• TL;DR - key to positive wellbeing is getting good sleep and having good relationships.

    UK Department of Education publish a report on Children and Young People’s Wellbeing

  • TES pick one part of a DoE report and run with a clickbait headline:

    TES: Mental health: homework ’linked to unhappiness’

  • WalesOnline: School completely bans mobile phones and teachers say kids’ behaviour changes

    Or perhaps a highly visible and empowered staff are making a positive impact on improving relationships?

  • Equality and Privilege

    A little while back I read an article in the Guardian on gender imbalance in the most prominent roles within the biggest UK companies. A little further reading confirmed that this was not limited to the UK - not that I was surprised.

    It’s a topic I wanted to explore further for our school assemblies.

    Running our Businesses

    The FTSE 100 is a list of companies that are traded on the London Stock Exchange - specifically the 100 most valuable companies based on their market capitalisation. Each of these companies is run by a board and an executive team.1

    The board determines the long-term strategic direction of the organisation and is headed by a Chairperson - actually typically referred to as the Chairman. I guess that could be considered a hint of what is coming next.

    The executive team handles the day to day operations of a company. This team is led by a CEO.

    Within an educational context, schools also typically have a Board of Directors (or governors) headed by a chairperson, and their head teacher is the operational equivalent of a CEO.

    Counting Davids and Johns

    When you are faced with a room of 200+ pupils and staff at each assembly and you ask everyone called “David” to stand up, it is interesting to note just how relatively uncommon the name has become. Three Davids out of 650 pupils. Compare that to how many of our business leaders are called David.

    14 Chairs/CEOs of FTSE 100 companies are called David

    Repeating the exercise with “John” gets the same result. Three Johns out of 650 pupils.

    17 Chairs/CEOs of FTSE 100 companies are called John

    So then all females are asked to stand up. And suddenly the Davids and Johns are significantly outnumbered. So the open question is ‘How many women are in these positions of power, running the largest companies in the UK?’

    The answer is stark.

    7 Chairs/CEOs of FTSE 100 companies are female

    For every one of the UK’s most influential business leaders that are female, there are two called David.

    It all Comes Down to Money

    It’s not just at the top of the corporate ladder that inequality thrives. According to data gathered by the Office for National Statistics, when comparing those in full-time employment, men earn 10% more per hour than women. And that pay gap rises in managerial, professional, and skilled jobs.

    In fact, when looked at annually and combining all factors, on average the difference is even more significant.

    Average salary for men in full-time employment: ~£30,000 per annum

    Average salary for women in full-time employment: ~£25,000 per annum

    I am sure it could be argued that some of that comes from long-standing cultural factors that mean that women are more likely to take time out of careers to raise children - and new rules on Shared Parental Leave may well have an impact on that in time - but the fact remains that this pay gap exists across all levels and employment sectors.

    Representation of Women

    The leaders of corporations undoubtedly have a significant influence on our lives. They determine hiring policies and pay scales, oversee product and advertising strategies, and these leaders act as role models for those that try to follow in their footsteps.

    However, there is a more insidious gender imbalance that we are all faced with each and every day. It starts in government. Our elected (I will leave the unelected for another day) officials make decisions which affect our daily lives, our prospects, and our descendants.

    At the time of writing, 29% of the Members of the UK Parliament, and 36% of the Members of Scottish Parliament, are female. On the surface this is great news. From the position that faced the suffragettes I guess you could call that progress. But the fact remains…

    There are twice as many men running our country as there are women

    The imbalance is greater in senior ministerial positions. And in the top jobs, in most countries around the world, women are few and far between.

    Masculine Voices in our Heads

    The situation gets worse when you look just below the surface. The media representation of women has often been in the spotlight, from gender stereotypes in advertising to gender inequality in the film industry.

    But that is only half of the story. The news that is reported is typically researched, written, and presented by men.

    On sampling all of the attributed content in a selection of UK daily, national newspapers for a month in 2011, [the Guardian discovered][11] that less than 23% of named journalists were women.

    [11]: ‘The Guardian. Women’s representation in media: who’s running the show? 6 December 2011.’

    Masculine Expertise in our News

    More concerning, I would argue, is the role of “experts” in the media. City University London, under the direction of Professor Lis Howell, has been studying the number of female experts who are brought in to provide evidence or information to support a reported story in mainstream broadcast news. The most recent round of research reports an increase in the proportion of women experts, however male experts still outnumber their female equivalents by more than three to one.

