Educational Technology Blog

Election day: The student based solution

On a day like today, it seems unusual to write something about education. However, things have changed since my previous post about how nurses mattered in the election, but teachers didn’t.

Education has risen back up the agenda, with the Guardian featuring The Latymer School for a second time regarding the funding crisis. Teachers need to think about the government they want, and the direction that education will take over the next term. Some say that teachers have allowed themselves and the profession to be run down over the last few years – perhaps teachers need to get out and provide a counterpoint to this argument. We can all agree that teachers and teaching is important, but the wide range of the role (including the prevent agenda) alongside tightening budget is putting several parallel arguments into focus as we move into the election.

However the actual problem in education might be that; the students don’t seem to care.


Are we doing all we can in tutor time and throughout the school day to make sure that students know what is going on in the world, and what effect it might have on their future?

Here are a great selection of resources to help out your students: remember that youth is our future, and outside your subject we need to promote voting and democracy.

Worksheets:

https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/general-election-2017-worksheets-pack-ks3-11576210

Full pack:

https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/general-election-2017-pack-11576314

A thing worth having is worth cheating for

The Guardian published an article titled I’m teaching – and I’m cheating. But why would any teacher cheat?.

I actually think that teachers, more or less, have to cheat to stay in the profession. This may be controversial, but in the profession there are perverse incentives that have unintended consequences for cooperation and professional standards:

  • Schools have league tables that result in a zero sum game; the success of one school naturally impacts on the relative placing of another. Schools are effectively disincentivised from helping each other. Teachers have pressure to help be part of the team and pull their weight making the school successful.
  • Results are an important part of OFSTED inspections. To deliver good results, senior management may put pressure on teachers even in some cases encouraging direct cheating.
  • Teachers are measured against colleagues, and often are compared irrespective of experience. A teacher with 15 years of experience should deliver better results than a new teacher, but there is no clear methodology for defining how much better the results should be.
  • Teachers are measured by results and are subject to performance related pay. If student results are better, teachers are more likely to progress up the pay scale.

Some might say that teachers are in the profession to help students, and should not be influenced by pay. This is a misunderstanding of how motivation works, but also ignores the fact that teaching performance is measured on student outcome rather than intangible factors.

If teachers are part of a caring profession, they care for others around them. They want successful students and to work for a successful school. They are encouraged to cheat. The fact that is surprising is perhaps the most surprising thing of all.

The Fidget Spinners myth

If you want a teacher’s guide to fidget spinners download from TES, or perhaps try an interactive probability lesson for just £3 (FREE if you use the code MEGA-MAY)

Fidget spinners are a new toy, and are being banned in schools around the world due to the noise they make and possible disruption to classes. Some teachers allow them, as the teacher feels that they are harmless and to allow students to bring a small toy into class as a comforter.

That is where the story should end. However schools have at times found it difficult to ban the toys due to anger of parents because they say the spinners help with ASD/SPD or ADHD, in fact the following article http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/whats-on/family-kids-news/schools-ban-fidget-spinners-cubes-12946235 but stay away from the comments if you would like to preserve your sanity.

The difficulty is that people are referring to therapeutic value, and even dramatically improve learning and behaviour. It should be clearly noted that there is no evidence that fidget spinners help those with ADHD; the closest I can find is a study about autistic students and communication therapy or a poor article from Time that does not back up hand held sensory devices.

Why should anyone care? Well there is money and a misallocation of time.

Wasted money

As part of a discussion on a teachers forum it is apparent that sites like suelarky sell items called sensory tools with claims like:

“A small ‘fidget toy’ in the hand of a majority of children with ASD will dramatically improve their learning and behaviour.”

promising their products will help student, at a cost to schools of course that could be better spent on resources that actually help students.

Ineffective practice

Teachers spending time on things that just don’t work is a problem. During a training course a young teacher told the group that she based her teaching on preferred learning styles. This is known to be a myth of education and after I raised it the course leader referred to it as controversial (it isn’t, it just doesn’t work). The issue is that teacher may keep applying a theory that doesn’t help students and spend less time on things that don’t work as a consequence which is a tragedy for all involved (I’m still angry about this).

