men making more use of online transactions such as purchasing and women being better communicators with tools such as email.

Currently we lack such detailed research knowledge about UK users, and its a pity that use for the purposes of learning isnt surveyed too. But Ofcom are doing some very good research on media literacy and use, which should provide useful material.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Modern Languages and Football

For me, the main attraction of 2006 is the FIFA Football World Cup in Germany. I've got the dates in my diary, the strip washed and ready, the beers cooling in the fridge. The British Embassy in Berlin has created a handy website with information about the games, venues, etc, with a glossary of football phrases in German such as 'it's a game of two halves' and 'sick as a parrot'. - now this is a real reason for learning a foreign language, a context that matters to people.

On the other hand, The BBC story "Schools to get language targets" reports that secondary schools in England are to be given a target of at least fifty percent of school students to study a foreign language until they are sixteen. The Department for Education and Skills is trying to address the decline in pupils choosing to learn languages such as French and German.

Such a target is unlikely to make any difference to the numbers studying languages at university, or go after careers with a need for language ability. If schools are forced to make reluctant teenagers learn a language, its quite likely to put the young people off for good and lead to classroom discipline problems too. Most English kids have already made their mind up and decided they can get by in life just fine without knowing another language.

If you think its important to increase the number of Brits who can speak a language other than their own, give them a real reason to desire it and make language learning an exciting and enjoyable thing.

The 'Modern Foreign Languages Environment' is part of the approach to supporting MFL learning and teaching in Scottish schools.

ICT Masterclass

For those of you that don't know, 'Masterclass' is an ICT professional development programme for Scottish education that Learning and Teaching Scotland has run over the last few years, funded by the Scottish Executive Education Department. Local authorities nominated a mix of staff to attend, including practicising teachers, school librarians, and central ICT support staff. Residential training and workshop sessions were supplemented by an online community for Masterclassers and local follow-up activity, plus a laptop for individual use.

SEED has now published "Evaluation of the Masterclass Initiative" in both summary version and full report. The programme aimed to support local authorities in their integration of ICT into school learning, and has been largely successful.

My own view: It has assisted in changing practice in schools by stimulating the creation of an 'ICT-aware' core of staff in every local authority in Scotland. Many of the individuals were already believers in the potential of ICT, but many came to it unconvinced and went away persuaded. It built capacity for more use where appropriate, and more effective use, of ICT in Scottish schools.

The model was then adopted and subtly refined for new audiences, such as the Early Years Masterclass programme.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Website Development Process

This is a nice web page which explains how to build a website - using dolls.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

NOS Directory

This website provides a directory of National Occupational Standards (NOS). These Standards are industry specific and are becoming increasingly important in defining educational and training targets.

Monday, December 05, 2005

ICT and Education show

BETT 2006 takes place at the Olympia exhibition centre in London from 11th-14th January 2006. Its the biggest show in the UK for anything to do with ICT in schools and lifelong learning, including hardware, software, digital content, online resources, etc. A huge exhibition area is full of companies and organisations showing off, and well over twenty thousand educators will flow through the halls over the four days.

There's a seminar programme too, but for me that's not often a significant attraction (our own Scottish show SETT, each September in Glasgow, is stronger in this area). The thing that pulls me down to Olympia most years is the unrivalled range of digital 'stuff' on show.

So, if you're going, register online first. Then check the exhibitor list and plan your day to see what you can fit in. Each time I visit some of the regulars who will always have something fresh:
BBC, Channel 4, Microsoft, Oracle, Apple, Immersive Education, Intuitive Media, NESTA Futurelab, etc. I also hit the government stands, like Department for Education and Skills, Department for International Development, and Becta, all good for practical support material. Then I allow time to roam around a bit, to see what good things I come across by serendipity. Last year the Gigajam stand (music and ICT) was a hot one.

If you're a Scot, come over to the Learning and Teaching Scotland stand near the middle of the main hall.

Top tip for the day: Wear comfortable shoes!

SQA e-zine volume#2

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Literacy and Phonics

Currently the hottest issue for professional debate among educators in England - the best ways to teach children to read.

An independent Review group on the teaching of early reading, including the role of 'synthetic phonics' methods, has issued an interim report which came out in favour of that approach as most effective.

Ruth Kelly, Secretary of State for Education, accepted the point and her Department for Education and Skills acted quickly. From September 2006 primary schools in England will have to work with a new literacy strategy which prescribes synthetic phonics. A Guardian article reports on the anger of many teachers at this change.

Research findings in Clackmannanshire, Scotland, are a key part of the evidence in favour of synthetic phonics. A BBC story 'New reading system wins backing' outlines support for this approach.

