‘Technology is Key’

This was stated at an International Women’s Forum (IWF) meeting today and it’s right.  One has only to judge by the rich debate that followed and the number of related issues brought to the table not all of them gender related.  Included in Technology we mean all STEM subjects.  It is these that will bring about the greatest leaps in discovery moving forward.  However it is true girls are massively under represented in STEM subjects. 

So we do have the gender issue.  Girls studying Physics at school are seriously in the minority see an article in the TES last week.  It should not be perceived as a male subject nor as too hard.  Industry and business need women as well as men qualified in the STEM disciplines.  Why are there so few women at the top of FTSE 100 companies – I believe 7 was mentioned – pathetically few!   There are many excellent organisations promoting women in science,  such as WISE and WES, but sadly progress is painfully slow.   Depressing to think things have not moved on significantly in the past 30 years despite our exhortations. 

Then there is the generational issue.  The younger generation understand technology and its capacity to solve problems but their bosses and indeed teachers are much less familiar with its possibilities.  This leads to frustration and also slowing of progress.  Schools need to promote Technology as early as in KS1.  Teachers need training.  There is research showing girls get turned off STEM as early as aged 8years. 

What about ethnicity?   Go to any school prize giving in this country and white British students will be in a tiny minority when STEM winners are announced.  How can we motivate our students better.  Parents are key of course as is respect for education and an understanding that a job is required in the end.  Mentors from business and industry would help. Girls schools are said to do better but not significantly.  In fact my belief is diamond schools where coeducation comes together in the primary and sixth form phases have the greatest potential.  

Then there is public awareness.  How many people are aware that we have a new type of school being established in this country?  Universtity Technical Colleges (UTCs) are the brain child of Lord Baker.  They specialise in STEM subjects ,  have to have significant business and industry input as well as sustained university support.  There are 30 in place and more in the pipeline and they plan to educate 600 students each.  Instead of knocking them because they are different,  start at 14,  are new,  we should embrace the opportunity they afford and ensure their success with our support and promotion.

Careers teachers were mentioned as a way forward but experience has shown no one person,  least of all a teacher,  has the knowledge and experience to know all possible careers available especially in the expanding technology sector.  Schools need visiting speakers and mentors from all sectors to come in and  enlighten students and teachers as to why they should be motivated by the myriad of STEM opportunities beyond school.

Governors too came in for discussion, they have the opportunity to influence schools and bring experience of the world outside.  However there are 24000 schools and each has a board of say 12 governors.  It is a big ask of this large volunteer workforce but it is an important one.  All those of us in employment could offer our services to a local school as a governor.  The richness of the questioning and results would surely rise.

Geography plays a part too of course.  Why are our schools in London and the large urban areas flourishing and increasingly popular,  while those in the remote areas of the country and particularly in and around the coasts struggle.  Proximity to jobs,  infrastructure,  opportunities,  business all stimulate growth.  We need to ensure that just because you live in a rural part of the country that it does not mean your education will provide you with less opportunity and stimulation.

Technology is certainly key today and it is underlain by STEM subjects.  Business,  industry, education need to collaborate meaningfully so we as a country lead the way in STEM and so ensure we do not continue to waste the talent of half the population,  our girls. 


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Turn class size upside down

Dame Julia Goodfellow was in the press this weekend in her role as President of Universities UK (UUK). Her preoccupations included the case for higher fees for science and medical degrees and the need to tackle the laddish culture in universities.  I was also interested however in her response to student complaints about lack of teaching time and personal attention. She said students needed to be more aware of how to learn in larger groups. 

My solution to this has long been to swap current teaching styles between sixth forms and primary classes. Let’s go intensive small group for primaries and lecture style for post 16. 

It is true as the UUK esteemed President says that students coming from sixth forms where they have been taught in small classes (maximum 20 whether state or independent) will find lecturing in classes of 2-300 very impersonal.  These are of course followed up by small group tutorials for more detailed discussion.  The latter is just how universities teach and is unlikely to change.  No spoon feeding.   In schools however we traditionally reserve our smallest classes for post 16. Often there will be three same subject groups being taught the same content by different teachers. How inefficient!  Now that nearly every school has a lecture theatre however why do we not change tack and mirror university style teaching in sixth forms and lecture to large groups, followed by small group tutorials.  What a saving and it would help the students prepare for learning university style.

