Some of my blogs have moved home.

April 24, 2017

This is the home of my blogs on education, learning and schooling.

See my website for publications, evidence, research links and descriptions of digital learners, digital teachers and digital schools.

For blogs on other topics see


School 2050

April 24, 2022

40 years ago the pioneers of the use of computers in schools were convinced that the digital revolution was going to cause major changes in how schools operate and learning happens. As one of those pioneers I have held this view and fought to make it happen throughout my career, as have many of my colleagues.

But it hasn’t happened. The experience of young people in schools today is not very much different from 50 years ago and despite the surge in online learning during the covid pandemic most schools and education systems continue to resist any significant changes. Governments are trying hard to return to the status quo of national curricula and standardised tests, with schools organised pretty much as they have been for 100 years.

At 73 yrs old I could just accept that my vision for improved learning and schooling isn’t going to happen and also accept I have had little real impact in my career. However there are signs that what I got wrong was just the timescale. Just about every other area of society has been radically changed by digital and that change is accelerating. And when you look closely at schooling the resistance to change is not sustainable. And the longer schooling does resist, the more disruptive will be the change when it does come. “Schooling” by the way refers to the whole educational experience of young people.

So, together with Mal Lee, I have decided to try to help schools see, understand and work towards the changes that will inevitably come. “School 2050” is in preparation, a book for publication later in 2022 or early 2023.

Understanding what changes will happen and why is not a simple matter of looking at the affordances of digital and suggesting what could happen. That approach has been shown not to work on most schools and governments. What has to be done is to analyse what changes WILL happen, outside of, around and underneath how schooling operates, and to work out what the impact on schools is likely to be.

Predicting the future is not easy and we will likely be wrong, but you can’t predict the future by looking in the rear view mirror. You have to look for what is visible but not being seen by the majority. There are a few books that have done this well. Ray Kurzweil’s “inevitable Surprises” springs to mind. As does Marshall McLuhan’s “Understanding Media”. It is the underlying changes in the world being driven by the digital revolution that will eventually force schools to change, as certain things that happen in schooling now cease to be viable or become laughable.

Mal and I will be creating blogs and other output as we further research all the harbingers of change, that have become apparent during the research for our previously published works.

Government control of schooling

January 3, 2021

With the DfE taking another step towards control of all aspects of our schools, with the announcement it is setting up a new ‘Institute of Teaching’ I feel it is time to explore more deeply what is the drive behind all this. So have just re-read Nick Gibb’s 2017 speech ‘The importance of knowledge-based education’ (

There is deep antipathy between the approach conservative ministers wish to impose on schools and that advocated by many in education. There are of course those in education who agree and the government has gathered these people around themselves to justify their approaches – Gibb’s speech is full of references to schools and headteachers who agree with him. If we wish to argue against the government’s approach we must also be able to argue against these educators, who have got themselves into prominent and influential positions by going along with the government line.

Gibb is actually very open about the differences in views, talking about the independent review of the primary curriculum as recommending it should “place less emphasis on subject areas and a greater emphasis on so-called areas of learning and development:

personal, social and emotional development
communication, language and literacy
problem solving, reasoning and numeracy
knowledge and understanding of the world
physical development
creative development”

Notice the insertion of “…so called…”. He is effectively saying that these areas of development are not valid aims of education and are much less valuable than the academic knowledge he goes on to argue should be at the centre of the curriculum.

It is also interesting to look back at Tim Oates, see slides 36 and 37 for what he presented to the Secretary of State in 2010 ( Note the statement “Assessment operationalises understandings of the specifics of the curriculum”.

Having had some exposure to the DfE and Education Ministers one can guess how a presentation such as Tim Oates’s is received and discussed by ministers. They talk about ‘levers’, needing big levers to create big changes. They can’t create change directly in schools. And you have to understand what will get ministers into trouble with the prime minister, which is negative headlines. Specifically negative headlines that are quantified so the government can be chastised for falling standards nationally and in PISA scores. Headlines based on soft data, such as surveys of pupil well-being declining or a shortage of employees in creative industries are annoying but can be brushed aside pretty easily. And have you noticed how the headlines always focus on percentage achieving and percentage of A grades, never percentage failing and the long tail of under-achievement.

