Tag Archives: Reviews

National Education Workforce Survey

5 Apr

Today the Education Workforce Council published the National Education Workforce Survey.  For a number of years there has been calls for just this sort of thing to be undertaken in Wales.  Across the boarder the Westminster Government have produced annual workload surveys and they have been illuminating in shinning a light on the workload pressures of the teaching profession.  While in Wales we have heard numerous examples of anecdotal evidence it has been frustrating to be unable to point to a comprehensive piece of work to back up the picture we are all very aware of.  We now do have that.

This piece of work, in full credit to Kirsty Williams, the Welsh Government and the EWC, goes far beyond what was originally called for.  Instead of a teachers workload survey we have an in-depth report looking at a whole range of areas covering different tiers of the sector.  With a total of over 10,000 responses this has been a wide-ranging survey that provides a depth of data to be explored.

There will be initial reactions in the media no doubt.  That makes sense and it is right.  That said, in addition to those first thoughts, over the next couple of weeks I hope to blog a few times to work through what evidence we’ve been presented with.  if there are any specific aspects you think should be explored and reviewed please do let me know.

School Swap: Korea Style – 2

30 Nov

Yesterday I blogged on episode one of the BBC documentary about South Korea’s education system.  I was a little bit critical of the fact the piece seemed to gloss over, or at least not give great attention to the significant concerns that exist with the emotional impact of a Korean style system.  This morning I caught up with the second, and final, episode.  You can find it here while it remains active on iPlayer.

I found the focus on the celebrity teacher a touch odd and unnecessary.  Clearly the career path of this individual was pretty unique and not the norm.  I’m not sure if the show was trying to give the impression that all teachers in South Korea can become millionaires but that isn’t the case.  This is just an example of someone who has found a gap in the market.  It is like saying that Professor Brian Cox is somehow representative of the average university professor.  That said I did appreciate the fact the show made a point to emphasis the respect that teaching as a career is afforded in Korea and the standing teachers have in their community.  Undoubtedly this is one issue that plays a significant role in school discipline as well as community support for the actions and endeavors of a school.  This was reflected also in the demand for teaching training roles.  As we discovered 3,000 individuals applied for a teaching course where only 36 were given places.  This replicates a similar demand to join the profession from nations such as Finland, whose philosophy on education is in stark contrast with South Korea yet whose esteem for the teaching profession is equally high.  Contrast that with Wales where we have failed to fill our secondary teachers training courses for the past five years including attracting a third fewer than the target last year.

To give credit to Sian Griffiths and the production team I was clearly too quick to jump the gun in my criticisms yesterday that they were overlooking the negative impacts on childhood that accompany a South Korean style system.  In this episode there was a blunt reflection of those issues, including first hand accounts of individuals who had been emotionally scared through the process with the suicide rates laid bare to see.  It was particularly interesting to hear the views of the former education Minister, someone who had overseen PISA success yet recognised the potential damage that had caused to creativity and freedom to enjoy childhood.

My lasting thoughts would echo those of the headteacher from Ysgol Dwei Sant.  There’s lessons to look at and learn from South Korea but equally there are key lessons they can also learn from us, particularly around that deeper thinking, creativity, communication, cooperation and emotional development of character.  This is the nature of education policy.  It is looking at the best and recognising how, what and where it can influence Welsh education, but in doing so remaining committed to the core values that are the foundation of our society.

Notes:

*Whoever chose Kung Fu fighting for both shows soundtrack needs a geography lesson.  Kung Fu originates in China.  Carl Douglas who did the song is a recording artist from Jamaica and it was an ode to Chinese culture.  

*Finally good on all the Welsh students for ending with a hug, and particularly Tom who used the typically Welsh ‘see you later’ when leaving for a 10 hour or so flight home. 

Uncertainty hanging over Schools Challenge Cymru – IWA Article

5 Aug

Back in early 2014 the Welsh Government announced their flagship policy for school improvement.  Schools Challenge Cymru was set to be the Welsh version of the lauded London and Manchester Challenge initiatives which had seen some radical and inspiring results.

With an initial pledge of £20m for at least two years there was financial backing for the programme.  This proposal was introduced at the height of the policy fatigue in the Education sector we saw during the last Assembly term.  Thankfully the recruitment of some key personnel from previously successful challenge programmes, including the impressive communicator Professor Mel Ainscow, did help alleviate some fears.  A little over two years on inevitably people will ask the question “has Schools Challenge Cymru worked for us?”