The same applies to sensory toys. Teachers are perhaps letting some students use these toys due to the claimed benefits, and banning them from others. There is no reason to give the toys to any students, so the choice may either be arbitrary or as (amazingly) a reward for poor behaviour.

Energy will be spent by SEN departments choosing whether or not to give permission to use the toys to individual students, meetings with angry parents who demand that the child uses the toy as it helps them…the effort and work involved goes on.

Taking advantage

Teachers are in a vulnerable position in that there are many myths in education, and teachers do not necessarily have the time to investigate the research around new tools and theories in education. Teachers have a difficult job, and the exploitation of teachers and the grabbing the money in education is not the way that businesses should work. We should be beyond snake oil salespeople, or we are going backwards in business.

 

suelarky have been contacted for comment, and are yet to do so.

Nurses matter in the General Election, but teachers don’t

The TES homepage has a large banner saying “I want to Teach”. Fewer people want to be teachers (at least more people are considering leaving the profession), but the Labour party are considering increasing the pay of nurses while leaving teachers’ pay at the current proposed levels.

In teaching, there is a cap on pay increases of 1% up until 2019-20. It should be made clear that not all teachers achieve this 1% increase (due to performance related pay). A similar pay cap is in force for nurses, who are also subject to performance related pay.

The Labour party have committed to increase pay for nurses if they win the general election, who were subject to a similar pay cap.

Why would nurses be in line for a pay increase as part of a manifesto pledge, but not teachers?

The cost of implementing a pay increase for the two professions is likely to be similar, and in general both professions can be considered as passion professions. But the similarities run deep:

Teaching Nursing
Gender 26% of teachers are men, 74% are women 20% of nurses are men, 80% are women
Number of staff 512,000 teachers 675,000 nurses
Average salary £28,660 £25,820

Looking at the figures it is unlikely to be the cost of implementing the policy, why would a party focus on nursing rather than teaching?

The fantastic Tribe by Sebastian Junger proposes that

“Jobs that are directly observable by the public, like construction, tend to be less respected and well paid than jobs that happen behind closed doors.”

Clearly everyone has met many teachers during their lives, and there seems to be no air of mystery about the profession. At parents evening parents sometimes feel free to openly challenge teachers that they are delivering the wrong material, in the wrong way and perhaps not supporting their child.

The reason that teaching is becoming a less compelling profession is perhaps the same reason that teaching will not see pay increase for the foreseeable future. The perception of some is that you don’t need a qualification, Google Classroom allows anyone to be a teacher and a poor general perception of teaching.

This analysis has not mentioned the tedious discussion around teacher holidays. In my experience more teachers are expected to teach extra classes during the holiday, and irrespective of that teachers work during the holiday.

Historically teachers have not been valued, and this is reflected in the current general election campaign. The crucial question has been; why would someone with a Masters degree choose to be a teacher with the starting salary of £19,600, low public respect and glacial career progression. The answer, as TES say, is I want to teach.

 

StudeApps create EdTech mobile applications and teaching resources, including General election resources on TES.

 


OECD’s opinion on performance related pay: http://www.oecd.org/pisa/pisaproducts/pisainfocus/50328990.pdf

Gender of nurses: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Men_in_nursing

Gender of teachers: http://www.bbc.com/news/education-37552056

Number of nurses: https://www.statista.com/statistics/318922/number-of-nurses-in-the-uk/

Number of teachers: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/patrick-hayes/teacher-shortage_b_9319692.html

Average teacher salary : http://gazettereview.com/2017/03/average-teacher-salary-uk-how-much-does-a-teacher-in-the-united-kingdom-make/

Average nurse salary: https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/uk-nursing-salary-SRCH_IL.0,2_IN2_KO3,10.htm

Schools have a confusing mess of software and hardware: This is why schools don’t plan their digital future

The complexity of schools and the systems they run is a problem when we consider digital learning and Edtech tools.

As more schools implement G Suite for Education or Microsoft Classroom, little thought goes into the future maintenance of the systems and how training needs to be implemented into what, ideally, should be a major project that changes the work of many people within the school.

The following rich picture shows some of the wider picture that a school leader would need to take into account when they are looking at their digital learning system.

