Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Replacing Ofsted with Peer Review

Original post at

Ofsted recently announced it's going to stop graded lesson observations in colleges as part of a pilot scheme from September 2014. The news follows a report by the University and College Union that raised serious questions on whether the practice of grading lessons was fit for purpose.
Although I welcome the decision, the problems with further education and Ofsted run much deeper than lesson observations. If we are going to truly improve the quality of provision in colleges, we need a complete overhaul of the system.

One of the key problems is that colleges are inspected by the same body as schools. Inspectors visiting colleges do not necessarily have experience of working in the sector and many lessons are observed by people with no specialist subject knowledge of what's being taught.

Before 2007, when the Adult Learning Inspectorate had authority over colleges, this was not the case. When Ofsted took over, the unique nature of further education was disregarded. As colleges continue to diversify, moving into higher education for example, this is becoming a growing problem. You cannot grade the delivery of such a rapidly changing sector against one set of criteria. Higher education is inspected separately and there's no reason why colleges should be treated any differently.
There are many problems in further education – there's a lack of collaboration, staff training needs to be improved and there's a reluctance to try new things. But Ofsted's not solving any of these issues, and at times it's making them worse. For example, although the sector is diversifying, some colleges are afraid to explore new avenues because they're worried they won't work out as planned and they'll be criticised for it.

Instead of Ofsted being in charge of inspecting colleges, I'd like them to be self-regulated with strictly moderated peer inspections. The Education and Training Foundation (ETF), which was set up in August 2013, should play a central role in objectively supporting colleges to improve. The organisation's aim is to "support colleges and training providers in achieving their own improvement objectives" – a goal all of us the sector can really get behind. Also, the foundation's recent acquisition of the Institute for Learning puts them in the perfect position to develop college staff and provision.
Second, rather than have week-long inspections, which can easily miss both flaws and good practice, it would work better if staff from three colleges spent time at another college to review the quality of its provision for half a term. Trained by the ETF, they would work together to determine what's working well and what needs to be improved. Data would still be an important part of assessing a college, but it would be submitted to and monitored by the foundation.

Reports would remain in the public domain and the commissioner could still intervene to help colleges in trouble, but the number of cases of this would probably reduce as people with real expertise would be helping colleges to improve. And with staff spending so much time getting to know the ins and outs of how a college works, there would be much less chance of places trying to cover up weak areas.

In addition to these compulsory reviews, colleges could request visits from people who have the expertise in an area where they know they are falling short. What's great about this collaborative approach is that, as well as being able to advise their peers from a position of experience instead of authority, people would be able to take back lessons they've learned to their own college.
Rather than putting colleges on the defensive, it would enable them to work in partnership on a regular basis and create a culture where sharing best practice is the norm. A longer inspection would also help staff to feel more relaxed. Every provider can run on adrenaline for a week, but not for six. The longer observation period would make for far more accurate reports and colleges would have a much better idea of where they needed to improve.

Colleges do not lack expertise, but they do lack the time and opportunity to share their knowledge. As well as improving the overall provision of the sector, it would provide ample opportunities for staff development. Not only would the staff visiting other colleges get the chance to see lots of new ideas, tutors could take on short-term management roles while their line manager is away on a visit.
If peer review was introduced, there would of course be many details to work out to ensure that it was properly regulated. But just because an idea is complicated, it doesn't mean it should be dismissed. Ofsted isn't working – it's stifling the sector and we need a change. We've got so many talented people working in further education, why don't we work together to make the most of their expertise?
Jayne Stigger is a further education manager in the south east with a focus on students, science, technology, engineering and maths, and staff development.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Running from the Goat Prize

I'm having a Groucho Marx moment ... you know, "I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member" ...

It's beginning to feel as though in order to be involved in education you must join a club. There is a sudden proliferation of 'education clubs' either overt like the proposed 'College of Teachers' or the 'Society for Education and Training' or covert as in TeachMeets, and other organised hilarity, after work, some way from home and no goodie bag.

We'll all be wearing matching yellow blazers next and going to Yoga classes over Skype before morning lessons.

Now, I do sound like a grouch.

Look, I'm all for sharing, I'm a collaborative person, I like people, other teachers, students, Principals, heck, I once kissed an Ofsted Inspector; it's just all so sudden.

Teachers/lecturers/support staff, whatever our label, we've been a pretty much unloved bunch for quite some time. We were the job role equivalent of the sad girl/boy standing against the wall, waiting for someone to ask us to dance, drinking Fanta and then going home alone, sobbing to ourselves.

Staff rooms were traditionally used for moaning. Darkly embittered old lags, no longer able to spend their breaks having a crafty fag, now used the time to demolish the aspirations of newly minted, glowingly enthusiastic new recruits.

Dire tales of long hours, nasty students, wilful management and government policies of Euripidean proportions.  Oh the paperwork, the pay, the conditions, the lack of respect and collaboration they called, those sirens on the edges of education, luring unwaring teachers onto the jagged rocks of doom. 

Now, almost overnight, we've been transformed into the most sociable, club joining bunch of employees that have ever existed.

Someone get me on the list for the opening of Classroom 54 please.

