The gap is widening between the two kinds of schools.

December 4, 2012

That there are two kinds of school has been very noticeable in recent briefings and courses that we have run for teachers and school senior leaders. Those that understand the impact of ICT and are using it pretty well are looking to take the next step, to get even more impact. While those that are struggling with ICT are making very little progress.

In recent weeks I have heard of the following direct from teachers:
– a school that has lots of visualisers, but they are all sitting in cupboards because the school has failed to convince the teachers of their value.
– a school where a new ICT coordinator has insisted all the cupboards were unpacked, resulting in a huge pile of un-used kit including a laptop still in it’s box, that no-one knew was there.
– a school that accepted loads of desktop cast-offs when the local secondary went BSF, that just clogged up the school and were in the main completely unusable with wrong software or ancient OSs.
– a school where the ICT Coordinator does not even have a laptop of camera. ‘No money’ is the reason given, as all available money has just been spent on an ICT suite to respond to the dire situation with ICT flagged in the Ofsted report that put them into special measures.
– an infant school where the person responsible for leading on ICT is a teaching assistant. This no doubt indicates the priority the Head gives to ICT which is likely to be the main reason why the junior school they feed is having to teach ICT skills that should have been taught in EYFS and KS1.
– any number of schools that have rushed out and bought sets of iPads with very little vision as to how to use them.

I’m struggling to understand why some Heads seem to be able to grasp that ICT has huge impact on learning, while others don’t. The message obviously isn’t getting through to some Heads. Some Heads see ICT how ICT supports their central priorities while others don’t.  I strongly suspect that this is because the ICT community – those trainers and consultants who know most about ICT in education – talk about the technology and nothing like enough about learning.

We need to frame the conversation around the evidence of what works best to develop young peoples’ learning.But here also some Heads just carry on with approaches they feel are best and ignore evidence, as was shown by the recent Ofsted report into how the pupil premium money is being spent.

It’s probably time for me to try to turn all the stories and experience into a coherent narrative and to link them to the brilliant practice we are seeing in schools gaining the Naace 3rd Millennium Learning Award (for which new submissions from schools are now coming in). We’ve got to do something to engage those schools that are complacently carrying on as though nothing has changed in the world our children live in.

Gove must not be allowed to have it both ways.

September 14, 2012

This is my letter to my MP about the English GCSE fiasco, the underlying issue being that Gove is trying to progress two mutually impossible policies.

To: Linda Riordan, MP, Houses of Parliament, Westminster, London.

Dear Ms Riordan,

The Labour party must demand and lead much more informed debate about  GCSE exams as Michael Gove appears unwilling to do this. There is a gross unfairness to children and families in this year’s English GCSE results, that will become a festering sore unless it is dealt with quickly and effectively. Failure to get the grade C they have worked hard for will adversely affect the lives of some young people for years to come, possibly for their whole lives. Re-grading of papers through independent assessment of the students’ June exam papers, not just through a statistical exercise looking at the results for the whole year, must happen.

Relevant points of the unfairness as quoted by the TES are (

– An Association of School and College Leaders survey has found that 143 secondaries say lower than expected grades will push them below the government’s GCSE floor target, leaving them facing possible closure.

– The proportion of candidates achieving a C on the same unit, set by the AQA board, moved from 26.7 per cent last June, to 37 per cent in January, to 10.2 per cent this June, prompting concerns that results are not fair to pupils.

– If Ofqual has found that overall results for 2012 were correct but January’s were too generous, logic says the June grades must have been too harsh.

Glenys Stacey of Ofqual has already stated that the January cohort students were ‘lucky’ and so presumably accepts that there has been disparity of grading over the year.

The absolute unfairness of Michael  Gove’s policies is that he is demanding that schools across the country achieve a raised floor target of A*to C grades including English, with the threat of closure and being turned into an academy if they fail to do this. It is absolutely right that schools should strive for their pupils to achieve what other schools with similar cohorts have shown is possible. GCSE is defined as a criterion-referenced exam where a C grade depends on how well pupils answer the questions, not a norm-referenced exam where only a set percentage of the candidates sitting the exam during a year are allowed to gain a grade C or above. However the conversations between Ofqual and exam boards, and statements from Michael Gove about “grade inflation” clearly show that GCSE English has become a norm-referenced exam in all but name, where the percentage of pupils gaining grade C or above will not be allowed to rise to any extent, REGARDLESS OF THE EFFORT OF SCHOOLS, TEACHERS AND PUPILS.

