China > curiosity, culture and challenge

China – a visit thanks to Access China UK and the Nottingham Confucius Institute and Nottingham City Council

An amazing experience, which would have been incredible and fantastic but was made even moreso or as we teacher’s say “EBI” ( even better if) for the fact I went with 9 great Nottingham City colleagues and we had a wonderful Chinese guide and interpreter,  all of whom added the value to make it totally amazing.

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Feifei our interpreter at the Ningbo library

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The Ningbo 10 (ignore the man on the right he wasn’t with us!)

 

 

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You cannot go up the Pearl of Shanghai and look over the biggest City in the world (population 24 million) and not think – this is where the future of the world will be centred and so we need a plan, not a Brexit neither an educational plan but a proper plan.

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China is a long way away – 5750 miles to be precise or exactly 24 hours from me leaving a hotel in Shanghai to arriving at my front door in Nottingham. But it’s also a long distance away culturally and we so enjoyed discovering just touching upon something of its culture.

It’s a country of the highest population 1.4 billion –roughly 24 times the population of the UK and yet the 4th biggest by area which means a lot and I mean a lot of tower block apartments offices and hotels. Shanghai is the biggest City in the world. (24.2 million). We travelled to Ningbo about 4 hours away, including crossing a bridge of 16km to Ningbo, a City the size of London. It’s busy on the roads but those on cycles, motorcycles or even walking seem to just move at random and hey the cars stop and we saw no accidents. Green spaces are precious.

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Red amber green >GO GO GO

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Bicycle check, mobile check, helmet -what? Few cares in the world, hoping everyone else will stop.

We enjoyed wonderful cuisine – not like westernised Chinese food. We ate like royalty with exquisite food brought out for us, vegetable dishes, meat, noodles, all kinds of tastes, flavours and textures but not too much rice, rice comes at the end and you are not really expected to eat it. Oh and we used chopsticks all the time. Meals were very sociable, no distractions and plenty of conversations, and no rush, no TV, little wifi. That’s less cultural and more….common sense.

 

 

We were very well looked after by our guides, interpreters and hosts, who took us to the most interesting of places from tourist spots, to restaurants and of course to ensuring we travelled to time. In China one is never late. They could not have been more helpful, supportive, informative and generous, as were the hotels we stayed in and all the colleagues we met. And there was a thing – I asked one teacher what she hoped for her pupils “to give them every opportunity to learn”. QED the commonality of the vocation.

The culture is well documented but we were shown honour, respect, admiration and treated with huge kindness and generosity by our hosts. I was delighted to be part of a team that did exactly the same for one another on the trip especially when ‘stuff’ happened and they looked out to encourage, share and support even though we hardly knew each other beforehand. Representing different sectors the conversations gave us all further insight and arguably the best of CPD (one early years, two Primary heads one Primary adviser, four middle leaders from Secondary, one partnership lead and me from the LA). Such enthusiasm to ensure “this works” for our children.

 

To be a tourist and see the bund and river at Shanghai as well as to go up to the 263m Pearl of Shanghai were something but also wandering the tourist shops and trying to bargain was fun. A privilege to visit the oldest library in China (Ningbo) founded in 1561 and be welcomed as honoured guests was special. More special for us educators as we value our school library or local library and we value lifelong learning. Nevertheless our visit enabled us to consider just how ignorant we were of Chinese history and culture and the potential in the Far East.

 

What did we miss ? – very little, we had tea, it tasted different but we were ‘tasting’ China. We did not have access to facebook, twitter or google and we had withdrawal but we chatted and we asked questions and discussed education and other matters and we enjoyed the company, well until we hit wifi in a hotel then we caught up on messages via a message/chat system called wechat. We missed traffic jams, we missed litter, we did actually miss a few hours of sleep somewhere along the way. You know something else? We didn’t miss pupils, even English pupils, at that even Nottingham City pupils because we stopped at a service station in this vast country and met 10 pupils from one of our local primary schools – having an incredible time – though perhaps a little tired ( much like us) they were full of the experience.

And so to education and some things I have learned and of course I may be wrong that the whole system looks like this but here are my ponderings :

• Families really value education. Politicians value education. Children value their education. Teachers are highly respected (highest in the world according to this survey). This is a deeply cultural matter and about ethos, respect for schools, for teachers and for learning. We met teachers (sure a small sample but the message overwhelms) full of enthusiasm and diligence, we saw little disruption, and amongst pupils a willingness to work hard and and try your best. There is the extreme high pressures involved in the Gaokao exam but setting that to one side the atmosphere in schools was overwhelmingly positive

Proper resource follows the commitment – beautiful buildings; pride in showing us round. I saw huge sportshall ( possibly 4 full size basketball courts and on the floor above about 30 ping pong tables ( I even played the Principal). Their lecture theatre seated 500. We did not hear any complaint about lack of funding – of course that may be for other reasons, However the conversations reflected on their pride in schools and I was glad to be with a group of Nottingham heads and teachers also proud of their schools. Pay not be better ( not sure really about buying power etc) but most of us would trade a bit for having a culture and pride and a community which hugely respect teachers given consideration and of course good behaviours. [Although my own view is that a vast majority of parents do respect us in the UK – just some politicians and the press don’t always and look where they sit in terms of trust and respect.]

