Global Citizenship Education for a Sustainable Future

With our internationally inter-linked economies, and in an age in which problems confronting humanity are increasingly common to all, global citizenship education has never been more essential.

It was a privilege to be part of the CDEC delegation representing the UK at an international conference in Trento, Italy, 11th to 13 March, entitled “Perspectives on Global Citizenship: A Shared Commitment” (see: http://www.globalschools.education/News/Perspectives-on-GCE).

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The opportunity to meet with professionals from 10 EU members states, and to discuss our successes and challenges to successfully delivering global citizenship education in each of our countries was illuminating.

At the conference we considered, and signed up to a position statement which expressed our shared aims as follows…

Our overall aim is to open up new areas of learning and encourage participation of pupils and educational communities in Global Citizenship Education.

We aim to do this by:

  • facilitating the development of competences and values that ensure critical understanding of global interdependences;
  • developing understanding of power relationships;
  • encouraging active engagement in local and global attempts to eradicate poverty and inequality;
  • promoting justice, human rights and sustainable ways of living;
  • fostering the resilience, creativity and optimism to take action, individually and collectively, for a just and sustainable world.   

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It was interesting, though not surprising to discover that it is not only the English delegation which faces the challenge of convincing policy makers to promote such outward-looking, benevolent aims.  In most countries it seems, the monetisation of pupils, treated as units of economic growth, dominates the shaping of school curricula.  But, perhaps the notion of world peace would be something all would sign up to?  It was enlightening to listen to Yoko Mochizuki, Head of the Rethinking Learning Programme, UNESCOMahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development, India.  Yoko explained how instrumentalism can provide a motivation for peace in which it is seen as a means to a (nationalistic) end rather than as a universal aim.

The position statement we signed up to also included the following statements:

We encourage all educators to engage with and share learning from Global Citizenship Education shaped by the principles of values formation, critical thinking, dialogue and the exploration of interconnections.
We believe that school communities are spaces that can facilitate the emergence of a new generation of world citizens motivated by values of solidarity, equality, justice, inclusion, sustainability and cooperation.

This last sentence echoes the sentiments which permeated the presentations, speeches and all our conversations during the conference, in which we also watched the powerful film One Day After Peace ; a film about forgiveness and reconciliation after conflict.  One particular quotation from the film summed up a lot of what we strive to convey through global citizenship education:

“When you see the humanity in the other it’s the end of conflict.”

To live in a world in which peace, shared endeavour and generosity are the dominant characteristics may seem a lofty aim, and yet so much can be achieved through an education which enables children and young people to empathise with others from widely diverse backgrounds, ethnicities, cultures and experiences of life, and empowers them to contribute to finding solutions to conflict, the sharing of finite resources, human displacement, poverty, the environment…  But whether the motivation for including global citizenship education in curricula is national interest or altruism or anything in between, it is essential that educational professionals across the world continue to make the case for an education which is holistic, outward-looking and which contributes to a sustainable future for all.

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Children are Entitled to Global Learning

E_2018_SDG_Poster_with_UN_emblemMore than at any time in history the problems facing humanity are increasingly ones which are shared by every nation around the world: concerns about the environment, diminishing natural resources, inter-linked economies, displaced populations due to warfare and natural disasters, poverty and human trafficking, equality of opportunity, etc.  These challenges are growing at the same time that some nations, previously champions of international cooperation, appear to be moving towards a more inward-looking, protectionist attitude.  Those children who already have a strong awareness of the world’s greatest challenges are right to demand that older generations work together to address them, and those children who are not aware have a right to know how the world they will inherit is currently shaping up and rising to its greatest challenges.

It is right that schools are tasked with delivering learning about the social, moral, spiritual and cultural aspects of life alongside all the traditional school subjects.  However, the importance afforded these aspects varies from school to school, some placing substantially more importance on them than others.  The pressure on schools to achieve good test results to ward off an unfavourable school inspection judgement is a strong influence, in some cases squeezing out opportunities to discover, discuss and debate the full range of issues that form the Sustainable Development Goals (see: http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals/).