MATHEMATICALLY, and hence undeniably, the only way that schools now below the raised floor target can get more of their pupils to reach English grade C GCSE, is by schools already above this raised floor target getting FEWER of their pupils to reach grade C.  Michael Gove’s policy of raising floor targets to drive raised achievement as measured by GCSE results, if it is to succeed, demands that successful schools do worse.  If better schools don’t do worse there is no chance of the weaker performing schools escaping the sanctions he is imposing, no matter what effort the schools, teachers and pupils commit to trying. This makes it a grossly unfair and perverse policy. It would be more honest just to demand that all schools below his raised floor target are forced to become academies, instead of trying to make this appear the school’s fault by setting them an impossible task when looked at nationally. But even if he did just force change to academy status, raised achievement nationally as judged by A*to C GCSE grades and hence success of his policy cannot happen unless GCSE is properly made criterion-referenced and increase of pupils getting grade C and above is not only accepted but demanded.

I am not arguing here whether the policy of schools moving into Academy chain control rather than LA control to drive raised achievement is bad or good – that is a separate issue that needs to be debated separately. The issue is that Gove is at the very least being disingenuous in presenting the policy to force change to academy status as being one of raising GCSE pass rates rather than it being a straightforward policy of change of control of schools. I even wonder whether there is some way that his presentation of his policies can be legally challenged. The impossibility of the schools turned into academies nationally showing raised standards by increasing GCSE English grade C and above pass rates unless better schools do worse, because the exam is now norm-referenced in all but name, means that his policy cannot possibly be successful through the effort of the schools affected. It can only be successful if it perversely makes better schools do worse.

It must surely be possible to challenge the making of laws or regulations that individuals and organisations cannot themselves achieve unless others fail to achieve them.

The question to ask of Gove is which policy will he abandon:

– his policy of academy conversion to drive a national increase of the GCSE grades that pupils achieve,

– or his refusal to allow the overall percentage of pupils in the country gaining GCSE grade C or above to increase?

Mathematically if this second policy succeeds the first policy must fail. And vice-versa.

Please let me know what steps you will take to get this issue debated in the House.

Yours sincerely

Roger Broadie

Powering up the kids

January 24, 2011

The title is not a phrase I like, though the opposite concept works for me – of the kids powering down when they come into a classroom, putting away their phones and personal computer devices and expecting a linear experience with carefully controlled and limited conversations. I much prefer to talk about the kids engaging with work, becoming highly motivated and taking personal responsibility for what they have to do and the quality of what they produce.

I suppose this is a teacher viewpoint, but we do need to help the teachers see their role in how learning will happen in the future (and should be happening now). This is not just about giving the kids their head to explore what they want to in school, it’s about teachers stimulating and leading their engagement and guiding them to make their learning more explicit and rigourous.

The reason for this post is that I have just watched the video of Karen Cator, US Department of Education, speaking to the Learning Without Frontiers conference It’s really good to hear her say that the examples of new approaches to learning that really impress her are those where the pupils are powered up, creating a much richer and more diverse learning environment and helping each other to personalise the experience. This is very much what I believe from seeing many examples over the years – it’s when the pupils are enabled to take responsibility for their learning that it all starts to happen. And it’s their attitude changes that drive this. The UK schools I have been talking to these last few weeks, to work up ‘compelling case’ studies (in conjunction with the e-Learning Foundation) have been full of these sorts of examples. I will be getting some of these up on my website soon.

It’s just such a pity that the kinds of things Karen is saying are not being said by our current UK government. Expectations, particularly parental expectation, will grow much faster if led by those making education policy. And this need not conflict with schools having full control of how learning and teaching happen. Politicians should not allow their own pride in what they achieved in the school system they went through to blind them to the fact that there are now much richer and better ways for learning interactions to happen. Just think how good these politicians might now be at their job, had they had the opportunities now offered by schools that have embraced pupils’ personal computer devices.

