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Tag: england (Page 2 of 7)

Education Change Across the Pond

England has a new government (albeit one cobbled together out of strange bedfellows) and also a new Education Secretary.

And it sounds like he’s an even bigger fan of charter schools than ours.

Mr Gove confirmed he intended to move quickly on plans for all schools to be given the freedom to become academies – schools which are funded by the state but are largely independent.

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“In the weeks ahead, I want us to offer all schools the chance to enjoy academy-style freedoms so that heads and teachers across the country can be liberated,” he wrote.

However, unlike Mr. Duncan, the new head of the UK Department for Education (name changed from the Department for Children, Schools and Families), is also calling for less national control of the process.

Other key priorities confirmed by Mr Gove were to:

  • give schools greater freedom over the curriculum
  • “radically reform exam system” so that all schools can offer a wider range of qualifications
  • support teachers by giving them more powers “to ensure higher standards of discipline”

No particular comment to make. I just find the differences between the US and UK approach to public education interesting.


Image: Colliery Village School by freefotouk used under a Creative Commons license.

We Need Smarter Filters

When it comes to most web filtering systems the philosophy seems to be to try and find all the evil stuff on the web and then block it from being delivered to computers used by students.

“Evil”, of course, is a subjective qualifier and almost all the electronic nannies I’ve been subjected to adopt a sledgehammer, all-or-nothing “solution” to the process.

However, what if you approached the problem from another, smarter direction?

That’s seems to be what some schools in England are trying when it comes to YouTube, one of the web resources most frequently blocked by schools despite offering a rapidly-expanding amount of great teaching content.

Instead of blocking everything on a page, this particular filter screens out objectionable fluff around the edges of a video while letting the teacher-selected material show through.

Teachers say that they would use YouTube to access videos of scientific experiments that are too dangerous or complex to perform in the classroom, scenes from Shakespeare’s plays and footage of other cultures or foreign landscapes. The system is dependent on teachers submitting videos for approval. It then filters out content surrounding the footage and links to other films. A selection of suitable material is then created for other staff to use and for pupils to look at.

The article plays up the fact that this system will cost the schools up to £10,000 (about $16,000US) depending on the number of computers using the system, but that shouldn’t be the point.

We already pay large sums of money for the heavy-handed approach. Is there any good reason the all-purpose filters we use now couldn’t be configured to do the same thing?

Obviously, it’s simpler (and cheaper) for filtering companies to just block every site containing any material that might possibly offend someone, somewhere – and then unblock some pages when they get complaints.

But for the amount we already turn over to these “services”, we should be able to get intelligent electronic gates, programmed to be responsive to the needs of the people who should be trusted to differentiate good from bad when it comes to instruction, namely teachers.

New Assessment Idea: Trust The Teachers

The BBC’s education writer Mike Baker thinks he sees a “long-term change of direction” in the UK’s love affair with “accountability” (aka standardized testing).

The latest sign was this week’s report from the Commons Schools Committee. It delivered a message we don’t often hear from politicians: trust the teachers.

The MPs [Members of Parliament] argued that the “complexity” of the school accountability system in England is creating “a barrier to genuine school improvement”.

The report highlighted the “adverse effects” that often flow from a target-driven school culture and criticised Ofsted [Office for Standards in Education] for taking a narrow, results-based view of learning in schools.

A report from a government “Expert Group” suggests that improving the reliability of teacher assessments would allow the country’s schools to move away from their reliance of “externally marked tests”.

The report did not argue for an end to all external assessment. But it called for a shift toward more within-school, teacher-led assessment. This, it said, would not only save money but also a lot of the teaching time that is lost to exam preparation and administration.

And this is the key point: it is not about dropping school accountability altogether, but about making sure it does not obstruct teaching and learning.

Baker refers to the UK testing program as a “crude” way to assess learning, one that has had “unintended effects” such as narrowing the curriculum.

It’s hard to tell from this one article whether or not any of these trends away from standardized testing are actually going to take root in British schools (much less their political institutions).

However, it’s all stuff we also need to be considering on this side of the pond.

Who’s Responsible?

Last spring the security office in our overly-large school district cooked up a program to reduce the theft of equipment in classrooms and offices.sticky.jpg

One part of their plan involved books of these colorful Post-It Notes, which they hoped tech support people, administrators, and our tech trainers would place as gentle warnings on unattended equipment, both personal property and stuff owned by the district.

Not exactly subtle. Or warmly embraced by most people around here.

However, the police in a section of London are taking this concept one step farther.

Instead of just warning people, they are actually taking property from unlocked cars.

Of course, their actions are only taken with the very best of intentions according to a police spokesperson.

“Technically we are entering the vehicle but we are not committing a crime. It’s a common law duty to protect (people’s) property.

“We don’t want to take people’s property as it is an awful lot of bureaucracy and hassle for us but we are doing this to make sure people take responsibility of their valuables.”

Ok. So, whatever happened to the concept of people taking responsibility for – and accepting the consequences of – their decisions?

International Digital Rights

Another interesting conflict in the world of copyright and digital media.

The National Portrait Gallery [Great Britain] is threatening legal action after 3,300 images from its website were uploaded to online encyclopaedia Wikipedia.

A contributor to the popular site, Derrick Coetzee, breached English copyright laws by posting images from the gallery’s collection, the NPG said.

But photographs of works of art are not protected by copyright in the US, where Mr Coetzee and Wikipedia are based.

Of course these issues go beyond a simple my-rights, your-rights squabble.

The situation illustrates once again that the web freely crosses national borders (at least most of them) while intellectual property laws don’t.

So, should a publicly-funded museum in the UK have the right to prevent a US-based non-profit web site (fast becoming an international public utility) from using images of works that are already posted on the museum’s web site and carry no copyright restrictions outside of the country?

I doubt a definitive answer will be crafted anytime soon.

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