Friday, December 29, 2006

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Friday, December 22, 2006

Teachers’ plan to beat the cheats

Today's Herald has a story on cheating and reports that the SSTA wants all coursework to be done under teacher supervision. This follows a recent report from QCA entitled Digital Technologies & Dishonesty in Examinations.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Assessment 2.0 revisited

My previous post about Assessment 2.0 generated some feedback, which encouraged me to develop the idea a little further. So I've worked-up a short paper on how Web 2.0 can be used for assessment.

It highlights some of the challenges facing education with the advent of this open, democratic and interactive web. There is a particular debate to be had about how VLEs measure up to Web 2.0 - and which one we should use within education. There is a similar debate to be had about assessment. It's been argued that the choice of online assessment system is moot since students were increasingly using the assessment system that came as part of the school/college/university VLE. But does Web 2.0 make the VLE obsolete?

Friday, December 15, 2006

Friday, December 08, 2006

Survey on e-learning

The Internet Safety blog has a post about a new survey relating to e-learning and e-assessment. We're looking for as many people as possible to complete the survey so if you have 10 minutes to spare, your input would be appreciated. The results will be used by SQA to determine the way that we develop qualifications in the future.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Glow and Sharepoint

There has been an interesting discussion about Glow's use of Microsoft's SharePoint technology (SharePoint is the technology behind Glow). Some have argued that SharePoint is not a good platform while others have pointed out the importance of having a stable environment on which to build Glow.

I see both arguments. My limited use of SharePoint doesn't fill me with excitement in the same way that some Web 2 technologies do - but I appreciate that Glow needs to be built on firm foundations (even if they are a little bland).

My real worry about Glow isn't so much the underlying technology but the danger that it becomes a sort of "pretend internet" - with so many restrictions on what young people can do that they can't wait to ditch it the second they walk out the school gates.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Smartgroups RIP

Many of you will know that Smartgroups is closing. Smartgroups was used by various teams within SQA to communicate with teachers and lecturers so its demise will be sorely felt. The groups provided teachers with an opportunity to communicate directly with SQA staff. Some of the groups (such as the PC Passport group) have over 800 members - who ensured that we could not rest on our laurels. However, Smartgroups performance over the last few months has been pretty dire so the news isn't completely out of the blue.

Smartgroups closure is also a loss to the Web too since it grew out of "E-Groups", which was one of the original online communities. It's been bought out several times over the years and the most recent owner (Orange) clearly did not see a viable business model - although it might strike some as strange to pull the plug at the very time when social networking is taking off and reaping huge benefits for some.

Smartgroups is currently providing advice on how to migrate your groups to other providers and I plan to use a mix of Yahoo Groups and Google Groups - neither is as nice to use as Smartgroups although Google Groups beta shows promise.

I've setup a Google Group for e-assessment and another for Internet safety so please visit these websites if you want to subscribe to either of these groups.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Ontology is over-rated

An interesting article from Clay Shirky about the use of tags in preference to formal categorisation systems.

Monday, October 23, 2006

British pupils 'cannot locate UK'

Simple English Wikipedia

Simple Wikipedia is a new version of Wikipedia for those with limited English skills. Maybe a good resource for S1/S2 pupils and primary kids?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Assessment 2.0

You've heard of e-learning 2.0, well here are some Web 2.0 technologies applied to assessment. The table seeks to show how teachers can use social software for assessment purposes.

Web service



Assessment type






Personal portal


  • Evidence organisation



Google calendar

  • Assessment scheduling




Google mail

  • Communication with assessor

  • Evidence storage

  • Authenticating evidence



Search engine

Live search

  • Evidence discovery




  • Evidence discovery


Social bookmarking


  • Evidence collection





  • Reflection

  • Log book/diary






Photo service


  • Evidence storage/organisation



Online storage

  • Evidence storage






  • Collaborative working

  • Group work

  • Projects





Word processing


  • Collaborative working

  • Group work

  • Projects





Instant messaging

Live Messenger

  • Authenticating evidence


VOIP (incl. video)


  • Authenticating evidence



Google spreadsheets

  • Result calculation and reporting


Thursday, October 05, 2006

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

50 ideas for online learning

Following on from a recent post about the use of social software in place of traditional VLEs, this document describes lots of ways that free software can be used to support e-learning.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Friday, September 15, 2006

Is social software better for learning than VLEs?

A thought provoking article from Christian Dalsgaard argues that social software provides a better learning platform than traditional VLEs.

Although I think that there are some flaws in his argument (such as students'a abilities to use web services), I appreciate the richness that the raw Internet provides to learners - a richness that no VLE can hope to match.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Glow intranet for schools

Last week the Scottish Executive Education Department announced that the Scottish Schools Digital Network (SSDN) national intranet service has been named 'Glow'. There's a marketing strapline too, 'lighting up learning'.

LTS has launched a new updated Glow Scotland website too, to show off the new branding, provide extra information, and present short videos.

For those of us working on this huge broadband project, its great to see it moving forward. Now raising awareness of Glow's potential among teachers and other educators is a priority, so there are seminars and presentations at SETT in September and further events planned.

Some of the blogs written by Scottish education people are already commenting on Glow.
For example, Andrew Brown in Argyll. Let's have lots of thinking and discussion, and make Glow something truly useful for us all. And yes, it helps keep me in a job!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Media, online services and Young people

Ofcom, the UK regulatory body for the communications industry, conducts very useful research into media consumption and attitudes among the British public.

