Archive

Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Posts you may have missed

February 15, 2015 Leave a comment

Despite having moved this site there still seems to be some traffic coming here. If you are looking for my blog it is now at:

www.ukteacherinspain.com

Here are some of my more recent articles that you may have missed if you have come here to follow my blog.

Preparing to move abroad – learning a language

Spanish Sundays – Denia

Shareday Friday – Curriculum 2014: An overview

The 10 most effective ways to impact education

Teaching posts and all the info. you need about teaching abroad

What Russian tennis tells us about talent

5 things I never worried about when I taught in England

NQTs abroad – 5 things all NQTs should know

Spanish Sunday – Cullera

Seven big myths and one truth about top performing school systems

Workload – 5 facts about reducing workload

Shareday Friday – A primary school display policy

Baseline assessment – 5 things I know

Dear teacher… Advertisements for posts in Spain

Common English errors made by Spanish speakers

Advertisements

Are primary progress measures in the interests of pupils?

January 22, 2015 Leave a comment

Yesterday the BBC confirmed that pupil progress will be used as part of the system used to hold primary schools accountable.

http://www.bbc.com/news/education-30897370

In 2008 one of the last senior management meetings I attended in the United Kingdom was about increasing uptake of free school dinners. The headteacher, deputy headteacher, key stage 2 coordinator, key stage 1 coordinator and foundation stage coordinator/AST sat around a table for close on two hours trying to devise ways of engaging with parents and encouraging them to complete the necessary paperwork. The reason was simple. The schools contextual value added (CVA) statistic, a key measure at the time for indicating whether an emergency inspection should be called, had dipped below 100. There was about a 4% positive boost to CVA if all eligible children were registered for free school meals. In other words, one of the key measures as to how the school was performing was affected by the uptake of free school meals as opposed to the eligibility for free school meals.

I think at the time of the meeting if pupil progress measures had been looming we would have been delighted. The actual headline regarding pupil progress measures though raises other issues.
Let’s just consider for a moment the current curriculum changes. All this exciting talk about ‘life after levels’ that initially had schools feeling a burden may be about to lift has become muddied by the system that now stands to replace levels. In the current system the target is for pupils to be at least a secure level four by the end of primary. Now that is to be replaced with a measure whereby the goal is to achieve 100. Marks above or below 100 will indicate how far above or below expectation a pupil is and therefore there will be no need for an extension paper for gifted pupils. How is that different from levels?’ Level 4’ has now been called ‘100’ but the system itself hasn’t actually changed.

Many schools have for the time being held on to levels. We have a database in place that tracks all pupil progress so it is helpful to track performance in a way that can be compared to previous years. In a conflict with this however, especially for literacy and numeracy, schools are adapting the levels to match the new curriculum. The effect is that what a child needs to accomplish in order to achieve a secure Level 4 (or ‘100’ in newspeak) is now more challenging.

Centre Forum supported by Pearson Education have produced a report that supports the principle of pupil progress being the most significant key indicator of primary school performance. The report can be read in full at:

http://www.centreforum.org/assets/pubs/progress-matters.pdf

In the report they looked at pupils receiving free school meals and compared their progress and their attainment. They demonstrated that there is a correlation between pupils in free school meals and attainment at the end of primary. However, when analyzing pupils on free school meals against progress from baseline that the relationship was much weaker. In short, most schools with a disproportionate number of disadvantaged children (in terms of level on entry to school) do help those pupils to make good progress but do not necessarily help them reach the expected level at the end of primary school.

Is this news to anybody in education? I think it is the message that teachers and their unions have been putting forward for years. I do see though two problems emerging over time.

Firstly, if the new standards at Key Stage 2 are not supported by a raised baseline expectation what we ask of primary schools is even greater progress in order to meet the performance expectations.

Secondly, if schools are judged on attainment or pupil progress then sufficient pupil progress is sufficient to grade school performance. Sadly, nothing will have changed and there will still be a significant number of primary pupils not leaving school with the required level of attainment.

Whilst I welcome this focus on pupil progress the reality is it doesn’t change anything for pupils. Committees have met, focus groups have been established and reports have been written, all with money put aside for the education of our young people. What has been achieved is a different way to prove we are doing our job but the output in terms of pupil attainment will not have moved. I would far rather that money went into looking at how baseline attainment for target pupil groups can be improved so primary schools are better able to actually move pupils to the right attainment levels.

Applying to teach in Spain – which school should you choose

January 18, 2015 1 comment

It’s the time of year when International schools begin their advertising for positions starting in September. But, if you are considering a move to teaching in Spain how do you know which school to choose?

