Whole Class Ensemble Teaching report

Musicmark logo

The CSPACE music education research team has recently completed a nationally significant report commissioned by MusicMark, the membership organisation that represents music education hubs in England, and funded by Arts Council England. The report, authored by Professor Martin Fautley, Dr Victoria Kinsella, and Dr Adam Whittaker, offers one of the most comprehensive studies to date of the provision of Whole Class Ensemble Teaching (WCET). WCET, also known as ‘Wider Opportunities’ or ‘First Access’, sees children learn a musical instrument in a large group setting, usually with the rest of their school class and most often in KS2. The report, based upon a nationwide survey and in-depth interviews with more than 20 music education hub leaders, was launched on Friday 24th November at the annual MusicMark conference. The report, executive summary, and key messages documents can be accessed here.

Parenting in the digital age – what age should children have a smartphone?

In this second post of the series on ‘Parenting in the digital age’, Dr. Jane O’Connor continues  to explore the relationship between children’s rights and digital technology.  

Young people and mobile phones

I recently had the following conversation with my soon to be 7 year old son that I think will sound familiar to many parents with children of a similar age:
‘Mum can I have a smartphone for my birthday?’
‘No’
‘Why not?’
‘Because you’re too young.’
‘When can I have one?’
‘When you’re older,’
‘How old?’
‘Oh I don’t know, twelve, maybe ten.’
‘That’s ages away.’
‘Well you are not allowed to have one until you are ten…it’s the law.’

It isn’t the law of course, but I’m beginning to wish it was.

Limiting our children’s access to digital technology is beginning to feel more and more akin to King Canute trying desperately to hold back the waves, and the ubiquitous presence of smartphones in ever younger hands makes it increasingly difficult to justify resisting the trend. On average, children are getting their first smartphones around age 10, according to the research firm Influence Central, down from age 12 in 2012. According to a recent survey of parents by Internet Matters the vast majority of children aged 8 to 11 in Britain now own a smartphone, with Newcastle and Nottingham having the very highest rates of ownership in this age group at 90.5% and 90% respectively. Many schools now ban smartphones from lessons and playgrounds, but the issue is still a pertinent one for parents to navigate, weighing up the pros and cons of the peace of mind of being able to be in constant contact with their children, with the attention grabbing and potentially disturbing diversions of the phone. The following quote from the US based Common Sense media website summarises why the decision to give your child a phone is not to be taken lightly and deserves careful thought:

when you hand your children cell phones, you’re giving them powerful communication and media-production tools. They can create text, images, and videos that can be widely distributed and uploaded to websites instantly. Parents really need to consider whether their kids are ready to use their phones responsibly and respectfully’.

Perhaps it is not about the age of the child after all, but about the kind of child they are and how they want to use their phone? I know my son just wants to play games on it, and so feel no compunction about delaying the acquisition of yet another screen based distraction, but clearly ownership is becoming the norm for children not much older than he is now. As well as protecting children, as parents we also surely have a responsibility to try and ensure that our children are not left out and are socially included. Furthermore, is it not hypocritical in the extreme for adults to use smartphones for ever increasing amounts of time and reasons and yet not want children to emulate that behaviour?

The historian and mythographer Marina Warner takes a broader view of the futility of trying to keep childhood and adulthood separate by restricting children’s access to the adult world. In her essay ‘Little angels little devils: keeping childhood innocent’ she argues that:

Children aren’t separate from adults…they can’t live innocent lives on behalf of adults…Children are our copy in little…in affluent cities of the West, they’ll wail for expensive trainers with the right label like their friends.'(1994: p48)

And today, clearly, they’ll wail for their own smartphones.

This desire to hold on to childhood innocence seems to be at the heart of parental concerns around children owing smartphones, but is that innocence, as Warner claims, simply a myth?

Young person and mobile phone

Related links and publications
https://www.commonsensemedia.org
http://influence-central.com/
https://www.internetmatters.org/
Warner, M (1994) Managing monsters – The Reith Lectures. London: Vintage.

Jane O’Connor

Dr Jane O’Connor is a Reader in Childhood Studies at Birmingham City University and is currently leading ‘Technobabies’, an international research project exploring parents’ perspectives on the use of touchscreen digital devices by 0-3 year olds. Jane started her professional life as a primary school teacher and moved into research due to her interests in constructions of childhood and children’s relationship with the media. Jane’s research interests include children and technology and children and celebrity.

