Review of 2011

This is my third year of blogging and I have now managed to review two of those three years. At the time that I started blogging I had just moved from a post as Deputy Headteacher of a large  Primary in Nottinghamshire to  a post as a Literacy Regional Adviser in the National Strategies. A few years ago  I made a decision that I would try to learn a new skill or do something new each year and blogging was that for 2009.

This year I have had several new experiences:
Redundancy – This March saw the end of the contract with  the Department of Education for the National Strategies and so I found myself facing redundancy for the first time in my life.  The previous months had been incredibly frustrating as I found myself in a job where we were no longer seen as the delivery arm of the government and so had to ask permission to show any slides which had to be checked at a senior level and, at times, by the Department. Whilst I was able to do some very exciting and rewarding in schools in South Yorkshire  the time gave me an insight to way in which education is planned to develop under the coalition. It is easy to block any changes and mourn the past but I am greatly worried about the direction and the lack of solid evidence based research to back up policies.
Games Based Learning for Maths: I was fortunate to be given a temporary contact with CfBT Lincolnshire as a Learning and Teaching Consultant working with schools on the GBL project. This was a new departure for me as I hadn’t worked in Maths advisory since the mid 2000s. It has been a huge pleasure as I have worked with some great schools and teachers in the last 8 months. The main drive for me has been to ensure that pedagogy remains firmly at the heart of the use of technology. In my reading I have seen very impressive practice but do fear that some schools run the risk of getting over-excited about the technology before considering the impact on learning, teaching and ultimately standards. I have to say that this remains my fear in some of the purchasing of iPads that I see across the country at the moment.
Running: Last year I took up Hammer and Discus throwing as part of the athletics which my children attend and so after some weight loss I started running with several of the other veteran athletes. After years of not participating in sport it is great to be part of a team (not matter how poor my performances are) and so this year I have thrown in Lincolnshire League matches but also run in 100m, 200m, 4x400m and 800m. I have also competed in the National Cross Country Relay Championship to make the team up but was reassured by one of the younger runners that  he had seen runners from the Doncaster and Skipton teams who were fatter than me so I would be alright! The running has reminded me the power of taking part in sport activities (whether they be competitive or not) and the importance of  fellowship in sport. I have seen my children make friendships over the last few years through sport and now find myself chatting to runners from other clubs who troll round near the back of the field each sunday.

Key events of the Year:
This year I have continued to speak at conferences and attend where I can although this is increasingly through livestreams. I had great pleasure in watching two Teachmeets from Sydney and seeing innovative practice from the other side of the world. This year I do aim to finally get myself sorted and organise a Teachmeet in Lincolnshire – it does seem wrong that one of the largest counties in England with so much good practice spread across it hasn’t yet had one of these events.

Teachmeet Takeover
I was lucky enough to be given time to speak at a Teachmeet Takeover on the Brainpop stand in January and share the work of several classes using Web 2.0 tools to bring writing to the fore. Inevitably I talked about the wonderful work taking place in Giraffeclass and how the children had moved from seeing Twitter as an exciting tool for writing to seeing it as simply part of what they did on a daily basis. This is surely what we are aiming for in our use of edtech! Out of interest the original Giraffes are now blogging as Lemurs in Year 3.

I was honoured to be asked to compere the first Kidsmeet which took place at Hawes Side Primary in Blackpool. I was simply blown away by the quality of the presentations by Primary school children from Year 1 up to Year 6 showing a range of pedagogical approaches from edtech through to drama. I blogged about it here and would recommend that you take five minutes to read it. I am still struck by the quality of the children’s work and the articulate presentations.

Northern Grid Conference 
In June I presented a session at the Northern Grid Conference in Newcastle alongside several of my Twitter and blogging  heroes. My session was delivered jointly with Steve Bunce from Vital and allowed me to talk about developments in blogging and microblogging. My personal highlights of the day were watching a great presentation (as ever) from Ian Addison which can be found here, the presentation from Russell Prue to open the day and being cited by Steve Wheeler for theorising during my session. Steve Wheeler has the amazing blog learning with ‘e’s which is always worth a read. I was delighted by Steve’s comment as I have always striven to ensure that pedagogy is at the heart of my presentations and to get such a comment from one of my heroes was a joy. You can find my blog on my time at the conference here.