It is easy to see where the absolute importance of exams to DfE and Ministers has come from. You cannot easily measure most areas of learning development. You can measure knowledge acquired and tested in exams. So two big levers are the examinations/SATS system and Ofsted to force schools to prioritise exam/SATS scores. But if a lot of headteachers still give a lot of time to areas of learning and development, you need a lever to get more schools making exam scores the top priority. Hence the lever of academy chains that can be entrusted to leaders who are also on the academic knowledge side of the academic knowledge versus areas of learning and development debate. This is not a debate in the sense of one or the other, everyone knows it is a balance, but it is a debate as regards the best approach to get all young people to the greatest achievements. Those prioritising knowledge want to start pushing it into children as early as possible, as we have seen in the early years curriculum debate. Those prioritising development know that huge amounts of knowledge can be acquired very fast if the desire and learning skills are there. And we do have quite a lot of research on how little knowledge learnt at school is retained.

The expert educators Gibb brings to bear and quotes are educators who have achieved and who prize deep academic knowledge. There is nothing wrong with this except that it is just one way of understanding and being successful in the world. And not necessarily the best, particularly in our digital and connected times with knowledge exploding around us. For example he quotes Ian Baukham who did a review of modern foreign language pedagogy for the Teaching Schools Council.

“The modern languages equivalent of ‘discovery learning’ or ‘child centred’ approaches, which we now understand to be not only time inefficient but also unfairly to disadvantage those pupils with least educational capital, is a ‘natural acquisition’ approach to language learning. A ‘natural acquisition’ approach emphasises pupil exposure to the language, exaggerates the role of ‘authentic resources’ at the expense of properly constructed practice or selected material, and tends to favour pupils spotting grammatical patterns for themselves rather than being explicitly taught them. It tends to emphasise the ‘skills’ of linguistic communication, listening, reading, speaking and writing, over the ‘knowledge’ which is a prerequisite for these skills (grammar, vocabulary and phonics), and it often turns the skills into the content leading to an ill-conceived curriculum. Moreover, it tends to plan courses around thematic topics (so holidays, the environment and so on) and in so doing to de-emphasise grammatical progression towards a coherent whole picture, as in such a schema grammar is secondary to the ‘topic’ so is introduced in small disconnected chunks as pertaining to the thematic topic.”

Which would you prefer for your child? Being able in a different language to communicate, listen, read, speak and write, while having little or no knowledge of the grammar of the language, or knowing thoroughly the grammar, vocabulary and phonics but having little experience and capability to discourse on topics of current importance and interest?

There is so much else that is wrong with this statement, quoted by Gibb as fact. ‘Time inefficient’ means relative to passing exams rather than communicating, so does ‘disadvantage pupils with least educational capital’. ‘Properly constructed practice or selected material’ means examples where knowledge of grammar can be tested, implying that ‘authentic resources’ are not suitable for this. Which itself implies that authentic resources don’t much use grammatical constructions the academics want to test. Grammar, vocabulary and phonics knowledge is not a pre-requisite for communication, listening, reading, speaking and writing. It is a layer of additional knowledge that is gained by communication, listening, reading, speaking and writing. Baukham is talking about the best curriculum approach to get young people to pass exams, not the best approach for them to learn how to communicate fluently in a different country.

I am perhaps (slightly) exaggerating what Baukham is saying, but it illustrates the core of the disagreement between the current government and many educators. Gibb particularly, in his ten-year period at the DfE, and the Secretaries of State who have joined him there, and I suspect the Permanent Secretary and DfE Directors are all following a clearly worked out plan. Controlling schools to generate government ‘success’ requires exams, school accountability measures that force schools to prioritise learning for exams, and academy chains to take them over when schools do not do as they are told. And the exams need to be as academic as possible (hence why BTecs are being marginalised and ICT was changed to Computing) because that enables them to claim they are ‘rigorous’, but I suspect also because this makes them better at selecting the kind of young people willing and able to learn and parrot back a highly academic view of the world. In other words to select  ‘people like us’.

Look back to what Gibb called “so-called areas of learning and development:

personal, social and emotional development
communication, language and literacy
problem solving, reasoning and numeracy
knowledge and understanding of the world
physical development
creative development”

Outside the small confines of politics, the media and academia, which is more important to you, these areas of learning and development or high academic knowledge of national curriculum subjects?


Educators have allowed Gibb and Education Secretaries of State to push our schools to minimise time spent on broad learning and development in order to maximise time on academic learning very largely just to pass exams, forgotten immediately after school unless an area happens to relate to young people’s continuing lives.

This is a political battle about what is most important for young people. Education is the tool being used to battle over how we should develop young people and hence develop our society.

If only we had political parties strong and sensible enough to take this fight to the conservatives. However it appears the current Labour Party has also been captured by the fixation of academic GCSEs and A levels, and academic university courses, as the only possible approach, impossible to change because the media attacks on a different approach would be too great.