A BBC news item "Young drive 'radical media shift'" reports on recent research. Young people aged 16 to 24 are turning away from consuming television, radio and newspapers in favour of online services and new media. More time online, and a wide range of applications and services in use.

One implication of this for Education: how much of our own service should we be placing online, and in what forms?

Here in Scotland our Scottish Schools Digital Network will enable us to make much more available in online forms, with collaboration and communication tools to encourage interaction and learning.

Other Ofcom reports look at the Media Literacy of adults and young people, their ability to use the various old and new media to both consume and create.

Trainee teachers

The BBC story "tests flummox trainee teachers" reports on data from England which indicates that many trainee teachers are struggling to pass basic tests in numeracy, literacy and ICT.

Experience suggests that things would be no different here in Scotland. Some people would argue that this doesnt matter, as that's the way society is now. Me, I'm old-fashioned. I would prefer that teachers who are educating our children are in a position of strength in terms of skills, and do not undermine their own position in front of colleagues or students.

But the story also makes me wonder about the entry standards for teacher training. Should weaknesses in core skills not be identified, and addressed, before entry?

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Wikipedia and Moodle

A post by Seb Schmoller in his fortnightly blog asks if public organisations should put all of their information onto Wikipedia. It's an interesting idea - and one that I've thought about myself.

Schools, colleges and national organisations are publicly funded - and what better way of sharing information than putting it on a public forum such as Wikipedia? The fact that it is accessible to a global audience is another advantage since (potentially) it means that people living in countries with less well developed education systems can benefit from our contributions.

Moodle is fast becoming the 'Wikipedia of online learning', being a open source virtual learning environment. The Open University has adopted it and many Scottish colleges are currently adding content to their own Moodle systems. My own current project (Internet Safety) will use Moodle to host the online learning material - so all of the pilot centres (which includes almost 40 schools) will get exposure to this system.

The adoption of open systems (such as Wikimedia and Moodle) is an exciting development -- to which Scottish education can make an important contribution.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Adult influence

Scottish Executive has published a story about research which indicated the role of adults (in this case teachers) in keeping teenagers away from getting involved in criminal activity. Strong positive professional relationships are shown to boost the self-esteem of troubled teenagers and improve their life chances.

This probably just confirms what many of us already believed, about the inspirational and supportive effects a good teacher can have. - But does it also imply that having a particularly poor, disinterested or aggressive teacher can significantly 'push' a struggling teenager towards anti-social behaviour?

Professional development and SETT

Continuing Professional Development keeps cropping up as a key theme for schools and education. Examples in this week alone: BBC stories have covered the need for teachers to get Voice training, and nursery assistants to get spelling lessons. You may think some of these suggestions ridiculous, I know I do. So here's a preview of SETT 2006, the 'Scottish learning festival', our own Scottish education exhibition and conference.

Held at the SECC in Glasgow, on Wednesday 20th and Thursday 21st September 2006. Loads of seminars and presentations by people who know their stuff, including many real teachers. The subjects include ICT in education in multiple forms and many of the core and niche areas of Scottish school and lifelong learning. All this accompanied by a large exhibition area with companies and organisations showing off their products and services for educators. Plus the usual coffee and food outlets which some find disturbingly compelling..

There's the chance to talk to people like me face-to-face, on the Learning and Teaching Scotland stand or around the show. Not something that appeals to everyone, but hey. I'm available.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

E-assessment glossary

It's an old story, but no-one has yet posted a link to this very useful resource so here it is. JISC and QCA have produced a glossary of terms used within e-assessment. The document is available in PDF format and also as an online database.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Coursework plan to halt cheating

The BBC story "Coursework plan to halt cheating" reports on the view of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority in England. It is considering prohibiting the submission of work done at home, to reduce the current level of cheating and plagiarism in exams like GCSE's.

That seems a really backward step to me. With 'Scottish Schools Broadband Network' and many other ICT projects, we're busy encouraging students to work more outside classrooms and school - in homes, libraries, and anywhere else they find it suitable to study!

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Underachieving students

A Scottish Executive Education Department news story "Education programme gets a glowing report" describes the evaluation of a SEED programme which targeted under-achievers in Scottish secondary schools.

The interventions supported by the 'Xlerate with XL' programme made a significant difference to the young people involved, showing gains in their self-awareness, abilities, communication skills, etc. The research evaluation report is also online.

This kind of programme activity is intended to prevent teenagers joining the NEET category of young people. "Not in Employment, Education or Training".

Is NEET rapidly becoming a term with a stigma attached, as a casual term for 'potential problem teenagers', like the other Scottish label 'neds'?

Monday, June 26, 2006

Social software in education

FutureLab has recently published a report [PDF] on the uses of social software within education.

Friday, June 02, 2006

CES Youth Transitions Research

The TES reports that an analysis of leavers’ surveys in England, Wales, and Scotland during the 1980s and 1990s by the Centre for Educational Sociology shows that young Scots do better than their peers south of the border. Examination attainment and university entry were higher in Scotland than the south of England, despite Scotland’s socio-economic context having more in common with the north of England and Wales.

Click here for a link to the Centre for Educational Sociology's Education and Youth Transitions across Britain briefings - numbers 39 and 40.

Audit Scotland's evaluation of the McCrone Agreement

Post-Qualification Applications

Both the government’s options set out in the DfES’s consultation on post-qualification applications to higher education were rejected by the majority of those who responded to the consultation. (One option was to have everyone wait for their results before places were offered; the other would involve have conditional offer based on prior record rather than predictions, with a set number of places reserved until after results were known.)