Most teachers will tell you that they entered the profession with a strong sense of moral purpose; a moral purpose to educate in its broadest sense, ensuring that children are well equipped for every aspect of the world they live in, and not only those aspects measured through statutory testing.  However, the idea that the two are incompatible is a false one – many schools with a commitment to global learning find that integrating it into literacy and mathematical learning is not only achievable, but motivational.  By contrast, a curriculum which is excessively narrow and devoid of the real-world engagement which global learning provides is like unseasoned food, lacking in flavour and unappetising for learners.  It is quite possible that a narrow curriculum may prove similarly unsatisfying to principled teachers; teachers experiencing a curriculum in which the primary moral purpose has been reduced to the pursuit of greatness in exams or SATs may decide that teaching no longer satisfies the moral purpose which characterised their entry to the profession.

On 5th March, over 50 teachers from 35 schools and over 40 children from across Cumbria gathered for a global learning conference (see: http://www.cdec.org.uk/2018/03/the-big-global-learning-conference-sets-cumbrias-beacon-of-global-learning-ablaze/), united in a conviction that children have a right to global learning, and with confidence that when taught well, global learning provides essential seasoning of the school curriculum which pupils find enlightening, stimulating and empowering.  Children and teachers shared their enthusiasm for social action, such as efforts to reduce plastic waste, support the local food bank, promote fair trade or sponsor efforts to provide schools or clean water in other parts of the world.  However, the conference marked the end of The Global Learning Programme (GLP) which has been running since 2013.  As yet there has not been an announcement of government funding for a continuation or successor to GLP.

OECD/PISA sees the importance of young people developing global competences (see: http://www.oecd.org/pisa/pisa-2018-global-competence.htm) as they are worried that schools are not engaging with real world issues.  Meanwhile, the UK government has decided we will not take part in the tests this year, prompting the question “In our new ‘global Britain’ is there a danger in being exposed as globally incompetent?”.  Scotland Teaching standards, however, do include a commitment to Learning for Sustainability.  (see: http://www.gtcs.org.uk/professional-standards/professional-standards.aspx)

As an indication of the strength of commitment to Global Learning among Cumbria’s schools, headteacher representatives will be attending an international conference in Italy, 11th to 13 March, entitled “Perspectives on Global Citizenship: A Shared Commitment” (see: http://www.globalschools.education/News/Perspectives-on-GCE).  The conference will bring together education professionals from across Europe, but also marks the end of a three year project which has sought to integrate Global Citizenship Education into the educational policies and primary schools in 10 EU countries.  The question of which countries are forging ahead with global learning, and which are lagging may be answered at the conference.  Those attending will be hoping that 2018 does not mark an end of efforts to establish global learning at the core of education, but a fresh impetus at the beginning of a new chapter.

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Tests Manipulated for Political Agenda: The Road Roller Approach to School Improvement

Speaking to school leaders on this subject at NAHT Conference 2017

Driving up standards,” a rigorously over-used phrase, but summing up how crude and unscientific the government’s approach to school improvement is. Is it built on a notion that improved output results from increased input? On a factory assembly line, perhaps, but in the classroom? If your class does not understand something the first time, you don’t simply say it again louder, you explain it differently.

“Raising the bar” – a similarly hackneyed phrase. The government does not have the monopoly on high expectations, and simply having high expectations is not enough. It is a skilled and continually up-skilled profession which improves outcomes (which is why the Chartered College needs our support).
They say:

“Limit the number of students who can achieve the top grade.” Why? To make the most privileged stand out more?

They say:

Limit the range of knowledge deemed valuable. Why? Does the world of work require clones?

When, in 2015, someone from DFE told me that 85% of children nationally would be expected to achieve an as yet undetermined standard at age 11, I enquired from which research the figure of 85% was derived. I received the answer, “It sounds challenging”.

Why limit the number of students who can achieve the top grades? To make the most socially advantaged stand out even more, perhaps?  It achieves the opposite of improving social mobility.

Consider how secondary teachers are now having to guess at the meaning of a new numerical grading system for GCSEs. Is this to allow grade boundaries to be set in order to achieve a particular quota?

Why are the score boundaries for statutory tests withheld, even after the tests are marked and the grades are in? Even though teachers are involved in discussions leading up to the setting of the score boundaries for a test, ultimately, it is a decision by a government department, the Standards and Testing Agency, which sets them.

Schools should, of course, be held to account, and data has its place to inform strategic decision-making. But how trustworthy and consistent is the data used to hold schools to account, and how open to manipulation?

Who said these words?

“Historically, the floor standard has identified only a small proportion of schools every year which are below that standard – and this year I can reassure you that no more than 1% more schools will be below the floor standard than last year.”

Nicky Morgan, 30th April 2016, NAHT National Conference.