Two kinds of school; two kinds of teacher.

November 24, 2010

The changes in school education being proposed by the new government here in the UK are flushing out quite a lot of comment from teachers on ICT-in-education lists. Given that the contributors are teachers who can see how ICT is changing learning for the better, and changing the world in which pupils will live, some of their comments on the schools they work in are very depressing. We really do have schools that have not grasped how the lives of many young people are changing, schools failing to engage significant sections of their pupils with consequent damage on the learning of the rest.

I have been optimistic these last 25 years that ICT can catalyse the move from schools as places where pupils are taught, whether they like it or not, to places where pupils take responsibility for their own learning, willingly and with some delight in learning. This taking of personal responsibility for learning by pupils is the ONLY common factor I have seen in schools where learning is proceeding better because of the way ICT is being used to support changes in approach to teaching and learning. And we do now have 10% or maybe 20% of schools in the UK where this is happening really well.

But recently I have come to feel that there is no way that some schools and teachers can be encouraged into this new level of education provision in a smooth and progressive way that does not disrupt the learning of whole cohorts of pupils. Jim Knight, the former Schools Minister, speaking recently at the Building Better Schools Conference, stated that “the current paradigm for schools has been pushed as far as it can go”. So even members of the last government are coming to accept that radical change is now essential.

The question for a government is how to create radical change. A lot of people don’t like change and it is very hard to persuade them to change. You need big and powerful levers. The next statement is heresy for all who believe (as I do) in the necessity for inclusive education that works for all young people, to guard against a divided society and for our country’s economic success. But maybe the end does justify the means – maybe the only way that many schools and teachers can be forced to step up to the big change in education that is needed is for there to be failures of schools, sufficient to cause social outrage. Make sure that all government support is removed from bodies and groups that are trying to even-out educational provision. Support and promote the very best so that a clear gap opens up between good schools that are properly preparing young people to thrive in work and life and let anger and desperation of the public force the not-so-good to change.

The key question of course is whether the schools that public opinion comes to recognise as ‘good’ are those that have reverted to an elitist approach, selecting the academically able for whom didactic teaching still works, as they can build around this their broader learning – or schools that have worked out how to engage and excite pupils of all abilities and backgrounds, creating cohesive communities of learning, using ICT in ways that build pupils’ capacity to take advantage of the networked world.

As the government is not going to have the money for big initiatives to direct schools towards an elitist approach (if this really is their preferred future for education) what emerges as the public perception of ‘good’ schools is largely going to be in the hands of the schools themselves – and in the hands of the media who will distort national perceptions according to their prejudices, to the degree that communities and the public generally allow.

There really is everything to fight for, if those who believe and are implementing radical, ICT-enabled changes to learning and schooling are prepared to put their heads above the parapet and trumpet their success.

Winston Churchill said “If you are going through Hell, keep going!”. If there is to be the hell of the failure of some schools and major differences between the educational opportunities and experience of young people in different communities, the faster we go through this period, the better.

One per child

September 24, 2010

I was having an email conversation yesterday morning with Paul Haigh about the sense in schools enabling pupils to use their own mobile devices and even phones in school because they can be very powerful tools for learning. And because schools will not be able to afford to buy mobile computers for all pupils while it is inevitable that your own computer and connection to the Internet will become seen as indispensable for learning.

I have written about this on my website because I have been thinking about it a long time – I was involved in attempts to design a One Per Child (“OPC”) device at Acorn. Once we had the ARM chip in the late 1980s we met once a year to see if the surrounding technology had moved on far enough to make an OPC feasible. I brought harsh marketing criteria to these discussions, the main one being that it had to cost less than a decent kid’s bike. It was going to have to be bought by parents in the main.  A back of the envelope calculation easily showed that even at that price the education system was very unlikely to afford OPCs for all – just multiply 8 million pupils by a couple of hundred quid and assume say a 3yr replacement cycle. We always failed to get the cost of the bits sufficiently inside the price the device had to be; the ARM chip was not the problem, it was the cost of screens and the batteries to drive them. Now of course we are seeing the kind of thing we had in mind and the ARM core is there doing its job in very many mobile phones.