Nevertheless, the government issued a response to the consultation making a number of recommendations for implementation in 2008/09 with a view to working towards post-qualification applications by 2012.
The government’s summary of their response is given below; the full response can be viewed by clicking here.

Although UK-wide, this seems to be aimed more at an English problem than a Scottish one. If PQA were introduced, it would have particular implications in Scotland given the earlier summer holidays, (eg, it may be that teachers would have to come in during the holidays to offer guidance to their students) while possibly not improving the higher education application process significantly.

Maths Teaching in England 'Too Narrow'

In a recent study, Ofsted has found that too many schools in England are ‘teaching to the test’ in mathematics, stifling genuinely stimulating thinking about the subject. They found that many 14-19 year olds do not expect to understand mathematics, and many students could not develop their ‘ability to reason and discover solutions for themselves’.

Ofsted’s director of education said, ‘Students try to pass exams by memorising lots of unconnected facts rather than a few guiding principles. The current approach to teaching mathematics is not giving students the understanding they require and this must change’. The Association of School and College Leaders responded to the criticism by saying that Ofsted judged schools’ performance on the results of tests and classroom practice was, therefore, based on them.

Do we have the same issues in Scotland?

Schools Dropping History?

A recent Guardian article reports on certain schools in Scotland dropping the teaching of history. Please click here for the story and here for a follow-up piece.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Scotland Needs a Learning Revolution

Jack McConnell yesterday announced the Futures Project, focusing on the challenges that we face in the next 20 years. One of the main messages of his speech was that learning is one of Scotland's great strengths and it can answer many of the problems that Scotland is facing, including an ageing population and a high proportion of young people in the NEET group.

For full details of the Futures Project, click here.

Using wikis in schools

Futurelab recently produced a report [PDF] on the use of wikis in schools. The report highlights the educational applications of wikis, emphasising their collaborative nature and describing wikis as "knowledge building which provide a deeply authentic experience for young learners". The report includes a small experiment with a group of 13-14 year olds in England.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Results from Internet safety survey are now available

SQA recently carried out a large-scale survey into teachers' and lecturers' (and others') attitudes towards Internet safety. Over 500 people completed the questionnaire. The Internet safety blog has a link to the results which make interesting reading.

Friday, May 05, 2006

E-Assessment Question Conference

The E-Assessment Question conference is held every year in London but yesterday there was the first Scottish conference held in the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Glasgow. SQA figured prominently, with Anton Colella (the Chief Executive) delivering the keynote speech and Martyn Ware (Business Manager in charge of e-assessment) outlining SQA's e-assessment strategy between now and 2010.

Anton's talk was particularly interesting since he described SQA's approach to e-assessment and explained how it linked to key Scottish developments such as A Curriculum for Excellence.

There are plans to make this an annual event.

Monday, May 01, 2006

ICT Increasingly Critical to Education

The technology company Dell has released details of a survey on ICT in education. Click here for more details.

Investment in Scotland's Colleges

Scotland’s colleges are to receive increased investment for 2006-07 for growth in student numbers, increased working with schools pupils, and for improvement in estates and facilities.

The £499 million of funding includes:
• £414 million for the delivery of teaching to students;
• £67 million in student support such as bursaries and childcare funding;
• £17 million in improvement grants for strategic development, ICT, e-learning, and widening access.

Up to 100,000 new students are expected. The biggest rise in students is due to 14-16 year olds on vocational courses; half of the new money for teaching – around £13.8 million – is for this group.

Recent Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council research found that FE expansion has also been fuelled by a government drive to encourage lifelong learning and improve adult skills, and businesses looking for more highly-skilled employees.

More Schools of Ambition

The Scottish Executive has announced seven new schools will enter the Schools of Ambition programme. Please click here for the news release.

Acceptance and Usage of E-Assessment by Awarding Bodies

New research in the usage and acceptance of e-assessment by awarding bodies by a company called Thomson Prometric has recently been published.

Please click here for more details.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Internet safety survey

A new survey was opened today relating to Internet safety. The aim of the survey is to gauge your attitudes towards this subject and to identify what Internet facilities your centre makes available to students. It's a short survey that shoudld take a few minutes to complete. You'll find it here.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Curriculum for Excellence - update

The Scottish Executive has recently published a progress report [PDF] on the Curriculum for Excellence [PDF] project. A Curriculum for Excellence seeks to re-define the curriculum for young people (aged 3-18) within Scotland. It's the most important educational initiative of the decade.

This latest report outlines developments to date and proposes several important changes to the curriculum within primary and secondary schools - including six levels of attainment (page 13) and eight subject areas under which all existing subjects would fall (page 14). The impact on schools could be significant.

The report provides a timeline for change (page 25) and seeking feedback on the ideas contained within it.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

ICT and learning

The Guardian online has collected a number of interesting reports on the impact of ICT in learning. I was particularly interested in the one about why so few teachers use ICT in their everyday teaching.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Skills in a global economy

The man in charge of City & Guilds (Chris Humphries) recently outlined his views on education and training in an interesting paper [PDF] entitled Skills in a Global Economy. The paper covers demographics, skills shortages, education systems, future working patterns - and proposes some solutions to current problems.

It's an interesting (if quite long) read and I learnt a great deal from it (for example, that 3% of employers are responsible for 72% of employees). But, in my opinion, he focuses too much on low and intermediate level vocational skills and doesn't say much about the effect of the Internet on learning and working.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Internet safety qualification

SQA, in conjunction with other national and international agencies, is developing a new qualification relating to Internet safety... and there's a dedicated blog to record progress.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

GCSE Difficulty Varies

A BBC story reports on research that has found taht GCSEs vary 'substantially' in their difficulty.