“All equal, all different”: Contemporary research and practice in anti-bullying: 15th November 2017, Birmingham City University

On 15th November, educators, academics, researchers and campaigners gathered at  Birmingham City University to share latest research on school bullying and explore practices to tackle this important issue. Dr. Elizabeth Nassem, a CSPACE researcher and one of the event organisers, gives a report of the day.

The anti-bullying conference was a collaborative venture with Birmingham City University (BCU) and the Bullying Reduction Action Group (BRAG) which was supported by Birmingham City Council. Many participating schools and research from across the region were involved. The event was a great success as professionals worked together to share and enhance good practice. It focused on not just dealing with bullying between pupils but also involved discussions of bullying between staff and pupils and reflection on how school systems and societal inequalities contribute to school bullying and can be tackled. It has led to a growing community of professionals who are now working more collaboratively to resolve bullying. This enhanced community will be built upon through the continued partnership work with BCU and BRAG.

Anti-bullying conference at BCU in 2017
Anti-bullying conference at BCU in 2017

Baroness Sal Brinton chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Bullying gave a warm welcome and was impressed by the high number of participants (over 100) and high level of engagement from schools and researchers. She explained how it is often that those perceived as different will be bullied and that this is unacceptable and how we can work together as a community to tackle bullying and discrimination such as towards traveller children and individuals who have disabilities.

Professor Peter Smith a world-leading expert on school bullying from Goldsmiths University provided the keynote on what works in tackling bullying. He has noticed a reduction in reports of bullying as research has increased. He discussed the effectiveness of strategies such as restorative justice, KiVa and the Support Group method. He also explained how a social-ecological approach could enhance understanding. Professor Smith highlighted the importance of working with the whole school community such as bus drivers and support staff who also have are instrumental in sending out messages of what behaviours are acceptable, for example, in areas which are often unsupervised by teachers. He discussed evidence that anti-bullying interventions are cost-effective for schools.

Dr Elizabeth Nassem, Centre for Studies of Culture and Practice in Education, BCU discussed the pupil-led anti-bullying strategies she has been implementing. She has used techniques such as role-play, group discussion and critical reflection to support pupils to improve their strategies for responding to bullying. She also provided details of the ‘mentoring for bullies’ intervention she is implementing to explore why ‘bullies’ behave the way they do and help them develop more respectful ways of interacting with others. Dr Nassem explained how schools can ensure there is a process in place to support staff that might feel they are being bullied by staff and/or pupils. She also discussed how children did not perceive themselves as ‘bullies’ and tended to focus on their own feelings of victimisation. She highlighted how children are rejecting the label of ‘bully’ and ‘victim’ and the importance of having a more embracing definition of school bullying.

Dr Neil Duncan is a retired expert on bullying from University of Wolverhampton and provided a controversial but well received presentation on how schools in England generate bullying cultures. He argues that children in secondary school have such lack of control that they cannot even go to the toilet when they need to. He stated that tackling bullying and anti-bullying week has become an institution and remains a problem; now we have an additional problem of cyber-bullying. Dr Duncan increased awareness of how bullying is not just an issues concerning a small number of pupils and highlighted the role of the school environment in bullying. He emphasised the importance of speaking to pupils with respect when reprimanding them.

Julie Smith from Kidscape talked about the free training they provide in Birmingham to support schools, children and families such as their assertiveness training from children who are victimised which has successfully reduced bullying for a high number of participants. Julie was pleased with the increased awareness and uptake of Kidscape’s excellent provision. In addition sessions were provided on compassion in education and the right of individuals to feel safe. Participants in the conference commented on how they had learnt how to provide a scheme of work and practical ideas on how to educate about trans/bi/LGBT bullying. The presentation by PC Simon Bolwell on sexting was well attended and participants commented on how they had learnt how to deal with young people sending child produced sexual images. They had also learnt about the support for schools when working on the compliance side of sexting.

