Tuesday, 3 July 2018

International Baccalaureate, grade Inflation and the Importance of Educators setting policy for schools

Today sees thousands of students in the UAE who study on the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP) receiving their examination results. The IBDP is undoubtedly one of the most demanding sixth form programmes in the world that extends well beyond the academic. The International Baccalaureate is not so much an examination system as an education philosophy enshrined in a curriculum. Students are required to study six subjects (including English, mathematics, a science, a language and a humanity), learn critically to evaluate knowledge in the mandated Theory of Knowledge course, research a 4000-word extended essay in an area of interest and engage in a series of self-directed supra-curricular experiences under the umbrella of the ‘Creativity, Activity and Service’ component of the programme. 
The International Baccalaureate is unique amongst the fifteen curricula in the UAE, because it, alone, is not a national curriculum. Rather, the IB system was created by and is governed by educators. It is fully independent of any political control and influence and is not crippled by the burdens of league tables and political agendas changing over time or the vested interests of corporate conglomerates. The International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO), which celebrates its 50th Anniversary this year, was founded in Geneva as a not-for-profit organisation by a group of educationalists with a mission ‘to create a better world through education’. The IB Diploma was devised “to provide an internationally acceptable university admissions qualification suitable for the growing mobile population of young people whose parents were part of the world of diplomacy, international and multi-national organizations" (IBO Website) by offering standardized courses and assessments for students aged 16 to 19. 
It has been a feature of Governments around the world over the last century that they wish to use education as a vehicle for driving social and economic agendas. The very existence of the IB programme opens up the debate about whether or not this is best for pupils educationally. The difference between a system run by educators and a system run by a government can be illustrated by comparing levels of grade inflation at IBDP and A-level over the past 40 years. 
Research by the University of Buckingham Centre for Education and Employment Research (CEER) analysing A-level grade inflation found that the percentage of A grades rose steadily from 9% in 1984 to 27% in 2010. Indeed, 8.3% of students achieved an A* at A-level which is approximately the same percentage that achieve an A grade in the years 1964 to 1984. There is little doubt that the politicisation of education in the UK from the late 1980s was a significant factor in this. 
Smithers A-levels 1951-2014 CEER 2014, p.2
The same cannot be said for the International Baccalaureate. The IB Diploma has not suffered from the excesses of grade inflation that characterise A-level. The IB Diploma grade average has remained at 30 points ± 0.3 for the past forty years. IB Diploma results are effectively a zero-sum game: for a school to do better than previously, other schools will have to do worse. It is understandable that this would not be popular with governments or schools. 
Indeed, grade inflation is almost inevitable in educational systems which are run by governments, especially where the examination boards are commercial entities. Any attempt to maintain standards is faced with an alliance of government, schools, Exam Boards, parents and pupils all of whom want higher grades. Governments and schools want improved results to prove that they are doing a good job; profit-making examination boards want to attract more customers; and parents and children want to do well to gain access to good universities and jobs. 
The IB Diploma students who receive their grades today will be able to compare their scores on a level with their parents (and, potentially, even their grandparents!). 30 points today is exactly the same as 30 points 40 years ago. 
The comparison in grade inflation between A-level in the UK and the International Baccalaureate Diploma reminds us that there is much to be gained from educational policy being set by educationalists rather than politicians. While we celebrate the success of those who got their results today get their results this week, let us also congratulate the International Baccalaureate Organisation on fifty years of educational integrity.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

How Virtual Reality is transforming how children learn.

A presentation given at the COBIS annual conference on Sunday 13th May 2018 in London. The presentation tracks the journey of JESS Dubai through the four stages: Learning, Enhancing, Innovating and Disrupting.

 

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

How will AI transform the classroom of the future?