Science Splits Boys and Girls

The University of Leeds is taking part in a global study called the Relevance of Science Education. A survey of more than 1,200 pupils in England as part of the research has found that the sexes are split on what interests them in science. Report author Edgar Jenkins said that the differences are common to most of the developed world. ‘We have had a generation or more of promoting gender equality but the differences exist and I raise the question as to whether we should teach the two sexes separately for some of the time.’

The Effects of Class on Education

A recent article in the Guardian newspaper reports on research that claims that the most influential factor in educational outcomes in England is the pupil’s social background.

Meanwhile, on a related note, research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council has suggested that education policy by itself contributes little to the rate at which people move between social classes; ‘comprehensive school is neither less nor more effective at promoting social mobility than a selective system’. The researchers from the University of Edinburgh point out that if changes to the structure of schooling could have an effect, then it would show in Scotland, where all selective schools in the public sector were abolished by the mid-1970s. Instead, the reforms had no impact on social mobility.

QCA Work

Recent months have seen many new QCA developments and strands of work. In March, they issued their annual regulatory reports relating to the summer 2005 examinations in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

The reports available include ones on: the performance of awarding bodies; the number of enquiries about results and appeals; and reviews of standards in French, Computing and ICT, Mathematics, and Sociology.

Meanwhile, Ken Boston, QCA chief executive, has said that he is pushing for the overall burden of assessment in England and Wales to be reduced. He said, ‘The assessment load is huge. It is far greater than in other countries and not necessary for the purpose.’ Under QCA plans, from September 2008, pupils will take four papers for most A level papers, instead of the current six.

QCA has also been consulting on the development and implementation of functional skills. The new functional tests will be incorporated into English, Maths, and ICT GCSEs from 2008. Ken Boston, QCA Chief Executive, recently gave a speech on Maths education to the Commons Advisory Committee on Education. He said, ‘Every young person, with the right programmes and effective teaching, can master at least the functional level of mathematics necessary for life and work…mathematics now underpins even the most basic operations in areas such as food processing, health care, packaging, pharmaceuticals and tourism, just as much as it does the more traditional areas of engineering and electronics.’ The new functional skills will exist as stand-alone qualifications, but models of integrating or incorporating them into GCSEs are still under discussion.

Also in his speech on Maths education, Ken Boston welcomed Ruth Kelly’s announcement of the introduction of a Further Maths GCSE intended to ‘challenge the more able, engaging them in mathematical studies from a more abstract and structural perspective’ and emphasised that he thought that the new specialised diplomas would ‘provide an opportunity to drive up the level of performance in mathematics, especially for many young people who otherwise might not engage at all’.

Evaluations and Initiatives

Schools-Business Alliance
Ahead of the publication of the Scottish Executive's NEET (not in education, training, or employment) strategy, Jack McConnell announced a new strategy focusing on disengaged youngsters.
Click here for more details.

National Priorities
HMIE has published a Report to SEED on the Delivery of National Priorities.

Improving Scottish Education
HMIE's presentation from the launch of Improving Scottish Education is available.

A Curriculum for Excellence
The Curriculum Review Programme Board has published its Curriculum for Excellence: Progress and Proposals paper. The purposes of the paper are given as: to describe progress and the main findings of the activities so far; to provide a narrative on the direction of travel, outlining recommended features of the curriculum in the future; to outline aspects where more thinking is required; and to stimulate the next stage of professional discussion and reflection, as part of the continuing process of shaping and influencing the curriculum.

Determined to Succeed
The Scottish Executive has recently published an evaluation of the first phase of the Determined to Succeed strategy.

Adult Literacy and Numeracy Strategy
The Scottish Executive has published the final report of the evaluation of the Scottish Adult Literacy and Numeracy Strategy. The report analyses the views of adult learners and the views of tutors in order to assess the impact of participation on individuals' lives and any perceived wider benefits.

What Motivates Adult Learners?
The Scottish Executive has published Looking to Learn: Investigating the Motivations to Learn and the Barriers Faced by Adults Wishing to Undertake Part-Time Study. Click here for the research.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Computer Clubs for Girls launched in Scotland

I attended the launch of the Computer Clubs for Girls (CC4G) in Scotland last night. The event was held in the Scottish Parliament building in Edinburgh and speakers included Peter Peacock (Minister for Education) and Karen Price (CEO for E-Skills UK). CC4G aims to attract more girls to IT.

It was a nice evening with pupils from a couple of Fife clubs attending to give their impressions of the clubs in their schools.

The programme is being rolled out across Scotland with Fife and Glasgow regions being the most active at this time. More here.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006


Edublogs: the educational use of blogs and RSS (really simple syndication)

The above ALT workshop will take place on 5th May 2006 at Kings College, London.

The topics to be covered include: the history of blogs; their technical architecture and relation to Web 2.0 technologies; blog formats and functionalities; the pedagogical implications of using blogs; blogging and RSS tools and practices; aggregating blogs using RSS.

The cost is £95 for ALT members, £150 for non-members and the deadline is 21st April 2006.

Please see

Monday, March 13, 2006

"Understanding Standards" survey

The Understanding Standards website has been available to teachers for a year and a new survey has been created to gauge the effectiveness of the service. The survey closes on 25 March.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Wikipedia hits the million mark

Google and Wikipedia are two of my favourite information sources - and Wikipedia is about to reach one million articles contributed by one million registered users. Although the SQA entry needs a little work.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Children 'less able than they used to be'

A recent Guardian article reports on a research project by the Economic and Social Research Council that concludes that 11 and 12 year old children in England are less advanced in terms of cognitive and conceptual development than 15 years ago.