Interestingly the school featured in the diagram above did not have G Suite (Google Apps for Education), but it should be something every school either considers or have a strategy to update their digital strategy (Microsoft Classroom is a great alternative to this).

The issue is that schools often have legacy or poorly maintained systems. Previously schools might have implemented quick and easy solutions to enable staff and students to access files and work from home, Home Access Plus (HAP+) is just such a system, and although not common within schools it has been implemented by some schools. Any system that offers great functionality without great amounts of development or implementation time may seem like a great solution for senior staff.

Taking HAP+ as a case in point, it has been created by a handful of people (a coordinator and developer are listed on the people page of the codeplex site above, yet the status of the project (it is hosted on CodePlex, which is being shutdown this year for a start). This might explain why the software struggles with mobile devices, which are exactly the platform that people would want to use to access their work. In short: software that seems easy to implement might not be the right solution, and may go out of date quickly (with nobody to contact to help support it). Schools making such decisions may keep using inadequate software for many years, providing a sub-optimal experience for staff and students alike.

Software needs teachers to be involved before they are expected to use it. Few companies (although those that pursue this strategy do exist) would implement software like HAP+ that their organisation depends upon. Crucially work does not take place that takes account of the existing digital landscape in schools. The result of this might be a mess of the type shown below:

 

 

A strategy should be looked at for schools to implement both hardware and software solutions to prevent this type of system –  where there are two pieces of software (Fronter and HAP+) that teachers did not know the difference between, what they were using or why (or even how to ask help for the system they were using).

A strategy guide for schools to take back control from technologists might be to follow the following guidelines;

  • Focus on education
  • Analyse needs
  • Do research
  • Don’t save money in the short term at the expense of the long term
  • Ask for help
  • Customise if you need to
  • Make sure you can integrate your new software and hardware
  • Get everyone on-board
  • Communicate

The focus on education is, obviously at the heart of everything schools do. However, if schools are led by teachers who see technology as a bolt-on they may well approach software as a simple sticking plaster to fix a problem. Schools should be in a position to plan their technology, especially since training time is very limited within the school term (some schools I have worked at only provide training for technology during September meaning any technology rollout during the school year would be restricted to voluntary training session, which are typically only attended by the most able to use the software in any case.

The advantage of planned rollouts is clear, but schools still struggle to take advantage of them due to lack of foresight from SLT who may not have experience from previous rollouts.

The Teacher Transfer System: A Crisis In School Recruitment

In the UK teachers at state schools have a series of resignation dates: currently (as defined in a document referred to as the Burgundy Book)

To leave at.. Resignation date
31st December (Autumn term) 31st October
30th April (Spring Term) 28th February (or 29th)
31st August (Summer Term) 31st May

 

The time just before Easter and the summer are reminiscent of the football transfer window; teachers can only move at a certain time of the year and they are stuck unless they can find a new suitable position.

In other parts of the world the rules can be more stringent, in parts of Asia teachers can only move during after the summer (and must present their notice the previous December).

The reason football teams have a transfer window is to keep the sport exciting, and to have a settled team for most of the year. This prevents a wealthy team seeing they have a chance of the championship buying players at the last minute to boost their chances.

Schools put somebody into place to be able to deliver classes and lessons to classes. This is important because schools are there for the education of students, if nothing else you need a body in front of a class day in day out. Teachers not currently in a position can be employed outside the resignation dates as by definition these teachers do not have to resign from a previous post; however, there is a fear that these are the dregs of the available talent pool and may head teachers opt for temporary staff when in this position.

It is possible for teachers to have three or more interviews crammed into the last few days before the resignation date as a rushed form of musical chairs takes place. This takes teachers out of the classroom during important revision sessions. Teachers who want to move have a limited time to make their wishes come true, while schools become desperate to fill available vacancies perhaps being satisfied with any candidate on offer.

This March the clamour for the best staff seems more fraught than ever, as teachers who leave the profession are not being replenished by new staff. The Guardian reported in 2014 that 20% of secondary teachers are under 30. Teaching in the UK is becoming a young profession where people stay working for a few years before they can find a career that does not demand a 60 hour working week.

We are working on a series of lessons and Apps to make the lives of teachers easier.

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