Teaching in Spain offers three options. The first option and the one I will focus on in this article is teaching in a British school in Spain. British schools will teach the British National Curriculum. The other two options are to work as an English teacher in a Spanish school or to teach in an academy. The Spanish education system is quite protective of Spanish teachers and entering a Spanish state school would require a high level language exam in Spanish and then the Spanish exam of teacher knowledge. (Convalidating English teaching degrees in order that they can be recognised by a Spanish state school is notoriously challenging and expensive.)  An academy in Spain is not the same as in England. “Academy” refers to language schools. Often these will operate outside of the normal school day and will offer language lessons in a TEfL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) style approach. Although a living can be made from an academy a regular monthly income can often not be guaranteed. Hours will be as customer demands and there is likely to be significant fluctuation in monthly take home pay.

So, what about teaching in a British School in Spain? The first requirement of any reputable British School will be that candidates for teaching positions are qualified teachers. Most will also ask that the qualification is from the United Kingdom or recognised in the United Kingdom. Applicants from outside of the European Union are often welcomed but obtaining the necessary work permits can take longer.

Within Spain the private school industry is relatively unregulated compared to the United Kingdom. Consequently there are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ employers to be found. Most UK teachers with experience of working overseas will tell you that accreditation from the British Council is the most important recognition. In Spain there are only a very few schools directly licensed by the British Council. However, there is an established network within Spain that provides a considerable benefit to UK teachers looking to work in a British School. The organisation ‘National Association of British Schools in Spain’ (NABBS) has a recognition within the UK and provides a set of standards and employee rights that gives a level of protection and ensures that the school is of an appropriate standard. These schools also undergo an inspection that is approved by the British Council and responsable for ensuring a high quality of British education.

You can cross-reference advertisements on TES Online with the NABBS website. Once you have confirmed that the school has British Council or NABBS membership you can be reasonably assured that you have identified an appropriate potential employer.

Most Spanish independent schools are privately owned and most of those are privately owned by a Spanish family or a Spanish company. In essence, like many UK private schools, they are businesses. The most significant difference for many teachers moving to teach in Spain is not actually the change of country but the change from being in state education to being in private education. I would advise that happier adaptations to this change are found if the school itself has a duty of care for the education provided. This can be found out in a number of ways. Firstly, looking at the advertisement that the school has placed. I would be wary of any school not taking advantage of a profesional advertisement on TES Online. Failing to provide a school insignia, photographs or a link to the school website all indicate a business keen to save every possible penny. If the webite is available take a look. Does it appear to be just a shop window, an online advert, or does it reflect the values and mission statement of the school? Does the school provide a welcome pack as a part of their advertisement? Does the welcome pack include information about support given to employees?

Having applied to the school, reputable schools will consider an interview a two way process and will welcome your questions. If the advertisement is for a short notice position then a Skype or telephone interview may be offered. However, if the position has been advertised with sufficient time then a face to face interview is a more profesional approach. A school advertising a September post in March or April that is unwilling to finance a face to face interview in the UK I would suggest is sending out a negative message about the value they place on their teaching staff.

As a final thought, what should you expecct from an interview? British schools in Spain, especially if they have visited London or another UK city to offer face to face interview, have made a substantial financial commitment to obtaining their teaching staff. They will be interested not only in your profesional role as a teacher but also in your personal profile as somebody preparing to make an international move. Anything you can do to indicate preparation for your move will strengthen your interview. Have you begun to learn the language? Have you considered aspects of adaptation to living away from family and friends? The interview is also a two way process. There should be a chance for you to ask what support the school offers new teachers. Relocation packages in terms of direct financial gifts are not common for Spain but support in terms of finding accomodation and arranging necessary paperwork including becoming a part of the Spanish health system should be provided.

If you approach a move carefully and consider the school and the support offered then living and teaching in Spain can be a wonderful move. With sunshine, almost universally supportive parents andvery few behaviour problems it is easier to focus on the teaching and remember why you chose this profession.

If you want further information please do post questions in the comments section below and I will reply.

A new national curriculum

Yesterday the government published the new National Curriculum that will be statutory from September 2014 in state maintained primary schools.

