Archive | July, 2015

Exploring Murakami

24 Jul

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Saying you are a fan of Haruki Murakami is almost a hipster cliché these days.  In fact, to suggest that you haven’t read his back catalogue is something to be frowned upon.  Sadly I haven’t.  With the exception of his memoir about running, ‘What I talk about when I talk about running,’ I’d never read anything by him.  I thought I would put that right this year, if only because the covers are beautiful in their simplicity.

In total I’ve read three of his books.  ‘After the Quake,’ ‘After Dark,’ and most recently ‘South of the Boarder, West of the Sun.’  These are possibly some of the lesser revered and certainly on the shorter side of his works.  I really don’t think I have it in me to tackle the mammoth 928 pages of 1Q84.

Without trying to sound like one of the many Murakami devotees I must say I am a convert.  Each of these three books were highly enjoyable.  I am a sceptic of the short-story work as I often find it fails to fully explore concepts and can be very much hit and miss but the collection put together in After the Quake was fantastic.  Each offering was thoroughly enjoyable and not one seemed a let down.  I thought it was fantastic.  I was also really taken by After Dark and South of the Boarder in their flowing yet almost static storytelling.  With both I almost felt like I was fully invested in the books completely without noticing I was being gripped.

I’m not sure I have it in me to want to tackle some of the longer works but I at least owe it to the quality of these first three to dig a little deeper into Murakami’s bibliography.  Suggestions where to go next are welcome.

Crumbs Kitchen

22 Jul

The Place

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Crumbs kitchen is a vegetarian deli based in Morgan’s arcade in Cardiff city centre.  It is neatly packed into a nice little corner hidden away from the hustle and bustle of the main street.

The seating inside seemed a bit cramped, although I understand there may be additional seating upstairs, but thankfully me and my good wife managed to snag a couple of seats on one of the outside tables.  1It was a glorious day in Cardiff and while this is situated inside the glass roofing meant we were under the sun and it almost felt like we were having an outside experience.

The service was accommodating in catering to the requests we made in building the salads we ordered but I have to say, while possibly unintentional, it did somewhat feel as if it was a chore to be serving us.  I felt less like I was in a cafe and more that I was putting someone out in their own home.

The Drink

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I had my now usual order of a caramel latte.  It was nice enough but not syrupy enough to my taste.  On a positive note it did come with accompanying biscuit which is always a bonus

The Carrot Cake

The carrot cake on offer looked very tempting and was organic so possibly the healthier version of such a treat.  However I’m off to Spain in two weeks and so I am trying to be as good as I can be – although still eating nowhere near as well as I should.

The Rest

Both my good wife and I had the house salad bowl which was beautifully fresh.

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There was an array of options and ingredients and it was not only healthy but extreamly filling and very tasty.  The addition of peanuts added some great flavourings you don’t often get in a standard salad as well as added texture.

There were a number of added extras you could put into the standard salad and I have to say the sweet potato and paprika balls were fantastic.

 

The challenge of curriculum review

6 Jul

Expertise

The Donaldson Review published earlier this year will undoubtedly lead to a complete overhaul in the delivery of education in Wales.  It has put us on a path for change that will radically alter the way teachers both think about and deliver education.

Teachers have been clamouring, calling and desperate for a greater sense of freedom to shape the curriculum to suit the needs and strengths of their local communities and pupil profiles.  Being empowered to act on that flexibility is a challenge all teachers should welcome.

However, it is also clearly something that teachers are simply not accustomed to, and in many cases will not feel comfortable with, at least in the initial stages.  The challenges are both frightening and exciting in equal measure.  We will seriously have to consider the question of capacity within the system to meet the demands of this curriculum revolution.

Teachers have become accustomed to a package and push approach from the Welsh Government and local authorities and may be waiting, wrongly, to receive the next curriculum update from that central source.

It is not too strong a statement, in my opinion, to say that the top down approach to curriculum design we have seen in recent years has somewhat de-professionalised teachers in this aspect of education planning, and has restricted independent and critical thinking around the curriculum.  We now seem to be moving back towards releasing the shackles but we mustn’t expect the sector to run before it has been allowed to properly walk independently again. Teachers will almost have to relearn the skills of curriculum design, which is going to be a burden on professional development and workload.

Time

In the early stages it is important that teachers and schools are given the time, space and support to meet this challenge.  The last thing we want is to find the pressure to tackle this process too quickly lead to “off the shelf” solutions being purchased that drain both the creative opportunities and finances from schools.

The Education Minister has been bold in making public pronouncements about his wish to see the teaching profession lead the work of designing the future curriculum in Wales.  That is to be welcomed.  A sense of working in partnership with the Welsh Government, rather than clashing with it is one the education sector desperately needs on such an important topic.

It has also been really positive to hear the Welsh Government be far more realistic about timescales than perhaps they have been on other issues in the past.

It was heartening to hear the Education Minister tell ITV Wales News that;

It will take the time that it takes in order to do this carefully and with the proper support for the professionals particularly that we are leaning on so heavily here.“ – Huw Lewis AM, ITV News, February 25th

Not only will we have to see a significant investment, financially and in time, to build the right skills for curriculum design and planning amongst existing practitioners, we will also have to reimagine the way teachers are trained.  Something the Furlong report has already taken steps to put in place.