But that is another story. What has stimulated this blog is that after talking to Paul about kids using phones for learning, that evening I dropped into our local for a pint. The partner of the guy serving behind the bar was sitting in a corner, biding time till the end of his shift to go home together. And her portable hobby to pass the time was knitting. Complicated knitting of something very small, using 4 needles.

But to finish off what she was knitting she had a problem knowing precisely how to do it. Fortunately there was another friend there, and after a conversation about her difficulty he volunteered his mobile phone, and the pub has wifi so reception was no problem. So there she was sitting at a table, using an iphone for the first time in her life but easily managing to scroll up and down a series of images that showed her what to do. And she very neatly and successfully finished off what she was knitting.

My mind immediately went back to the conversation with Paul. Why can’t the kids in school have the same opportunity to grab some help from the Internet and to do just-in-time learning when they need to. It just does not make sense for schools and teacher unions to fight against this. Take the advice from Paul on how to do it and get an acceptable use policy instilled into everyone in the school and develop a culture where phones and mobile devices can be used in appropriate ways at appropriate times.

Oh – and what was she knitting? A neat little jersey case for someone else’s phone!

ICT and school budgets

September 8, 2010

Last week’s article in the TES magazine (Cheques and balances – one school’s struggle to stay out of the red) rather re-inforces my belief that we have two kinds of secondary schools in the UK – those that ‘get’ ICT and those that don’t. The school they featured appears to allocate a paltry annual sum to their ICT systems and the article makes no mention at all of the impact ICT could have in increasing learning.

The central issue is using ICT to re-balance teaching and learning. There are schools where pupils are spending much more time on productive learning for a very similar time input by teachers, because they have online opportunities to access and engage in learning. The school featured appears to be only concerned by what happens in the classroom.

I’ve been writing about this at so won’t go into details here, except to wonder why it is that quite a lot of school leaders don’t ‘get’ ICT. I suspect it is because they are focused on their job of ‘providing education’ and not on how young people are now interacting and learning. Many of their pupils will be online, through their phones or home computers or friends computers, regardless of what provision the school is making. If they decide to chat to friends about their homework they can. If they want to look up some learning resources they can. If the school was talking to their pupils about how they can best learn, maybe they would start to appreciate this.

If the school was using an online platform effectively there would be a budget line to support this. Not much in the greater scheme of things, perhaps £50K annually from their revenue budget to pay for support of whatever online platforms and systems they use and development of them. This is just 1.25% of what the school is spending on staffing, yet it could create so many opportunities for the teachers to be more effective and to use time better, in admin as well as teaching, and hence enable perhaps more of a reduction in staffing costs. Not to mention the savings the school will make on paper alone.

Of course there will also be some capital expenditure for the school network, teachers’ laptops etc. But if the Head has not realised how vital it is for the school to be networked, if only for the improved communication and administration impacts, heaven help them!

When the TES starts to publish articles urging schools to look at these sorts of opportunities, maybe I can stop worrying. Until then the educational offering gap between schools that do get it and those that don’t will continue to grow. This is a new kind of postcode lottery in schools, one that is entirely the responsibility of the school leaders.

Too much info

August 10, 2010

As I have got underway unloading my brain into the Broadie Associates website, it has really re-inforced just how diverse the ways of using ICT to improve education are. There is just so much that can be said it’s small surprise that it is all a bit too mind-boggling for many teachera.

This was an absolutely key insight when we first set up the European Education Partnership. We had monthly meetings to try to work out how best to use the E.E.P. to stimulate the development of ICT for learning across Europe. We had some of the most experienced people from the leading companies involved, but it took us the best part of a year to work out that the problem was not a lack of information about the benefits of ICT in education.

The problem was too much information.