Some schools are looking to implement the ‘No Outsiders’ method of Andrew Moffatt, MBE. Amanda Daniels launched the transgender toolkit and encouraged schools to engage with it providing advice on how to avoid prejudice-based language. Online systems for reporting bullying were also provided by Tell-Chris and Toot-toot. BCU showed it had a leading role in supporting schools through its research provision. Professor Kevin Mattinson who is the Head of Education and Associate Dean announced how he wants to build on this great success and enhance partnerships and collaboration to schools.

Further information on the excellent feedback and photos are on my twitter @bulliedvoices.

Elizabeth Nassem

Elizabeth is a researcher in the Centre for the Study of Practice and Culture in Education. She has a Doctorate in Education which she examined where bullying exists in children’s everyday experiences of school.   Her current work involves developing evidence-based pupil-led anti-bullying initiatives. She provides professional development to schools about school bullying and what to do about it.

Democracy through Drama- A successful Erasmus+ Project Launch!

Chris Bolton introduces a new Erasmus+ research project he is leading on Democracy through Drama. 

Chris Bolton Drama Project team

The project Demo-Dram: Young Civic Thinking and its priorities were identified as a result of recent and current social and political conflicts related to issues, such as immigration and threats in democracies around the world that pose concerns about racism and threaten the peace process in Europe. The project was inspired by a pilot study that myself and colleagues from the Education department of Birmingham City University conducted with teachers and pupils in secondary schools, which revealed that teachers believed that their curricula focuses on targets and assessment, there is no space for debate on social issues and there is social prejudice, xenophobia and imposition from the media that affect young people’s views and their decisions. You can read Chris’s full blog here.

Bio: Christopher Bolton is a Senior Lecturer in Drama Education at BCU. Before this role he worked in a secondary school as a Drama Advanced Skills Teacher. He has a keen interest in how drama can create spaces for dialogic learning by working with reasoned imagination and the impact of the education systems on the nature of drama in education.

Creativity: getting it right in a week

Creativity: Getting in right in a week
Creativity: Getting in right in a week

Creativity is often be misunderstood as being for ‘special people’ who have original ideas, or is solely the domain of the arts. We think that creativity is for everyone, in every subject, of all abilities. As teacher educators and researchers we recognised that many professionals working in education, from all phases, face increasing pressures including performance and assessment outputs. This means that time set aside to plan for creativity, to teach for creativity or develop creative learning is not afforded. We think that creativity should be at the heart of teaching and learning and through this book we want to help teachers and educational practitioner recognise it within the classroom.

Teachers and education practitioners play an important role in the development of creativity. Significantly, they have to provide learners with an environment for self-discovery leading to self-actualisation and encourage learners to become more creative individuals. To achieve this, teachers must also be afforded time to explore their own creative teaching approaches. After all, creative learners need creative teachers.

Throughout this book we want to show teachers and education practitioners that creativity is more than just that one original idea, which may have historical importance. It is a process that can be encouraged within the classroom and have significance for lifelong learning. A creative endeavour may begin with a spark of an idea, but through its development can include play, experimentation, critical thinking, exploration, investigation, discussion, collaboration to name but a few. These then lead to new insights, new understandings and new knowledge. Creativity is exciting!

We hope that this book will provided teachers and trainee teachers with practical-led guidance on creative teaching, teaching for creativity and creative learning. It presents key areas of creativity in straightforward, bite-sized chunks, offering time-saving, practical support and ideas. We do not see this book as being an additional workload pressure for teachers or educators, but as a time saving, practical support, offering the opportunity for thought and action. The book is therefore short and straight to the point for that very reason!

Designed to be read over a week, it is divided into seven chapters, each detailing clear strategies and a summary of some relevant underpinning theory. We also offer the reader the opportunity to see the strategies in action and then encourage them to try things out themselves. Sometimes this might take them out of their comfort zones, but this is a creativity book after all and we wouldn’t be doing a very good job if we were not putting theory into practice! Ultimately, we want teachers and educational practitioners to consider new insights, be open to new possibilities, to build their creative confidence which will then be passed onto learners.

We hope that many teachers and educational practitioners enjoy the book, we would love to hear from you. Most importantly we hope that they see that creativity is fun, that it is good for them and good for learners, and that that feel encouraged to leap into the deep end wearing water wings!

Taking risks

Victoria & Martin

Kinsella, V. and Fautley, M (2017). Creativity: Getting it Right in a Week. Critical Publishing.