Labour might just find that parents will be more welcoming of a new approach than they think. I don’t know of many parents who care about fronted adverbials, but who do care about their childrens’ mental well-being, creativity, and ability to do real things rather than learn arcane academic knowledge. Failing Labour taking up this challenge we need a new political party who will.


Families have succeeded where schools have failed

October 13, 2020

As English schools receive children back after the Summer break, for schooling in a time of pandemic, one feature of schooling in the last six months needs to be reflected on.

When the pandemic lockdown happened schools transitioned to online education, some very successfully, most less so. There has been much comment about what schools have or have not been achieving. There has been concern about the quality of education children have been receiving, and their well-being. There has been discussion of the difficulties for parents of combining home working with home education. And there have been calls to help children whose families cannot afford computers and internet access. But almost no comment has reached me about how quickly and seamlessly the majority of young people, of primary school age as well as secondary, were able to connect with whatever their school was providing.

This was possible because in the last few years families have seen the need for their children to become digitally connected. The equipment has been bought, connectivity acquired, ground rules set and the inevitable issues resolved, so that the majority of young people have become part of the digital connected world.

Though schools have tinkered at the edges of enabling young people to use online, only a very few have worked to enable young people to have their own devices and to use them for learning. More common has been the banning of young people’s mobile phones, with lessons making use of the connected world being few and far between. For the last 10 years, as smartphones and tablets have become a natural part of how our society operates, the government has done nothing to help children become connected at home. And beyond the odd homework requiring research on the internet home connection has been a peripheral matter for most schools as well.

But when online connection suddenly became the only way some form of schooling could happen, government and schools expected families to arrange this connection. Without any expression of surprise or thanks when families did precisely that without hesitation or complaint.

It is a massive failure of the current generation of politicians and policy makers, and the majority of school leaders, to recognise that personal connection and devices are as important to young people as they are for the rest of the population. And absolutely key tools whenever it is necessary to learn anything.

The pandemic has exposed this failure.

Will schools now recognise that being personally connected must be a natural part of learning, to be used immediately as and when required?

The tension at this year’s BETT Show

January 23, 2016

The BETT Show in London has, since it started, provided a window into the passions and fashions of educational technology and the ways education, teaching and learning are changing. Though many of us who have been involved with these changes in education since the early days of computers in education bemoan the slow pace of change, the last few years particularly have brought significant changes that will further develop and that cannot be stopped.

The question is whether these changes are improvements in education or retrograde steps. As has been the case throughout development of technology in education, there has been almost as much failure as success, with innovations that were shown to be effective in the 1980s still not widely adopted and several blind alleys that didn’t work. This is a generational change and there is still a lot to be done to make sure that it all turns out well and does not take schooling backwards, as it could.

This year’s BETT Show was truly international and included a strong presence by companies keen to profit from the growing use of technology in schools in India, China and other parts of South-East Asia, and developing countries throughout the rest of the world. These companies are looking to capitalise on the perceived educational opportunities that technology offers. Far too often these perceived opportunities are defined in terms of what technology can do, combined with what politicians would like it to do to give them good press releases about exam passes and where the country ranks in PISA. Too many education leaders are seduced by the technology and give credence to the claims of the technology companies and support to the politicians. Thankfully some school leaders have much clearer visions and are much more astute in selecting technology that really does improve teaching and learning; their voice needs to be stronger.

The classic example this last year has been the iPad debacle in California. Those who work closely with schools, helping them adopt education technology, regularly trade their own more local examples of the schools that have bought hundreds of tablets with no clear idea as to how they will use them to improve learning. We have also seen News Corporation withdraw from the educational technology market, having realised that the company they had acquired was unlikely to make the expected returns. Both of which bring me to the tension at this year’s BETT.

The tension, or perhaps I should call it the battle of ideas for that is what it is, is between those who think that the prime use of technology in education should be to give young people access to learning content, or to push it at them as in the California debacle, and those who realise that the prime aim should be to use technology to enable and extend learning activities that will develop deep and lasting learning. This will at times include a little passive reception of content and some activities to embed learning of knowledge, but without the context of real purpose, real problems and relevance this knowledge will not be valued and will be soon lost.

Talking to people at the Show I found some clearly aware of how the connected-world and technology can have real impact on learning, but still far too many whose horizons only reach to how much more engaging an animation, video or little game can be compared to a textbook, and how assessment of learnt knowledge can be managed more often and more easily recorded to support the school’s accountability.