Having achieved this post 16,  schools would have the resource to provide small classes for our reception and primary children.  Let them be taught in form groups of 12 not 30 and I guarantee the positive difference  in progress both academically and personally.  It is true this will only work in an ‘all through’ school context.   Well it is another advantage of ‘all through’ education of which I have long been an advocate.  However it would also be possible in Academy federations where primary and secondaries collaborate and share resources.  

Raise standards in primary schools and we future proof the secondary phase and indeed the university phase. Reverse our priority for class sizes and everyone is a winner!  Small to large teaching groups as students mature rather than the reverse. 


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How long a day?? 

Watching ‘How Tough are our Kids?’,  the recent TV screening of the experiences of the Chinese School at the outstanding Bohunt School, set me wondering about length of the school day again. I felt rather embarrassed seeing the stampede at 3pm of our students heading home,  while the Chinese School as in China went on into the evening. I might add the later sessions were not chalk and talk but individual mentoring but that’s is another discussion topic. 

Independent Schools have always taught a longer day but with this comes longer holidays. City Technology Colleges (CTCs) way back in 1990 were the first state schools required to teach a longer day. This was to enable technology and breadth to be included.   At Haberdashers we taught 8.30-4pm followed by Enrichment Activities.  These schools are proven success stories.  Then we have University Technology Colleges (UTCs) first opened in 2010 which are also required to teach a longer day this is to include vocational courses and ideally mirrors the working day in industry, 9-5.   However the toll on staff is being felt.  They have marking and preparation too after all.   The holidays are not longer for recuperation either. 

What is the best length of teaching day to maximise progress?  How do we fit in vocational and academic teaching plus enrichment activities.  Should class teachers also have to deliver the co- curriculum?  Never mind the need for Professional Development and training days required for Development Planning. 

Common sense should prevail.   We must critically balance the needs of the students and the staff.  We have to ensure the curriculum is manageable. This must be down to the Head in the end and there must be discretion depending on circumstance. Heads know their students and staff and understand their context.  Let’s leave it to them to have the length of day that brings their students success and opportunity and is manageable for their staff. Somewhere between the current length of day in China and in the UK would be reasonable I suspect. 

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Destinations? Where next? 

If less than 10% of Year 11 expressed an interest in pursuing vocational learning as happened in a school I know recently, does it mean there is no demand for such a pathway for young people.  No surely not.  Rather it illustrates the deeper problem that they are not even aware of the possibility.  In reality how many teachers know much about apprenticeships,  work based opportunities,  what employers really want,  the jobs out there?  Never mind parents.  Education has yet to embrace work related learning as a genuine pathway for some children. 

I have been struck by the hundreds of firms,  both large and small,  signing up to partner emerging University Technical Colleges (UTCs) so that they can influence the teaching and training we give to our youngsters.  Project based learning, solving real problems,  creating new designs,  this is what vocational learning offers.  Students must of course have the basic grounding in the core curriculum to GCSE and preferably to A Level.  

We need employees  with advanced technical skills in a range of industries and not just on engineering and construction.  I wear an UP Band to monitor my steps and sleep.  Health and care workers depend on technical equipment.  So does the related industry of Sport.  Performing arts and broadcast media need highly skilled technicians. 

UTCs bring industry into schools to team teach the skills they need and raise awareness of the jobs on offer.  However we need this in all schools. Technicians and teachers working together to integrate teaching and learning and it’s not easy but it is possible as is being evidenced across the country.  Let’s hope these UTCs lead the way to a much more open school system that embraces technology and employment opportunities and ensures children across the age range are aware of their opportunities.  Genuine choice will mean more youngsters will be attracted to industry wide opportunities and they will benefit as will the country.  It must be higher than 10% per school. 

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Two years with the UTCs

It has been just over two years actually since I joined Lord Baker and his team at the Baker Dearing Trust (BDT).  Why join? Well these new schools , Universtity Technical Colleges, must be our best hope to establish a highly valued, highly regarded and much needed technical pathway in this country.  Business and industry should not be sourcing engineers and technicians from the likes of Germany.  So we aim high: to create a new family of schools,  a unique educational environment for 14-18 year olds where universities, employers and teachers come together.

Are we succeeding?  Yes steadily, slowly the UTCs are being recognised.  Firms are queuing up to be involved,  they need the employee supply chain.  So we have the likes of Jaguar Land Rover, Network Rail, and hundreds of others both big brands and smaller local enterprise.  Universities are on board, less clear at first as to their benefits but now recognised, they give the academic credentials and HE access to the UTC courses.  Of course they benefit as do young people who take a more practically based route to academic success. We have UCL, South Bank, Bolton and many others across the country.