What's happened, why has it happened so quickly; more importantly, will it disappear just as quickly?

Can we actually sustain this level of interaction, enthusiasm and supervision? Going to endless events, logging on to endless websites, listening to endless experts tell us how to be 'better', 'more efficient', 'more effective', and all the while, giving up more and more of our limited free time and our limited salaries to ensure that we were 'there' when somebody said something to someone and everybody clapped.

More importantly, when did we, as professionals suddenly need to be 'told what to do' by so many? Are we in danger of losing our individuality, our spark, our essence, if we constantly share and emulate?

I enjoy the collaboration, I enjoy meeting others, but do we really all have to be the same?
If we don't go, don't join in, do we get left behind, left out ... consigned to the bike shed of 'old teachers'. I hope not.

Clubs, Societies, etc are good things; they use their power to enhance, but there are concerns. They eventually grow too large to really respond to anyones needs but their own. That's my fear. Having gathered us all in, entranced us with the bright lights, they close their doors, leaving a generation floating hopelessly as the scaffolding they depend on is withdrawn.

I'd like to enjoy it whilst it lasts, but, you know, even Andy Warhol got old ...

20 Top Tips for maths lessons

Original article at

Many students arrive at college already disenchanted and struggling with the subject. Our top tips will give them 20 reasons to love it.
Teaching maths to a student who not only hates the subject but has also consistently failed at it is not an easy task. Yet it is one that lecturers like myself tackle every day in further education colleges. Our students often have low confidence and sometimes little desire to succeed.

Thankfully, there are many things you can do to make your job easier and ensure that students have a more enjoyable and successful experience this time around. Some of these tactics might prove useful for teachers of school-age pupils, too.

1 Seek support

Ask for and insist upon the support of the senior management team in ensuring that maths is a “whole-college” issue, supported across subjects and encouraged by all teachers rather than left to a single department.

2 Think like a student

If maths were a driving test, students would be eager to retake it because they would recognise its value. Be sure to make the subject appealing by spelling out the rewards.

3 Create a tactical timetable

Never timetable maths before 10am or after 3pm and never, ever last thing on a Friday.


4 Discuss issues as early as possible

Use the first lesson to discuss any mathematical issues with learners. Listen to them and use their feedback as an opportunity to develop relevant lessons.


5 Give learners ownership of progress

Divide up the syllabus for each maths qualification. Make sure the students know exactly what they have completed, what needs improving and what is still to be achieved. Share this with tutors and parents regularly.


6 Don’t test too early

Only test when the student is ready – which is when they can pass at least two past papers easily – and then move them on to the next level of study. Constant failure will prevent engagement, and so will boredom.


7 Take your time

Don’t start maths classes in the first two weeks of a new year. Let the class settle in as the maths staff review each student to ensure that they are grouped effectively.


8 Think small

Smaller classes carefully grouped by strengths are more effective than large groups of mixed ability.


9 Choose the right path

If a student’s maths grade at GCSE was below a D, don’t immediately enrol them on the GCSE at college. Instead, put them on a functional skills programme and only enter them for GCSE maths in the second year if their proposed career or course demands it.


10 Offer a choice of online or paper exams

Many students achieve higher marks on a paper exam than online. Computer-based tests can cause confusion with the number of open windows: calculators, question, rules, protractor – students often just click in frustration. Being able to see the task clearly makes a big difference.


11 Aim high

Enter students for the higher paper on offer for each level – many will achieve a better grade than if restricted to foundation. They will probably have been stuck in lower sets and made to feel stupid in the past. Take this opportunity to show some faith and inspire them.


12 Tap into their interests

Get a copy of the scheme of work for the student’s main qualification (or in schools, their favourite subject). Discuss how to develop subject-relevant maths skills with the teaching team. These could include calculating prices for sand, bricks or shampoo; discount percentages for bulk-buying; VAT; equipment costs; conversion of units from metric to imperial; medicine doses of millilitres per kilogram of body weight for humans and animals; or tyre pressures, engine capacity and performance. The possibilities are endless.


13 Target assessments

Enlist the help of subject tutors in devising assessment pieces to test students’ subject knowledge which incorporate maths that will be essential for their future employability.


14 Build relationships with feeder schools

Visit them, observe classes, understand the levels pupils are working at and prepare for the transition.


15 Group classes by main qualification

Construction and childcare are not compatible.


16 Set up drop-in sessions

Advertise additional classes by text and on Facebook, and make sure tutors encourage attendance. Put relevant material online to reinforce learning (simple short videos, for example), then track the downloads and reward all the students who made the effort to access them.


17 Run revision sessions during holidays

Write to, text or email parents so they are aware of these extra classes. Order pizzas and have a maths session that is relaxed but focused on student needs.


18 Create variety

Offer a range of activities around the classroom related to the topic being studied. Rotate the learners through the tasks so they can try everything.


19 Make theory real

For Pythagoras’ theorem and trigonometry, go outside and measure building heights. Work out the best place to put a ladder so that it doesn’t break a window or endanger the climber. Teach health and social care students about perimeter and area by relating the topics to access around a bed. For animal care students, refer to the amount of grazing area required for sheep, or for trainee decorators the amount of paint needed to cover a wall or room.


