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?