 

• Teachers teach large groups of 40, and whilst they had nice staff areas to work in, with space to share and discuss, to plan they too felt pressures. It maybe around (only) 3 hours a day at the front but they have no technicians or TAs or other adults in classes. Oh and those evenings when pupils are back in school for several hours studying and doing homework, guess who supervises. Heads and teachers take pride in pupils and in their learning. We heard about two schools at the Bureau sharing speeches and we shared about our two, and common features – pride in the opportunities we offer, in the children’s achievements and the aims and ethos in every school and that included to help our children be global citizens. I asked how the head got his children to work hard – “I don’t have to do anything” he said. Just think what all that means for attendance, punctuality behaviour, background disruption, offering opportunities…..

 

• I loved the creativity I saw, in particular pride in traditions, but also in creating new traditions. IMG_2883We saw some amazing artwork, incredible calligraphy, beautiful ceramics, others saw sport and music to an amazing standard. We met artists in residence and I was invited to play a computer at a board game, a computer that literally picked up pieces in response to my move and you guessed it – the programme and the hardware created by ….a pupil from scratch.

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a CRT – a what?

 

I also had a discussion with a Chemistry teacher – he had created something but our interpreter didn’t know the words, we had a small hand held device that translated and he said it was a ‘CRT’ and I said ‘oh a Cathode Ray Tube’ and we whooped! I mentioned Thomson, electrons, Crookes and we needed no interpreter –  science can be such a powerful language in itself but check out these facilities:

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• Willingness to stay and learn and take every opportunity including boarding, yes boarding for the weekdays because half an hour journey home was “too far”. Long days without TV, without Facebook, without mobile devices and perhaps without immediate family because, they all believe in the benefits from social activity and learning. So we saw some pupils who did more hours of homework in a two days than some of our pupils would do in school in a day. Of course there are concerns about resilience and pressure too.

Hospitality and generosity – we took gifts with us for our school and Bureau colleagues and received many back but sometimes individual  pupils wanted to give us something they had done, some  clearly stayed up to make gifts for their visitors.

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MrMcNeill with a beautiful painting made especially for him

I was privileged to pass as one of my gifts the music of Sheku Kanneh Mason ( an ex pupil at my old school) who also kindly wrote me a personal message for the schools which I had translated – that went down really well. ( thank you Sheku). But oh, we had fun – trying out our mandarin, working out currency, bartering, wondering where we were heading when taken by taxi to a school, getting trapped in hotel door (me trying to metaphorically to “open doors”) – looking out for each other and smiling our way through.

 

 

 

• Education bureau officials welcomed our vision for future work with them, they are interested in what we are doing and especially how we measure impact. How we know our City wide plans and also our school plans are being effective, as well as our regulator (ofsted) view. They are keen to foster further links Ningbo > Nottingham and Nottingham > Ningbo. we have lots of ideas from championing exchanges and learning mandarin through to just a better basic understanding of China and our own Chinese community. To be honest they struggled to understand how our system works if it means a local area does not have any control of schools. Welcome to my world!

It is quite an amazement that across the world they are interesting in learning from us.

 

 

 

IMG_3356My colleagues are now busy working out how to manage exchanges, to plan visits with children and to welcome children here to Nottingham. We are looking at how we can work together across the distances and cultures but with an internet and with colleagues here and our own traditions – Nottingham has a University campus in Ningbo which we visited and so there is much to consider and challenge and much remains to be curious about. For me I am committing to try and open more doors with friends in Ningbo – and not these doors.

A slight rant over ‘Textbooks’ which I love*

“…a book that contains detailed information about a subject for people who are studying that subject”

1 I once wrote a Chemistry textbook – with two other great Chemistry teachers –

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Our Foundation level textbook

not examiners, not academics just plain Chemistry teachers. It was for the so-called less able or foundation GCSE pupils, labels I use but intensely dislike and I learned a lot win writing it and it was a fantastic challenge to help lots of pupils access our subject – especially those who find it hard – which is nearly everyone. It didn’t make us a fortune, schools bought lots of texts for the more able ( have a copy at home have a copy in school etc, but this was for the less able who were in small groups and often weren’t allowed to take a book home). Continue reading

Why be an Education Director?

A question in the mindset of Mrs Merton.

What first attracted you to the role of Education Director (part time) in Nottingham, after all the City now “runs” very few schools?