A presentation given that the Dubai Future Technology Week in Dubai on 2nd May 2018

 

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

#FutureSchool: How technology can help us educate the 263m children in the world who currently are not in education

The Challenge 

The greatest challenge in facing global education today is that there are an estimated 263 million children who are not in education (UNESCO Institute of Statistics Fact Sheet October 2016, No.39). Furthermore, the same report estimates that the world will need 3.3 million more primary school teachers and 5.1 million more lower secondary teachers by 2030 to meet future demand. 
The traditional model of one teacher taking a class of 20-30 pupils is unsustainable. 
What is clear from these projections that the traditional model of one teacher taking a class of 20-30 pupils is unsustainable – it is a luxury form of education which most societies cannot afford. We need to look for alternatives and, if we are to be successful, technology undoubtedly will have to have a large part to play. 

How Technology can make education more widely available 

Zero Marginal Cost 

One of the great advantages of digital technologies over traditional industrial models is that as a product becomes more widely available the marginal cost of producing additional units approaches zero. Compare, if you will, the costs associated with producing and distributing a print edition of a daily newspaper and a digital edition. For both formats there are a number of fixed costs (e.g. the salaries of the journalistic staff, the cost of running their offices etc.) However, for the print edition there are many more variable costs (e.g. more rolls of paper will be required to print more newspapers) which do not exist for the digital version. For the print edition there will always be an additional marginal cost of producing an additional newspaper; but it makes next to no difference if the newspaper distributes one digital copy or one million copies. We can apply the same principle to education: once a digital lesson has been produced, the marginal cost of distributing it around the world is almost zero. 

Online Learning Platforms 

Online learning programmes are becoming increasingly sophisticated. These platforms are driven by intelligent systems which promise to offer personalised learning experiences. Typically, the program ‘teaches’ a topic (through online videos and interactive exercises); then uses low-stakes testing to assess the student’s knowledge and understanding, high-lighting areas of strengths and weakness; before recommending which courses or units to do next. These platforms are still at a formative stage but there is no doubt that they have potential to be the true disruptor of education. As with all disruptive technologies they will initially be established at the margins of the educational sector, but, in time they will become accepted into the mainstream. 

Blended Learning Programmes 

There is little doubt that most Governments around the world will be attracted by online learning platforms in order to reduce the overall cost of education and to address concerns about teacher shortages. However, it must be recognised that schools fill other important social functions: they provide significant child care, thus releasing parents to participate in the work-force; they are places of socialisation, where young people learn to interact with each other and to become good citizens; and they ensure that all children within the system reach a minimum standard of education. It is very difficult to see how an education system that is wholly online will fulfil these functions at scale.
Blended Learning Programmes combine online learning with ‘brick-and-mortar’ education where the student attends a physical school with teachers so that there is a coherent programme of study. This combination of a traditional school experience with online learning has real potential to be the best of both worlds: providing a more cost-effective form of education which is more personalised than the present model, whilst maintaining the important social functions that schools fulfil. 

Remote Teaching and Virtual Reality Teaching 

One of the great benefits of the Internet is that we are now able to connect with people around the world typically through video-conferencing apps such as Skype or FaceTime. Communication technologies may also be harnessed by schools to allow ‘Remote Teaching’ i.e. live school lessons that taught by a teacher video-conferencing into the classroom. The problem with this is that it is difficult for a remote teacher to engage the pupils. 
360 Degree Camera in French Lesson
Virtual Reality Teaching
At JESS, Dubai we are taking this idea to the next level. ‘Virtual Reality Teaching’ (VRT) has the potential to allow children in Calcutta to feel as if they are in a classroom at JESS, Dubai. Earlier this year, we conducted a “proof-of-concept” test of VRT aiming to give students an immersive experience of being in a classroom, rather than passively watching a video-conferencing screen. This involved putting a 360-degree camera in the second row of a classroom and running a live stream to a classroom next door where three students wearing VR headsets ‘participated virtually’ in the lesson. The experience was so real that the pupils found themselves putting up their hand to answer the teacher’s questions! (A video of the experiment is on the JESS Digital YouTube Channel.) We are confident that it is only a matter of time before students will be able to attend class at JESS remotely via VTC. 

Robots and Supporting Personalised Learning 

Technology is doing to have its greatest impact in personalised learning by making highly specialised support more widely available. A great example of this is the way in which robots are being used to deliver lessons in a way that promotes engagement in learners with Autism. The Robots4Autism project which has built Milo, a humanoid robot, can walk, talk and even model human facial expressions; and never gets frustrated or tired. Milo helps these learners improve their social and behavioural skills and thus to gain the confidence to succeed academically and socially. 