To take just one example, when I mentioned to BETT visitors that a key impact of technology in a school is to make the work children create more visible, some immediately understood what I was talking about while others returned a quizical stare, obviously wondering what I meant and finding this idea beyond their conceptual understanding of the purpose of technology in education. Visibility is key to the processes of learning that enable connected-world learning to surpass good traditional learning. Visibility of pupils’ work, carefully arranged and well managed by teachers, sets higher expectations, makes the challenges of learning personal and relevant, enables reflection and discussion, enables wider audiences to provide more and better feedback, stimulates self-esteem and feelings of success, enables pupils to collaborate and help each other learn and is a real aid to parental engagement and involvement in their childrens’ learning. Critically visibility also presumes that young people have actively created something worth displaying, that they are proud of as it shows their progress, even if the quality of what they have produced is behind that of others. Compare all these impacts with the learning impact of pupils just interacting in some way with content pushed at them.

At the Show I listened to teachers and leaders from some schools that appreciate this difference, who clearly understand that effective learning happens when pupils are actively engaged in their learning and want to learn. And hence they then want to access the wonderful content that these schools are making available, which they do out of school not in class. And indeed some schools are collecting the data to show that those who access the content well, and often, achieve more highly. But without the curriculum, teaching, and active and creative learning that stimulates pupils’ thirst to access and learn from content, and that provides the context that makes the content meaningful, the students would likely use their access to technology for the purposes they find meaningful in learning instead – just as the Californian students did.

This all makes me more determined than ever to help school leaders appreciate that digital evolution of their schools involves a great deal more than installing screens, buying tablets or laptops, and buying software licences for multimedia content. That comes quite a long way into the digital evolution of a school and forms only a small part of what is required. If you want to see a full listing of what is required, have a look at the program for the Digital Evolution of Schooling Leadership Program and see what it covers.


Why the OECD study conflicts with what good Headteachers know to be true.

September 15, 2015

We seem to be getting a rash of studies that show that lots of use of technology by young people correlates with lower exam results. We have had the study showing that schools banning mobile phones raised results, then the study that showed that children with high ‘screen-time’ achieve less (though they acknowledge this was mainly TV watching not Internet access) and now the OECD study shows that countries with lower average class-time use of the Internet score lower in PISA scores.

Yet the Headteacher interviewed by the BBC, and many other enlightened Heads, firmly support their spend on technology and can justify it to governors, parents and of course their own teachers. Why is there such a conflict between what good Heads say and what the studies seem to say?

The answer is that it is easy to use technology in education very badly, and far too many schools do. We all know of schools that have bought class-sets of tablets before they asked the question as to how they were going to use them. And we probably all know lazy teachers who use computers and tablets as glorified worksheets, getting initial extra engagement that soon wears off. Even whole states and countries can get this wrong, as the California iPad debacle showed.

How can so many people be blind to what the increasing number of digitally aware schools are showing is possible – hugely greater engagement in learning that leads to all sorts of achievements, often by pupils who previous to the introduction of technology into the school were classed by teachers as ‘hard to reach’?

Getting huge impact on learning from technology is not rocket-science, but it does require clarity of thinking by the Headteacher and strong leadership. So what are the steps? Not, I hope you will not be surprised to hear, rushing out to buy technology. That should only happen when the need is clear and the groundwork has been done.

Step One – Get behaviour right. If there is poor behaviour by pupils and low-level disruption, it will increase significantly when technology is introduced or use of pupils’ phones in school permitted. With poor behaviour and concentration lowered by disruptions, everything is a distraction. Technology is powerful both ways, it can be hugely positive and helpful but it can also be hugely distracting. It may well be necessary to initially ban pupils using mobile phones in school, to get behaviour right, so the conditions can be created where it is possible to have pupils using their own devices in school sensible, safely and highly productively. Many schools are now achieving this – go and look at some before you write headlines that say banning phones is the way to increase results.

Step Two – In parallel with acting on behaviour for learning, the curriculum has to be relevant. That is the whole school curriculum, not just the content taught. If pupils do not see most of the curriculum as relevant to themselves, they are candidates for distraction and low concentration. I do not believe in our connected, media-rich world that it is possible to make a school curriculum engaging and relevant without considerable use of multimedia, the Internet and interactive activities of all kinds, some involving technology but the majority based on social interactions. Though out of school the majority of interactions with information or classmates will involve technology.

Step Three – Outstanding teaching, again in parallel with acting on behaviour. Pupils engaged in lessons don’t misbehave. As one miscreant pupil when asked (in a technology-oriented lesson that had been been set up as part of making the school curriculum more relevant) why he wasn’t misbehaving as he usually did said, “I haven’t got time to misbehave! I’m busy.” I do not believe it is possible to be an outstanding teacher without a clear understanding of the role of technology in learning. But that does not necessarily mean that pupils in class will spend much time using technology. They will spend time watching and listening, thinking, discussing, collaborating, creating and making. The fact that technology tools may be used, or that instant look-up is available, or that Internet research may be part of the task is almost irrelevant. It’s just the fastest and most effective way to work, to keep the thinking flowing. Pupils using the Internet in this way are unlikely to report this as ‘time on the Internet’, which they will think of as long periods when they are exclusively using the Internet.