But one of the strengths of Scottish education is that it does not usually prescribe or insist on one solution. It accepts that there are alternative ways of doing things, and allows diversity to test out different ways ahead.

There is also some debate about whether the gains experienced by primary children taught by synthetic phonics methods are sustained into their secondary education. More research needed?

School Buildings

The BBC story 'Call to ask pupils about design' outlines a suggestion by SchoolWorks, a not-for-profit advisory organisation in England. It calls for mandatory participation of students and teachers in the design of new or refurbished schools, because considering the views of the building’s intended users will result in structures that are better used and more fit-for-purpose.

Sounds sensible. You might have hoped this already happened on a systematic basis, as a requirement for planning permission, but teacher friends tell me they've never been consulted in such situations.

Another charity, the Sorrell Foundation, runs an initiative called 'JoinedUpDesignforSchools'. This also aims to help create better school buildings by involving "the consumers" (also known as children, young people or pupils) in the design process. They have a series of roadshow events to show off what children want in their schools, but sadly the roadshow isnt visiting us up in Scotland. Maybe next year?

Testing time for education system

BBC article on possible changes to the exam system in Scotland. Interesting interview with Peter Peacock (see audio link on right-hand side).

Friday, December 02, 2005

Gaelic Education

This week the Scottish Executive Education Department published "The Report of the Gaelic Medium Teachers Action Group". The Group made recommendations to improve the recruitment and supply of teachers who can teach in the language, to expand provision of education in Gaelic medium generally, and particularly into secondary schooling.

A news release from SEED, titled 'Bid to boost Gaelic teacher numbers', says that implementation of the recommendations will increase the numbers entering GME teaching and make it a more attractive career with improved promotion prospects, etc.

This is good for Gaelic. But already teachers are saying 'what about the other subject areas where there are shortages? Why can't we have financial incentives to attract extra teachers too?'..

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Teachers - gender and supply

There's a new research report just published by SEED on the subject of the gender imbalance among teachers in Scottish schools and what to do about it. 'Insight 24: Gender Balance of the Teaching Workforce in Publicly-funded schools in Scotland' is the summary version.

Lots of interesting snippets of information to discuss, but not many surprises in the report.

Putting it crudely, the proportion of men in the teacher workforce is declining, was already at a very low level in primary schools and is now falling in secondaries too. The researchers offer some views on why people, especially men, don't find the profession so appealing any more; and suggest some possible actions to aid recruitment of the most able individuals regardless of gender.

Yesterday I was talking to a group of school headteachers. The opinion there was that gender was quite possibly irrelevant; the priority was to have motivated teachers of any gender and age who could take the classes, as supply cover for teacher absence seems very hard to find.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

School websites

Learning and Teaching Scotland has published new guidance for schools and local authorities in Scotland about school websites.

The Scottish Executive believes that well-managed school websites can be used successfully by schools to boost engagement with parents. If parents can be involved in the design and construction of the school's web presence, and if the site provides valuable information targeted at them, they will become more involved in their children's learning and the life of the school.

The guidance booklet "Creating and managing a School Website" is on the LTS Scottish Schools Online service, which also provides an online directory of Scottish schools.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Coursework under scrutiny

QCA recently published a detailed report on coursework [PDF] within GCSE and GCEs. The BBC news website has commented on coursework problems several times.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Digital Inclusion in Scotland

There's been a lot of activity at governmental level, through the Scottish Executive, to address the varied aspects of the 'digital divide'. Policies and measures to increase the availablity of Internet access at home, workplaces and community venues. This will support better e-learning and all the various possibilities of e-government, plus add another option for democratic involvement.

For example, the public library programme 'The Peoples Network' has been connected up our UK libraries and created hundreds of places, open long hours and with trained staff, that function as access points for the genral public to use the Internet. For information about the Peoples Network in Scotland, the Slainte website gives good background.

Now the Scottish Executive has launched a consultation review about Scottish Digital Inclusion policy, both past policies and future directions. Go on, take the opportunity to tell the Executive what is needed to get Scotland's population online (or as many of them as want to be!)..

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Schools of Ambition

The 'Schools of Ambition' programme is a major element of the Scottish Executive's current policy agenda, "Ambitious, Excellent Schools".

20 schools around Scotland were selected from an application process, and are now receiving at least one hundred thousand pounds additional funding each - to make a transformation in their school. A list of all the schools, with indication of what they are targeting for improvement, is on the SOA website. ICT is central to some of the projects, for example for web and internet communication enhancements, and will be used by all as a management tool

There's an interesting mix of schools. Some might be described as 'struggling' or working in challenging circumstances, while a few would be regarded as 'high achievers' working in more prosperous areas.

