Tag Archives: global outlook

“Social media and social conscience” by Molly Pugh age 15

Social media allows us to connect in ways we never had before. We have the potential to make links with people you would never normally encounter – of different social standing, race and even living on the other side of the world. However, there is a danger that social media can shut people off from the wider world, instead of helping them embrace it. By using websites like Facebook and Twitter, people surround themselves with their friends, their family and their social circles. Even on Twitter people follow people they have common interests with such as a celebrities. This can lead to young people in the West being surrounded by their predominantly privileged culture.

Young people, without rare proactive interest, don’t see the huge breaches of human rights and the grotesque amounts of suffering going on around the world today. This combined with what I feel is the growing perception that being an activist of any kind has become unfashionable in the west’s middle classes, certainly In Britain, has created a distressing reality that world suffering is becoming increasingly ignored. Whilst it should not go unmentioned that there are of course socially aware young people in our society, I feel strongly that there are not enough. In my school, which has a strong sense of social responsibility, the Prom Committee in year 10 was the most popular committee by far, whilst Amnesty was the least. This is illustrative of a challenge which faces our society. If young people aren’t taught to be socially and globally conscious then surely, in the enclosed world of social media, they are ill prepared for when they reach adulthood. This is further proven by the astounding fact that in 2005 more 18-34 year olds voted in the Big Brother Contest than in the general election.

Social media whilst having huge possibilities, with 552 million daily users on Facebook alone, often lets itself down by surrounding people with their cultures and comfort zones, and not forcing them to see the massive and more important issues that the world is facing. The main issue is how can we use social media to enhance people’s social conscience, instead of hindering it?

Fact about the Big Brother Voting from http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/4586995.stm.
Fact about the Facebook usage from http://visual.ly/100-social-networking-statistics-facts-2012

League tables measure; people inspire.

There has been a great deal of measuring going on this week courtesy of the DfE. By measuring of course I am referring to the school league tables which attracted the usual column inches in the press. My view of these tables is on record. School league tables are a blunt yardstick – they measure what they measure, and tell you nothing more.

A new league table entered the arena this year. This table identified the educational establishments where students achieved AAB in the facilitating subjects recognised by the elite Russell Group of Universities.  The Stephen Perse Foundation ranked very well with this measurement – we were placed a pleasing fifth in the country.  Yet by definition this table did not include our IBDP students where the average was an excellent 40 / 45 points.

If you look at the HEFCE equivalent to AAB, which is currently 35 points, then we gained a 94 per cent ‘AAB’ rate with our 2012 IB cohort. This would place us at No 1 in the Russell Group league by a wide margin.

Thought for DfE – do we now need a separate Russell Group IB league table? Or, is all this obsessing with measurement a distraction from what really matters – inspiring students to strive for a place in the educational setting of their choice?

This is the real imperative for schools today. Traditionally, guidance has focused on careers advice. Only recently I visited a class where the students were engaged in an online careers guidance exercise. One student was curious as to why she was being prompted by the virtual guidance to become a pet therapist.  Interesting but strangely random.  Although there is a place for this process, process alone can only channel, it cannot open a world of possibilities. It cannot inspire. The clarion call of the Olympics to “Inspire a Generation” served us well as a nation. It surely must be equally relevant to our schools!

The challenge facing educators today is to guide our young people towards a future where the landscape lacks the certainty of the past.  We face a future characterised by the unknowns. Therefore guidance must be harnessed to inspiration.  We are no longer merely a conduit for passing on information relating to specific career routes.  We need to offer a higher level of guidance.  In our school we have developed a programme called Inspire Me which aims to do just this.  The purpose of this ambitious programme is to invite people with interesting life stories and career paths in to school to share these with the students.

Only last week we welcomed back Old Persean, Clare Young, formerly a scientist, now a serving officer in the Metropolitan Police force.  She spoke to the school about her experiences as part of the security team which protected the Olympic torch as it traversed the country last summer.  Her fitness levels had to be extremely high as did her diplomatic skills dealing with a host of celebrities and of course the public during her travels around Britain.  How wonderful for our current cohort of students to listen to the life experiences of someone who, only 15 years ago, was a pupil at their school.  Clare hadn’t imagined she would play her role in an historic sporting event in this country but she was inspired to seize her opportunity.

Of course inspiration must be underpinned with excellent guidance.  An individual should shape their own aspiration and not be shaped by the aspiration of their school.  This year our students’ ambitions have been rewarded with offers from all kinds of Higher Education institutions.  Whilst 30% have Oxbridge offers, others hold offers from a whole host of universities for an extraordinary range of subjects.  Still pending is a Skype interview for a Liberal Arts course in Maastricht, an application to Military Academies in the United States and a much prized place on a midwifery course (bumped into the student in Waitrose who tells me her interview is soon, so best of luck!).

If you want to find out more about our guidance in the sixth form here is the link to the relevant section of our website:

http://sixthform.stephenperse.com/universities-and-careers

I started by referencing league tables – I should like to conclude by noting a rather bizarre feature of the GCSE league tables. Even though our school boasted GCSE examination results which ranked amongst the best in the country we don’t appear at all in this DfE measurement.  Go figure.