Step Four – Use audiences for pupils’ work and generate feedback. There is a great deal of research showing that giving young people better and more feedback on their work is a major factor in helping them improve it. The possibilities in this area are hugely increased when a school makes effective use of a digital environment that complements the classroom environment.

Step Four – Record evidence of progress. Seeing clearly what you are struggling with in comparison to others helps you see what you have to learn. Seeing that you can improve feeds your feelings of success and growth mindset. Paper exercise books are a very poor way to record progress. Using digital methods enables selection, and much easier and better commenting by teacher and peers.

Step Five – Scaffold and support work that pupils do out of class with online information and systems. Instead of homework being the poor relative to classwork it can become an engaging activity. And it can be collaborative even though pupils are in their own homes.

By this stage the school and the teachers will be seeing the results of the ways they are using technology every day. They will be talking to the pupils about how they manage to learn more effectively because of how they use technology. They will know clearly what the impact is and why they, in their school, don’t believe the headline conclusion of the OECD report.


I cannot think of any other area of human endeavour where conclusions are drawn and headlines created by studying those companies or organisations that are getting it wrong, and putting their approaches on a par with those who are getting it right.

Of course in most other areas the actions of customers soon make it clearly obvious which companies are getting the introduction of technology right. Though we can see digitally evolved schools attracting more applications from parents and becoming over-subscribed, young people don’t have much choice once allocated to a school. Nor can they clearly see what is on offer from neighbouring schools. But they can react to what their school either does or does not offer. They do this by altering their level of engagement with the school and with learning. And this alters their level of concentration and the amount of time they are prepared to commit to thinking about and doing things that enhance their school achievements.

Measure these and you will have a way to assess which schools are getting it right. And from these schools you will be able to assess how technology should be used in school and out of school.

We have to get children to love learning.

May 8, 2015

Technology and the connected world are changing how we live and work – radically. Education has to move up to a completely new level of effectiveness. Some schools are achieving this and showing the way. And happily technology and the connected world provide the key enabling tools for this to happen.

The centre of education – as always – will remain the interactions between pupils and teachers. And the other ‘teaching’ interactions that teachers enable their pupils to have – from other pupils, parents and the wider community.

The big change that has to happen, is that we have to get all pupils to Love Learning.

It is only young people themselves who can raise their achievement. You can’t open a child’s brain and put learning inside. They have to do that themselves. And there are just two ways to get them to do this:

– pressurise children to learn.

– or ignite their thirst for learning. Engage them in wanting to learn.

Most schools in the UK operate by pressurising children to learn. For a start school is anyway compulsory. Then there are all the messages that if you don’t do well you won’t get qualifications and a decent job. Then teachers apply more pressure, sometimes in pleasant ways and sometimes in rather unpleasant ways. Then the school leaders apply more pressure on the teachers to push the kids into extra work and various interventions to hit league table targets. This is not to deny that these various pressures can ignite a thirst for learning in some children. But there is nowhere left to go when it doesn’t, except to apply more pressure. And pressure kills motivation and concentration for many children.

3rd millennium learning, or connected-world learning, is about getting the pressure and challenge to learn to come from within the child – by igniting their thirst for learning. Once it does ignite they will also happily respond to pressure from peers and teachers, which becomes pressure the pupils ask for and control, they want to learn. Naace has spent the last four years finding out from schools that manage to do this how they do it. The evidence in schools’ submissions for the 3rd Millennium Learning Award clearly shows other schools what has to be done.

Generating the much higher engagement in learning can only be done as a whole-school process. A culture has to be developed across the pupils that it is cool to learn, and fun to learn even if it is challenging. There has to be a whole-school growth mindset, that failure is the first step on the road to success and success will involve many failures. The school has to change the ‘game’, from a game that is all about achievement or failure, to one of the game being to help each other learn. Even the weakest students have to want to display their work to others for criticism, because the fun is in helping others and being helped. And the school has to work to ensure the criticism that comes back will be constructive and well balanced between praise and the pointing out of errors and weaknesses.

Underpinning these changes there has to be a creative curriculum, with pupils able to be creative in how they present work. Which means teachers ready to accept work presented in the form the pupil chooses, whether that be a traditional essay, a video, an animation, a presentation or a voice recording. Why should it matter as long as the teacher makes clear that they have to be able to assess the work in the same time as it would take them to mark a written answer.