There will be lots of people watching to see how well these 'transformations' work; not least in case there is a future chance for other schools to apply...

Monday, November 21, 2005

Basecamp: Free Basic plan for teachers

The makers of BaseCamp (a web-based project management system) report on their blog that they're offering a basic BaseCamp account free to all teachers for a limited period of time. I've used BaseCamp for a couple of projects and I was very impressed with its ease of use and features. Drop them an e-mail to request an account.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

How to study

Useful resource for students.

ICT and Leadership

Leadership is a big theme in Scottish education at the moment. Headteachers have a key role as school leaders, as they are the individuals who can do most to change the ways that a school does its job.

For ICT, 'Leadership for Learning' is a development initiative for Scottish headteachers, which aims to assist Heads to develop strategic leadership of ICT in their school. It is funded by the Scottish Executive Education Department, and managed by Learning and Teaching Scotland. It has already run for 2 years, and a third cohort of Heads started on the programme in September 2005. Its a mix of residential and school-based work, with exposure to lots of ICT developments and visits to schools where real use is going on.

SEED has now published the report of an external evaluation of the success of the initiative, which makes very uplifting reading. There are strong positive outcomes, with most Heads being persuaded of the value of ICT for learning, teaching and school management. And they go back to their schools, and they make things happen...

'Evaluation of the Leadership for Learning Initiative' - summary version.

'Evaluation of the Leadership for Learning Initiative' - full report.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

ICT in schools - funding for projects

Lots of people ask: 'where can I get funding for my ICT project'.

There's no one answer; it depends on things like what they want to achieve, their employer, the availability of local, national and EU funding, possibility of sponsorship, etc.

But here are two current opportunities for Scottish schools to bid for funding for their project proposals.

The BT Education 'School Awards' scheme is well-established and the ICT projects of many Scottish teachers have already benefitted from it. The closing date for the current phase is on 14th November 2005.

The new Microsoft 'Partners in Learning' initiative in Scotland, recently launched, is inviting requests for proposals from teachers. It aims "to support innovative projects that use ICT in its widest sense", and gives some examples which use technologies like digital audio and GPS tracking.

Remember: If you don't ask, you don't get.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Comparison of qualification frameworks

This [PDF] is a useful reference document that compares qualification frameworks in Scotland, England, Wales and N. Ireland.

New SQA e-zine

SQA is planning on producing a regular 'e-zine'. The first edition is due out shortly. You can join the mailing list here.

Curriculum of the future

Interesting piece of research by QCA about a possible curriculum for the future.

Monday, October 31, 2005

ICT in Schools - progress

My daily working life revolves around the various uses of ICT in Scottish education (I'm a lucky man, I know). Now there's new evidence of what's going on, a thing which is critical to help us develop services that meet the needs of learners, teachers and all the various 'stakeholders' in the education system.

Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education has published 'The Integration of Information and Communications Technology in Scottish Schools: an interim report'. Inspectors see a great volume of ICT activity as they visit schools around the country, and reports such as this present key information about the impact of ICT on learning, the features that underpin good practice in teaching, leadership, school management etc. The report also suggests areas for improvement, some of which represent long-standing concerns. The ability to 'refresh' stocks of computer equipment; in-school technical difficulties and the availability of technical support; professional development for teacher skills and pedagogy; and the progressive development of pupil skills are all issues.

Healthy Eating

I'm known at work for enjoying my food, (such as the pepperoni pizza produced by 'Little Italy' on Byres Road in Glasgow) but this post is about School Meals in Scottish schools.

The schools inspectorate has published an interim report on the progress of the Scottish Executive's healthy eating initiative, Hungry for Success.
'Monitoring the Implementation of Hungry for Success: a whole school approach to school meals in Scotland' describes progress in primary and special schools. There have been positive changes, such as to the quality and dietary content of school meals, the provision in school tuck-shops, health education, etc. Suggested improvements include measures to increase the uptake of school meals among pupils.

A BBC story 'School meals shake-up bears fruit' outlines the report's main points.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Homework website

Surfyourwork is an easy to use (and free) online learning service that promotes itself as a homework website. It was developed by a student who recently sold it to a commercial company and made himself a millionaire in the process.

Monday, October 24, 2005

foreign languages

Last week the BBC reported that learning foreign languages in English secondary schools was becoming the preserve of girls and the middle class, as boys were difficult to convince of the benefits of speaking another language.

In the same week, the Education Guardian carried a couple of stories about the value of using ICT to add a "buzz" to the teaching and learning of modern languages.
"Languages thrive on a lighter touch" and "Children leap ahead with a crazy frog" describe software games and online resources.