Tweachers global voice

twitter

I read a surreal Twitter exchange recently between an astronaut and William Shatner, the erstwhile Captain Kirk of Star Trek fame.  The actor queried whether Commander Hadfield was tweeting from space.  His response?  “Yes, standard orbit Captain.  And we are detecting signs of life on earth.”  This convergence of science fiction and science fact is serendipitous. But it also points to a greater issue. The world imagined in the past is increasingly becoming aligned to the world we live in today.  The canny observation “be careful what you wish for” has never been so pertinent.

So how does today’s world shape up to the imagination of the last century? The showcase TV programme which reported on innovation in my younger years was “Tomorrow’s World”. The cool theme music and urbane Raymond Baxter heralded a range of ideas which challenged our perception of the possible.  One of the show’s presenters was Maggie Philbin who in later life shared her reflections on the many and varied inventions demonstrated on ‘Tomorrow’s World’:

”I would love to say I recognised their significance immediately but often the technology was fragile or incomplete – a mixture of space age and Stone Age – and the real potential was hidden… During my years on the show I saw the mobile phone downsize from one you could fit in a suitcase to one you could carry on your own but which cost £3,000. I remember BT lending me one for a weekend, so I would get the hang of it. I had given the number to my husband, who rang me while I was on the train home. I like to think I was the first person to say: “I’m on a train!” The whole carriage stared and shared my excitement that it was indeed possible to make a call on the 18.35 out of Paddington…”

Ms Philbin’s point about not necessarily identifying the transformational technology is as relevant today as it was then.  It is now a truism that digital technology is transforming our lives in quite fundamental ways.  The virtual world is as prevalent in our lives as the real, raising all kinds of issues we had never anticipated.  This is arguably the greatest challenge for educators today.

Illustrative of this is social media. Let me take Twitter.  For many, Twitter is a self-absorbed platform for individuals who want to share their every waking hour with “followers” foolish enough to take an interest in them.  I thought that too.  However, it is clear that something quite extraordinary has happened over the last year in the world of education.  Recently the Times Educational Supplement ran a piece on the rise of the educational ‘tweeter’ during 2012 (or tweachers!). Across the globe Twitter connects a broad spectrum of people who are united in their interest in learning.  And Twitter is very democratic.  It matters little if you are a senior member of staff or a professor in a university; what matters is that you have something to contribute to the on-going debate about the future of education in our different schools, in our different countries.

Certainly for me, Twitter has opened a window to a fantastic world of ideas and thinking which I find stimulating and challenging.  Indeed at times dialogue between tweeters can take on a Socratic quality.  Which is really the point.  Far from “dumbing down” our thinking, Twitter has provided a vehicle for promoting genuine and meaningful debate across continents.  And who would ever have anticipated this back in 2006 when the world of Twitter was born?

So why the IB?

With A Level results now only a couple of weeks away and knowing how much interest these results will attract from the media, I’d like to highlight the work of our un-sung IB students, whose achievements receive little media interest in comparison but whose efforts are equally admirable and significant.

While so much of our current national examination system is shrouded in uncertainty, I’d also like to highlight the undisputed strengths of the IB system, its unparalleled depth and breadth, which have served its students so well for over 40 years, giving them a superior learning experience, with distinct advantages in later life.

The strengths of the IB programme have been highlighted recently in various reports, particularly those relating to STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths). While traditional A Levels results in recent years have shown a decline in numbers studying science and maths, this is inherently mitigated in the IB programme.

Simon Armitage, head of our Sixth Form College, attended a recent conference about A Level reform at which Glenys Stacey, Chief Executive of Ofqual, spoke. She highlighted that there is now general confusion about the purpose of A Levels and confirmed that the modular approach has “resulted in problems” with “too much gaming”, ie playing the system for exam results, in the current qualification. Stacey also passed negative reference on the UK’s fixation on qualifications saying “we are very examination focussed in this country”. With all of this, I wholeheartedly agreed and, for all of these reasons, I applaud the IB programme and the students who decided not to follow the crowd, turning their backs on A Levels, to study for a far broader based, relevant and internationally recognised qualification.

Prof Janice Kay, Deputy Vice Chancellor (education) from Exeter University, speaking at the same conference as Stacey, noted that A Level students entering university lack maths and english skills. She commented on science students who could no long write effectively and humanities students with a lack of numerical fluency.

What is clear to us is that for the right students, of which there are many, the IB course provides the discrimination in the top grading as well as a greater breadth of subjects and skills. With most university degree courses multi-disciplinary, and all requiring an engagement with academic writing and research, the IB hits all three buttons, with the added bonus of a foreign language component.

So, while we await the A Level results, I would like to acknowledge the impressive achievements of our IB students who averaged 39.65 points which, on the UCAS scale is the equivalent of 4 A* grades at A Level.

Finally, I’d like to leave you with this thought. Each year a large proportion of sixth form students change their minds about their future degree aspirations. This is unsurprising considering they are only 16 and 17 years old. However, having already chosen their three or four A Level subjects, their path is set. With IB this is not the case. A good example from this year is a student who would have chosen science and maths in A Level to aim at medicine. However, while her choice to study IB allowed medicine to remain open as an option, it also allowed for her changing her mind. She is now off to study CHINESE at university next year, something that would not have been possible if she had followed the A Level route.