In schools like this remarkable changes happen. Trust grows. As do collaboration and pupils leading learning. Often the schools provide lots of opportunities for pupils to lead in different ways, so that those less academically able can achieve early success in sport, as playground buddies, digital leaders or community helpers. Teachers share a lot more and become less fearful themselves of failure, leading to more innovation.

We currently have too many school leaders who don’t understand this choice between a pressured approach and igniting the thirst for learning. And too many who may in their heart-of-hearts think igniting the thirst for learning is best, but who don’t trust that if they make this their key priority that the scores will be hit and the league-table position held. There is that ‘Trust’ word again. When a level of trust develops that you cannot currently imagine, then levels of achievement you cannot currently imagine will also materialise. And the school will be a much happier place for all.

This is not a pipe-dream. Schools in very difficult circumstances have gained the Naace 3rd Millennium Learning Award and shown how they have developed the necessary whole-school culture. Judge for yourself by looking at the 5-minute videos at (The schools also produce a 10 minute educational commentary, available to all Naace members.)

This blog has been triggered by the general election held in the UK yesterday. The times ahead are inevitably going to be hard with the necessity to cut government budgets. But with the government elected I reckon times are going to be even harder for schools. Soon. And I suspect the only way that schools will be able to square the circle of enabling pupils to achieve more with less budget is by moving away from a pressured approach and adopting 3rd millennium learning. Schools have to achieve more learning with less input by teachers and teaching assistants. That means more independent learning. It means more pupils leading learning. It means teachers concentrating on improving outcomes not on just making the learning activity happen – engaged pupils will do that.

With a whole school-full of trusted engaged pupils, and pupils picking up and dealing with many of the problems individual pupils will inevitably present, keeping each other safe, stopping mis-behaviour by others, and progressing their learning activity without constant reminders, creative ways can be adopted to shave the odd per-cent off staffing costs.

The leaders of those schools that are pressured, stressful hothouses should take a long cool and reflective look at what a school is there to do and how that is best achieved. And a bit of leadership in this from the new English Education Secretary would not go amiss.



3rd Millennium Learning isn’t rocket science.

September 29, 2014

The Naace 3rd Millennium Learning Guides (3ML Guides) gathered a week ago for our annual meeting, to review the standard of the 3rd Millennium Learning Award and to discuss what we are seeing in schools that are taking education to the next level. It’s getting ever clearer that we have two kinds of schools, those fully capitalising on all the educational opportunities of the connected world and technology and those not doing so. Of course it’s not the technology that causes 3rd millennium schools to have such a considerably better educational offering for their pupils, it’s how the school leaders take advantage of it.

Today saw research released by BESA that shows what a divide in the use of technology has developed in our schools. The real picture is actually a bit worse than the research shows, because not every school that has loads of technology and good networks gets the impact on learning that they could. Naace has a small failure rate amongst schools going for the 3rd Millennium Learning Award though we try hard to advise schools not to go for the Award until they really are getting the impact. Some schools just use the technology to support didactic teacher-led 20th century approaches and the engagement they get from pupils is transient; they soon realise they are not being enabled to get the full benefits because the schools and teachers try to control how the pupils use technology and the Internet, instead of letting them fly (safely!).

The evidence base the 3rd Millennium Learning Award has created is fabulous, videos from over 80 schools showing what they are doing and talking about why and how. It is patently clear from these videos that the reason these schools are providing such a better education and getting higher achievements of all kinds is actually very simple. The pupils are considerably more engaged in their learning than pupils in most schools. And that leads directly to significantly more time learning; more concentration in class and more time spent talking about their learning with friends and working on things themselves. We have known at least since I went through teacher training in the 1970s, and read books by the likes of John Holt (How Children Learn, How Children Fail), that when children become engaged in learning their achievements can streak ahead in very short periods of time. It’s quite a rare pupil who concentrates properly in class, as we have seen on TV in the Educating Essex/Educating Yorkshire TV series.

What is slightly rocket science, though it makes perfect sense when you think about it, is how these 3rd millennium schools are getting this much higher engagement. They take a really rather psychological approach. For example, we know from lots of research that providing better and more feedback to pupils on their learning is one of the key ways to help them raise their achievement. In the Award videos we see lots of examples of how the schools use audiences to radically increase both the stimulation to try harder and the amount and quality of feedback. But children have to be ready and happy to put their work in front of an audience knowing it may be criticised. So the schools put lots of effort into creating a culture of collaborative learning, where the ‘game’ is to help each other learn, and failure is the first step on the route to success, and brains are like muscles that get stronger and grow when exercised. And the schools make sure this is a culture that ALL the pupils take ownership of, even if this starts with success in non-curriculum learning and personal qualities that are praised, while they gain the strength and confidence to expose their weak academic prowess to comment by peers and parents.