Dr. Victoria Kinsella is Senior Research Fellow in Education at Birmingham City University. Victoria has researched widely in the field of the arts education and creativity. She has worked on a number of creative arts research projects in various contexts including schools, prisons, galleries, arts centres and with educational agencies. Prior to her academic studies she worked as a teacher in UK secondary schools.

Follow Victoria’s work on ResearchGate.

Professor Martin Fautley is director of research in the school of education and social work at Birmingham City University. He is widely known for his work on researching assessment in the classroom, but also researches understandings of musical learning and progression (especially in the novice stages), composing, and creativity.

Find out more about Martin’s work, follow him on WordPress Blog, @DrFautley on Twitter

Parenting in the Digital Age – young children’s rights and digital technology

Dr Jane O’Connor is a Reader in Childhood Studies at Birmingham City University and is currently leading ‘Technobabies’, an international research project exploring parents’ perspectives on the use of touchscreen digital devices by 0-3 year olds. In this post she explores the relationship between young children’s rights and digital technology. 

JOC 1My research into the use of mobile digital devices, such as iPads, by children under three has focused on the perspectives of parents and other care givers both in the UK and in a range of other countries including Sweden, Greece and Australia. Cultural differences aside, what has come across most strongly in the findings has been the sense of parental confusion and anxiety around whether or not their babies and toddlers should be allowed to use such devices, for how long and what the most appropriate apps may be. All of these decisions have to be made by families on a daily basis with, as yet, little research evidence from trustworthy sources to guide them. As one parent in Greece put it:

‘We just want to know if children win or lose from using iPads’.

Unfortunately, even with growing numbers of researchers working in the area, the definitive answer to that question is a long way off and the reality is much more nuanced than the question might suggest. The multiple potential benefits and drawbacks of allowing 0-3s to use digital devices continue to be debated, although the general consensus among both parents and professionals seems to be that moderation and supervision are the keys to safely incorporating such technology into very young lives.

However, what has been missing from much research in the area so far, including my own, is a consideration of the issue of children’s rights. We need to think about the extent to which we can say that children, even the very youngest children, have a right to use digital technology and how this might, or indeed should, influence parental decisions in relation to access to mobile devices. When we consider the charter of children’s rights drawn up by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), it seems that preventing usage could be perceived as an infringement of some rights, but an upholding of others. Andy Phippen, Professor of Children and Technology at Plymouth University recently outlined some of the ways in which this could relate to very young children’s technology usage. For example, he suggests that removing all possible ‘risk’ to the child by not allowing them to use digital technology could be interpreted as infringing Article 12 (Respect for the views of the child), Article 17 (Access to information; mass media) and Article 28 (Right to education), whereas the use of mobile devices for ‘digital pacification’ purposes could be seen as infringing on Article 3 (Best interests of the child) and Article 12 (Respect for the views of the child).

JOC 2In this context, the questions parents need answers to become even more complex. As well as worrying about whether using digital technology will support baby’s learning or damage their eyes they also need to ask ‘Does allowing my child to use an iPad infringe on their rights or support them?’

Related publications

O’Connor, J. and Fotakopoulou, O. (2016) A threat to early childhood innocence or the future of learning? Parents’ perspectives on the use of touchscreen technology by 0–3 year olds in the UK. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood 17(2).

O’Connor, J. (2017)Appropriate play? Parents’ reflections on 0-3s using touchscreen technology in the home’. In Arnott, L. (2017) Digital Technologies and Learning in the Early Years. London: SAGE.

O’Connor, J., Fotakopolou, O., Hatzigianni, M and Fridberg, M. (2018) ‘Parents’ perspectives on the use of touchscreen technology by 0-3 year olds in the UK, Greece, Sweden and Australia’. In Palaiologou, I. (Ed) (2018 forthcoming) Digital Practices in Early Childhood Education: An International Perspective. London: SAGE.

 

BERA September 2017: looking again at teaching and learning – Gert Biesta’s food for thought

This year’s BERA conference took place at Sussex University outside Brighton.  As ever it was a busy event – there were more applications than ever to present and that competition was as a result more fierce than ever.

The diversity of papers and presentations was exciting and provided a lot of space for discussion and interaction.