Each UTC has employers and a university committed to collaboration with the College( UTCs are schools as defined by Ofsted). These external partners commit staff time to work with the teachers to produce project based courses.  They solve real issues like Reading UTC students designing the station or Elstree UTC students providing technical expertise to present the MOBO awards.  In addition the core curriculum is delivered at GCSE and A Level Level 2 and 3 courses.  Students go on to university,  higher apprenticeships, jobs.  The target for every UTC which has so far been delivered is No NEETs.  Now two years on we have 30 open UTCs, a further 30 agreed for opening  between 2015-17. 

There are issues and challenges of course.  Entry at 14 is unusual, a risk for parents, a threat to local school rolls. So numbers are slow to rise although two years on and there are proven exam and destination results to publish.   There have been casualties and a minority of Colleges have not succeeded but the vast majority are here to stay.  No young people have been disadvantaged by choosing the UTC route this has been a priority for BDT.  The range of specialisms in UTCs is huge across construction, health, performing arts and more.   Those Colleges specialising in manufacturing find it hard to recruit girls.  Girls into engineering is a national challenge still to be won.  It must start in the primary schools.  Girls are not wooed by hard hats and scaffolding but guess what – engineers do very little of that and lots of design, maths, communication, team building.  Girls are great at these skills. 

I am sorry to leave the UTC programme now but I will stay in touch.  It has been a most rewarding journey travelling with them.  It’s been a privilege to work closely with so many as staff and students take up the challenge.  Make no mistake this initiative us gaining ground and it is very important that it’s place in our education provision is recognised and valued.  It must be here to stay.


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Read the small print

Details can be irritating,  it is so much easier to read the headlines.  This means that full understanding is never achieved whether it be over a new washing machine or a new policy.  The latter of course is much more public and lack of true understanding leads to generalisations and then misconceptions.  I am thinking of two current examples,  firstly about Universtity Technical Colleges (UTCs) and secondly about appointing qualified teachers.

UTCs are new schools for 14-18 year olds,  there are 57 open or approved to open across England.  They are the brainchild of Lord Baker who envisages 163 (see TES last week) to gain parity with the number of grammar schools which certainly seems a neat and equitable solution to meeting specific needs.  However, concern is often vehemently expressed that 14 is too early to specialise and that local schools will be denuded of year 10 students.  They fail to read the small print.

UTCs are schools first and foremost offering a core curriculum of maths, English, sciences, IT, languages,  humanities, sport and extra curriculr opportunities.  The students do work with their chosen employers and university but this is possible with the longer day (8.30-5) 40 weeks a year.  Students are then able to move after GCSE in the UTC to an academic A level pathway or a more vocational pathway or something in between.  Specialisation does not limit them.  Many will go into STEM careers but not all and none will be NEETs.

Secondly, UTCs are sub regional and so they are designed to recruit from a wide geographic area and thus not adversely affect any one local school.  If there are 3000 odd secondary schools in the country and UTCs will number at most 163 with only 600 students per college,  then it is hard to see how this tiny proportion, offering something slightly different for those young people that would benefit from a more project based curriculum, can be a problem.

As for the promise from the Opposition and indeed the LibDems that only qualified teachers will be allowed to teach in state schools.  Well it sounds obvious,  who would want an unqualified person teaching our children.  However what do these terms mean in the small print?  Unqualified teacher means a teacher with a university degree in their subject or another recognised qualification.  Many such are teaching successfully in our world acclaimed independent schools.  It just means they do not have a specific teaching qualification.  Now most heads I know will indeed ensure that if they appoint an unqualified teacher who as we have established has a degree,  then they will be put on a course that enables them to have Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) while still having started work.  I see this is now the line of Tristram Hunt. So when you read the small print theirs is not a big new policy to safeguard standards in our schools but the stus quo.  The generalisation sounds good though!



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Women Engineers

It was inspiring to read at the weekend about Professor Dame Anne Dowling’s achievements as an engineer.  Less inspiring to see she is the first woman to be appointed as President of the Royal Academy of Engineers but at least that taboo is now broken if not before time.   Where are all the female engineers who should have been competing with the men for such a prize over the years?

Sadly we know that not only is there a shortage of highly qualified engineers in this country but there is a serious shortage of women in the profession.  Let us hope that Professor Dowling inspires more young girls to take up engineering as a career.  She is certainly a brilliant role model.  Her piece written in 2011 said we could not afford to miss out on lots of talented girls.  This is even more true now in 2014.