The biggest highlight for me of the year was a three day training session I ran for Lincolnshire CfBT in October. The delegates were all from schools in Lincolnshire and chosen to become our Hub supporting other schools in their use of edtech. We were not necessarily looking for the best users of technology but more schools which are in the position to spread practice across the whole of their staff.
I was given a free reign in designing the three days of training and so taking the lead from the BLT schools Monopoly Challenge we dropped our teachers off in the centre of Lincoln with a range of portable technology to play a combination of a treasure hunt and Monopoly. The idea was that we would do the training back to front and give the delegates opportunity to work out how to use different applications without lengthy introductory lessons. You can see how got on during the competition on this blog. During the three days we looked at blogging, Twitter, Voki, Voicethread, Machinarium, Inanimate Alice, reading film, programming, Twitpic, Twitvid, Audioboo, Isle of Tune, Storybird and Wallwisher. It was a treat to see several of our Hub leaders presenting what they had achieved in 6 weeks after the training at a recent lead teacher training session. The next big step for them is spreading their work across their schools and I look forward to our next meeting. You can see their live blogging over the three days here.

At the Northern Grid Conference Simon Finch commented that 2011 is going to be known as the year of blogging.This is not to say that people have not been blogging for a while but that the use in schools has reached the tipping point as schools see how its use can raise children’s motivation to write and standards in writing. This has also been greatly aided by the wonderful work of David Mitchell in developing Quadblogging which is linking up thousands of children across the whole of the world. As someone who loves the freedom that blogging can bring to Primary age writers I strongly believe that Quadblogging has the potential to be seen as one of the most influential things to come from within schools in Primary education in the 2000s.

The future

It is clear that 2012 is going to be an interesting one in the world of Education in England. It is no secret to those who know me that I have little faith in our present team of Ministers at the Department of Education. I have grave concerns that the huge swing of the pendulum from the centralised approach of the National Strategies, BECTA , QCDA etc to what is described as autonomy for schools is going to improve the lot for pupils in our schools. It is too easy to object full stop to Gove’s policies and his hand picking of advisors and members of his review bodies and it is clear that there will be some successes and improvements. However I do not have faith that there will be the long term successes claimed by the SoS. It is clear that we are still in the muscle flexing period where the new Head of OFSTED and the Secretary of State are keen to put the profession in their place and as a result I believe that morale is low in the profession.

There are clear differences in how the policies will affect the secondary and primary sectors – I am more fearful for Primary schools as I don’t believe that the policy advisers to the SoS are as well informed about this sector. It is clear that it is also a time of opportunity for many and there are predatory schools / academy chains which will build empires over the next few years. I have heard plans from some Academies which will eventually make them bigger than half of the Local Authorities I worked with whilst with the National Strategies. 
There are empires to be made (sometimes by people who have left quangos and Local Authorities in recent months but wearing a new badge) and companies see an opportunity to make their fortunes during times of austerity. As someone who has worked both in the private and public sector in education I am not criticising companies for the sake of it but I do fear that there are too many schools across the whole country undertaking panic purchasing. I see schools which I worked in the past outside Lincolnshire which criticised the frameworks who are now buying in expensive schemes on the advice of a mate down the road or in the light of snake oil sales words from reps promising the earth. I am struck by the fact that subject leaders who would get three quotes for a new boiler in their own home will sign on the dotted line after a brief conversation in their own school.

It appears that in some cases schools have bought schemes as it was easier than tackling the issues within their previous approach. The irony which strikes me is watching schools which were criticial of the perceived strait jacket of the literacy framework now buying themselves a far tighter strait jacket costing them thousands of pounds without actually analysing what they need to change. It strikes me rather similar to me changing my favourite brand of chocolate in a bid to improve my diet.

Looking to this point last year I was looking to move back into school management as a Head Teacher which still hasn’t happened. I am aware that time as an adviser and my experiences has given will act as an advantage when I am in school but the time since leaving schools doesn’t seem to impress governors who are nervous about giving me a chance. I am working in a school for a day a week on top of my work as a consultant and so hope that I will be lucky enough to be appointed as a Head teacher in the near future.

I am looking to continue my running and throwing through the year and have yet to decide upon my new experience for 2012 but am considering something literacy perhaps linked to the bi-centenary of Dickens. I was gifted a complete of set of Dicken’s work many years ago in faded fabric bound books which seem to be calling me!