The final keynote was a high point. Drawing on a range of insights from his work and in particular his new book, The Rediscovery of Teaching, Gert Biesta talked about learning and how it has been hi-jacked by a policy view that draws on neoliberal human capital theory. In other words, the current focus on learning is learning for a purpose connected to skills and productivity: an economised version of learning.

For Biesta, learning has now become a problem. He connects this also to certain kinds of learning that involve ‘meaning-making’. In the worst cases, this becomes ego-logical – i.e. the (isolated) individual making sense for themselves (although he acknowledged that Freirean dialogical learning is collective rather individualised).

His provocative response to this situation, embedded in his philosophical position, suggests a return to a dynamic curriculum in which students and teachers stop learning. Learning spaces then become classrooms in which the world can be listened to. He presented the issue by posing these questions:

If we are sense makers – can the world speak to us in its own terms and on its own terms?

If we are just meaning-making beings, how then can we be taught?

There was a sense in this that the cultural and economic emphasis on individualism and entrepreneurialism that is having such an impact on our ways of living and on our world needs to be checked. Otherwise, learning will only support the further deterioration of our planet and jeopardise our collective attempts to achieve a good life for everyone.

Other than referring to Levinas, Biesta didn’t elaborate on what stopping learning might mean in our classrooms, but he did assert the importance of doing something other than focusing on the transmission of ‘bodies of knowledge’. He also developed the idea that we should try to ‘bracket’ learning to open up different ways of being in the world: a ‘non ego-logical’ way of being in the world.

For Biesta then being in the world in our times is filtered by the desires that shape who we are. There is a question about the provenance of many of these desires in our commercialised and commodified world. The suggestion is that the desires created for us by the forces of marketisation and commodification are displacing desires that could be more meaningful. Out of that thought emerges the fundamental question:

Is what I desire, desirable?

While he didn’t offer any pat answers to this last puzzle, Biesta cited Spivak and her idea of the individual ‘non-coercive rearrangement of desires’ as a way forward.  Education he viewed as a space in which such a rearrangement could occur to support “grown-up ways of being in the world”.

There is something in that final phrase that brings us back to earth with a bang when we consider the current ‘common sense’ views on education that we are confronted by and also, occasionally, the level of debate.

Rob Smith

Dr. Rob Smith is a Reader in Education at Birmingham City University. His body of work explores the impact of funding and marketisation on teaching and learning in further education settings. He has researched and written extensively in collaboration with FE and HE practitioners. Currently, Rob is involved in the FE in England: transforming lives and communities project with Dr Vicky Duckworth (Edge Hill University). This is a national research study focusing on the transformative qualities of further education. He is also developing an interdisciplinary research project looking at HE space and time focusing on the design and architecture of HEIs and their situatedness with urban settings.

Follow Rob’s publications on researchgate.

Book Review: Excellence in Higher Education

In this post, Bethany Sumner, one of CSPACE’s doctoral students, reviews an important new book on the Teaching Excellence Framework, edited by Amanda French and Matt O’Leary.

Details: French, A. and O’Leary, M. (Eds.) (2017) Excellence in Higher Education, Challenges, Changes and the Teaching Excellence Framework. Bingley: Emerald Publishing Limited.

TEF book coverThe introduction of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) has ignited debate and controversy about the potential effects on the English higher education (HE) sector, particularly given the framework’s reliance on a core set of metrics that have tenuous (at best) links to teaching quality. Excellence in Higher Education, Challenges, Changes and the Teaching Excellence Framework (French and O’Leary, 2017), the first title in the ‘Great Debates in Higher Education’ series, captures many of those debates. It draws upon the experience of current HE professionals and the wider agenda of teaching excellence to offer some much-needed insight into the repercussions of TEF for those directly involved in teaching and learning. The book offers a useful breakdown of key issues including the aims of the TEF, what it involves, and
how it relates to the wider discourses of HE, such as
widening participation and employability.