This is just one example of this psychological approach taken by the schools. One of my jobs following the 3ML Guides meeting is to refine the diagram we have developed to explain to other schools how they too can take education to the next level. Somehow we have to get the message through to all schools that the way to achieve the next level is to first and foremost ignite pupils’ thirst for learning. Putting pressure on pupils to learn and on teachers to get them to hit pupil achievement targets is a small part of the mix, but it is destructive if pupils are not ready to accept the challenge. Far better to first establish the culture where the pressure to achieve becomes intrinsic, part of the collaborative competition between growing children, where as much kudos and status can come from helping someone else learn as from one’s own achievements.


Is your school ready for the Computing curriculum?

August 29, 2014

Schools in England should be teaching the new Computing curriculum from next week onwards. However I fear, and I hear from colleagues, that many schools and teachers are not yet ready for this.

Over this year I have led several Naace/AQA courses for KS3 teachers wanting to better understand the KS3 Computing programme of study. The reactions to the course of those attending and things that they said have caused me to reflect over the Summer on the deep misunderstandings that many teachers and school leaders (and policy makers!) have about the nature of Computing/ICT as a curriculum subject.

I remember a Maths adviser in 1984 bemoaning the state of maths teaching in schools. He wanted to remove maths from the curriculum for five years, by which time the other curriculum areas would have had to take responsibility for teaching numeracy. Then he could bring back maths as the subject it ought to be, with it’s own unique contribution to the curriculum. The relevance of this story is that he said this during a discussion about what ICT uniquely brings to the curriculum.

Already by 1984 ‘ICT” was being interpreted as teaching of the ICT skills necessary to operate computers, and what ICT ought to be uniquely contributing to the curriculum was even then getting lost. And it’s been pretty much lost ever since in far too many schools. However the crisis point we got to 4 years ago in England, with ICT qualifications that were boring the pants off kids, has led to quite a lot of debate about what ICT as a curriculum subject ought to be. The debate has been somewhat confused by the computer science enthusiasts who are only interested in programming and don’t see the broader picture well, but it has caused teachers to question what they have been teaching and this has led a few of them to take the time to try and understand what ICT/Computing really is – and hence why they attended the courses.

ICT/Computing (or whatever you want to call this curriculum area) is fundamentally about solving problems using technology.The technology brings with it several fundamental concepts that are not at all easy to explore and learn about through other curriculum areas. The idea of a computer program as a sequence of instructions, using concepts such as variables, conditionality, iteration, logic and so on is one of the key areas of concepts, but there are others. There is the idea of hyper-linked information and the levels of interaction that can be built into a web-page – there are 7 different levels of interaction in a well-designed web page. Then there are the concepts around the organisation of data and relational databases. And other ICT tools contain important concepts, such as how spreadsheets can link and manipulate numbers, and how word-processors can manipulate grammatical structures to solve business problems – think mail-merge as a simple example. Then there is the area of embedded systems, sensing and control. These are all important conceptual areas that children should understand. They are all around us and we should be controlling them not allowing them to control us, unless in the full knowledge of how we are being manipulated by the things around us, we want them to.

These should of course be learned in context, with examples from many different areas (i.e. subject/curriculum areas). Which is why the Computing curriculum cannot just be taught in Computing lesson time. Just as the Maths adviser saw the necessity for for numeracy to be taught across the curriculum and maths ideas used in many subject areas, so is the same true for Computing.

The important thing for ICT/Computing teachers to understand is that pupils don’t even start learning what they should in the ICT/computing curriculum until all those low-level ICT skills necessary to operate computers and applications have been acquired. This has been quite a hard idea for the teachers on the courses to grasp, because they have traditionally spent so much of their time in ICT lessons setting tasks that that are all about developing the basic skills, and not really about problem solving.

The second idea those on my courses grappled with, is that for pupils to be demonstrating ICT capability, it is essential that they are permitted (well forced actually) to make their own choices of what technology to use to solve the problem set. Which of course means that they may use software that the teacher hasn’t taught them to use – and may not really be proficient in using themselves. And as there isn’t time in ICT lessons to teach pupils how to use new applications that are appearing, the implication is that they need to arrive at secondary school with wide experience of using applications and with personal skills to learn how to use them independently and collaboratively. They need to be teaching each other how to find and assess new applications and how to use them in the most powerful ways possible.

