education

Berlin to Brazil – it’s all about teachers

Brazil is famous for great food, and great people.  The latter was in evidence for a rich discussion I led at the think tank, Instituto Fernando Henrique Cardoso in São Paulo on Friday.

I was asked to stimulate a discussion based on reflections on how to improve schools systems.  This was a great opportunity to pull together some of the thinking from my attendance at the World Education Symposium in Berlin and the Education Fast Forward debate two weeks ago, at the Oppi Festival in New York last week and now at Bett in Brazil.  In that time I had been lucky enough to hear from the likes of Howard Reingold, Andreas Schleicher, Randi Weingarten, Andy Hargreaves, Pasi Sahlberg, and Taylor Mali.

First, it is clear that the conflict between education and learning applies across the world.  In this rapidly changing world, people are learning in new ways outside formal education.  Schooling and qualifications are struggling to keep up and to keep learning relevant to the real world.

The coincidence of the 21st century skills demanded by employers, and the learning styles that young people gravitate to is profound. This opportunity is being largely ignored because it is inconvenient for high stakes accountability systems as it is harder to test.  It also requires some new pedagogy from teachers.

The highest performing jurisdictions of Singapore, Shanghai and Hong Kong are, however, the most innovative. They are designing creativity into their systems.

Secondly, politicians are easily distracted by what doesn’t work at a system level.

Parental choice and new school structures are yet to work at a system level.  Chile, Sweden, the US and the UK show that, whilst there may be innovative schools, it is not raising standards at a system level.

Quality teaching is more important than class sizes or technology.

Thirdly, what is important is great teaching.

“We uplift the people we serve by uplifting the people that serve them” – Prof Andy Hargreaves

The jurisdictions that perform well focus on:

  • great initial teacher training, with recruits from a range of academic backgrounds
  • strong career routes for teachers, and not just into leadership
  • embedded professional development with time for reflection, feedback and collaboration
  • collaborative teacher networks
  • strong leadership of teaching

This is encouraging for my work at TES.  Our collaborative teacher network for sharing resources is growing all the time. Our  Courses are proving popular and are pioneering a new socially based online professional development.  I continue to think about how we might further develop those but also what more should be done on ITT, on teacher careers and leadership development.

And finally here is Taylor Mali performing at Oppi

2015-05-16 11.01.55 from Jim Knight on Vimeo.

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Politics

Too many unknowns – the Labour leadership

The Labour Party is less than a week from a shattering election defeat, and already the leadership election appears to be in full swing. Soundings are being taken, domain names registered, and backers recruited. But is the party in a position to choose the right candidate to lead it to victory in five years time?

What do we know about the 2020 election?

It will be held on 7th May 2020.

The world and the country will be a very different place five years on. Politically, we will have had the EU referendum. If we vote to leave there are huge political implications, not least the potential for Scotland to leave the UK in order to stay in the EU.

We also know that by 2020 there will be a new leader of the Conservative party, and therefore a new Prime Minister with a new leader bounce.

Plenty more will have changed. What will be the state of our economy, our public services, our security? If Labour needs a new leader to appeal beyond former coalfield areas, university towns and London, can we predict now the politics of coast and country five years out?

In any other walk of life the new leader would be appointed for around three years. She or he would stabilize the party, lead an effective Parliamentary opposition, and build a good electoral platform through the Scottish elections, the London mayoral elections and the EU Referendum.

There is much to do in terms of listening to neglected parts of the country, raising money, succession planning and changing the party structures to reflect the fragmentation of British politics.

When Tony Blair won in 1997 he had been leader for three years – not a full Parliament. John Smith had done vital preparatory work such as OMOV before he tragically died. This made Tony’s job and reforms considerably easier.

My political friends will call me naïve. But I would love to have a candidate declare that he or she will do the job we need doing for the next two or three years and then will open up a new leadership election. He or she may run again and can be judged on a record of reviving the party’s fortunes, and in comparison with the likely new Prime Minister.

The upside is that those who are dismissed as experienced but too associated with the past, have the chance to use that experience and maybe redefine themselves as leaders for the future. It would also give a chance for candidates that offer a break from the past to build experience and prove through campaigning around the country that they are the one to win in 2020.

The downside is if it became a three-year feeding frenzy for journalists. Potential leaders would need to know they would be judged on their discipline, their positive record and their ability to work with colleagues.

This is not a proposal for a caretaker leader. It is a proposal for a renewable fixed term contract. It is counter cultural, but with the known known of the next General Election and the very many known unknowns of the next five years, I think it may work.

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education

Is Democracy Good for Learning?

As the UK woke up to the political earthquake of the General Election, I was in Berlin listening to the OECD’s education guru Andreas Schleicher. As the architect of PISA test and the TALIS teacher survey he regularly gives great new insights evidenced by data.

Andreas told us some of the things that work in the best performing school systems such as Singapore and Shanghai. Here there is significant investment in teacher capacity, rewarding them well, giving them time for preparation and training funded by larger class sizes, and running a longer learning day with more self directed learning.

He has clear evidence that this focus on teaching capacity works and yet these important findings are not applied in most Western jurisdictions. Incidentally, he also finds more evidence of innovation in the leading Asian systems.

It would have been inappropriate for him, as an OECD official, to point out that the successful Asian jurisdictions were less democratic. However he added a couple of other things. He said that short electoral cycles can be a problem and that politicians are more likely to do what is urgent than what is important. He also pointed out that school choice tends to make no difference because many parents are interested in more than just academic performance – such as school neighbourhood. Andreas was speaking at the inaugural world education summit organised by the Robert Bosch Stiftung.

The previous day I also took part in the 13th Education Fast Forward debate which discussed the challenge of developing 21st Century skills in schools (such as creative, collaborative, & presentation skills). Both discussions were coming to a similar conclusion.

Howard Reingold strikingly suggested in the EFF13 debate that there is a growing conflict between education and learning, that our qualifications and schooling are hampering the development of learning. He suggested that whilst in times of stability the older generation should be passing on what it knows to young people, at times of rapid change – like now – the older generation should be passing to young people the skills to direct their own learning.

This sentiment was reinforced in Berlin by speakers from Australia, India, the U.S. and Asia.

We can carry on trying to improve the system we’ve been tinkering with for the last 70 years, and nothing will really change. Or we can design a new system based around great teaching that at its heart coaches learning.

And so I came full circle in my mind. This change in teaching may be the right thing to do that ignites the fire of learning that we need for our children to thrive. If so it is really important. But implementing the change would take much longer than a five year electoral cycle and parents, employers and teachers would all need to be persuaded to support it to sustain it.

Meanwhile countries who don’t worry so much about democratic consent are just getting on with it and gaining a competitive advantage.

But I am first and foremost a democrat. Coming back to the UK, I have to accept our election outcome.

I congratulate Nicky Morgan on being re-appointed as Secretary of State for Education. My advice to her is to focus on what is important. In this case it is both important and urgent to address teacher capacity, especially recruitment and development. Here she can build on her record, learn from the best in the world, and many of us on the left of education politics will happily work with her on that vital agenda.

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