There is certain to be much debate about the content of this new National Curriculum. I would encourage the public, but teachers also, to look and make up their own minds. The national press is already buzzing with ‘what is in’ and ‘what is out’. These are comments that colour this curriculum as extremely political. However, I think what we have here is more of what the National Curriculum was intended to be. What I see as ‘in’ is a bare bones curriculum that should provide a framework for schools to devise their own contextually relevant curriculum for their own children. What I see as ‘out’ is the guidance on how to teach. What we are left with is a national minimum entitlement and it is with this approach that I believe schools will be able to move forward most positively.

There are criticisms. We are told that this curriculum comes on the back of an intensive world tour studying the most effective jurisdictions. I don’t believe this as the curriculum we have does not reflect that of the most effective jurisdictions. Indeed, there is some debate as to whether it is the curriculum that drives the success or whether there are other cultural effects at play. Even last year, Chinese students in the UK outperformed other students in the UK by a statistically significant amount.

(www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-curriculum-assessments-at-key-stage-2-in-england-academic-year-2011-to-2012)

So, regardless of curriculum studied pupil success is in part due to ethnic background which strongly supports the suggestion of a cultural effect. Also, there is the ongoing debate as to the credibility of some measures used to compare educational systems internationally. One of the most comprehensive studies, that carried out by Pearson, ranks the UK as sixth in the world.

(http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-20498356)

Back to the new curriculum. Publicly disputing the worth of the curriculum is certain to have a negative effect on the attainment of pupils. If teachers can’t present the curriculum positively then why should pupils commit to studying the curriculum? It is equivalent to the teacher that stands in front of the class and begins with “You’re not going to like today’s lesson but I have to teach it anyway!” We must be careful that teachers don’t deliver this message on a national scale as to do so will dampen the natural enthusiasm children have for learning.

At the school level we need to study this curriculum and use it as the framework for our own more detailed units of work. This isn’t about knowledge or skills. When the curriculum was heavily skills based the most effective schools still layered on interesting and relevant content for their pupils. Now the curriculum doesn’t directly reference pupil skills schools must begin from the given content and layer on the skills that makes this content relevant in a modern society. The same is true of teaching strategies. If the curriculum is being less prescriptive then schools should be active in encouraging the strategies that are most effective in their own context.

Thank you to Mr. Gove and his team for their important first steps with this new National Curriculum, but now the real work will begin in schools as the teachers develop this curriculum into a vibrant and engaging school experience for the children they teach each day.

Endings and beginnings

June 22, 2013 Leave a comment

In the last few weeks I have had opportunities to reflect on endings and beginnings. One week before the end of the school term we moved house. In amongst all the activities of a school term ending it has made for a busy few weeks.
The house moving preparations began about a month before we actually moved house. There were two clear strategies in place. I was applying a pure energy to moving everything from one house to the other. With two weeks overlap where we had keys to the new property and were invited to move what we wanted prior to the official moving day, time around my working hours was filled with physically moving as much as possible to facilitate the final move. This was my strategy. It involved getting up at five thirty most mornings and taking a car load of hastily filled boxes from the old house to the new house. I succeeded in moving at least two car loads each day, one before work and one after work. My wife meanwhile was applying her own strategy to the moving preparations. It began in her own wardrobe with each item of clothing being reviewed, tried on if necessary and then a decision made as to whether it was to be packed, or put into a black bin bag and thrown away.
Both strategies for a new beginning in a new house are valid but arguably the strategy employed by my wife is more deserved of the ‘new beginning’ title.
And so we come to the end of the term. The last task for me was to deliver the whole school assembly to our primary pupils. The school has just received the data relating to the pupils completing their final year and again is sitting considerably above the best of the rest in the region. I started the assembly by inviting three final year A’ Level students to explain their own aspirations and then provided the link between hard work and the options that are available to us in our lives.
The assembly went well with input from our Year 6 pupils moving to secondary and time to say goodbye to the departing deputy head. As is customary we talked about ‘moving on’ and ‘new beginnings’.
Next week we have two non-pupil days to wrap up the term. In talking about ‘new beginnings’ in respect to a new school year I think we have the same two strategies available to us as we did when I moved house a week ago. We could blindly pack up all we have been working on this year and unwrap it all to start afresh in September. However, as with moving house, I’m not certain that would give us the energy that comes with a ‘new beginning’.
The other option is that favoured by my wife when moving house. To review each item before carrying over. I think my house move has taught me that the second option is more refreshing in creating that ‘new beginning’ and therefore at the start of next week I am going to invite an open feedback on what should be in the boxes that we pack for September. Which of our whole school strategies and systems have been effective and which do we need to review or discard before we move into the new academic year. With the School Development Plan reviewed in January this should provide an opportunity to check that we are moving in the right direction and that our plans are having the intended impact on teaching and learning. Hopefully, September will bring a new academic year that provides a genuine fresh start. Strategies that are effective in enhancing teaching and learning will be strengthened and those that are not having the desired impact will be left behind in the move.