It was pleasing to see that the authors welcome the renewed focus on teaching in HE. However, as they highlight, multiple difficulties arise when an endeavour is made to reduce a complex, shifting, context-dependent and multifaceted construct such as ‘excellence’ to a set of metrics (Gourlay and Stevenson, 2017). The TEF’s continued reluctance to engage in any debate concerning the complexity of teaching excellence does little to negate this. This book engages in a nuanced and comprehensive discussion of what ‘teaching excellence’ might actually mean, drawing on a range of relevant literature and practical experience to help develop the readers’ thinking, not only in terms of the TEF but also in relation to pedagogy, professional learning, and developing authentic and effective teaching practice. It offers an important reminder of the importance of teaching and learning that can sometimes be lost in criticism of the metric-driven nature of the TEF.

One of the challenges in this text is that the very nature of the subject means that some of the discussions are quickly outdated. For example the book is critical of the TEF’s proposed link to fees, noting the perceived inevitability that TEF performance would eventually be used to justify a differential fee structure in the sector. However, as things currently stand, the TEF no longer has a bearing on the amount that higher education providers can charge (Leach, 2017). Despite this context, the rapidly changing political climate of HE is in no way detriment to the book’s critical commentary on both the TEF and wider discourses of teaching excellence in general and the refreshing ideas offered such as putting forward the idea of emergent pedagogies to help grow great teaching in HE.

The text offers a thought-provoking and detailed commentary on an area that has been subject to much debate and contention and proposes some refreshing and relevant discussions in terms of pedagogical practice. In a context where higher education providers are caught up in a ‘status economy’ with status being the global higher education market currency (Warren, 2017) and where ‘metrics are everything’ the book provides a valuable, critical voice of reason. I recommend this book to anyone working in HE or who has an active interest in the sector. It is well written, clear and informative, and helps to shed some timely light on the contentions surrounding the TEF and the notion of teaching excellence in general. This is an important book, not least because as French and O’Leary point out ‘it’s time that teaching and learning became a bigger priority in higher education’ and it appears that the TEF is here to stay.

 

Gourlay, L. and Stevenson, J. (2017) Teaching excellence in higher education: critical perspectives. Teaching in Higher Education, 22(4), pp.391-395.

Leach, M. (2017) Government defeated in the Lords over TEF and fees. Available at: http://wonkhe.com/blogs/government-defeated-in-the-lords-over-tef-and-fees/ [Accessed 20th October 2017].

Warren, S. (2017) Struggling for visibility in higher education: caught between neoliberalism ‘out there’ and ‘in here’ – an autoethnographic account. Journal of Education Policy, 32(2), pp.127-140.

The good, the bad and the ugly: Religious Education at a crossroads

The good, the bad and the ugly: Religious Education at a crossroads

In this post, Imran Mogra, Senior Lecturer in Religious Education and Professional Studies, reflects on the recent publication of a report from the Commission on Religious Education. Note the link at the bottom of this post to join the debate on these important issues. 

Religious Education for All coverLast month the Commission on Religious Education (CoRE) published its Interim Report Religious Education for All. The CoRE wishes to engage the public in developing their thinking on Religious Education over the next academic year. The future of RE, it believes, is in the balance and they conclude that a timely intervention is necessary if RE is to continue making its significant contribution to pupils’ education. The Commission has made recommendations in four key areas which they believe will reinvigorate the subject. The consultation is open until 9.00am on 4th December 2017. In this article, I reflect and react to some of their proposals.

Whilst there will be points of departure with some of their recommendations, nevertheless, the first point to make is that for anyone passionate and concerned about RE in schools, the stark warning by the Commission, who were unanimous in their view, that “RE faces a perilous future without strategic, urgent intervention”, should welcome this report.

The interim report makes for some fascinating and encouraging reading. For example, in the 2017 GCSE exams, Religious Studies was the fourth most popular subject, after English language, English literature, and mathematics, and just ahead of science. Nearly 300,000 pupils took the examination. This is a clear demonstration that the subject is considered relevant, valuable, interesting and worthy of study by many youngsters.

The value and benefits of RE are widely conceived by the Commission itself. They state that RE continues to be a vital academic subject for education in the 21st century. It gives young people

  • the knowledge, understanding, and motivation they need to understand important aspects of human experience, including the religious, spiritual, and moral.
  • RE gives insights into the arts, literature, history, and contemporary local and global social and political issues.
  • It provides young people with a space in the curriculum to reflect on their own worldview and to engage with others whose worldview may be different.