The problem is clear in microcosm in my work with University Technical Colleges (UTCs). Those specialising in engineering have to date small percentages of girls applying aged 14. They are addressing the issue in a variety of ways: female only open days, female role models as speakers such as Professor Dowling, female role models from their existing cohorts of students and staff presenting at events.  They are going into local schools including primary schools to inspire all young people with the possibilities engineering offers as a career.  They work with a variety of committed and excellent  organisations all beginning with W and including  WISE,  WES,  WiSET.  The problem seems to be perception – that it is a boys’ career,  that it is to do with things not people and teams,  that you are outdoors mainly wearing a hard hat.  This is not true.  Parents too need exposure to the possibilities for their daughters offered by a degree in engineering.

I read in the Times yesterday that there is a chronic oversupply of law graduates who now cannot find positions.  What a pity they did not realise that opportunities abound in the field of engineering for all young people and at least explore that option.  Let us hope future generations do so and a good place to start is by visiting a UTC nearby.




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The London Academy of Excellence (LAE)

I read with real delight about the amazing achievements of the first students graduating from this newly formed Sixth Form College.  Large numbers have qualified for Russell Group universities including Oxbridge. These are young people from Newham, one of our most deprived boroughs,  where this kind of success was hitherto unheard.

It has undoubtedly been achieved by assiduous students inspired by excellent teaching.  The College unashamedly focuses on traditional academic subjects. Demand for places is massively oversubscribed.

LAE is the ultimate, for now, realisation of two visionary heads.  Richard Cairns of Brighton College and Joan Deslandes of Kingsford Community School.  It all began with a fortunate few Kingsford sudents moving to post 16 places at Brighton.  I recall hearing them speak so eloquently of their experience.  Now thanks to the Free School initiative,  Richard and Joan were able to expand the opportunity to hundreds of young people by opening a sixth form that combined the best of Kingsford and Brighton right on their Newham doorstep.

The key to the whole thing was collaboration between a state and an independent school.  Now LAE collaborates with a group of some 10 independent schools.  Each contributes to their strength.  The results are there for all to see.

Forest School in East London  where I am a governor has contributed to the teaching of English and UCAS  preparation. Forest is in no doubt that that they have benefitted equally from the partnership.

It is clearly a win win formula.  Let us see more such collaborations between state and independent schools committed to equality of opportunity and mutual benefit.

Congratulations once again to the first LAE Year 13 cohort and to their teachers and indeed to Richard and Joan for their sustained commitment.


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Sidwell Company CCF

I’m all for expanding opportunities for young people and so when Gordon Brown, the then PM said he would fund five new cadet forces in state schools, I was the first to apply. Thus Sidwell Company CCF was born at Haberdashers’ Academy Federation in Lewisham, SE London.  Continue reading
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New Year Resolutions and Technology

Apparently the most common resolutions are related to living healthier lives. I am no exception in that nor I suspect in failing spectacularly ever to achieve them. However this year I have the Up Band to ensure success. Technology has come to my rescue.
Now I am no techno whizz so when one Christmas present revealed a wristband with instructions I felt waves of panic and despair. However, two weeks on and thanks to my Up band I am still on track with the healthier lifestyle resolution. This is how it works for those not familiar with this small and knowing device.
Choose aspects of lifestyle you wish to improve upon. Mine are to walk more daily and sleep longer and better. Next set your goals: for me 10000 steps daily and 6 hrs deep sleep a night. Charge up the band in your phone socket; download the Up app on your iPhone and pop the bracelet on your wrist. You have a choice of colours. It has a day or night setting. Now you are being monitored. It makes anyone – especially those competitive souls like me – want to improve daily. Amazingly I can also see how others with a band who are named in my team are doing. I was not happy to see that my 10,000 steps might be good but they had achieved 20,000!
But back to me and my goals. Thus far stepwise my Up has revealed underachievement ranging between 6000-8000 which I blame squarely on the festive period. Today with fresh resolve I even walked to the tube in pouring rain to improve my tally: guess what, 10,767 steps recorded. I have done better with sleep, averaging 8 hours to my great surprise, except of course on New Year’s Eve which showed a paltry 4!
Not content with sheer overall numbers of steps or hours, my band knows how well I have slept and how many steps taken consecutively. These things are important for good health.
Today I have surpassed both my daily goals and my resolutions are on track. An added bonus is to have mastered the art of the band to boot!
Up with resolutions or rather Up with technology has become my mantra.

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