Saturday, November 25, 2006

BECTA on the offensive

Pindar pokes profession
Strong stuff from the new BECTA chair. In a blistering analysis on the wasted spend in schools, the new Chair of BECTA, Andrew Pinder, blamed the teaching profession as being the block on progress.

Schools a cottage industry
Every other area of human endeavour seems to have been made more efficient and effective through technology, yet education and training seem to be fossilised. Few teachers and trainers are using technology usefully, most of them hobbiests and enthusiasts. The reason? According to Pinder, education doesn't see itself as an INDUSTRY. It has lots of technology but few who know how to apply sensible business models. The system is stuck in a mode where the teacher in a classroom of 30 students is the primary delivery method. Teaching, in this sense is still a cottage industry, and as a cottage inustry, with power in the hands of individuals, progress has been impossible.

Profession is the problem

In the outside world, where technology has forced institutional reorganisation above that of the individual, we have seen massive increases in productivity. In schools, where power and budget is in the hands of the teaching 'profession' we have seen little progress. He sees the 'profession' as the problem. Professionals want control as individuals, want to do their own thing, and often refuse to be organised, or reorganised.

Schools, in his opinion, are organised in the wrong way. They need institutional reform, not management by individuals. One must separate the institution from its staff. In education the workers are in control and run the system for their benefit. They can't go out of business, are massively funded and supported by the state and have therefore have no reason to reform themselves. Reform must come from the outside.

Irrelevant research
He was also scathing about 'irrelevant research'. He has a point, as we seem to have lost our way here, with almost all useful research is now stateside.

Whiteboards - trivial
On whiteboardsm his views are clear - a minor if not marginal initiative that just reinforced the old 'teacher in front of a class' model. It is, effectively, and expensive enhancement of the Victorian blackboard (introduced around 1870!).

This looks like a good appointment. This guy has seen it from both sides, as a private and public sector manager. He's full of bold ideas and not scared to go on the offensive when he encounters 'professional' hubris.


Mark Frank said...

But why is teaching also making limited use of technology

a) in the private sector
b) worldwide - even Stateside

I suspect the real problem is that we just haven't found a way to transform education through technology - only to somewhat enhance what we do already.

Think of all the failed attempts to teach through teaching machines, TV, CBT etc.

It is empty rhetoric to blame the teaching profession without concrete suggestions for what they should do differently.

Donald Clark said...

I agree, but the word 'teaching' is, perhaps, the distractor.

The internet has transformed the way knowledge is created, transmitted, searched and used. The old 'teaching' model has been diluted by direct access to knowledge through technology.

I was never very convinced abut the efficacy of 'teachjing' even in educational institiutions. It struck me as at school how much I had to learn on my own through home work and cramming and as a student how little I learnt from 'lecturers' and how much I learnt on my own in the quiet of my own room and the library. The majority of what anyone learns in life is not through formal 'teaching' but in hunderds of other less formal encounters - learning on one's own htrough books, magazines, TV, newspapers and now the web.

I think your observation about 'only to enhancce what we do already' is spot on. As long as we use the technology to simply enhance the existing classroom model, we'll make marginal progress (whiteboards are a good example of this, as is most simple e-learning).

There is massive use of the technology in the private sector and companies have been transformed by the use of technology - who doesn't use google, email etc. This technology is transforming almost everything we do in life - except in schools.

I have hundreds of concrete suggestions on what to do differently including the radical changes in the governance of the educational establishement, reform of schools, forcing educational establishments to rely less on classrooms, keyboard training as part of the national curriculum, online homework with formative and summative assessment, curriculum reform, impelmentation of Tomlinson, full curricum content on memory sticks for every child, more community involvement by schools, games in learning, more focus on informal learning in the workplace, more workplace learning etc etc (I could go on for hours here.).

You could say that Andrew Pindar and I are full of empty rhetoric, but it's the existing system that's failing, doing the same old thing year in year out. Billions are being spent on a system that soaks it up with only marginal improvements. This begs an important question. Why? I'd say the reason is adherence to the old 'teacher in class' model.

Mark Frank said...


Your concrete suggestions are based on principles I largely agree with, and I have made similar suggestions in a corporate context. In fact I am involved in [url=]this project[/url] which seeks to make some of the transformations you are asking for. But:

I don't see the teaching profession as being the obstacle. Surely it is much more to do with the will from the government and all related instituations. And this in turn relies on the perceptions and interest of the voters.

A lot of this stuff sounds good but is unproven on a mass scale in a school environment (Where in the world are these things happening in the education sector on any significant scale?). Radical changes which failed would do more harm than good.

Technology is an enabler but we shouldn't get too fixated on it. Changes in school governance, the relationship between school and home, games in learning can all happen without going near a computer.

Donald Clark said...

Your point about government is correct. I have far more faith in politicians to change teh system than in those who work within the system.