This was a blatant admission by the then secretary of state for education that the government manipulate data to achieve a desired outcome or support a political agenda.

Those who determine pass mark thresholds have the power to make the data tell whichever story they require and to match the current political narrative – rising or falling standards, “grade inflation and dumbing down”, widespread improvements required, “haven’t we done well”, etc.

Adjustments made to pass marks to alter the proportion of students achieving ‘A’ grades (grade deflation/inflation) may be a well known phenomenon, but is it morally justifiable? It results in ‘A’ or ‘9’ having different values for different cohorts. It results in applicants for a job being potentially advantaged or disadvantaged depending on the year in which they sat their exams.

This is the scandal which underpins a brutal and broken examination regime, and one which, I believe we have become normalised to. The current system of statutory tests and public exams is wide open to politically-motivated, grade boundary manipulation.

“Driving up standards?” Sounds tough doesn’t it? But rather than empowering the profession to raise standards, grade boundary manipulation is hindering us from becoming the international beacon of excellence we could be. They call it “rigour”, which seems to translate as “make them learn the prescribed knowledge sooner.” At the expense of what? Curriculum breadth? Workplace skills? Mental Health? In place of deep and broad learning we are being encouraged to provide for a narrow educational diet to satisfy the soundbites and ambitions of self-serving, tough-talking politicians.

See also:

BBC – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-39735251

http://www.newsandstar.co.uk/news/national/article/School-heads-raise-fears-over-exam-results-manipulation-d6069da6-d1f4-4e21-b7c1-6099fde0781b-ds

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Government Control the Number of Schools Deemed Failing

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In my previous blog post I demonstrated how school test results are used to generate the statistics required to tell a story.  On 30th April, at the 2016 NAHT National conference, Nicky Morgan confirmed this in her speech when she stated:

“Historically, the floor standard has identified only a small proportion of schools every year which are below that standard – and this year I can reassure you that no more than 1% more schools will be below the floor standard than last year.”

How is a Secretary of State able to make this assurance?  It is because the government have already decided the outcome even before the children have taken the tests which will produce the results by which the schools will be measured.  For an explanation of how this is achieved, see How Trustworthy is School Data.

The perfect pattern, as far as the government is concerned, is incremental improvements year to year, with the strongest results reserved for the year prior to an election, in order to be able to boast that schools are improved because of government reforms to education.

This is morally wrong.  It is a manipulation of the figures, but it is also a blatant manipulation of the general public’s perception of how an entire education system is to be perceived.  The knowledge that these tests are so clearly designed for ranking schools and shaming those which most need support, and that the quota of schools falling below floor standards is decided in advance, makes a mockery of the entire test regime.

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How Trustworthy is School Test Data?

How Trustworthy is School Test Data?

Schools should, of course, be held to account for providing a quality education, and data has its place to inform strategic decision-making.  But how trustworthy and consistent is the data used to hold schools to account?

This hypothetical test has maximum marks of 50.Screen Shot 2016-03-04 at 11.22.28

Three hundred hypothetical students sat the test.

The blue columns show the number of students whose total number of marks fell within each bracket.

The green columns show the percentage of pupils achieving within or exceeding each score bracket.

Screen Shot 2016-03-04 at 11.21.5937% scored 39 or more.

90% scored 19 or more.

70% scored 29 or more.

Using this process it is possible to set pass mark thresholds to arrive at the desired percentage outcome.

Is this how Screen Shot 2016-03-04 at 11.22.44pass mark thresholds are decided?

Were this the case, then those who determine pass mark thresholds would be able to make the data tell whichever story they required – rising or falling standards, widespread improvements required, etc.

Adjustments made to pass marks to alter the proportion of students achieving ‘A’ grades (grade deflation/inflation) may be a well known phenomenon, but is it morally justifiable?  Might it result in ‘A’  having different values for different cohorts?  Might it result in applicants for a job being advantaged or disadvantaged depending on the year in which they sat their exams?

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Lecture Theatres in Kindergarten

by Rebecca Frost

Illustration by Rebecca Frost

What’s not to understand about teachers facilitating or coaching as well as imparting knowledge?  It’s not trendy or revolutionary in universities where lectures and tutorials both have a place.  Nor is it an alien concept in Early Years education in which formal learning and investigative or enquiry based learning both feature.  Coaching and facilitating of learning are also common professional development approaches in the business world.