ICT in Schools

A recent report Are Students Ready for a Technology Rich World? draws on research from PISA 2003 to consider issues such as how students use ICT, what their attitudes are towards ICT, and the relationship between students' access to and use of ICT and their performance in PISA 2003.

The Sector Skills Council e-skills UK has announced the launch of Computer Club for Girls (CC4G) at the Scottish Parliament on 22nd March. After a successful pilot, CC4G will roll out to all Fife schools. Click here for more details on CC4G.

In e-assessment, an article in Edutopia describes the use of automated grading systems to score the work of US school students.

Motivating Pupils

Careers Scotland's Activate programme is designed to provide extra support to S4 and S5 pupils in the final three months of schools, and is aimed at young people who are most likely to fall into the NEET group (not in education, employment, or training). A recent independent evaluation has found that in the pilot, 87% of participants had stayed at school or moved into work, training, or further education - compared to the projected 40% normally associated with this group. The Activate programme recently won a UK award at the National Career Awards Ceremony.

West Lothian Council has also won an award - a European Social Fund Best Practice award - for motivating pupils who have found mainstream education difficult. Their Alternative Curriculum programme involves a range of vocational activities to keep young people engaged in learning. Read the press release here.

Personal Learning Plans

A recent BBC story outlined the results of a survey, conducted for the Educational Institute of Scotland, about the piloting of personal learning plans (PLPs). The results indicated that teachers reported increased administrative workload and doubts about PLPs' benefits.

Progress on Ambitious, Excellent Schools

The Scottish Executive has published a report on the progress made in the Ambitious, Excellent Schools reforms.

A summary of the report is available here, or the full report is available here.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Highland Council to drop courses?

A BBC story reports that Education Minister Peter Peacock has expressed surprise that Highland Council has warned that paying for a new teachers' pay package means that schools may have to cut back on their existing curriculum. Highland Council's Director of Education has stated that it would be up to individual schools to reduce curriculum options such as some Advanced Highers.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

UN Condemns German School System

A BBC story reports that a UN special rapporteur has condemned Germany's school system after an eight-day inspection. The main problem, it seems, is that the education system selects children very early - at the age of ten - to go to either a grammar school or a vocational one.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Mixed report for Scottish education system

BBC News website today carries a story on a recent HMI report [PDF] on Scottish education. It is the first time the system has been examined from pre-school nurseries to further education colleges.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

English 'a threat to the UK'

A recent report by the British Council has concluded that the global dominance of English now poses a major threat to the UK's international standing. The advantage traditionally enjoyed by UK citizens is disappearing, as millions around the world can speak English and at least one other language. In India and China, the report found, English is not taught as a foreign language, but as a 'basic universal skill'.

The report's author said that UK students should be encouraged to learn languages of the future - such as Spanish, Mandarin, and Arabic.

Click here for the BBC story.

Use of VLEs in Higher Education

A report carried out by JISC and UCISA (University Colleges and Information Systems Association) takes a longitudinal perpective in comparing the use of Virtual Learning Environments for higher education between March 2001, March 2003, and March 2005.

Details of the survey are available here.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Students Should Choose Assessment Method

A study carried out by Manchester Metropolitan University, on behalf of the Learning and Skills Development Agency, has concluded that students studying for post-16 qualifications should be offered greater choice in how they are assessed. 'Assessment needs to be made more appropriate for particular subjects and qualifications.'

The review covered assessments carried out in sixth-forms, further education colleges, workplace training, and adult education. It found an over-reliance on traditional exams and written work and that there is too much emphasis on writing, rather than practical skills. A wider range of assessment methods - such as online testing - would perhaps motivate students more.

'...We are arguing for an assessment regime that is fit for purpose and supports learning rather than replaces it.'

The report - The impact of different modes of assessment on achievement - can be found on the LSDA website. Click here.

Students' Skills 'Worsening'

A recent BBC story reported that university admissions tutors and lecturers think that new students' skills in reading, communication, and thinking are increasingly worsening and many are suffering from 'assessment burn-out' as they arrive from school. Click here to read the story in full.

The university staff were questioned as part of the ongoing Nuffield Review of 14 to 19 education.

Meanwhile, on a related note, another BBC story reports that the Liberal Democrats are proposing that in England GCSEs and A-levels should be replaced by a national diploma. Scrapping the national curriculum after the age of 14, they say, would give schools the 'freedom to teach'. Click here for the article in full.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Wikis in education

SQA recently developed a new qualification in blogging [PDF] and took the unusual step of developing support material in the form of a wiki. The material is now available via Wikibooks. More information on the SQA blog.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Curriculum for the future

QCA produces occasional papers on the future of education. One of the recent papers was entitled "A curriculum for the future" [PDF] which explains how different subjects will change in the future. Some interesting ideas - although I was disappointed in the description of my own subject (ICT).

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Call for internet safety lessons

The University of Central Lancaster published a report today on the importance of teaching children how to use the Internet safely. The researchers discovered that most children are taught how to use IT - but the curriculum rarely explains the potential dangers or shows children how to use the Internet safely.

SQA has recently produced a new qualification entitled "Internet Safety" which is the first national qualification in Europe to focus on this aspect of Internet use.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Britons unconvinced on evolution

A recent poll shows that less than half of Britons accept evolution as the best explanation of how life developed on Earth. And 2 in 5 respondents want creationism and intelligent design taught in UK schools. These figures are lower than a similar American survey - when more than half of respondents expressed the view that God had created humans in their present form and 2 in 5 people wanted creationism taught instead of evolution.