Digital Literacy

Within the recommendations there is the specific challenge of promoting the role of IT.  Digital literacy is a key component of these curriculum reforms.  The report essentially puts digital competency including computer programming and coding on a par with literacy and numeracy as priorities that should be considered within all lessons, across all subject matters.

While education should not simply be about fulfilling the requirements of economic drivers, and indeed the curriculum review is quite explicit about that, we of course need to accept that becoming IT literate is a reality of modern life.

The impression that has come across thus far, to me at least, is that the patience we’ve seen for building curriculum capacity is maybe that bit thinner when it comes to digital inclusion.  This is something the Minister wants to see put in place a lot sooner.

The reality is that we need to support the upskilling of the profession if we are to ensure that all teachers are confident and creative in utilising modern technology in order to design the best learning experiences for their classes.  Children, who have only known a world of iPads, iPhones and Facebook, are more fluent than some teachers who were born, and in some cases already teaching, before the internet was even invented.  I’m 32 but while I got my first mobile phone at the age of 19 by the time my son was 20 months old he was seamlessly navigating YouTube.

There should be, yet again, a significant investment in continued professional development in this field, as well as in hardware and other resources to ensure schools actually have the quantity and quality of technology needed to be able to realise the ambition.

Assessment and accountability

A further major challenge to implementation is the proposed change to assessment and accountability.  While the review is focused on curriculum design 22 of the 68 recommendations relate specifically to these issues.

There is a particular challenge here for local authorities, regional consortia and Estyn in squaring the circle of the current system of high-tariff, punitive accountability measures, (many of which are irrelevant to securing progress for the individual learner), and a system that must move towards utilising assessment for learning in a more subtle and relevant way.

Conclusion

The truth is that what the profession is being asked to take on is a massive undertaking.  It will take a significant change in thinking and approach.

It will take a clear commitment to quality continued professional development.

It will take a recognition that it cannot be realised with budgets constantly cut.

It cannot be designed overnight and it needs a patience that goes beyond the usual election cycle.

However, what the profession is also getting is a real opportunity.

Learners’ achievement and school development based on an innovative and flexible curriculum, matter to no one as much as they do to teachers and school leaders.

Here is a chance for them to reclaim ownership for what we all know should already be theirs.

The above is an article commissioned for publication on the Education Workforce Council’s website.  You can find the original here.

I originally wrote this a few months back but it is only being published today. What I wrote preceded the most recent Ministerial statement. I wrote further about that new development here.

So far so good

1 Jul

The statement given by the Education Minister in the Assembly this week as a response to the Donaldson review into the curriculum in Wales didn’t really spring any surprises. The thrust of the narrative was that he has accepted in full the recommendations put forward. This is something Huw Lewis AM did previously make clear on BBC’s Wales Report. (You can catch that interview, as well as some words from yours truly, here while it remains on I-player).

We shouldn’t underestimate the impact of this decision.  As Felicity Evans rightly points out in the Wales Report interview, what Professor Donaldson has proposed is a significant departure from the philosophy pursued by the Welsh Government over recent years.  The Minister himself implies strongly as much.  Within the recommendations there are also going to be some major changes for the Welsh Government including, for example, establishing an arm’s-length structure for curriculum and assessment. (recommendation 56).

I don’t intend to once again work through the need for capacity to be built up in the system to effectively deliver this reform.  I have preached that message enough already, and will no doubt do so again in future.  What I will say is that in not identifying specific, and unrealistic, timescales the Minister has been very sensible.  He will, rightly, expect the profession and the sector as a whole, including his own department, to get to grips with the challenge as quickly as possible.  However, in building in an element of flexibility, as well as in being very clear about the need to allow time and space to do this right, the Minister has offered a support that has been overlooked in past reforms.  He should be commended for that.

One point made by Simon Thomas AM during the Assembly session is that political continuity can be difficult to achieve when reform takes many years and could, and almost certainly will, span longer than the tenure of one or more Education Ministers and Governments.  Continuing to build a consensus and collaborative approach on this issue is crucial to its delivery.  We know that one of the major factors in the successes of high achieving international education systems is that reforms have been carried on a consistent basis regardless of the individuals or even political parties in charge.  What is more they have been delivered over many years. This has been achieved largely due to the fact that the merits of the change have been clearly identified.  That the Minister recognised this in his response and stated that the burden of being an advocate for this change is something he is undertaking as a long-term process was a shrewd move and will give the sector confidence that this is not just another quick fix.

One new thing that we did learn from the statement was that Professor Donaldson will be taking up a role on the independent advisory group.  This is excellent news.  For many people the Donaldson review is something they are highly excited about but the fears about implementation are ever-present.  That Professor Donaldson will be scrutinising this delivery; providing ongoing input and support and acting as a critical friend in keeping the Welsh Government honest to the principles of the original report will certainly give people a boost.  Again, this is a smart move by the Minister.

There is a long way to go in implimenting this major change to how education in Wales is delivered.  There will undoubtedly be a number of challenges and clashes along the way.  However what we have seen this week is a Minister with a clear and sensible approach; an opposition offering credible scrutiny and support and a sector with enthusiasm and perhaps a bit more confidence.  It is a good platform to kick on from.