Final Remarks 

New technology has promised for the past thirty years that it will entirely transform education and I suspect that it will be a number of years before it delivers on that promise. However, there is huge potential here to get much closer to educating those 263m children who presently are not able to go to school.

This article was written for the Edarabia Network

Sunday, 4 March 2018

How JESS Dubai is using MidYIS to raise pupil attainment at GCSE

JESS, Dubai is using MidYIS to raise pupil attainment at GCSE. Here's how we are doing it:


Overview 

MidYIS is a very powerful management tool for JESS, Dubai, where we are using it as the key way to drive school improvement at both KS3 and KS4.
One of the greatest strengths of MidYIS is that this CEM project based at Durham University has been running over quarter of a century and has analysed the performance at GCSE of millions of children. Its longitudinal nature combined with the extensiveness of the data set means that MidYIS has the capacity to generate meaningful predictions about pupil performance at GCSE. This mechanism means that schools are able to use MidYiS to drive school improvement in a number of important ways. At JESS, Dubai, we use MidYIS in three ways:
  1. to set realistic aspirational targets for young people, which we can share with parents so that we can marshal additional support from home; 
  2. to monitor the performance of departments and individual teachers; 
  3. to benchmark as a school against other schools both in the region and in the UK.

Raising Aspirations 

When the young people join the school they have a baseline test in year 7 at secondary level. We then have data from that which would produce a series of chances graphs for each of their subjects. The strength of the MidYIS system for predicting outcomes is that it does not pigeon hole children to a single grade. Rather it offers a range of grades which a pupil of a given ability might achieve in the form of a 'Chances Graph'.
Figure 1 is a Chances Graph for French GCSE
Figure 1 outlines the percentage of candidates of a given base-line performance who achieved respective grades in their GCSE French. In this example,

  • 2% got an E grade 
  • 8% got a D grade 
  • 21% got a C grade 
  • 29% got a B grade   (= Most Likely Grade)
  • 26% got an A grade (= Aspirational Target Grade)
  • 13% got an A* grade 

At JESS we share set “Aspirational Target Grades” (ATG) for each subject in January of Year 7. The AT is calculated as one grade higher than the most likely grade achieved by pupils from Independent Schools in the UK. In the example above the most likely grade is a ‘B’, so the ATG would be an ‘A’.
The ATGs are set in January of Year 7 and published to pupils and parents. We have incorporated the ATGs into our reporting structure so that teachers report on progress against these grades, so parents and pupils know whether they are on track for their aspirational target or working towards it, or how far short are they. Accumulative reporting data is then analysed centrally. Thus tracking data can be a really useful tool which allows Heads of Department, Heads of Year and School leaders to know the proportion of a particular year group or subject group are on track to meet their aspirational target. So, for example, the Head of History can identify how the Year 10 GCSE group are doing and can put in place intervention strategies at an early stage.
Tracking pupil progress against ATGs also enables the Head of Year or School Leaders to informed conversations with parents. A typical conversation might be:
Mr and Mrs Smith, Amy’s most likely grade in History is to get a B grade, so we are aiming at a target of an A; her current performance indicates that she in on track for a C grade, which we feel is a little low. So, we need to work with you on this one and need to support to help Amy to put a greater effort into her studies in History. 
 ATGs are a great way to change the mind-set of key players in the educational process. Tracking pupil progress against ATGs it gives schools data which they can use to marshal the whole community of stakeholders: whether it is raising the expectation of teachers for their pupils; or raising the aspirations of parents of the child herself. That triangulation of classroom, pupil and home is really important for the whole way in which we use MidYIS here at JESS.

The Impact on GCSE Results

Figure 2. JESS GCSE Results 2013-17
We introduced MidYIS tracking and target setting two years ago at JESS and our performance at GCSE has gone through the roof; particularly with our brighter students. The proportion of A*s at GCSE has gone from 20.3% to 33.2% A* and our A*A has gone from 54.4% to 65.9% in two years. Tracking pupil progress against ATGs is a tried and tested way of raising school attainment by raising aspirations.