The decision makers, both at policy level and education institution level, were getting so many different views about how best to use ICT that they really couldn’t see the wood for the trees. They didn’t know where to start. That was what led us into the various analyses we made such as value-add from ICT and ICT-rich pedagogy. There had to be a simple starting point for the leaders. Even so, we couldn’t get the areas of value-add down to less than eleven no matter how hard we tried. In the ICT-rich pedagogy analysis we were absolutely determined to keep the change-statements to a single page. We had to reduce the point-size as we couldn’t get the teachers’ change statements to fewer than 17 – each statement justified it’s place. And even working on the one or two statements a teacher might choose as most relevant, could take a whole year. This is a massive change that education is undergoing.

This diversity puts a real premium on schools and teachers having a clearly worked-out vision – an educational vision not a technical vision. Unless they have some sense of where they are trying to get to in changing learning processes and interactions, they will have no idea what to ignore and what to look at. They will drown in the too much info problem.

Of course you do need some experience of how ICT can change things in order to decide what to do, but the starting point should not mention ICT at all. Look at the statements in the Value-add analysis. A statement like “improve communication and collaboration” or “increase access to resources” is a human statement. When I taught in Skipton the problem was increasing communication and collaboration, as many of the kids had to leave immediately at the end of the last lesson in order to get home right up the dale. In Sheffield all the kinds were within a few minutes of the school and saw lots of each other after classes, but most of the homes were very resource poor.

The key differentiator between those schools now improving rapidly through good use of ICT and those slipping behind is the vision of the Head and senior leadership team.

Who recognises the impact of ICT in education?

August 3, 2010

It’s good to see the Times Educational Supplement reporting on ICT in schools (magazine 30 july – ‘Byte the dust’) and I have a deal of respect for Peter Banks who is achieving great things in his school (I’ve never met Roger Mitchell, no doubt the same applies) but I can’t help feeling they could have put over a much more positive view of the impact of ICT. Maybe they did and it is Nick Morrison the reporter who is to blame. If the leaders in the use of ICT in education can’t paint the picture of really powerful impact, then as a community we are in trouble.

So what should have been said?

– Visualisers. Maybe Broadgreen did buy too early but maybe their lack of success with them is because they are a secondary school and the visualier is an ideal tool for primary, not so much in secondary. Go and look at the visualiser forum for loads of examples. It’s a fabulous tool through which pupils can digitise their concrete work in order to share it with their families online, it is great for all kinds of assessment for learning purposes and it turns teachers into creators of digital resources they can share with colleagues.

– Integrated Learning Systems. I know reporters like to concentrate on bad news, but how about a mention of the SAM Learning systems whose use has been extensively researched by the Fischer Trust and the positive benefits clearly shown.

– Registration by card-readers. Yes, lots of pounds wasted, but not the fault of technology but a failure to think through what the pupils might do to subvert the system. But if you look at another system to aid school organisation, cashless catering, considerable benefits. Or how about the schools saving £10,000+ annually because they have moved lots of paper into digital form on the school’s learning platform?

– Too few books and too much ICT? How about the teacher who has created a step-change in the amount of reading her class is doing by getting the children posting their book reviews online in the school’s platform. It’s not an either-or question, it’s how ICT can complement the good things in long-standing educational approaches.

– Interactive whiteboards as white elephants? Well any elephant is a white elephant if you can’t drive it and make it work for you. Is education to remain stuck in a textual and paper world when the rest of the world is becoming highly visual, animated and digital. If we don’t have ability to display digital in classrooms teachers will be missing out on massive opportunities to enhance their teaching and their pupils’ learning. And starting to use digital resources is just the first step to using them interactively and collaboratively with the pupils.

I suppose Nick Morrison’s final comments say it all, “…. it may be time to question whether ICT is really all it is cracked up to be.” Nearly ten years ago, just as one example, the European Education Partnership ( anlaysed where the value-add in education comes from with ICT. I suggest it may be time to questions whether reporters and anyone else who cannot give a clear statement of why ICT is vital should be doing better research.

Or maybe it is that we as an ‘ICT in Education community’ have failed so far to express the benefits clearly enough. That’s why I have decided to dedicate the Broadie Associates website to bringing together the stories and the evidence (