It is essential with any project of this nature that we are continually reviewing its progress to ensure it is providing value for money.  When there is a large financial investment, especially considering education budgets are so tight at present, it is crucial that teachers in schools are seeing a tangible benefit for their pupils.

The evidence from the first independent review suggests that thus far progress is patchy.  Some had already voiced their uncertainty of the impact of SCC.  When data showed the 40 schools in the SCC programme were just 0.3% better than those not included, the then Plaid Cymru Education Spokesperson, Simon Thomas AM, said in October last year:

“The Labour government’s flagship SCC programme was intended to deliver swift, sustainable improvement to schools that face challenges – but it hasn’t delivered the results.”

However, putting those results into context the aforementioned Professor Ainscow, writing for this very website, stated that:

“Overall, the picture for the Pathways to Success schools is beyond my expectations.  Indeed, neither the London nor Manchester Challenges made the same progress after just one year.”

So what does the review tell us? Perhaps most worrying is that “interviewees, in just over a quarter of the visited PtS schools, indicated that they felt that, following inclusion in SCC, they had seen an improvement in the quality of teaching and learning.” (Page 87)  By extension therefore there are a significant number of schools who are not seeing that same level of improvement.  Conversely however, “The majority of interviewees in 32 of the 38 PtS schools we visited indicated that they felt that participation in SCC had had a positive impact on their school.” (Page 92)

For me one of the key lines of the report is that:

“In most cases, interviewees welcomed the opportunity afforded to PtS schools by their inclusion in SCC and the availability of additional support to help clusters overcome their barriers to improvement. That said, in most cases, interviewees reflected that work undertaken to date was not dissimilar to that which had been undertaken prior to the launch of SCC.” (Page 5)

This is perhaps the crux of the concern.  Teachers are open to sharing views and building towards the promise land of a self-improving education system.  While I recall initial hesitation from some practitioners at the potential stigma of being included in the 40 SCC schools, they were also open to embracing support and cooperation.  Sadly, as with many past Welsh Government initiatives, implementation hasn’t always matched the ambition.  Where it has worked, it has worked well.  Where it hasn’t there is a need to examine why and to improve on the offer being made to schools.

Clearly there are some teachers and some schools who are seeing the positive effects of the Schools Challenge Cymru program while others are yet to be convinced.  What we do know is that similar initiatives, such as the London challenge, were delivered over a much longer period.  These were many years in the making and by comparison Schools Challenge Cymru is very much in its infancy.  It may be that we cannot fully make a judgement on how impactful this approach will be for a few years.  Education reform does not happen overnight.  The world’s leading education systems have taken decades to develop.  Wales will not be unique in that regards and patience with any new policy is very much a virtue.

I think in some regards teachers are reluctant to embrace a new proposal if they are uncertain of how sustainable the commitment to it is.  While the initial money set aside was promising, the lack of a long-term commitment, for whatever reasons, did perhaps hinder the buy in from the sector.  A profession that has have become jaded by policies announced to great fanfare one day only to be scrapped the next were always going to view a two year guarantee as short-term.  Even today, in light of a new Government and a new Cabinet Secretary, with the Minister who brought this project to life no longer an Assembly Member, the uncertainty continues to hang over the policy.

If it is to be a success then it will be important to communicate where there have been successes and replicate that action across schools and local authorities.  Perhaps the biggest question we can ask of Schools Challenge Cymru is if it will be afforded the time and investment to truly prove itself the game changing initiative it was announced to be.

This was originally an article written for the IWA Click blog and can be found here.

The Savoy – London

1 Jun

The Place

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My good wife and I were lucky enough to head to stay at the Savoy over the weekend.  There is no way I would every consider paying £500+ a night for a hotel of any description but this was free so I had no problem saying yes to it.

I have to say I don’t think it is a huge step above some of the nicer, if far more reasonably priced hotels I’ve stayed in across the UK.  The attention to detail from staff was exceptional but beyond that the room and the food in general etc was all of a very high quality but not of the standard that I would think would make me stump up that sort of cash.

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There is a cake and patisserie shop at the Savoy called Melba and we stopped in for some carrot cake.

The Carrot Cake

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I had a carrot cake cupcake on this visit.  The decoration was great with a very authentic looking marzipan carrot topper.  There was a huge amount of cream cheese icing, perhaps a bit too much if anything.  This was extremely fresh and enjoyable.  The texture of the cake was excellent, very moist and bitty, but for my pallet not spicy enough for a carrot cake.