Then the third idea that caused them lots of concern, is that the time allocated to teaching ICT/Computing the subject is insufficient to cover all that is specified in the English Computing curriculum – which is all that was in the ICT curriculum with more emphasis on the computer science aspects and more on IT (what’s inside the box and how it works).

Just as it would be completely insufficient if language skills were only developed in the English teaching time (which is typically many times the time allocated to ICT/Computing), it is completely insufficient for the use of technology to solve problems to only be taught in ICT/computing teaching time. It has to be a responsibility of all the teachers across the curriculum. A fair number of primary schools are achieving this but the scene in secondary schools is pretty dire, to judge by the feedback from the teachers who came on the courses. Most had little of this kind of buy-in from the senior leaders or the heads of other subject departments and felt they would really struggle to make the case – though several in their course evaluations expressed the intention to try, now that they much better appreciated what ICT/computing really is.

I feel that one of the sessions on the course they really appreciated was the time we spent looking at the unique contribution of ICT/Computing to the curriculum, and the fundamental ways of thinking and approaches to problem solving that it gives children. And they appreciated the time we spent looking at the huge range of career opportunities that require understanding of how ICT solves (business) problems. Every manager in just about every kind of business, large and small, needs to understand this very well if their business is to succeed and be competitive. I wish we could get school leaders to properly consider the needs of young people in a computer-enabled and connected world, but it seems that many are driven by league tables and exam pressures, rather than by the need to provide “a broad and balanced computing curriculum’, which is what I hear that Ofsted will be looking for, every time I hear David Brown speak.

Schools need to be told it’s not acceptable.

January 2, 2014

If the school your children go to is failing to capitalise on the educational opportunities of technology and the Internet, they need to be told very clearly that it just isn’t acceptable any more.

They may be managing to get the pupils to a good level of capability as measured in national tests and exams without making much use of technology, but that isn’t enough. If children come out of their schooling without properly understanding how our connected world works and without high proficiency in using all that computers and the Internet offer them educationally and to collaborate with others, they are being disadvantaged. The education provided by schools that are creating 3rd millennium learning experiences for their pupils is hugely better than those that are not. See the videos on the Naace website if you don’t believe me.

And it’s not only a matter of failing to provide the best education they can. School spend public money and they are being wasteful and inefficient if they are not taking advantage of technology in the running of the school. Many schools are wasting tens of thousands of pounds annually on paper that could be replaced with digital information. And teachers are spending more time than they need to on processes that could be streamlined – time that could be spent on more interaction with pupils. And this can be achieved even before the teachers start to improve their pedagogy to get better leaning happening.

I was in a school a few weeks ago where the Assistant Head explained how he has changed his approach t0 marking. The pupils are now doing quite a lot of work online in Google Docs and they can share what they are doing with him. So he now arranges their tasks so that he can comment on first drafts and make suggestions as to what they need to do to improve their work. Then when the work is finally submitted all he does is assign a grade on the basis of how well they have responded to his suggestions. There is hugely more learning happening in this process than the old process of him setting a task and not being able to provide any comments until it is finally submitted, after which the pupils have no chance to act on his comments until the next piece of work, if they remember. This is just one example out of very very many of how teachers in 3rd millennium schools are improving the quality and end results of pupils’ learning.

You will find six questions for schools on my website. Any school that cannot answer a resounding YES to all six should be heavily criticised by parents. Some schools could answer YES to most of these questions back in 2007. That’s seven years ago; seven years for other schools to look at what these leading schools are doing, to see the advantages and to start to make similar changes themselves.

In every other area of life the way we do things now is considerably different to how we did things 7 years ago. We shop and book holidays online, submit our tax returns online, go online for all sorts of information and we collaborate for work and leisure reasons in online networks. Why on earth are we allowing some schools to put their heads in the sand and avoid confronting the change in how their customers – pupils and parents – are now living their lives. How can we allow schools to still prohibit pupils from using the powerful technology they have in their pockets to aid their learning, when lots of schools have shown how this can be achieved safely and sensibly.

I have decided that it is time to be a lot more direct about this. As the government and Ofsted are doing little to acknowledge this reality, and as only a very few local authorities are providing any strong leadership, it is being left to individual schools. If those whose job it is to hold schools to account will not act more forcefully on this issue, the only force left to create the change we need is parents. For the sake of the children this must happen. The gap between the best and the worst schools in this respect is too large and too many children are not being properly prepared for the world they will live in.

In future blogs I will explore in more detail why it is imperative that schools adopt 3rd millennium learning.