East Ren's New Curricular Structure

Reports in last week's TES have John Wilson, East Renfrewshire's education director, denying earlier media reports that all their pupils are to sit Intermediates in S3.

He stressed that the new curricular structure was a response to A Curriculum for Excellence. The approach embraces flexibility and, while some pupils may sit Intermediates in S3, there is no plan to impose this on all pupils.

'The focus is not on age and stage, but rather on teachers assessing these kids and saying this is the appropriate course for them.'

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Music in Education

A BBC story 'Music 'as vital as the three R's' outlines a new study in England which reports that learning to play an instrument boosts the intelligence, teamworking and general well-being of children. This suggests that it's not just an valuable choice in its own right but also as a means to achieve broader educational objectives.

Here in Scotland, I'm sure that would be a view expressed by Music educationalists. The on-going curriculum renewal through the Curriculum for Excellence places an emphasis on enabling all young people to become 'successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors'. Good rounded members of society.

But couldn't many other teachers also claim that their specialism delivers broader gains than mere subject knowledge and skills?

Me, I learnt much more useful life-skills (such as taking care of myself and social skills) in Home Economics classes where the girls were in a big majority...

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Continued debate over phonics

The debate in England over the best way to approach early literacy teaching continues, as new research questions the conclusion that synthetic phonics teaching is more effective than the analytic method.

Research by the universities of York and Sheffield for the DfES found the evidence inconclusive and called for a large-scale trial. The DfES re-iterated that they advise that the teaching of phonics should be 'set within a broad and rich language curriculum.'

Click here for the BBC story.

Chinese in schools

First time posting, so we'll see how it goes...

While an estimated 100 schools in the UK are now teaching Mandarin, an independent school in East Sussex - Brighton College - has become the first in the UK to make Mandarin Chinese compulsory for pupils, alongside French, Spanish, and Latin.

The BBC story is available here.

GCSE entries for Mandarin and Cantonese increased to just below 4,000 entries in 2005, and while this is still small, increasing business links with China means that this is likely to increase substantially over the next decade or so.

Is there any demand or need for more Chinese courses in Scotland if we too are to keep up with the world's fourth-biggest economy?

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Hungry for Success with Health

Scottish Executive Education Department has published a baseline report about school meals and pupils' eating habits, which will be used for comparison with evaluation data acquired by research over the next few years. It is intended to help track the effectiveness of local implementation of SEED's 'Hungry for Success' policy which aims to improve the health of Scotland's young people.

Clearly there is a long way to go, and eating habits are slow to change. Today's edition of 'The Herald' newspaper has a story entitled "Health aside.. pizza and chips still top choice for pupils", which points out that children usually still opt for unhealthy foods and drinks.

Besides those kids that take school meals, what about all the rest who bring in food or (in secondary years) leave school premises to go and buy some.

A BBC story "School ban for chip vans mooted" suggests that local authorities may be given powers to prevent mobile food outlets operating near school premises. Would the kids not just walk down the road a bit further to get their junk food?

What about parents? If more people were persuaded not to fill their little darling's lunch box with chocolate biscuits, bags of crisps, and cans of sweet fizzy drinks, that would help.

I'm about to set a bad example. Time for coffee and a muffin..

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Schools 'twinned' to beat bigotry

This BBC story relates to the Scottish Executive's launch of further action against Sectarianism in Scotland. The Executive's own news release gives more detail. The full 'Action Plan on Tackling Sectarianism in Scotland' is online, and focuses on four areas: Education, Sport, Faith, and Marches and Parades.

One view:

Religious bigotry, principally between Protestants and Catholics and mainly in the West of Scotland, is a very unattractive feature of Scottish life. But it touches the lives of most Scots hardly at all, and is probably in a long-term decline as 'multi-cultural life' becomes more the norm across Scotland and the hard-line bigots die out.

Educational and other initiatives to address sectarianism have been around for some time, trying to change attitudes. For example, the Nil By Mouth campaign in Scottish football is well-established and works to reduce the incidence of intolerant individuals spoiling the pleasure of football for other people. And Learning and Teaching Scotland were behind an anti-sectarian education web resource in 2005.

One part of the action plan is to have more 'twinning' of catholic and non-denominational schools, to organise more joint events that bring children together from different communities.
The clear question that follows that is: why not take the logical next step and stop having separate schools labelled 'catholic' and 'non-denominational'? Create a reformed education system and let the young people truly mix and learn to live together.


I'm pretty much a Microsoft man. I use Windows and the Office suite pretty extensively - and Word, Excel and Outlook are great tools. Up until a few weeks ago, I used Internet Explorer for my Internet browsing. But I decided to give Mozilla Firefox a try - and I'm a convert. Tabbed browsing and the easy extended architecture make it a great information tool. Apart from tabbed browsing, it's small things that make the difference - for example, the way that a range of search engines are built into the browser (including Wikipedia and Internet Movie Database). The use of extensions pretty much accomplishes anything you want (just search for what you want and someone will probably have written an extension to do it). Most sites are Firefox friendly - but there's an extension to convert any page to IE format if you find a page that doesn't render correctly. The forthcoming version of Internet Explorer (IE7) includes tabbed browsing but right now FF appears to be a more effective information tool for educators than IE.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

BBC and e-learning

The BBC has launched the first phase of its keenly-anticipated 'Digital Curriculum' broadband service. Now branded as 'BBC Jam' , this service offers creative and innovative digital content and some tools to make better use of the material.