Overall it was very good but not quite great.

The Drink

Not hot chocolate was consumed on this trip sadly.

The Rest

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Not being such a fan of carrot cake Lauren opted for a salted caramel eclair.  I’m really sorry to say that this looked and sounded that bit better than it actually tasted.  Although the texture was nice it lacked the strong flavor to back it up, which was a shame.

 

Hath Booker Prize 2015

15 Dec

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My good wife got me this amazing book mark.  If you know me you’d know how much I love the number 53.  Sadly the Gryffalo got hold of it one day and it has not been seen since!

Last year I aimed to read a book a week and successfully hit that target.  Knowing that I was going to be undertaking a diploma this year I decided not to set myself a target but to just enjoy reading as often as time would allow.  I still managed a decent return and for the most part in reading books I very much enjoyed, in fact I ended up totaling 63 books.  I have posted infrequent reviews of the odd book here and there but I thought I’d collate all the books into a final end of year post here.

As always with my end of year posts if there are any books you are interested in let me know and I am happy to send them on to you.  Otherwise I will just do my usual thing of leaving them in random public places for strangers to pick up.

The Pick of The Best (in order of preference):

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The Humans – Matt Haig (1) I’m not going to claim this is the deepest or most cultured book I read this year but it was one that just gripped me.  The plot was enjoyable and it made me think a lot about human nature and my own relationships.  To many it may appear a tad bit superficial but for me it was a really excellent read.

Terms & Conditions – Robert Glancy (2) The first book of the year that I considered a contender.  Very funny and well paced.  Highly recommended.

Moriarty – Anthony Horowitz (3) One of the last books of the year I read and the final book to crash into the picks of the best. Great plot, with a lovely twist at the end.  Well paced and thoroughly entertaining.  I may even be a little harsh not having this higher up.

Chop Chop – Simon Wroe (4) I didn’t expect the plot of this book to take the turn it did but enjoyed it.  The authenticity of the characters and settings in particular were great.

Money – Martin Amis (5) This was recommended to me at the end of last year and I bought it in January.  For some reason I just couldn’t get enthused with it.  It wasn’t until many months later when I had no other books at hand did I crack on with it.  Delighted I did as there are some utterly fantastic characters here.  Lorne Guyland is up there with the best.

After the Quake – Haruki Murakami (6) Beautiful short story collection. Each and every one hit a spot with me. I enjoyed all the Murakami books I read this year but this was probably the pick.

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed – Jon Ronson (7) This book completely changed my attitude to social media, for the better.  I wish everyone was forced to read it before being allowed on twitter.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore – Robin Sloan (8) This is just a lovely, charming and whimsical read.  At times bordering on the ridiculous but none the worse for that.

Honorable Mentions:

The Rosie Effect – Graeme Simson: Time passing and easy-going feel good book.  As enjoyable as the first in the series.

Sharpe Objects and Dark Places- Gillian Flynn: Much improved on her more critically acclaimed and popular Gone Girl offering.

Salvation of a Saint – Keigo Higashino: Another very intelligent and well crafted locked room mystery from my favorite Japanese author.

The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler: Some of the best one liners and quotable witticisms I’ve read for some time. Whispers of Oscar Wild.

Elizabeth is Missing – Emma Healey: Possibly the first book of 2015 I really enjoyed.

After Dark, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki & South of the Boarder, West of the Sun: Haruki Murakami: Any one of Murakami’s novels I read this year could have made the best list and the rest deserve at least an honorable mention.

Career of Evil – Robert Galbraith: I’ve really liked the Cormoran Strike series and this was a really good addition to it.  If they get the casting right it could be really good news that it has been commissioned as a TV series by the BBC.

Modern Romance – Aziz Ansari: Part social study, part comedy.  Really interesting and funny look at modern day relationships. Made me both wish I had read it during my single days and extremely glad I am married.

Kill Your Friends – John Niven: Pretty brutal and explicit, often sensationally so, but none the less enjoyable in a Trainspotting/Money/American Psycho sort of way.

The Let Downs:

Half the Kingdom – Loe Segal:  Messy and confusing narrative. The book feels like a mashing together of the train of thought from far too many characters.  It just didn’t work for me.

Paper Towns – John Green: This wasn’t a particularly bad book really but I massively enjoyed ‘The Fault in our Stars’ last year by the same author and this just wasn’t close to that standard.