    Our lawmakers, the journalists that hold our lawmakers to account, as well as the experts these journalists wheel in to provide authority to their reports, they are predominantly male. Even if we assume the best intentions are being pursued by all involved, this is not a good message for our children to see day in day out when they access the most respected and trusted news sources.

    Is it any wonder that equality is slow to arrive?

    Recognising Privilege

    The postscript to this discussion is that gender inequality is just one of the areas in which we, as members of the human race, could improve our record on. Arguably things are getting better, but it’s easy for a professional, degree-educated, heterosexual, middle class, middle-aged, white male to talk about how important equality is when he has never had to face the challenges faced at the sharp end of inequality.

    Getting back to those assemblies… I tried to highlight this privilege by playing a quick game I had set up in advance. It requires a sheet of A4 paper per class (or per pupil if you do this in a single class, or want to make a big mess) and a bin or large box.

    The setup is crucial. It helps that our group classes are arranged in a predictable manner for each assembly, so I was able to arrange for each Group Tutors to give a sheet of paper to one member of their class - for those classes sitting close to the front of the assembly hall the sheet had to be given to a boy, for those at the back it went to a girl.

    During the assembly the nominated members are asked to stand up, and were told their goal:

    1. get your A4 sheet of paper into the bin at the front of the assembly hall

    They were also given the following rules, in the interest of fairness:

    1. participants must not move from their seat, nor move their seat
    2. the sheet of paper can be shaped in any way so long as nothing is added or removed
    3. no other person may help to move the sheet towards the goal

    The pupils are then invited to send their sheet of paper, now inevitably scrunched up into a ball or fashioned into some hopefully aerodynamic craft, hurtling towards the bin.

    This is an exercise in realising that privilege helps you to achieve your goals. It’s not that someone at the back of the hall is not able to reach the goal, but it requires an extra bit of skill, ingenuity, or perhaps luck. Those nearer the bin can more easily achieve the goal with perhaps a suboptimal projectile or a carefree throw.

    All the pupils had a level playing field. Equal opportunities. The same rules. The same rewards. Oddly the boys were more successful.

    My challenge to female pupils was to not sit back and allow inequality as they journey through life. My challenge to male pupils, and indeed myself, was to recognise their own privilege and to work towards countering it.

    1. Apologies to Business Management teachers, or anyone else for that matter, who may find holes in any of my explanations of how companies operate. I have been intentionally simplistic in my approach but hopefully not actually inaccurate. Happy to be corrected. ↩︎

  • Edinburgh schools already have 5700 iPads deployed to staff and pupils, and expanding? It seems 1:1 is officially a thing.

  • Off to Edinburgh today, to meet✝ Vint Cerf.

    ✝ Meet (vb.) to be within acceptable tolerances of the same GPS identifiable location.

  • Perceptual cliffs and credit card thin iPhones would be a good starter for a critical thinking, next-generation device discussion.

    Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow - John Siracusa

  • The downside of cabled updates…

    Tangled 30-pin cables
  • There are many issues with Configurator and VPP that need to be sorted, in order to scale this operation up by a factor of 30!

  • And the second set of iPads were deployed today! Next week the real business end begins…

  • It’s been a long journey so far, but today our first set of pupil iPads have been deployed. Happy days!

  • And tomorrow (today) is provisioning day! I really should start writing this up…

  • Computing and Information Science - feedback

    The SQA, and no doubt a large host of teachers and consultants, have been busy in recent months building the framework for the new Senior Phase courses that are designed to embed the ideas of Curriculum for Excellence into Scotland’s qualifications, including the “gold standard” Higher.

    As part of that process, many subjects, courses, and their contents have been rationalised or overhauled. Amongst those significantly affected has been the study of Computing. From having a mix of Computing Studies at Standard Grade, as well as distinct Computing and Information Systems courses as part of the Higher Still qualification, to a single subject now named Computing and Information Systems.

    The SQA have requested feedback throughout this process. I thought I would share my feedback here… which it should be pointed out, is made without access to a significant amount of connected documentation which is not due until after the deadline for providing feedback!

    Course Specifications

    Purpose and Aims

    I would like to start by whole-heartedly agreeing with the purpose of the (Higher) course:

    Computing and information science is vital to everyday life; it shapes the world in which we live and its future. Computer scientists play key roles in meeting the needs of society today and for the future, in fields which include science, communications, entertainment, education, business and industry. Our society needs more computer scientists and for all young people to have an informed view of the IT industry and its contribution to the economy.

    The aims are also broadly admirable. Although there is a lack of definition of what some of the aims refer to, such as what the “key concepts” of the subject are. I would have hoped that precisely these types of questions should have been answered first, and not vaguely alluded to in course specifications.