The Telefonica customer service treatment

May 21, 2013 1 comment

It is an accepted part of life in Spain that eventually everybody will have a negative Telefonica/Movistar experience. It took a full four years of living in Spain for my turn to arrive but here is the ongoing saga of my current Movistar experience. Movistar own O2 in the United Kingdom as well as in many other countries across Europe. I think I understand how considered incompetence has given them the financial strength to buy so many national telephone companies.

In October 2010 I moved house. The chalet I moved to had never had a fixed telephone line installed but a call to Movistar (Telefonica as it was then) revealed that a fixed line was available. The installation, although much later than originally promised, was carried out and the telephone line worked. I had rejected the offer of Internet with the same company. Movistar had assured me that the Internet available in my area was upto 10Mb. I was surprised therefore when the company delivering the Internet provided my high speed ADSL service at speeds of only 3Mb. I should add that the Internet installation was considerably slower with the Internet company accusing Movistar of deliberately stalling the process.

I should warn that at about this point my conspiracy theories began to service. Within a few weeks of the telephone installation Movistar began a regular contact offering me an Internet service of either upto 10Mb or upto 6Mb depending on the day. Each time I politely declined despite the sales calls becoming ever more persistent.

Eventually in autumn of 2012 I went to make a telephone call only to find the line was dead. When I called Movistar the conversation went more or less as follows.

Me: Hello, my telephone line doesn’t seem to be working. Could you possibly check it for me please?
(After checking name, social security number etc)
Movistar: We have cut the line Sir because you have not paid your bill.
Me: I’ve paid every bill you’ve sent. Can you check that please?
Movistar: (After a short pause.) The problem Sir is we don’t have an address for you so we are not able to send the bill.
Me: But you’ve always sent me a bill. Why would you not have an address now?
Movistar: Your address doesn’t exist Sir so we can’t send the bill.
Me: The address does exist. I’m calling you now from the address. The chalet is exactly where it was when you sent your engineer to install the line two years ago. It is in the same place as where you have sent bills for the last two years.
Movistar: It isn’t on our database Sir.
Me: OK, so what do I need to do to get my telephone working again?

The answer is that a late payment of a bill (plus an expensive and unavoidable reconnection fee) can only be made in cash at a post office. After paying the bill the line was soon activated. This whole process repeated two months later. Against all the odds I then managed to convince Movistar to send the bills to an address that although not available on their system I could vouch, did in fact exist.

Fast forward to January 2013. At the end of January 2013 I received a double bill. I assumed something must be outstanding from the time of my address not existing soaked the bill in full. On Tuesday 26th February the line was cut. The following is the edited highlights of my last week of communication with Movistar.

Tuesday 26th February: The telephone line is cut at about 7pm. I know this is true as we were using the Internet after work and the service cut early in the evening.

Wednesday 27th February: I called Movistar to be told that the bill they had sent in January that I had paid in full was not in fact my full bill. There was an outstanding balance of just under thirty nine euros from November when they were unable to send me a bill excuse the address did not exist. If I went to the post office and paid the bill the line would immediately be reactivated. I paid the bill but the line was not reactivated.

Thursday 28th February: I called Movistar to ask why the line has not been reactivated. They told me it is because they have deleted my number. I will now need to apply for a new number. After protesting they confirm my old number is available and will be immediately activated.

Friday 1st March: The line is still dead so I phone to ask why. I am assured that the line will be activated immediately.

Saturday 2nd March: The line is still dead so I phone to ask why. I am told that when I had been informed yesterday that the line would be activated immediately this actually meant the process of reactivating the line would begin immediately. The process will take 24 hours and therefore on Sunday afternoon the line will become active.

Sunday 3rd March: The line is still dead.

Monday 4th March: The line is still dead so I phone to ask when it might be reactivated. The customer services lady informs me that the line was cut on the 7th December because a bill had not been paid. I tell her this is wrong, but also out of date information. I relay the conversations of the previous days. She tells me that it is not possible to connect me to the landline department because they are not answering the telephone and because she works in the mobile department she is not allowed to access my account. She takes my mobile number and assures me I will receive a telephone call very soon from the landline department.