This standpoint is apt as it allows students to understand themselves, the subject itself, intercultural issues and to engage with global dynamics.

Crucially, it gives voice to young people who articulate an instrumental role of RE. They said that “RE enables them to have better friendships, and to develop greater respect and empathy for others.” The views from employers are also welcome. The Commission reported that “RE is highly valued by many employers, who increasingly understand that, in a globalised world, understanding others’ world-views and their impact on people’s lives is essential to success” (p.3).

The evidence base of the report is wide and being independent gives confidence. The report is based on the knowledge and experience of the Commissioners and on oral evidence from 53 individuals and organisations at five evidence-gathering sessions in Birmingham, Exeter, London, Manchester and York, though East Anglia could also have featured. They also received 1,377 responses to an online survey, and 49 submissions by email.

Some of the findings are unsurprising. In outlining the variable standards and some persistent low standards in many schools, the report noted that where RE was good or better, it was a result of strong support for RE from senior leadership and governors, effective training, and good subject knowledge on the part of teachers. By contrast, poor standards were often the result of a lack of confidence on the part of teachers, inadequate ITT and CPD, and the high proportion of lessons taught by non-specialists at Secondary and non-teachers at primary.

The Commission should be congratulated for recommending that pupils in Key Stage 4 who do not take Religious Studies at GCSE should have their work accredited.

They endorse minimal entitlement for RE which is also advocated by several key organisations. Pragmatically, this is appealing in the current political and educational climate. All schools could be held accountable in meeting their legal obligation and in making appropriate provisions. ITT may have clearly defined parameters. Heads would be able to show how their vision and mission is in line with national entitlement. Professionally, in a climate of academisation and the increasing autonomy of individual schools, it will provide a single reference point for the subject, increasing the prospects of accountability, which is also a key recommendation of the report. However, faith communities hitherto less prominent, humanist, and other groups have been campaigning for more time and space within RE provision. On top of this, the role of local authorities in determining the syllabus of RE is also under consultation. Thus, there are various stakeholders poised to make their viewpoints and be considered in these debates.

The report leaves me with some questions:

  • Who will translate the entitlement into a detailed programme of study?
  • What will the outcomes be?
  • Changing the name is being proposed, what impact will this have on the quality of provision, if any?
  • It recommends a minimum 12 hours’ initial training for RE. Should this be accepted, how will other subjects square up with this?
  • As an option, it sees funding for SACREs to come from the Department of Culture, media and Sport or the Department of Communities and local government, what about the Department of Education?

There are some recommendations which are controversial. Resolving these may prove challenging:

  • Removing the right of withdrawal from parents.
  • Faith schools’ ability to teach their own confessional syllabus should end.

In summary, the report highlights the good, the bad, and the ugly elements of RE. The time is ripe for a discussion on RE and its structure, aims and outcomes, accountability, syllabus, funding and legal issues. It identifies specific gaps and offers reasonable propositions in the unfolding landscape of education. It has several features which are impressive and there is much to commend. It also appears to be defensive in some respects and rightly warns against some fears which resonate with some in the RE community regarding the subject.

The call for evidence is available here: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/CoREConsult1

Join in this important debate and highlight the issues emerging in your context.

A PDF of the full set of questions, can be downloaded here to allow you to think about your responses before filling it in online, if you wish.  You are not required to answer all of the questions.

 

 

Improving Learning and Teaching through Collaborative Observation

In November 2016, Dr. Matt O’Leary and Dr. Vanessa Cui from C-SPACE were successful in their application for HEFCE Catalyst Fund: Innovation in Learning and Teaching. In this blog post, Matt and Vanessa tell us about the project and some of highlights of their recent activities.

Context

Teaching excellence has been at the centre of debates about quality in English Higher Education (HE) in recent years. The introduction of the Teaching Excellence Framework has ratcheted up this focus even further. Fuelled by critiques of teaching as ‘the weakest aspect’ of English HE (Gill,2015), the government has argued that universities need to adopt a more evidence-based approach to learning and teaching (L & T) akin to that associated with research.

Traditional approaches to capturing and promoting teaching excellence have largely been shaped by a managerialist agenda that conceptualises academic staff as accountable suppliers of a product and students as consumers of that product, with an overreliance on reductive metrics that fail to reflect either the authenticity or complexity of HE learning and teaching. This raises some important questions for the HE sector.