    Course Structure

    I am concerned that in rationalising the previous Computing and Information Systems courses, the content of the optional units have mostly been dropped, and that has left just Software Development and Database Systems, along with a little bit of Computer Systems and some web development thrown in.

    I am glad that we have managed to exorcise ICT skills from the study of Computing, as important as ICT competency is, but we have to be careful not to reduce Computing to little more than programming and databases. Computing is a broad discipline with many areas of specialisation, so confining the course to a pair of fixed units is very limiting. I would like to see some opportunities for these specialism, and other aspects of Computing, to be included in the course, or least the flexibility for teachers to include extra content in their own delivery.

    Unit Specifications (National 4/5)

    The outcomes of the Software Design and Development and Information System Design and Development units seem more or less appropriate at the levels they are intended, within the context of my concerns about the system specifications.

    I am more concerned about the “mandatory skills, knowledge and understanding for the Computing and Information Science (National 4) Course” which appear in the only documentation I have seen which describes what students will be assessed on in the new qualifications. They include a significant number of already dated terminology, without some built in process for allowing the subject to adapt to developments in technology.

    Let me exemplify with a couple of examples.

    The types of computer stated mean that students must define (at the equivalent of Int 1, or General, level) what a “mainframe” is despite their being a great chance they will never encounter one even if they eventually work in the Computing industry. Similarly, they must define the term “PDA” despite the fact that this is a term (and class of device) that has almost universally obsoleted.

    The same point could be made of the discussion of data types as well as storage, input, and output devices. Apparently arbitrarily missing from the fixed list of output devices are LED displays, and yet a distinction is made between LCD and plasma displays.

    I have no issue with the actual terms, rather with embedding them in the assessment documentation, and therefore burdening students and teachers with their definitions until such a time the course is revised. Why do these terms need to be specified at all? Is it not enough to talk about the principles of these types of devices and allow the learning and teaching process to focus on the devices/terms that are appropriate at the point of teaching?

    There is also the issue of design considerations being in the section on web-based applications (not sure if this refers to applications hosted on the web or those for creating web content – the term suggests the former, but the content statements the latter). Surely these principles apply equally to software and database development?

    Finally on the the National 4 assessment, I am concerned about the sheer number of content statements, particularly related to the Information System Design and Development unit. I would like to see a more skill/task based course with supporting theory, whereas the content statements suggest to me that the opposite would be the result for that unit. I understood that one principle of the CfE courses was to allow for depth of study. At National 4 level I think that will be difficult with that amount of content.

    General Comments

    I am surprised at the closed nature of this development and consultation process, given the increasingly widespread use of the social aspects of the web. I have chosen to publicly share my feedback, and I would be glad if others did likewise. Transparency in the decision making process would help to reassure everyone that the result is the best outcome. After all, if I am the only person to feel as I do, I can hardly be unhappy if the result is not what I would like to see.

    Related to this, I would like to know what input universities and industry had in helping to determine the topics that make up the course, and the content statements that make up each topic.

    Could research and feedback, and not just selected highlights of the same, not be posted and available for all?

    And finally, as I post this as feedback, I notice that you are not asked to leave a contact. So feedback will be taken, but there seems to be little plan to follow this up afterwards. I am sure that would be useful in a number of situations.


    Update: This post was written before the subject name was refined to simply Computing Science. The SQA have now finalised information on all levels of CfE Computing Science.

  • #EduScotICT

    A month ago Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Education, Michael Russell MSP, recently posted a message on YouTube announcing a consultation into the future of GLOW.

    In one week there will be a conference in Stirling, with a mix of invited guests attending, with streaming of discussions for anyone to join/comment. There was even a wiki set up to elicit opinions and start the discussion going. I have to say the attitude is refreshingly progressive.

    I am not sure I feel qualified or entitled to contribute to the debate. I first saw GLOW three years ago, and have bumped into it a few times since, but I have never had a GLOW account – and sadly I am not likely to in the future, but I will come to that later.

    I can only scratch the surface here, but after a month of reading and occasional discussions, the following things occur to me…

    Objective 1: Change the culture of the use of ICT

    ICT skills need to be treated with the same importance and weight as numeracy and literacy. Until then pupils and teachers will not be expected to have the skills they require, and schools will not be expected to provide them.

    Pupils need to be able to access the same resources at school as they can at home, and ideally on their own chosen device. It is ridiculous that a school would block YouTube (for example) when so many wonderful resources reside there, and when pupils can sit during lunch watching completely unfiltered content via their 3G smartphones.