If we compare 'fruit fly' (short-lived) policies such as NHSU, UKeUniversities, ILAS etc with the 'turtle (long-lived) policies such as the Open University, abolition of the 11+, 92 reform of Universities, UFI etc, then I'd say that most significant change has come from without and not within.

My point is that those within the system are desperately hanging on to old clapped out theory and practice, and that we should be looking at radical policy shifts. That's Andrew Pindar's point.

On teachers, one only has to witness the banal and childish 'no to everything' attitude of the NUS and other teaching unions every year to see the 'obstacle' in action. The politicians have very little time for this posturing, as their aim is to help the students.

Like the project - hope it goes well.

Anonymous said...

Donald. Eslewhere in your blog you rightly stress the need for evidence to justify action. So the tired generalisation: "one only has to witness the banal and childish 'no to everything' attitude of the NUS (sic) and other teaching unions to see the 'obstacle' in action" was a bit of a surprise.

Trade unions are generally reactive - that is inherent in their role; and usually employers get the trade unions they deserve.

I cannot speak for the situation in schools because I've neither worked in one, nor had a trade union role in one. And for sure the three main school teacher unions vary in their policies on curriculum change, and in their "conservatism".

I did work in Further Education for 20+ years through a period of massive change - that is a euphemism for attack - involving a large increase in productivity and a big reduction in staffing costs (i.e. many more learners being taught by fewer teachers for less money); the same has happened in HE.

I was responsible for "e-learning" in a large strongly unionised college, and it was not the union that stood in the way of changes to how the curriculum was organised. It was the union that pushed for college mergers, to enable provision to be organised properly, and to deal with the bane of FE, the low volume specialist course.

The problem was (and is) that the main levers for change (inspection, funding/audit, and accreditation/assessment) - all of them external, and all of them under Government not institutional or user control - were not used to bring about the policy shifts that are needed. Instead there seems to be an unrealistic reliance, through exhortation, on getting leading figures - whatever that means - at all levels in the educational system to start copying the 15% of institutions that are said to be making good use of ICT.

Concerning Pinder's industrial metaphor, much as I like the term "organise industrially", with its syndicalist tone, I think he i) misses the point about the nature of (most) players in the education space, which is that they are not operating on a big scale, with the exception (in UK public sector education) of the awarding bodies, the funding councils, UCAS, Ufi/learndirect, JANET/UKERNA; ii) does not acknoweldge that the drive towards institutional autonomy at the expense of local authority (i.e. aggregated) control has moved public-sector schools in the "wrong" direction from the point of view of achieving economies of scale - imagine it: individual schools each getting a few £k earmarked to buy a VLE; iii) is wide of the mark as to what the nature of the production and social processes in much of public sector education either are or ought to be; iv) ignores "free culture" - as exemplified by YouTube, Wikipedia, Open Access - and the massive changes that are taking place in knowledge creation and dissemination - certainly to take advantage of this requires organisation, but I'm not sure that the organisational methods of large businesses are the ones that will acheive this.

Pinder is right that money will continue to be wasted on ICT if it is not properly organised on a big enough scale; he and Becta would do well to keep a close eye on instances of large scale organisation of ICT that are already "out there", with the South Yorkshire e-learning Programme (e-SY) - - being a good example. Crucial to its success is the way that schools and FE colleges from across the whole of 4 local authority areas, serving over 2 million people have been caused to act in concert, sharing a common VLE, with plenty of central services - including infrastructure provision, content development, technical support, etc.

What is needed is: that kind of pooled organisation; active application of some of your "hundreds of concrete suggestions", and, above all, proper use by Government of the "three levers for change" mentioned above.

Without all of these, not a lot will happen.

Donald Clark said...

Couldn't agree more on 'pooling', which can be:

1. National - good example is Janet/SuperJanet or, in Scotland the Scholar e-learning content pumped into EVERY single schol in Scotland.

2. Regional - Yorkshire is a good example

3. Local - within a county, city or town - these seem to be less successful.

I'd go for national every time as one gets:

political support
economies of scale
real institutional change

Could BECTA act as such a pooling organisation?

Anonymous said...

In practice, JISC, through UKERNA/JANET, its new Content Company, and its National Data Centres, and various other national services, has the heavyweight experience of "national pooling". You'll know better than I do the scale of Ufi's operation. Becta seems to have focused more on content procurement (for FE), and content aggregation/supply (through "Curriculum Online"); and its "framework agreements" seem to be a way of simplifying (and constraining) schools' access to hardware and software. Then there are the regional broadband consortia which have organised "pooled" access to bandwidth for schools - an din some parts of the country, quite a lot more. Not quite sure where things stand between them and UKERNA/JANET at the moment. There are also school-oriented examples like C2000 in the North of Ireland (HP leading), and Glow in Scotland (RM leading). Perhaps other readers can clarify?

Unknown said...

Really enjoyed the blog and the high quality discussion that followed. I have linked you on my blog

Unknown said...

Reading back over the blog it occurs to me that schools can 'go out of business' in so far as they can be put on notice to improve and if they fail to do so are closed down and re-opened as academies.