9 Responses to “Review of 2011”

  1. John Sutton
    December 29, 2011 at 6:28 pm #

    Hi Bill, your appearance at the two conferences I oorganised this year for school bloggers were personal highlights for me and the feedback we got for your sessions was tremendous: and

    2011 was certainly the year of the blog – it was the year in which I no longer had to routinely explain what a blog was to teachers, and with your help, and that of David Mitchell, I’m sure that 2012 will carry on in similar vein.

    Best of luck in your quest for headship.

    Happy New Year!

  2. jenkenny (@genkijen)
    December 29, 2011 at 6:40 pm #

    Enjoyed your blog post ! Always good to look back and ahead ! as a primary school teacher I was interested in your points about academies . as a school in a category I fear we will be swept up very soon . Whether this is positive for us I am not sure yet .
    These are uncertain times and I am very thankful for twitter and blogs where I can share my fears in a supportive environment 🙂
    All the best for the new year 😉

    • Bill Lord
      December 29, 2011 at 7:06 pm #

      I am afraid that as a school in a category you may well be directed by the Department of Education as to which academy chain you can go into. The autonomy described before the election by Mr Gove is limited to core group of schools and those which sit outside will find the Govean way somewhat prescriptive.
      I am not rabidly anti-academy but I have always questioned whether the impact in many has been overplayed – my mother describes how an academy local to her has a lovely new uniform and in her mind the school has improved. Millions of pounds have been ploughed into academies by this and the last government but we will only find out their true impact when the financial playing field is level and there is no longer financial advantage to becoming one.
      The other worry I have is for rural authorities such as North Yorkshire which have a huge amount of small schools – something like 50% of its primary schools have less than 50 pupils – how does academisation work effectively for them?
      Mike Baker wrote a fascinating blog this year discussing whether education was actually being nationalised by Gove as he had amassed more than 2000 statutory powers (as opposed to the three held by Keith Joseph in the 1970s)

  3. Juliet@CreativeSTAR
    December 30, 2011 at 9:59 am #

    Hello Bill

    This is a helpful round up not least because of your perspective on the political changes and their impact on front line delivery.

    This may seem like an odd contribution but over the past 5 yrs, one of the best and most liberating things that has happened is that I know longer am hostage to schemes of work and expensive purchases of resources and equipment. It’s taken me a while to “think outdoors” but I have to say it’s a much more economical approach and also even when it comes to technology, it can help me think more rationally about what is needed and helpful.

    All the best for 2012! And yes – I teach one day per week as a safeguard option – no one can complain that I don’t know what’s happening at the front line and if all goes belly up at least I’ve got current school experience when applying for jobs.

    • Bill Lord
      December 30, 2011 at 10:14 am #

      Thank you Juliet for this – yours is one of my favourite blogs and I am determined to take the pupils outdoors as much as I can (when I eventually get a school) – there is a blog post on its way as we have planned some great work built around den building at my day a week school.

      Have a great 2012 Juliet!

  4. Joy Simpson
    December 30, 2011 at 5:08 pm #

    Happy New Year Bill and keep on blogging!
    I too have very mixed feelings about the year that has just gone – changes in teams and changes in ways of working with more to come.
    Like you I remain excited about many elements of my work. This year we have seen a critical mass of schools starting to blog and are encouraging them to consider quad blogging.
    I too am worried about schemes, in particular phonics ones. Your comments about them could not be more accurate. Spending thousands does guarantee that anything will change. Focusing on teaching and learning will. Research into the curriculum suggests that in general it is not what you do but how you do it that makes the difference.
    My new skill this year is to develop training via video conferencing – not much out there about it so very exciting.
    I hope your year brings you everything that you wish and long may the running continue.

  5. Bill Lord
    December 30, 2011 at 5:16 pm #

    Thanks Joy – the video conferencing initiative sounds very interesting – I do look forward to hearing about it. In an authority the size of Devon it is a very sensible path to be taking.
    Best wishes to you and your team Joy.

  6. Kevin McLaughlin
    December 30, 2011 at 7:52 pm #

    Your blog is a favourite and your review has captured it aptly. Although the future Gove paints is bleak (you know my feelings on the matter of a Govean utopia) I am certain you will continue to paint a more promising future for everyone fortunate enough to meet you, listen to you and better still work with you.
    Here’s to a promising 2012.

  7. Bill Lord
    December 30, 2011 at 9:09 pm #

    Thanks Kevin – the next post is inspired by your comments on Twitter last night. I do think that there is the opportunity to create a wonderful learning environment from our children despite some of the views coming from Westminster.
    I look forward to meeting up and hopefully doing some work together in 2012

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