I have the pleasure of working on the 'Modern Foreign Languages Environment' online service, alongside one of the best known Scottish bloggers, Ewan McIntosh, and a team of talented individuals. A crucial reason for the existence of this service is to enhance the teaching of languages, which will in turn encourage more young people to continue their acquisition of language skills further into their school career and beyond.

Monday, October 17, 2005


I laughed when I saw the BBC story 'E-mail makes office workers lazy'. A sports body has suggested that email is causing health problems, as lazy staff email each other rather than walk around the office to talk to colleagues. It proposes an 'Email Free Friday' to make exployees step out more.

I'll admit to being an email junkie, and I know many teachers that are too. Surely email is good for society, saving trees (fewer wasted memos, less junk mail that goes straight in the bin) and achieving quicker responses to work business without the intrusiveness of the phone.

But we're also highly sociable people, and chat by email, set up face-to-face meetings (and drinking sessions) by email, and can't imagine life without it. So if there's an Email Free Friday at my workplace, I'll head for the nearest cafe with a wireless Internet connection...

Supply of Teachers

Scottish Education will always need teachers. There's no substitute for a well-qualified and well-prepared professional teacher leading the learning of motivated school students. But what characteristics does that teacher need to have?

Do we need more men in Scottish teaching, particularly in primary schools for younger children? The BBC reported last week on a campaign to get more men into primary teaching in England. But do children, especially boys, actually need male teachers - as role models, for better discipline, or whatever? Many parents don't care what gender the teacher is, its their skills and attitudes to the children that matter more.

And how should we best prepare recruit trainee teachers and train them to fulfill the role of practicising teacher? Given that a significant proportion of newly qualified teachers leave the profession within five years, something (or several things) isn't right.

Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education has just published a report about the quality of current provision of 'Student Teacher Placements in Initial Teacher Education'. Recent rapid expansion of numbers of students admitted to teacher training, done for very good reasons such as the ageing teacher workforce and desire to increase staffing input in key areas, caused problems in finding enough placement places for the students. The Inspectors make recommendations for improvement, including the need for all the key 'players' to work together better in the interests of ensuring a sufficient supply of high-quality new entrants to the profession.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Film and Media in Education

Last weekend I went to see "Wallace and Gromit: the Curse of the Were-Rabbit" at the cinema. Wonderful. Now I have a role-model.

There's a BBC feature about the characters, including an interview with Nick Park of Aardman Animation (the creative force behind them) and a two-minute short film "Soccermatic".

If you're wondering about how you can incorporate Film and Media into teaching practice across a spread of subject areas, look at the excellent Film Education website. This organisation is focused on the needs of UK teachers and, among other things, provides high-quality educational resources to support classroom activity. So they have a new Wallace and Gromit resource on CD (you can order a free copy from the site), plus worksheets. There's also new web material for films such as "Oliver Twist" and "Nanny McPhee".



There's news about the BBC wanting an increase in the Licence fee; they argue it's necessary to pay for things like the transition to Digital TV and their Online services.

I'm torn about this. I'm a heavy and enthusiastic user of their Online services, especially their News and their Learning resources. And their development work for the BBC Digital Curriculum resources, now to be branded as 'BBC Jam', looks exciting. - But I'm also one of the people who comment frequently about the weaknesses of their current TV programming and the lack of "something worth watching".

So what should the Licence payer pay for?
How much should they pay?
Is there a place for advertising or sponsorship on BBC broadcasting?

Lots to think about. Comment on this post if you'd like..

Monday, October 10, 2005

World university rankings

The Times Higher Education Supplement lists the top 200 universities in the world [PDF].

Thursday, October 06, 2005

School closures, new-builds and refreshment

School buildings are important for lots of reasons, but mostly as a 'learning environment' where children acquire knowledge and skills. This week both Edinburgh and Glasgow City Councils are the subject of BBC stories about possible or planned school closures.

"Revamp proposals for city schools" concerns plans to close some Glasgow primaries and build a smaller number of schools better-suited to modern ways of learning.

"Schools in capital face closure" outlines Edinburgh's consideration of closures in the light of falling school rolls and shifting population.

Its not just about saving money for Councils; its about what kind of buildings and grounds are best for our children and their education.

Another BBC story "Painting classroom raises results" reports on research in England about the positive effects on children of low-cost school refreshment, but this assumes that the buildings in a suitable physical condition to be refurbished (and not falling into the street). The researchers do point out the detrimental effect on children, and incidentally sometimes on staff, of working in a poor environment.