    Filtering, if it is to exist at all, needs to be implemented in a far more liberal way. Teachers need to be the arbiters of appropriateness of material, not technical staff or local authorities.

    All this technology makes it really easy to share resources, and yet somehow it happens surprisingly rarely. The #EduScotICT wiki, as well as numerous individual blogs, is evidence that people can share, but it happens infrequently in a meaningful way. We have the opportunity to produce shared instructional materials and activities, and on top ofthat we can encourage debate and interaction with and beyond these.

    Objective 2: Improve confidence in the use of ICT for learners, teachers, school leaders and parents

    Expect competency from teachers and support learners (including teachers, leaders, and parents). We expect numeracy and literacy to a minimum level from our teachers, surely we should expect the same of their ICT skills. But, of course, support is needed to make sure that they can meet expectations. Training, exemplification, sharing, and encouragement – for all these learner groups).

    Recognise a wider variety of skills. Can we please kill our obsession with Microsoft Office? Although we have to be careful not to replace that with an obsession with iPads. If you can demonstrate a skill, or an understanding, does it matter how you do so, or which tool you use? Let’s understand that people learn in different ways.

    Be wary of qualifications. ECDL and PC Passport are formulaic approaches to delivering and assessing ICT skills, and if they fit your needs then that’s great. However, teacher training courses had ICT as a core skill a decade ago and yet still teachers are joining the profession lacking skills and confidence. A piece of paper is less effective than a commitment to share ideas and good practice.

    Create national resources. Good resources. Resources to help all learners specifically with ICT skills, and more generally resources that teachers will want to use. If there are benefits to gaining ICT skills, people will be more likely to want to gain them.

    Encourage the use of “personal learning networks”, whether via Twitter-like tools, forums, or blogs. Equally, encourage the same in the physical space. Teachmeet, in-school groups, area discussion groups, and national conferences. I am sure there are many more options available.

    Objective 3: Promote new behaviours for teaching

    I cannot really comment on this without thinking that the real issue is actually that we need to work out what we are going to teach and how we are going to assess it. But that’s another post.

    I don’t think it’s about “new” behaviours so much as good practice, which must always have been at the forefront of any good teacher’s mind. Of course, with changes in technology, especially as it infiltrates further into schools, there will be a need to change teaching behaviours. But I hope that all good teacher would recognise that.

    We also need to recognise that just because technology is an integral part of life, and increasingly school, does not mean that everything should be about the technology. But again, I am sort of hoping that this is a given.

    Objective 4: Deepen parental engagement

    All schools should go beyond the web site. And it might depend on the school, the parent population, and the currently prominent tools. But communication in a number of ways, from which parents can chose, seems a minimum.

    Email. Twitter. Facebook. It really does not matter, except there should be multiple methods of communication, and new ones should be added as they become widespread. The parents should choose the one they want.

    Open pupil records to parents (and pupils). Let them log in and see a pupil’s progress and current work. Give them a chance to discuss and promote the school.

    Let pupils contact parents, and other pupils, themselves. Blogs and wikis, or Facebook and Twitter – again, it perhaps depends on the school etc., and as technology changes so must the available tools.

    Importantly, give pupils and parents some control over the method of communication. Again, we all work in different ways. We all want different things.

    Objective 5: Strengthen position on hardware and associated infrastructure

    All schools need a reliable, high bandwidth network connection. Without the infrastructure, no amount of improvement in ICT provision within school will be of benefit.

    Whole site Wifi access is required in all schools, with pupils and staff allowed to make use of their own devices, in and out of classes. Ubiquitous access to all resources.

    One to one deployment of devices should be the norm. Type and uniformity of device, and funding issues, are up for much debate no doubt – but everyone needs something. Universal access to all resources.

    Ideally there should be a single login for each user. Technologies like OpenID/oAuth allow such an idea to be a reality. Many tools already support generic login methods, and others do so by use of plug-ins, while I am sure others would be able to with relatively minor funding/encouragement. Though this is much less essential for staff, much less likely to be an issue for parents, and only really critical in junior school years.

    Create a national resource repository. Encourage sharing, editing, and rating of resources. All teachers should have access to all resources. Resources need not be centrally stored, but should be catalogued by course and topic. We have thousands of teachers in this country, and many more internationally, let’s make use of that. Let’s all create things for each other.

    And finally…

    I would not have thought about this, but for my involvement in trying to get GLOW opened up to independent schools and further/higher education, but really…

    Whatever replaces GLOW, assuming it is somehow curated, will not be a truly national resource if organisations are excluded from accessing it and contributing resources to it.