The Facades: Eric Lundgren: This book had a lot of hype and expectation.  I can imagine other people reading it and thinking it was stunning.  I just found it rather self-indulgent and uninspiring.

The Art of Killing Well – Marco Malvaldi: This just didn’t click with me. I found it really hard to get interested in it.

The Ring and the Opposite of Death: Roberto Savian: I really wanted to like this book.  There was a lot of hype about the author but it just didn’t do anything for me. It seemed messy and forced. Perhaps it lost something in the translation from Italian but either way one to miss.

Blackwater – Joyce Carol Oates: I am intrigued by the whole Kennedy family and as this was a loose fictionalization of the Chappaquiddick incident I thought it would captivate me.  Sadly I felt as if it was poorly written and a bit drawn out, which is particularly odd given it is a short book.

Pygmy – Chuck Palahniuk – Some people think this is some of Palahniuk’s finest work.  I hated it.  There’s a deliberate use of incorrect English throughout to give a voice to the lead character.  I’m hardly one to critique such things but I just couldn’t get passed it.  Made it a dreadful read for me.

The Versions of Us – Laura Barnett – This was a good sliding doors style concept.  However three alternative timelines made for a confusing read at times and I’m not sure it was worth the payoff.

Full reading list in the order I read them:IMG_0899

The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler (1)

Breaking the Chain – Willy Voet (2)

The Uncommon Reader – Alan Benett (3)

Trash – Andy Mulligan (4)

Elizabeth is Missing – Emma Healey (5)

Cat Out Of Hell – Lynne Truss (6)

Saturday – Ian McEwan (7)

The Ring and the Opposite of Death – Roberto Saviano (8)

Half the Kingdom – Loe Segal (9)

The Guest Cat – Takashi Hiraide (10)

Holes – Louis Sachar (11)

Trash – Andy Mulligan (12)

Terms & Conditions – Robert Glancy (13)

Malice – Keigo Higashino (14)

Salvation of a Saint – Keigo Higashino (15)

Paper Towns – John Green (16)

The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins (17)

The Facades – Eric Lundgren (18)

Random Deaths and Custard – Catrin Dafydd (19)

The Red Notebook – Antoine Laurain (20)

Who is Tom Ditto? – Danny Wallace (21)

Casino Royal – Ian Fleming (22)

Live and Let Die – Ian Fleming (23)

The Man Who Couldn’t Stop – David Adam (24)

The Last Treasure Hunt – Jane Alexander (25)

Chop Chop – Simon Wroe (26)

True Grit – Charles Portis (27)

The Humans – Matt Haig (28)

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed – Jon Ronson (29)

Dept. Of Speculation – Jenny Offill (30)

The Rosie Effect – Graeme Simson (31)

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore – Robin Sloan (32)

BlackWater – Joyce Carol Oates (33)

Don’t Try This At Home – Angela Readman (34)

The Manual of Detection – Jedediah Berry (35)

Naive. Super – Erlend Loe (36)

Hotel Alpha – Mark Watson (37)

After Dark – Haruki Murakami (38)

Fadeout – Joseph Hansen (39)

The Art Of Killing Well – Marco Malvaldi (40)

Dark Places – Gillian Flynn (41)

After the Quake – Haruki Murakami (42)

A Class Apart – Gareth Evans (43)

South of the Border, West of the Sun – Haruki Murakami (44)

Every day – David Levithan (45)

Sharpe Objects – Gillian Flynn (46)

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage – Haruki Murakami (47)

Money – Martin Amis (48)

NYPD Red – James Patterson (49)

Walking Dead – Compendium 2 – Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore, and Charlie Adlard (50)

Pygmy – Chuck Palahniuk  (51)

Reykjavik Nights – Arnaldur Indridason (52)

NYPD Red 2 – James Patterson (53)

The Versions of Us – Laura Barnett (54)

After The Crash – Michel Bussi (55)

A Boy Called Hope – Lara Williamson (56)

Career of Evil – Robert Galbraith (57)

NYPD Red 3 – James Patterson (58)

Walking Dead – Compendium 3 – Robert Kirkman, Stefano Gaudiano, Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn (59)

The Boy in the Stripped Pyjamas – John Boyne (60)

Moriarty – Anthony Horowitz (61)

Modern Romance – Aziz Ansari (62)

Kill Your Friends – John Niven (Book 63)