But there's lots of things that have an effect on children's propensity to learn, including:
Good teachers, stimulating curriculum, neat bits of appropriate technology well-used..

And lots of things that motivate or demotivate staff, including:
school leadership, pupil behaviour, neat bits of appropriate technology well-used..

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Do computers damage children?

Wittenberg University education professor and former computer teacher Lowell Monke argues that over-exposure to computers at an early age can hold back a child's development.

New LTS website

Nick is too modest to promote LT Scotland's re-designed website but I will! It looks great.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Vocational Education

Sometimes Education news is like Buses; nothing for ages then three turn up at once...

Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education has published a report about the provision of vocational opportunities for school pupils through Further Education colleges. "Working Together: cross sectoral provision of vocational education for Scotland's school pupils" highlights the growth of school-college partnership working, but says that too few schools consider vocational education as something that might be an option for all pupils (not just the less academically-inclined ones).

It also stresses the need for strong quality assurance, so that young people are directed towards courses that do genuinely meet their needs and then have a quality experience from the course.

Further Education

The Scottish Executive published an annual report for the FE sector last week.
"Further Education in Scotland 2004" presents a summary of the situation in Scottish colleges.

As someone who used to work in FE, I'm impressed by how far the sector has come (assisted by changes to funding mechanisms, management, etc) but also know from friends how some concerns linger. Staffing pay and gradings; balance of permanent and part-time lecturers; comparison with school teachers roles and terms; professional development, etc.

Arts Education

SEED has published ‘Delivering the Arts in Scottish Schools’, the report of research it commissioned to develop baseline information about the teaching of arts subjects within the 5-14 curriculum in primary and secondary schools. Issues that emerged include the role of specialist teachers, curriculum content, timetabling, assessment and exposure to professional artists.

So what's the future for schemes like the 'Cultural Coordinators' posts in local authorities? Have they made a significant difference in areas like exposing young people to working artists?

Friday, September 30, 2005

Parent Power

The new "Scottish Schools (Parental Involvement) Bill" has been published on the Scottish Parliament website, and starts its legislative progress. A Scottish Executive news story gives some background.

It would change the current structure of School Boards, and give flexibility for new forums in which parents could be represented in school life. Not everyone likes this, as a BBC story "Chalk flies in parent power clash" points out.

There seems to be broad acknowledgement of the importance of parents being actively involved with their children's learning, but many parents are not convinced that formal representative bodies of any kind make a big difference. Me, I'm lucky. There's a vibrant Parent Teacher Assocation at the excellent local primary school, and I'm grateful for all they do.

But maybe not all of you can say that...

SQA exam results

Statistics about the qualifications achieved by students in Scottish secondary schools (excluding the independent sector) were published this week. A news story on the Scottish Executive website gives brief highlights and links to the full data.

No big surprises. Here's a couple of generalisations: Girls did better than boys. The economically-poor areas struggled, the relatively prosperous areas got better results. Will it always be that way?

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Broadband for Education - SSDN

'Scottish Schools Digital Network' is a name that will soon become familiar to everyone working in the Scottish education sector. Think of broadband; not just faster access to Internet sites (although that's handy) but a wide range of new services, applications and resources. All provided in a secure online environment, where the needs of learners, teachers and the education authorities are the focus.

This will take time to achieve, but a major milestone was at the SETT show last week in Glasgow, where the contract was signed for the National Intranet. The SSDN webpages give background to the programme and describe where we are now.


ICT in Schools

There's new research out, from the Scottish Executive Education Department, which makes fascinating reading (well, to me anyway).

Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) is a broad term covering hardware (computers, scanners, digital cameras, handheld computers, etc), software and technologies such as videoconferencing and the Internet. There's lots more of it in schools, but what difference does that make? This research gives us a much clearer picture of what is going on.

"The Impact of ICT Initiatives in Scottish Schools: Phase 3, Final report" is the full length report

but luckily there's also a short summary of the findings in "Insight 20: The Impact of ICT Initiatives in Scottish Schools".


Friday, September 23, 2005

Welcome to the new blog

This blog is an experiment to see if a website of links to information and resources relevant to Scottish education is worthwhile. The intention is that a number of contributors add links to interesting stories or useful resources so that everyone can share the information or access the resource. It's intended to be a "best of the Web for Scottish education". Time will tell if it's worthwhile.

The blog is a labour-of-love for the contributors. The bloggers are volunteers who are willing to give up a little time to share information. If you would like to become a contributor, drop me an e-mail. The blog is not related to any organisation, school or college so the only qualification for membership is that you have the time and inclination to contribute something. Please note that the blog is not intended to be a means of appraising or analysing educational developments - so no rants!