Friday, 2 March 2018

Innovation and Digital Learning

A presentation given at the Education Experts Conference on Monday 5th March 2018 in Dubai.
This presentation considers four aspects of the #FutureSchool:

  1. The Paperless Classroom; 
  2. Blended Learning Programmes; 
  3. AI, Pupil Tracking and the end of School Reports; and 
  4. Robots in the Classroom to support Personalised Learning.

 

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Why Secondary Schools need Art Departments that push the boundaries.

School Art departments always have a special atmosphere. This may be because school rules usually don’t apply there: uniform rules are relaxed, pupils necessarily wander around the studio in search of materials, and teachers rarely stand in front of the class, or it may simply be because the whole environment is so visually stimulating. They are busy places where creativity and self-expression are the driving forces. School Art departments are the epitome of a teaching philosophy that allows students to discover universal truths through exploration of their own ideas.
The best school art departments are examples of "ordered anarchy"
School Art has come a long way. When I was at school some thirty years ago it was the preserve of a minority who were gifted enough to be able to draw. Today, whilst those fine art skills are still highly valued, schools are also embracing modern art and thus democratising art by allowing the Jackson Pollock in us all to find its voice. 
Art is by its nature challenging. It makes us view the world differently. Art also provides an important outlet for the Artist and that is it why it is so important in schools. It is not surprising that Art chimes with teenagers. Creativity seems to come easily at that age when fostered in the right environment. Furthermore, as they progress through the formative years of adolescence, they need ways to express themselves as part of the process of testing out their understanding of the world around them. 

Zena Ezz Eidin –
Liberty leading the Refugees 

– reworking of Eugène Delacroix 
painting commemorating 
the 1830  French Revolution.
A great example of this process in action was the outstanding IB portfolio produced by Zena Ezz Eidin, a Syrian pupil at JESS, Dubai. Some of her work highlighted the plight of Syrian refugees, by reworking classical masterpieces for a twenty-first century context. 
Zena’s work took a new direction when, having secured a place to study Fine Art at Columbia University in New York City, she was initially refused a visa under the terms of President Trump’s travel ban. Her final IB pieces were an outpouring of satirical pieces by way of protest against the visa restrictions imposed on her and her compatriots. Zena demonstrated her passion and disappointment with the plight of the Syrian refuges through Art and Art enabled her to tell her story to the world. 

A strong and dynamic Art Department allows students to express their feelings and ideas in a way that it not always possible in other subjects because of the constraints of examination syllabuses. 

Dress by Lara Rudar  Year8)
Using GoogleTiltbrush
At JESS, our IB Diploma and specialist BTEC Art students have been at the forefront of exploring the new art-form that is Virtual Reality Art, which allows students to paint in 3D, thus combining aspects of both two-dimensional and three-dimensional art. In Virtual Reality the rules of gravity do not apply, and it is possible for the artist to move around within the painting. JESS IB student, Hannah Demeyere, was the first person in the world to submit a piece of Virtual Reality Art as part of her IB portfolio, recreating one of her physical sculptures in Google’s Tilt Brush. Other students have designed dresses within the Virtual Reality environment.  Examples of this medium can be experienced on the JESS Digital YouTube Channel.

Educators have a duty to prepare students for their futures. Those futures will include jobs that we haven’t even considered as yet and it is more than likely that these jobs will require the creative skills that students learn and develop within School Art Departments. Brainstorming techniques, creative reasoning, visualisation of problems and integration of technology are inherent within the design process itself. It is these core skills that are vital for our 21st century learners to ensure they are #FutureReady.

This article was published in the March Edition of Emirates Education.

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

#Futureproofing your School: A Toolkit for Bursars

A presentation given to the COBIS Bursars' Conference at Dubai College on Friday 2nd February 2018.



Monday, 15 January 2018

The Journey to Review365

Appraising Ben. 

Every school has a Ben. Ben doesn’t prepare lessons or mark pupils’ work on time; Ben has poor classroom control; Ben uses outdated pedagogy and Ben is uninspiring; BUT each year Ben’s classes get grades comparable to those of other colleagues in the department. In time I discovered that the reason for this was that, as soon as parents found out that their child was in Ben’s class, they enlisted the services of a private tutor. 
As I sat across the table from Ben and his union representative, I realised that I needed an appraisal system that was capable both of addressing under-performance and of recognising those many teachers who go the extra mile. 

Learning from the Best. 
The starting point of the journey to Review365 was in November 2010 when I had the opportunity to visit the Human Resources team at the Basel headquarters of Novartis, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. It has the value and turn-over the size of a small country and its continued profitability depends on developing new drugs and medicines each year to replace those that are going out of patent. Novartis' success relies on attracting and developing the best talent in the world. There, the rewards for high performance and the cost of poor performance are literally measured in hundreds of millions (£s). 

The success of Novartis is founded on teams working collaboratively to develop drugs which go to market in a timely fashion. They use a 3 x 3 grid developed by The Harvard Business School to evaluate performance. 

This performance management tool combines two aspects: 'performance outcomes or results' on the y axis; and 'attitudes and behaviours' on the x axis. In the pharmaceutical industry, the loss to rival companies of experience and insight to rivals usually results in a delay in a patented drug getting to market that can reduce the profit margin on a drug by tens of millions of dollars. Thus, Novartis’ appraisal structure recognises that there is little point in rewarding a manager who get greats results and exceeds his personal objectives, if, in so doing, he causes a number of his work colleagues or subordinates to leave the company because of his poor attitudes and behaviours. During my days with Novartis, I realised that ‘attitudes and behaviours’ were the key to a successful school appraisal structure. 

‘Results’ v ‘Attitudes and Behaviours’ in Schools: 

The case of Ben illustrates that it is important that school appraisal structures take into consideration the 'attitudes and behaviours' of teachers. The attractive aspect of the Novartis approach to appraisal is that it doesn’t just look at outcomes or, in school terms, academic results. Rather it gives scope to evaluate how teachers do their job, distinguishing between colleagues who conduct themselves in a professional way on a daily basis and teachers like Ben.
An appraisal structure that looks at the key teaching competences allows appraisal to focus on teacher improvement and development and not just on results. 
Such a structure also provides scope to recognise those who are team-players, those who are excellent practitioners and those who go the extra mile for their pupils. It also provides a mechanism to highlight areas of relative strength, which might be harnessed by the school in spreading 'best-practice'; or of relative weakness, which then become areas to focus on in the following year. 

The Appraisal Grids: 

Over the past seven years, it has been my privilege to work with two exceptional senior management teams at Berkhamsted School, UK, and JESS, Dubai to develop a series of competency grids which effectively define those who are 'Requiring Improvement', those who are meeting the standard and are defined as ‘School Practitioners' and those who go well beyond what is required and called 'Lead Practitioners'. Different grids were created in MS Excel for School Administrators Teaching Assistants, Teachers, Middle Leaders, and Senior Leaders – each reflecting the important key competencies required for these roles. The grids have evolved and been refined over the past years – a process that will inevitably continue as priorities within the school and education change.

The Appraisal Process: 

The process starts with the appraisee completing a self-appraisal by selecting either ‘Requiring Improvement’, ‘School Practitioner’ or ‘Lead Practitioner’ for each of the key competencies. Their line-manager or appraiser then repeats the judgements for each competence from his/her perspective. They then have an appraisal meeting at which the appraisee and the line-manager discuss areas where they have made differing judgements and make agreed moderated judgments. At this meeting they also agree three key competency targets and one IT target on which the appraisee is going to focus during the coming year. 

Collecting Appraisal Data. 

The first versions of the appraisal process were completed on paper with the appraisee and appraiser highlighting the grids in different colours. In time this evolved into a process highlighting cells within Excel. This system has proved to be very effective at identifying personal strengths and weaknesses as well as areas to prioritise for INSET. However, like all previous methods, it fell short of expectations as it couldn’t help measure the scale of the training needs either for a particular department or for the school as a whole. This information is at the heart of school improvement. For example, we might discover that a large number of teachers across the school were not using ‘data to inform planning and evaluate the needs of students’, this then is not an issue for each individual teacher, rather, it is a School Training Issue

Hable and Review365. 

In March 2016 we at JESS, Dubai approached Hable, who had facilitated our move to Office365, to build an appraisal tool within SharePoint. However, after much trial and error, it became apparent that SharePoint was not sufficiently flexible to be provide the functionality which we need. Thus, in September 2017 Mark Reynolds, the founder of Hable, took the decision to invest in developing the web-based SharePoint App that is Review365, which launches at BETT this month. 
Review365 is a fast, efficient and flexible appraisal tool, which allows schools to take a more strategic approach to performance management and the identification of training needs.

This blog was written for the Hable Blog.

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Lead Yourself First - Inspiring Leadership through Solitude by Raymond Kethledge and Michael Erwin - Book Review


Summary of Key Points and Argument

Lead Yourself First has an important message: we need solitude if we are to be effective leaders. Solitude provides the space that allows leaders 
  • to be analytical
  • to be intuitive
  • to be creative, and
  • to find moral courage.
Most importantly solitude allows leaders time to develop the core principles or underlying values that ground one's leadership and serve as a source of strength and direction when times are tough. Times of solitude can be found in any number of ways: on a long walk or run; in a library; or through writing a journal or daily meditation. 

The approach of the book is summarised by Jim Collins in his Foreword (Click here to download a sample of the audio book.)

Today's leaders face greater pressures because of the "always-on" culture that comes with new technologies. This makes finding solitude all the more important.
"Society did not make a considered choice to surrender the bulk of its time for reflection in favour of time spent reading tweets or texts." (p.181)
The highlight of the book for me were the insights on leadership by Doug Contant, formerly  President and CEO of the Campbell Soup Group:
"Leaders need to work on personal leadership as well as organisational leadership." 
"Leadership is an inside-out process - you need to be fortified within before you can lead people around you." (p.131)
I particularly liked the idea that Contant spends 30 minutes each morning thinking about five things:
  • My family
  • My work
  • My community
  • My faith
  • My personal well-being.
The authors suggest a number of important ways  to embrace solitude.
  1. Reset expectations:  find the balance between accessibility and distance: try putting in the calendar "time to think" each day and "no-meeting days";
  2. Find Space for solitude: get away from your computer and leave your phone behind.
  3. Prepare for solitude: "percolate beforehand" identifying issues to consider in advance.
  4. Prepare emotionally:  "Solitude brings one closer to the truth and sometimes the truth is discomforting."
  5. Embrace hard thinking:  think about complex problems.
  6. Identify your first principles and stay connected with them. Be an authentic leader.
  7. Find a higher purpose for your leadership and share it with your followers.

Review

Overall, Lead Yourself First is a much needed reminder that leaders need to take time to reflect and ground themselves in order to do their job more effectively and in that sense it is a worthwhile read. The authors are at their best when they are analysing the issue and offering practical advice (as in the paragraph above).

However, where Lead Yourself First falls down is that the subject doesn't warrant a full book. As a consequence, the authors draw on numerous examples to illustrate its simple message. A further deficiency is that far too many of these are taken from military history (Eisenhower, TE Lawrence, General Mathis, Platoon Commander Katie Simonis, Lincoln, Hooker and Grant to mention a few). At times I felt I was reading the edited highlights of the West Point Reading List combined with the collected anecdotes from contacts made during the authors' military service. Often the length of the narrative (especially the detailed descriptions of battle scenarios) was often well out of proportion with the point that was being illustrated. In what felt like padding (and a deliberate counterblast to the military perspective) the book draws to a close with three extended historical examples of moral courage: Churchill, Martin Luther-King and Karol Woytyla (Pope John-Paul II), without much application to the book's themes.

Having said that, many of the examples were interesting in their own right - it was an unexpected pleasure to fill in some gaps in my knowledge of the US Civil War and of C20 History - but I did not think that the authors worked hard enough to draw out the lessons of their many examples to further their argument about leadership in a significant way.