So why all the perennial fuss and polarised arguments for and against different modes of teaching and learning?  I have some theories about the conflicting motivations.  On one side there are subject specialists who enjoy the status of expert, a view that accumulated knowledge should be digested by subsequent generations, and perhaps apprehension about anarchy arising from learners deciding for themselves which bodies of knowledge they consider important.  On the opposing side there are generalists who prefer a more empirical approach to learning and an indignation at having what we should know or think determined for us.   I also believe it is perpetuated by the opposing views on the need to measure and rank pupils.  It is certainly wrapped up in the conflicting ideologies of political parties.

My own position on this subject is quite simple.  Both modes of learning are equally valuable.  That is why in my school for half the day lessons consist of more formal or “traditional” teaching of essential core subjects, while the other half affords opportunities to apply core skills, access a broad range of teacher-designed (or facilitated) learning activities, as well as some freedom to act upon intrinsic motivation.  However, we don’t presume to have achieved “mastery” (the latest buzzword) or to have redefined the meaning of the word “outstanding”.  What we are doing is engaging in a joint research project with University of Cumbria to evaluate our approach, and continue to mould and shape how we teach based on sound research evidence, rather than supposition or conjecture.

The most objectionable and dangerous polarised view is held by those who would make early years education almost entirely formal in nature.  These must surely be either people who were themselves denied the joys of playful discovery in childhood or who see education as a kind of conveyor belt or assembly line.  And to those who say that class size really doesn’t matter, I say that depends on the mode of teaching.  Picture a lecture theatre full of 5 year olds.

To get a glimpse of teaching and learning in my school, see our video.

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School Leadership – Career Progression or Career Termination?

This was my speech to NAHT National Conference 2015, Liverpool, 2nd May 2015.

  • A message to the headteacher considering taking on the headship of a school in challenging circumstances…
  • Congratulations!  You’ve mastered your juggling act.  You’ve mastered plate-spinning.  You’ve been told that you are an outstanding performer.  Now for a real challenge – the tight-rope.  All you have to do is forge a straight path without stumbling.  At the other side you will be rewarded with a true sense of pride and achievement and a standing ovation.  Go on – you can do it!  But I should just mention a couple of things.  There is no net to catch you if you should stumble or fall.  And the circus ring-master is a little impatient; he won’t tolerate it if you should take a little too long to reach your target.
  • Why are fewer deputies aspiring to headship?
  • Why are some headships difficult to recruit to?
  • Is it that the current system of school inspection and accountability is increasingly a deterrent to ambition?
  • A narrow set of accountability measures combined with political agendas are making it increasingly precarious for anyone to take on the tightrope walk of leading a school in challenging circumstances.
  • Headteachers who take up post in challenging school settings, regardless of their established standing or reputation, can swiftly be relabelled according to the school’s most recent inspection category.  This can allow insufficient time for a long-term strategy of improvement to take effect before a downward spiral of stigma and pessimism takes over, undermining the headteacher in the eyes of the community he or she serves, and ultimately impairing the school’s progress.
  • Conversely, the reputation of a new headteacher who takes up post in a school which is already well established as a “good” or “outstanding” school, can benefit from this strong starting point, providing he or she maintains all that is good.
  • This state of affairs trivialises what is a complex and demanding undertaking and may in fact discourage or deter headteachers from taking on schools in the most challenging circumstances.  We all know that sustainable, long-term school improvement requires phenomenal insight, ingenuity, dedication, and skill, securing the commitment of an entire community to a shared vision.
  • It is essential that any future system of school inspection actually motivates heads to take on schools in challenging circumstances, seeing it as a career progression, rather than a high-stakes gamble which could culminate in career termination.
  • Stigmatising a school to the extent that community support for that school evaporates is counter-productive and pulls the rug from under a programme of school improvement.
  • As we have heard our president say – “Ofsted no longer has anything to do with school improvement – it’s become punitive and we have lost faith in it.”
  • Inspection judgements should be based on broad ranging measures including an appraisal of school ethos and culture, high quality professional development opportunities and most importantly, strategic planning which is likely to bring about long-term improvements.
  • We therefore call upon national executive to campaign to ensure that any future system of school inspection or peer review gives credit for long-term vision, tenacity, ingenuity, and which takes account of the particular challenges presented by each unique school setting.  We must replace an inspection culture characterised by denigration and doubt with one of expectation and faith in strong school leadership to stay the course and finish the job.
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