About Us

Maths

The echoes from the UK’s rather modest performance in the PISA tests, and in Mathematics in particular, continue to reverberate.
 
The often excellent Simon Jenkins recently produced one of the wildest articles I have read for some years; the piece is so weak in reasoning terms that I would be embarrassed to show it, even as an exercise in logical criticism, to a group of A level Critical Thinking students.
http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/feb/18/maths-more-pointless-than-latin-british-pupils-china
(Notice the obligatory and misplaced reference to Gradgrind, the supposed architect of education by rote learning – see my December 2012 blog entry for a detailed discussion of the misuse of this particular insult from the Dickensian masterpiece ‘Hard Times’).

Read more ...

A Good Lesson

A teacher nearing the end of their career at Birkdale will have taught around forty thousand 40 minute periods (many as double lessons), and taught perhaps four thousand different students. 
 
A typical student joining Birkdale at age 11 and leaving at the end of the U6 will have attended around nine thousand periods and been taught by perhaps forty different teachers.
 
It occurred to me that it must be possible to mine this huge collective experience for nuggets of good practice; insights that could be shared between teachers to the benefit of all.  Extrapolating this idea further, what studies had been done nationally or even internationally on the success of different approaches to teaching and learning?

Read more ...

Brains and Learning

It seems an obvious truism that teachers should embrace new insights from neuroscience into how their students learn.  Increasingly sensitive and sophisticated scanning techniques seem destined to uncover how learning occurs at a cellular level.  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-25627739 .  This should allow different techniques for learning and different learning environments to be compared, even if the unfortunate experimental subject must learn with their head in the confined space and strong magnetic field of the interior of a brain scanner. 

Read more ...

PISA - Could do better

The end of term has brought me a little more time and with it the opportunity to write some brief comments about the PISA tests (Programme for International Student Assessment) and the global educational league tables produced from them every 3 years.  The news for the UK, it seems, is not good with the nation’s performance largely unchanged from the previous tests in 2006 and 2009 with dynamic Asian nations zooming ahead of the sluggish Western states.  In Maths, Reading and Science the UK stands at 26th, 23rd and 21st respectively out of 65 participating countries although statistical limitations mean that we could easily be 4 places higher or lower in any given list.  The UK’s key findings can be found here http://www.oecd.org/pisa/keyfindings/PISA-2012-results-UK.pdf

Read more ...

Predicting Grades

A recent examination board survey found that ‘most A level predicted grades were wrong’ with ‘only’ 48% (pretty much half?) being accurate.  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-24625972 Delving a little deeper into the research, however, reveals that 90% were either correct or out by one grade and that forecasts of the highest A and A* grades, crucial for competitive university entry were more accurate than the averages presented above (presumably forecasts of the lower grades were less accurate).  The survey found that independent schools were most likely to be accurate, perhaps because the generally smaller environments allow the teachers to know the students extremely well.

Read more ...

Transition

Twice a week I have lunch with a small group of pupils.  One pupil is chosen, largely at random, and is invited to bring some friends to offer support and help sustain conversation.  Once adolescent shyness is overcome these are pleasant and, for me at least, quite informative events.  Unusual facts are unearthed; curious hobbies are celebrated and vigorous opinions are voiced.  I particularly enjoyed my first lunch this term with a group of Year 7 pupils (S1 in Birkdale parlance) as I was able to enquire about their experience of joining the school.  The boys are pleasingly positive about the experience, at least to me, although they were quick to articulate their pre-term fears: getting lost, getting into trouble with the teachers and struggling to make friends.

Read more ...

Climbing Trees

Last week I had the dubious pleasure of being part of a group of Head Teachers addressed by the formidable Sir Michael Wilshaw, Chief Inspector of Schools and Head of Ofsted. 
 
My suspicions were aroused by his introductory comments characterising himself as a plain speaking and direct man; whilst familiar with a fair amount of plain speaking through immersion in South Yorkshire culture, I have usually found that people who begin their speeches in this way do so as a pre-emptive justification for outright rudeness.  The BBC journalist described the atmosphere as ‘frosty’ (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-24367150); I would have chosen a more robust adjective.

Read more ...

Is University Worth It?

A number of parents have asked me recently for a frank answer about whether it is worth their offspring attending university; the eye-watering figures for the total cost quoted in the media are certainly sufficient to give one pause for thought.  For those without the appetite for the financial detail below, the answer is ‘yes’ at least for the majority of students.  If you are in numerate mood and feeling calm then read on …

Read more ...

Learning

The annual educational cycle has begun once more with the ritual first assembly of the new academic year safely completed.  The first assembly affords the Head Master the opportunity to extend a formal but genuinely warm welcome to the new and understandably nervous students whilst also seeking to establish an unassailable understanding in young minds of the school’s high expectations of their approach to learning and to behaviour within the school community.  This is a difficult balance to strike and if achieved at all probably relies upon body language and tone of voice as much as content.  I usually talk about learning as it seems the best way of setting the priorities for the coming year for a school community.  (Perhaps next year I will do something completely different, thus unsettling the staff.) 

Read more ...

Holidays


The long school summer holiday is under scrutiny again with renewed interest in reform sparked by the news that individual maintained sector schools will be free to set their own term dates.  It is unclear how many schools will actually take advantage of this freedom given the undesirable consequence of parents finding that siblings in different schools have different holidays.  Some pioneers have pressed ahead, however, reducing the summer holiday to 4 weeks and extending the half terms to give more regular bursts of school and holiday throughout the year.  The schools concerned are enthusiastic about the reform declaring that students forget what they have learned during a long break and that shorter terms ensure that they are fresher and more motivated to learn without the cumulative exhaustion that can affect students and teachers at the end of a long term.  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-23145179

Read more ...

Pass or Fail

The debate over how to overhaul the GCSE examination has produced a marvellously large number of new proposals.  The outline seems clear enough with harder tests sat at the end of the courses featuring longer essay questions and an abolition of or at least a reduction in coursework.  The strangest feature of the debate is that far more pixels have been spilled (wasted? blackened? addressed?) upon the nature of the examinations than on the curriculum (the skills and knowledge to be taught before the exam is taken) or the teaching methods to be used.  (This is not true for History where a lively and entertainingly ill-tempered argument over how and what to teach is flourishing http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-21600298 .  This may partly be a function of the nature of the historical community which is characterised by healthy and impassioned debate).  It is curious, however, that the measurement of progress has become of greater significance than the progress itself. 

Read more ...

Children's Hospital Charity

EcoSchools

GSGS
GSGS

hmc

iaps

ISC