20 Don’t expect miracles

But always stay positive.

Jayne Stigger is an FE manager in south-east England

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

HoC, CAIAG, and hope for the future

sThe trim, middle-aged, twin-suited lady lowered her spectacles and sniffed; girls in Grammar Schools in the early ‘70’s do not ask such questions her look inferred. “To be an … ‘astronaut’, hmm” she repeated slowly and handed me a leaflet containing details of the local Pitmans Shorthand/typing course. “Off you go dear, that’s much more suitable”.

Like @toni-pearce, I had many phases; paelontologist, astronaut, pilot, scientist and internationally renowned jazz singer. It almost broke my heart to see that this bright, motivated, intelligent young girl was nor more able to access good CEIAG (Careers Education Initial Advice and Guidance) now, than I had been forty years ago.

On Wednesday, Nicky Hunt Secretary of State for Education was in front of the House of Commons’ Education Select Committee to answer concerns about Careers Education, Information, Advice and Guidance. Tweets of her responses, as she spoke, were depressing reading.

@careerslr 83% of schools no longer employ prof adviser. @ACunninghamMP – is she going to mandate for careers specialists? @NickyMorgan01 – no!
.@grahamstuart says he can see no difference between roles of company and NCS. “If I’m confused you can’t blame some outside” @CommonsEd
@NickyMorgan01 insists they will work together and that new co is not a direct delivery service of IAG. #careers @CommonsEd

And so on. £20 million pounds, with no guaranteed funding for future years and no direct delivery of IAG – pointless box-ticking.

Seated in the Churchill Room in the House of Commons, somewhere I find both inspiring and terrifying, with delicious canapĂ©’s and neck-stretching architecture, @dp40days and I watched as Alex Cunningham from the Select Committee hosted an event on CEIAG with speakers including @Y_FovargueMP and @LiamByrneMP, @JoeVinson, @Tonipearce and many representatives from the NUS, Unison, the CBI and the Career Development Institute. This was clearly a subject close to many hearts, especially Katie Shaw @sewdarngood from the NUS who was kind enough to invite us on behalf of #UKFECHAT.

What struck me was just how interested the speakers were in our opinion, how quick they were to introduce themselves and how attentively they listened. Yes, it’s an election year but the sense of genuine concern was far more palpable than I’d heard in the morning session.

The audience were experienced and knowledgeable too; Janet Colledge @CareersDefender generously listened and shared her expertise as did others. Many made good points but it was obvious from listening that only beyond Hadrian’s Wall was there anything approaching a joined up system. English careers advice and IAG is at best chaotic, at worst damaging the futures of hundreds of thousands of students without care or thought for the consequences.

There was no shortage of suggestions on how to fix this. Ensure schools comply with a statutory duty of care, have a universal system of L6 minimum experts, power up Ofsted to act as an aggressive Welsh Collie, delving into education and rounding everyone into compliance? Others suggested local hubs, others a network for exchanging expertise, one suggested a Royal College of Careers Advisors.
The issues we face are huge:
  • Students given selective advice in schools. Only particular, favoured options are presented.
  • Many FE colleges are locked out of schools
  • Many schools promote only the academic option, flattering to their prospectus
  • Many students in FE, if they manage to get there at all, do not get sufficient range of options beyond ‘UNIVERSITY’. Staff do their best but students need proper guidance.
  • Apprenticeships, vocational routes, even a job, are less valued than UNIVERSITY One speaker said “We’ve got to stop thinking of A levels as Heinz beans & apprenticeships as Aldi beans” says @Y_FovargueMP. #IAG
  • Adult returners, after an illness, redundancy, years of looking after sick relatives, being ill themselves or looking after children have no help either.
  • Too many students get advice from the receptionist, some teacher’s wife or are directed to the NCS, possibly the dullest website ever.
  • Far too many institutions put their own reputation ahead of the needs of the students
  • There is dire inflexibility in our education system due to a rolling onslaught of policy changes, changing economic and social demands and funding cuts.
  • Employers have almost no role in educational careers advice.
  • As a nation, we do not offer consistent care and support that will enable people to reach their potential and do so many times.
  • There is no such thing as ‘a job for life’ anymore; our economy has changed and will continue to do so. People need to retrain many times in their lives, not simply fade away to avoid spoiling some nice statistic.
The #NUS is right to raise this; it is shameful that we cannot advise our young on how to succeed without our own ego blocking their paths and restricting their options.

Clearly, change is needed, urgently. I hope for a system that is universal for all, accessible by all from those with no idea to those with a clear determination, for all of their lifetimes, in all circumstances from ex-prisoners through LLDD students, fathers and mothers returning to the job markets to eager 15 year olds determined to be the world’s best plumber/scientist/chef. It should have employers, experts and enthusiasm. Funding should be generous, sustained and locked.

A day in the House of Commons representing #UKFECHAT demonstrated that many people, with great expertise and far more knowledge than me are now trying to fix this. Those of us in education, who care about our students fully support their efforts and offer our help.