How can we develop a greater understanding and improvement of L & T among academic staff and students? How can we combine scholarly knowledge, practices and our education ideologies to satisfy the demands of policymakers while generating data about L & T that is legitimate and worthwhile? What can we do to create and nurture an approach that sustains and enhances authentic L & T experiences?     

About the project

A HEFCE-funded project at Birmingham City University seeks to use collaborative observation of L & T as a means of harnessing staff and student perspectives. Observation is a common method for staff development in HE, typically through a peer observation model. Some HE institutions have introduced teaching observation as a performance management tool in recent years. However, recent research (e.g. O’Leary & Wood, 2017; O’Leary, 2016) has revealed that assessment-based models of observation can often be a deterrent to developing L & T practice. Our project is built on the belief that improving student learning requires teachers and learners to develop an awareness and understanding about learning collaboratively in the context of their programme.  It is our attempt to answer the questions raised above.

Underpinning this collaborative observation process is the principles of critical reflection (Brookfield, 1998), learning as collective consciousness (Bowden & Marton, 1998) and participatory inquiry. A key feature of our methodology is the reconceptualisation of observation as a method to enhance L & T practices through inquiry rather than as a method of assessment. Pairs of teaching staff and students come together in a collection of subject-specific case studies to co-investigate, co-observe and co-reflect on their own classroom L & T practices. Within our collaborative approach, student identity is reconceptualised from that of ‘consumers’ and ‘evaluators’ of teaching to co-researchers and co-producers of knowledge about L & T.

Our project started in November 2016 and it runs until April 2018. It is led by Dr. Matt O’Leary and Dr. Vanessa Cui from C-SPACE. The project works with five case studies in the Faculty of Health, Education and Life Sciences: BA (Hons) Early Childhood Studies, BSc (Hons) Nursing (Adult), BSc (Hons) Nursing (Child), BA (Hons) Primary Education with QTS and BSc (Hons) Radiography. Each case study is made up of two staff members and two first/second year students. On our project website, there is more details about our project, our methodology and each of the case studies: http://blogs.bcu.ac.uk/collaborativeobservation/.

Recent activities

During last summer, we were busy sharing our project and some preliminary findings at internal and external events. At our C-SPACE annual conference and the University’s Festival of Teaching, we hosted a symposium and a workshop where four of the case studies shared their experiences with the delegates.

Primary Education participants’ talk on their case study and their Cycle 1 experience at C-SPACE 2017 conference:

Staff from the Child Nursing case study talk about their case study and their Cycle 1 experience at C-SPACE 2017 conference:

Staff from the Early Childhood Studies case study talk about their case study and their Cycle 1 experience at C-SPACE 2017 conference:

We also ran an innovation session at this year’s BERA conference. During the session, we had really engaging and critical discussions with the delegates around issues on Ethics and power dynamics in staff and student collaborations like ours. We also discussed how this could be an opportunity for students and staff’s personal and/or professional development, and how this model could potentially be used in different types of HE educational project on student engagement and student learning experience.

Innovation session delivered by Matt O'Leary and Vanessa Cui at BERA 2017 annual conference.
Innovation session delivered by Matt O’Leary and Vanessa Cui at BERA 2017 annual conference.

To follow our project, please visit our website. You can also get in touch with Vanessa to add your contact detail to our mailing list.

Matt & Vanessa

References:

  • Bowden, J. and Marton, F. (1998). The University of Learning: beyond quality and competence, London: Routledge.
  • Brookfield, S. D. (1995). Becoming a critically reflective teacher. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Gill, J. (2015). David Willetts interview: ‘What I did was in the interests of young people’. Times Higher Education, Article published online June 18, 2015. Retrieved from https://www.timeshighereducation.com/david-willetts-what-idid-was-in-the-interests-of-young-people. Accessed on August 28, 2017.
  • O’Leary, M. & Wood, P. (2017) ‘Performance over professional learning and the complexity puzzle: lesson observation in England’s further education sector’, Professional Development in Education, Vol. 43(4), pp. 573-591.
  • O’Leary, M. (Ed) (2016) Reclaiming lesson observation: supporting excellence in teacher learning. Abingdon: Routledge.