Author Archives: rogerblamire

Professional development: how much is enough?

In England the annual survey of teachers’ workload always prompts interesting discussions, particularly as the instrument used to collect data is a diary kept by teachers. The 2014 edition was recently published by the Department of Education.

While most reactions have been about the dedication to work (or demands of the job?) shown by teachers (59 hours a week for primary school teachers, more than secondary school teachers’ 55 hours) and the fact that only 1/3 of the time was spent teaching, it was the proportion of time spent on professional development that caught my eye.

One blogger, David Weston, noted:

For each hour of teaching time, primary teachers spend 2.5 minutes on Continuing Professional Development, while secondary teachers spend just over 1 minute. To put it another way, secondary teachers spend around 47 hours a year on CPD, while primary teachers spend 85.8 hours.

Considering that research suggests that it takes around 50 hours on a single CPD topic to make a sustainable change in practice but that teachers have to use this limited time for lots of CPD topics, there is really no surprise that research suggests that teachers barely improve their teaching after the first three years on the job – everything becomes habitual and automated and these habits are impossible to shift without concentrated time and effort.

Unfortunately there is no reference to the evidence for the ’50 hours to make sustainable change’ assertion but it raises the question: How much CPD is needed to bring about major change in classrooms? It also begs the quality question: not so much the amount of hours on CPD but the activities taking place in that time and where they take place (in-school is more effective than off-site for example). The Survey of Schools: ICT in Education found that 74% of students at grade 8 were in schools where teachers learnt about ICT in their own time (final report, p. 75), in what could be called self-directed spontaneous CPD, possibly because of inadequacies or non-existence of formal training opportunities.

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The results from the diaries, if they can be compared, indicate that English teachers, with six (secondary) and more than ten days a year (primary), are relatively fortunate in the amount of CPD they undergo. According to the Survey of Schools, 61% of grade 8 students were in schools where teachers spent more than six days in the preceding two years on professional development activities (report, p. 98), with teachers in Spain, Portugal and Poland leading the way. Almost one in five students at grade 4 are in schools where teachers have had less than one day’s CPD or none at all in the past two years – by any measure this is insufficient to shift engrained practices.

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The OECD’s Andreas Schleicher said unequivocally last week that successful countries invest heavily in CPD for their staff, citing Singapore where each teacher has 100 hrs of CPD a year, that’s about 12 days! If education, and innovative approaches to teaching and learning, really matter, then surely it’s time to invest more in teachers’ professional development. The cost of not doing so is high: David Blunkett was education minister in the 1990s; last night he reflected: “We spent £1bn on technology, what we did wrong was we didn’t teach the teachers. We thought they would share best practice.”

Technology can make it cost-effective and less disruptive, as seen in the popularity of social media, peer networking and the growth of free online CPD – including courses on science and the future classroom starting this month at the new European Schoolnet Academy.

Roger Blamire, Senior Adviser and Project Manager, European Schoolnet

Finnish education minister inspires EMINENT conference

Helsinki

European Schoolnet’s annual EMINENT conference took place 4-5 December in cold Helsinki, but the atmosphere was warm. The tone was set by the Finnish minster of education, Krista Kiuri, speaking without notes the day after the OCED PISA results were published, so she had been very busy with the media, explaining why Finland was no longer ‘top dog’ in the rankings.

At EMINENT Krista Kiuri was concerned about boys’ under-achievement,  pointedly asking: “What are we going to do about the boys?” implying that schools as they are are more girl-friendly than boy-friendly and raising the question of what a male-friendly pedagogy might look like. She also memorably talked about too many classrooms being like aeroplanes – where all electronic devices have to be turned off in flight. One of the key answers (there are ‘no simple answers’) to how to raise performance levels is to trust teachers. “Money doesn’t fix today’s problems,” she said, “society does.” She also argued that fewer hours in school can be better; even now children don’t start school until they are seven in Finland and they spend fewer hours in school than almost all other countries.

Interestingly she said that when she was young (not so long ago: she is 39), ‘school was my social media’, but that in some ways ‘school has now lost credibility’ because young people don’t have to be in the same place to keep in touch thanks to social media and being ‘always on’, but even so, she reminded us, social mobility happens only through school; without good schools many children from socially disadvantaged backgrounds never have a chance to fulfil their potential.

Ms Kiuri was among the most interesting and challenging ministers of education I’ve heard. And a testimony to the excellence of the education system of which she is a product.

More: http://www.eun.org/about/eminent.

Roger Blamire, ex-teacher and currently senior adviser at European Schoolnet.

Futurium – what will learning look like in 2050?

futurium Futurium is the name of a series of online debates on Europe in 2050. One of the eleven emerging themes is Learning, an all-encompassing topic with as yet only one comment – it takes courage to be the first, but anyone who registers can post an opinion or contribution and vote on topics.

I found the overview piece interesting and fresh, and challenging. It is suggested for example that technology will support ‘full immersion in learning settings not achievable otherwise, including powerful simulations, intelligent conversational agents, and brain-to-machine or even brain-to-brain interfaces.’ There is no doubt that technology will continue to surprise and maybe challenge fundamental human values: where is privacy if we have brain implants and are always connected? For every benefit there are downsides for sure.

It could be argued that many of the developments are already happening in Europe’s schools, albeit in the margins (e.g. games, Big Data), and that 2050 is so far in the future (as 1976 in the past – pre-Walkman, pre-Internet, pre-Excel…) that uncertainty is the only sure prediction – that and seemingly enduring issues related to inequality and inclusion. There are some similarities with work in the Horizon K-12 projects (one for Europe is in preparation) which aim to look a mere five years ahead.

The value of exercises like Futurium in education is to help us take a step outside our day-to-day habits and mindsets, consider how things may change, but crucially how we can own some of these changes and make them work for the benefit of young people and a better world. The scenario building approach in projects like iTEC go some way in this direction as well – helping teachers to design learning experiences that are fit for the future, not simply ‘business as usual’ or ‘more of the same’.