A BBC news story 'BBC curriculum gets kids to jam' provides background information.

My first impressions of two subjects were of some great stuff, so I'm looking forward to more in the future. Now let's get our teachers and students making use of the resources..

Physical exercise and computer game

The BBC story 'US pupils to dance themselves fit' reports on an initiative in West Virginia, USA. Following a succesful pilot project, the state is extending the use in middle schools of a computer game and electronic dance-mat. The teenagers move their bodies to match dance steps shown on screen, taking exercise and getting healthier. It's a neat way to address childhood obesity.

Given the obesity figures for Scottish children, would any of our Scottish schools like to try this?

Friday, January 27, 2006

Council fast-tracks exam pupils

Bobby linked to this BBC story which reports that East Renfrewshire Council will have a council-wide strategy of secondary school pupils starting their work towards SQA Intermediate exams early, to take their first exams at age 14.

I see the rationale behind this, that the S2 year (recognised as often undemanding and de-motivating) could have better use made of it, and that students would get longer working towards their Highers exams.

There are a few concerns:

1. That might suit bright and able teenagers, but what about the less-able young people who never reach the stage of taking Highers? Does this system write them off, or divert them into vocational classes?

2. This also implies that kids would have to choose which subjects to continue, and which to drop, at an even earlier stage - probably aged 13. Hard to make those kind of decisions so young.

3. Hard also for the teaching departments at school; they would have to persuade kids within just one year in S1 that their subjects were the ones to choose, or lose them to the subject for ever. Would the best teachers be put into S1 classes, to try to ensure that numbers were sustained for exam classes? Will exam grades then suffer, if the best teachers are in other classes?

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Internet serves as 'social glue'

Bobby linked to this BBC story, which covers some US research about the impact of the Internet on everyday life. The Pew Internet project found that Americans use the Internet extensively to maintain and extend their social networks, and to seek help advice and information when dealing with personal challenges - like healthcare, relationships, jobs, etc.

Its interesting reading. Are people in Scotland any different? Is the culture here less amenable to the benefits of life online?

My feeling is that we're maybe a year or so behind America still, in terms of both infrastructure development and social acceptance of the Internet's benefits and uses. The growth of services such as online dating and Internet poker in the UK demonstrates an acceptance of the Internet's value in certain circumstances.

For us in Scottish education, there's huge potential....


Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Is the iGeneration a myth?

I've never bought the argument that young people (the iGeneration) are naturally good at using IT. My own kids were brought up with computers - and can barely bookmark a webpage.

This article argues that the real difference between the generations has nothing to do with IT skills and more to do with media. This seems to be borne out by my own family - my children aren't particularly skilled with IT but they are incredibly comfortable with digital media.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Education - funding and effectiveness

Last week the Scottish Executive Education Department published details of expenditure on Scottish school education in 2004-05 and Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education published a report titled "Missing Out: a report on Children at risk of missing out on educational opportunities".

Expenditure is rising, but the long standing problem of a lack of attainment for many children living in poverty is not much changed. A BBC story "Pupils' performance gap widening" considers this.

It's not simply about money.

The relationship between social deprivation and educational achievement is clear but complex, and there is a need for a better measure of school effectiveness in terms of 'added-value'. Schools in deprived areas start in more difficult circumstances and may achieve a great deal with their pupils which is not well reflected in exam results.

Other commentators have picked on the issue of local authority and school leadership. Can strong leadership make a difference and overcome to some degree the problems caused by poor economic context?


Culture and Creativity in Scotland

Me, I'm a 'Culture Lover', so this made interesting reading. The Scottish Executive has laid out its plans for rejuvenating the cultural sector in Scotland, by publishing its response to last year's final review report from the Cultural Commission.

"Scotland's Culture: Scottish Executive Response on the Cultural Review" expresses the Executive's vision, the roles of national and local authorities, etc. And there are some significant changes in the plans, helpfully highlighted in a news release. Here's a few:

A new cultural development agency 'Creative Scotland' will be formed, by merging two existing public bodies - the Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Screen. Two very different organisations, one in Glasgow one in Edinburgh.

The new body will lose one responsibility, the funding of national performing companies such as Scottish Opera, which will be done directly by the Executive.

The national collections of Scotland will be expanded. If this means better resources for gems such as the excellent Scottish Screen Archive and better use of resources by all, I'll be pleased.

A new system of 'cultural rights' and entitlements for citizens will be introduced. This one is vague at the moment, and local authorities may not welcome a responsibility to provide services to meet local citizens' entitlements (and who decides what they are entitled to? the council or the consumer?) without extra funding.

Education is recognised as important, to support the development of a new generation of creative individuals. That's good news! And it fits with the on-going curriculum renewal process, and the emphasis in 'A Curriculum for Excellence' on young people as effective contributors, successful learners, etc.

Now we just have to make all of this a reality..

Science education

The BBC story "Science 'not for normal people'" outlines research which indicated one reason for many students opting out of science at school. Apparently, teenagers thought that scientists were not 'normal young and attractive men and women'.

That research was conducted in England, but I reckon Scottish teenagers (and many adults) would share the view that scientists are a bit odd and not the sexiest specimens around.

There are a lot of factors that influence the choices made by teenagers when choosing their subjects for exams/qualifications at age 13, but parental influence is a key one, and ideas about future jobs are another. Widespread public perception that scientists are unattractive nerds is a significant hurdle to overcome, and makes it essential to have activity and campaigns to persuade children and adults otherwise.