Tuesday 5th March: The line is still dead. Tonight’s telephone conversation confirms that the information about being able to reinstate the line in 24 hours was false. I will need to raise an order for a new line and that process can take from 7-10 working days. Combining gets me nowhere except more frustrated so I raid the order the new line.

Finally, in the middle of March after many difficulties, the line was reconnected using the original number. The magical way of getting the reconnection ‘fast-tracked’ turned out to be to accept the Telefonica Internet package and drop my current Internet Service Provider. This then elevated me to the position of priority customer as I was new to the Telefonica Internet solution. Of course, the promise of doubling my Internet speed to 6Mb was a hollow one but with that accepted my Telefonica nightmare has ended and all is once again normal.

Fighting an overly complex system is one of the challenges of living in Spain. It seems as though there are numerous opportunities for simple processes to be made more complicated, often with a complete disregard to customer service. That said, it is May and Spanish summer will soon be here with long warm evenings and the opportunity to forget the obstinance of Telefonica and enjoy the fresh air.

If I call a Ford Fiesta a Lamborghini Gallardo does it then go faster?

January 12, 2013 Leave a comment

If I am disappointed with the speed my car moves will it go faster if I call it a Lamborghini Gallardo? Perhaps if I get it a shiny new badge that covers the old badge and maybe even give it a re-spray?

Over six hundred failing primaries in England are to be converted to academy status. That will be six hundred schools with the same children to educate, on the same sites, with often the same staff, teaching the same curriculum. Or will it? One academy in Bristol managed to dramatically increase the standards despite having the same site, staff and one would think the same pupils. However, a little scratching of the service reveals an admissions policy taking 80% of pupils from a more affluent neighbouring post code. The result I suspect is that those children who used to attend before the academy nameplate was nailed up are now being pushed out into LEA maintained schools and are disproportionately reducing the LEA results. Clearly then, academies work because in this area of Bristol the academy is considerably out performing the nearby LEA schools. Except, of course, nothing has changed. Taken as a big picture the standards in this area of Bristol have most likely not changed at all. Children are in different schools. Children working against social disadvantage aren’t affecting the statistics of the flagship academies, but they are still there, hiding below the surface, missing out on education because the real cause of low attainment was ignored in favour of a headline winning national strategy that now publishes the improvement that the local community wanted, even if that community are now prohibited from attending their local school.

Schools need to be allowed to focus on their core purpose, teaching and learning. Rebranding, even if it comes with a new letterhead, school badge, uniform or multi-million pound privately financed building can’t improve standards, at least not without a little behind-the-scenes manipulation, such as an admissions policy. Focussing on teaching and learning is what will improve standards.

It is refreshing to be able to sit back and watch developments in UK education with a critical eye before adopting them into school. Certainly I oversee the National Curriculum being taught in the schools that I lead but with the facility to dictate the ‘how’ from a basis of sound teaching and learning as opposed to needing to respond immediately to non-educators stipulating ‘how’ the education should happen.

Most effective strategies for school improvement focus on the process of learning and move away from the product. Why then is the UK determined to try and find a just method of measuring affectiveness of schools based on product. We can talk about value added, contextual value added, mix in some poverty factors, employ teams of mathematical graduates to crunch the numbers and convert the raw statistics into pie charts for the tabloids, but the real measure of schools comes from an evaluation of the teaching and learning. For that, the inspecting body needs to turn the focus away from judging teachers and look more closely at the learning taking place in school. I can make a judgement on the standards within a classroom fairly accurately and fairly quickly by talking with the pupils about their learning. I don’t need an analysis of how many are claiming free school meals, how many are diagnosed with a behaviour problem or what proportion of those pupils appear to move two percentile points when I look at the teacher assessment data. The teachers are responsible and must be held to account for the quality of their teaching but to improve schools we need to focus on the aspects of teaching and learning that have the most impact and not be pushed into manipulating statistics to attempt to demonstrate improvements.

It will be interesting to watch in a generation’s time and see whether or not the millions poured into the rebadging of ‘community primary schools’ as ‘academies’ has made a real difference to the educational attainment of the nation. We won’t be able to see that until a generation of pupils has been through their education and then we will discover the truth not by looking at the output of the academies in comparison to the remaining maintained schools, but by looking at all pupils and comparing to the previous generation.

In the meantime, I am happy to sit outside the direct influence of state controlled schools and lead learning that makes a real difference. Positions available in September for anybody needing to get back to real teaching. In the meantime, I am off to paint my car and rebadge it, just in case despite my cynicism, it can make a difference.

20130112-112722.jpg

%d bloggers like this: