Tag Archives: digital citizenship

A Letter to Mr Gove

Dear Mr Gove

As principal of an independent school, I have the advantage of not having to toe the government line. I can take a longer view on the edicts coming out of the DfE. As you know, there is a great deal of huffing and puffing among educationalists about your initiatives which I observe with interest. You are certainly not Mr Popularity with the teaching profession as the recent conferences for head teachers and teachers clearly illustrate.

Don’t misunderstand me. I appreciate that you are determined to “remove the cap” on aspiration in state schools which in principle is a good thing. The issues with social mobility are well documented and I think your personal mission to address this is commendable. I am where I am today because of my state education.

What really puzzles me is your view on the purpose of education. Your department is clearly on a mission to change the maintained sector. No shortage of initiatives from the DfE. If busy-ness was a measure of success you would win hands down. But really do these initiatives herald a new dawn in education?

Just this week your department churned out another good idea – every school should be able to determine its school holidays. Academies and Free Schools already enjoy this autonomy but you want all schools to be freed from the shackles of LEA holidays. You feel the long summer holidays were put in place for a nineteenth century agricultural society which manifestly is not the case today. Indeed for contemporary society there are very twenty first century problems to be addressed. Nick Gibb, a former Education Minister, commented on the Today programme on Radio 4 “the staggered holidays mean that it will be easier for parents to obtain cheaper holidays.” Presumably a benefit for teachers as well.

You have also made the point in the past that pupils should spend more time in school because this will both help their attainment and their hard pressed parents with child care.
On a superficial level your arguments certainly have some merit. Surely the longer a pupil is in a classroom the more they will learn. And child care can be an expensive business.

Yet, on reflection, I can’t help but think you are merely shifting deck chairs around on the deck of the Titanic. The fundamental problem is with the value we place on education. When I was growing up back in the ’60/70s my parents, Irish immigrants, fervently believed that the way to a better future for me was through education. As people who had to leave school very young, they jealously guarded my opportunities. At the Wellington Education Festival, which I know you attended, the highly respected journalist Fergal Keane made this very point. His lifetime of experience visiting troubled parts of the world left him in no doubt that education is transformative. It matters because it makes a difference.

Could it be that our focus on the measurables in education mean that too many pupils become disengaged? And that in your pursuit of restoring rigour to the qualifications framework you are alienating even more pupils who find it too high a hurdle? I was in conversation with a friend recently who works in a maintained school with a catchment which can be described as challenging. We had a frank discussion about the attitudes to learning in her school. Teachers essentially had to contend with too many students who regard time in school as a necessary evil. Legislating for them potentially to spend more time in a classroom will not change their attitude to school.

I think we are reaching a point in education when we need to return to first principles. What is learning for? After all, we are caught up on a digital revolution which is having a myriad of intended and unintended consequences in the education of the young. Surely we owe it to our society to be offering an education fit for the world today rather than fetishising about restoring a golden age of yesteryear?

Yours etc.

A Digital Learning Journey

Later this month I shall be making a presentation to a contingent of 200 Swedish politicians and educators about leadership in education.  My presentation is one of a range of talks and seminars in this Apple sponsored event in a week-long series culminating in the appearance of the keynote speaker, Sir Ken Robinson, the internationally renowned expert on creativity in education. The focus of the London event is the potential impact of technology on pedagogy.  Most specifically, will issuing a lap top to every student inSweden improve the learning experience in the classroom?  And more broadly how do school leaders manage the pedagogical challenges created by this interface with the digital world?

iPad 2

My invitation to this event is related to the digital profile of our school.  Last September every student in the senior school was issued with an iPad a year after the teachers had themselves been equipped with the device. As an independent school we have the luxury of making our own decisions without reference to the latest government hobby horse and it was blindingly obvious to us that a school disconnected from the digital revolution was failing to educate its pupil for the world we live in.  A digital world.

It is a truism that technology should not be used for its own sake.  This is clearly the concern of our Swedish guests.  Yet it is also clear that there is a world of possibilities.  I am fascinated by digital innovation and how it can transform the learning Eco system.  Only today I was reading a blog about “The Internet of Things” written by Steve Wheeler@timbuckteeth. In this world every object is connected to the Web. “The announcement of a new technology called Touché has the potential to change forever the way we interact with everyday objects…. Touché uses a Swept Frequency Capacitive Sensing technique to make just about any everyday object ‘aware’ that users are touching it.  From door handles to sofas, once connected, objects will be context aware, and respond to our natural gestures.”  Indeed not just learning but our life styles could be disrupted by such technology.

Augmented reality is another development with potential to transform our world view.  AR is a medium through which the known world fuses with current technology to create a uniquely blended interactive experience.  NASA has used AR to illustrate the Mars Curiosity Rover expedition.


The potential for changing the conventional landscape within our schools is huge.

And it is all about the potential.  Arguably the pace of innovation is far outstripping the capacity for educators in schools to harness it to transform the learning experience of students in a meaningful way.  The fear of disruption outweighs any perceived benefits.  After all, the focus of schools is to ensure students successfully engage with a broad and stimulating curriculum; and leave with a clutch of qualifications facilitating progression to the next stage of their lives.

Yet this is the critical point.  Our young people are growing up in a world where it is a cliché that the pace of change is exponential.  Failing to engage with the digital world is ignoring the world which shapes their lives.  If schools are to enjoy the opportunities offered by the digital revolution a key change has to happen.  Teachers, our greatest resource, must not only be encouraged to be active learners themselves, schools must place innovative pedagogy at the heart of what they do.  It is no longer the case that a teacher emerges from Higher Education fully formed.  In the dynamic world in which we live the most effective teacher is one who is on their own learning journey, unafraid of change, within an environment which supports their professional development. A school today should truly be a community of learners.