NESTA does some good work on Science education projects and the public communication of science. For example, Planet Science is a great resource.

Scottish Executive Education Department has also supported science education in Scottish schools through initiatives such as 'Improving Science Education 5-14'.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

New e-assessment glossary

A new glossary of terms used within e-assessment might standardise the use of terminology within this developing area.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

The Socratic Method

The Socratic method involves learning through questioning. This example illustrates the technique by using questionning to teach binary. Not a great example but a useful reminder of a powerful teaching method.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Physical Education in Scottish schools

The Scottish Executive Education Department has published statistics about the state and extent of PE in our schools. The report 'Progress towards the recommendations of the Physical Education Review Group' reveals some progress, like a growth in teacher numbers and teacher-trainees, but also weaknesses.

A SEED news release highlights one significant problem. School children are rarely getting enough time actually doing some physical activity in school. (a minimum of two hours per week is the target). A BBC story 'Minister exercised over PE issue' covers this point and the varied responses of the Education authorities to the shortfall in provision.

In many places there isn't much out-of-school hours sport either. And parents can't avoid their responsibilities towards the eating and drinking behaviour of their children, and the lack of exercise they take. Combining a lack of physical activity with a poor diet, it's no wonder that the childhood obesity figures for Scotland are a national disgrace.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Education Podcast Network

The Education Podcast Network is a website that includes links to a large number of educational podcasts.

BBC jam launches this month

The BBC's Digital Curriculum initiative is due to launch this month. It has been re-titled BBC jam. Given the BBC's track record in multimedia, we can expect some high quality learning materials that can be used within the Scottish curriculum.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Computer games - more

For anyone interested in the potential of computer games for learning in the UK, NESTA Futurelab does a lot of research into ICT and learning, and they have a very useful 'Games and Learning' handbook among their publications.

I visited their exhibition stand at the BETT show in London last week, and their staff showed off some of the activities and simulations developed through their projects. The 'Mudlarking in Deptford' project was one I liked, using mobile technologies to engage with the environment and history of their area through creation of a multimedia tour.

Up in Scotland, John Kirriemuir is a 'veteran' researcher and consultant on games in learning, with a website and the Silversprite blog.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

59% of teachers would consider using video games in schools

Given that one of my daughters has learnt most of her social skills on The Sims (she lectures me and her mother regularly), I'm not surprised that 60% of teachers appreciate the educational benefit of computer games.


I'm a believer in the benefits of computer games for learning too, but I wouldnt want my kids learning their driving skills from 'Need for Speed' ....


Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Crash course in learning theory

'Digitally challenged' people wanted

A BBC story 'Technophobes wanted for research' reports that Dundee University researchers are looking for volunteers over 40 who find it hard to cope with digital technology devices. It wants to explore how fear of change can be reduced by making devices much simpler to use.

Any Scottish teachers out there who'd like to volunteer? I'm tempted myself, the latest mobile phones are beyond my capacity...

Monday, January 09, 2006

Contributors wanted

This blog has been on the go for a few months now and the readership is slowly growing. There are now three contributors - but the original idea was to have lots of contributors so we're looking for more volunteers.

The only criteria are that you have an interest in Scottish education and you can occasionally post links to interesting stories and useful resources. You can get a flavour of the sorts of posts by reading the existing blog. Don't worry if you have never blogged before - posting a message is simple.

Drop me an e-mail if you want to become a contributor.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Web competition on Diplomacy

The US government State Department is sponsoring the 'Doors to Diplomacy' competition for 13-19 year olds from any country (so why not Scottish teenagers!) , encouraging students to produce web projects about the importance of good international relations, global issues, etc.
The previous years of the contest have generated good websites on subjects such as hunger and famine, health, security, etc. The closing date is 17th March 2006.

The competition is run through Global Schoolnet, an American educational foundation with a track-record of worthwhile internet projects.

Friday, January 06, 2006

New Year's resolution

One of my New Year's resolutions is to contribute to Wikipedia.

Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia which anyone can contribute to. As a result, it's growing at a phenomenal rate and is very up to date. It's a fantastic educational resource - but not without its critics (ironically documented by Wikipedia).

I've made one or two contributions already but intend to write more in 2006. It would be good if more Scottish educationalists contributed.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

The future of assessment and learning?

The Exam on Demand Advisory Group produces occasional papers on e-assessment. Its latest paper is entitled The Development of E-Assessment 2004 to 2014 [PDF]. It speculates on how e-learning and e-assessment will affect schools, colleges, awarding bodies and regulators during the next few years.

I think that it's a bit optimistic about what can be acheived in the next eight years but it makes bold predictions about the future - many of which will come true.

Personal laptops

Individual personal access to a laptop or other computing device for every student (and teacher) is seen as essential by some educators. Having guarenteed access, ideally with wireless Internet access to networked resources too, would enable greater achievement of the potential of ICT for learning.

Not everyone is convinced: There are lots of other demands on education expenditure, and not all local politicians and education managers are convinced of the cost-benefit proposition; a risk of over-exposure to ICT worries some teachers and parents;

No Scottish education authority has yet implemented a personal access strategy, although several have aspirations. Small scale projects with laptops and handheld computers in cities such as Dundee and Glasgow have not been continued.

An October 2005 BBC story "Diary of a laptop school pupil" descibed the life of a teenager at a High School in Arizona, USA, who makes extensive use of ICT with positive attitude.

A new story in USA today "Schools ask parents to pay up before kids log on" reports on a California elementary school's experience with laptops for younger kids and the local digital inclusion issues.