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Not so long ago this role would have been one of the biggest in education in Nottingham running secondary, primary and special schools, responsible for everything from admissions to outcomes and most stuff in between for about 41,000 children. As the ‘new world’ of academisation has emerged resources have passed from the local authority to the new trusts except for some statutory services. As the landscape no longer looks the same, the role of a City Education Director needs to change and I’m not sure anyone in any LA has worked out how, but we are well on the journey in Nottingham. Much of that is thanks to the pioneering work of Pat and Sarah Fielding and their excellent work in many areas pre-eminently with our City Primaries and with safeguarding. So how does it appear picking up the reigns?

 

For me, there is still a rather wonderful, overwhelming desire by everyone I meet in the City linked with education, they want to improve the lives of young people. Whether I speak to people at the City LA : SEND colleagues, those working out how best to help refugee and asylum seekers with EAL issues, those working with the very special, children in care, they have massive professional and personal commitment to their roles. When I have spoken to headteachers, teachers and CEO’s of Trusts or governors, they always begin by talking about children, young people, families they are working with and only rarely and then usually a moan about systems and structures. Hang it I even found the same in my meetings with Ofsted inspectors, with the RSC and other ‘officials’ – what can we do to improve things – though of course some of the latter are stuck with their systems. There are actually good starting points from organisations like EEF, who are also keen to help Nottingham. I think we are also fortunate with our local and national politicians who are supportive, understanding and yet not afraid to challenge us all.

imageAs a chemistry teacher who has loved the job in the classroom, and on corridors, who was challenged and supported in school leadership roles I loved working with young people and…still do. At the heart for all of us is working with children to help them learn from all their opportunities and that is my hope, to bring something of that perspective to the role. Working in partnership and in collaboration.

pareto_principle_improveA key energy for us in the City is so-called school improvement, frankly I don’t really like the title and as a headteacher refused to have a SIP (school improvement plan). I wanted a “school development plan”. Schools are full of people trying to do their very best, and we can’t keep asking for more and more. Schools might be able to genuinely improve some parts of their work and service but they face almost constant and considerable change. As a teacher I might work to understand how assessment works for my GCSE students, how best to help them learn science, to achieve and how to motivate them and excite them – but then…aha, the content changes (probably not too much) and the assessment changes (probably a lot) and the way me and my school are made accountable for their progress changes. imageThen my next class have different needs, a child coping with bereavement, one struggling with domestic violence, one with mental health pressures, one just lost in the world and a fair few just confused by my explanations. In classrooms, in staffrooms and in head’s offices alongside governor meetings there are always discussions happening to see how to help the children learn. As well as staff having to manage the wider changes in technology, in policy, in society and in the world around us. For me improvement and progress are part of the school day, routines, habits not goals.  It’s not about forever improvement it’s about having the best job in the world and feeling you are doing a great job for young people because that’s why you came into the role, and we need to support each other and make it a sustainable rewarding job.

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So knowing classrooms reasonably well, understanding a good bit about leadership from long experience and something of the local educational world from most of my working life spent in Nottingham, you know what? I think I might be able to help make a difference working alongside you.

 

Sometimes it does feel impossible, even just in secondary our 17 schools are in 9 very different multi academy trusts, complex communities. We have great Universities, we have a revitalised FE sector wanting to help but they are big organisations. We have agencies like Futures and a voluntary sector, often with great ideas but struggling to get engagement as they see it. It feels impossible when data shows a disappointment, maybe a dip in achievement or progress or a bump in attendance. However, whoever I have spoken to, they are willing to roll their sleeves up look at the problem and try to find a solution. ( heck, we chemists are good at that too) …and the starting point – what can we do to improve this situation and improve things for those children. So I hope to bring partners together and improve the landscape, to eventually proved some agreed strategic direction, and to work with the Education Improvement Board to do just that….Improve Education.

 

imageNottingham is the 4th poorest City in England, we have some long-standing historical deprivations and some major lack of aspiration but you know what, we have a workforce and a commitment from the professions second to none, and a personal effort from so many showing time and time again a willingness to go the extra mile. We have some great young people, and large numbers who buck trends. At Trinity, I often spoke to the staff, children and parents about hope – ‘there is always hope’. It’s my hope to help make partnership work, have high levels of collaboration, to share good ideas that genuinely work, and to try and find solutions to complex problems in order to bring hope to the children in Nottingham and pride to their families, friends, teachers and themselves.

 

Here’s hoping you will be able to find some  time and energy to commit to working with us on the project!

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Tuesday period 7 -The importance of being earnest about Subject Knowledge.

This week I had the privilege of speaking to the PGCE mentors at Nottingham University about subject knowledge. We were trying to think about the importance of subject knowledge when training teachers compared to all the other pedagogical an

d classroom management that goes on in helping shiny new teacher trainees as they learn the craft of the classroom. The stuff that inevitably has to go on – behaviour management, question technique etc made me think about the importance of subject knowledge in learning to be a teacherimage. You need a big erudite quote talking to a load of PGCE mentors at a prestigious University so I went for a Cloughie quote. “Players lose you games not tactics. There is so much crap talked about tactics by people who barely know how to win at Dominoes.” This made me think because Clough’s point really is that there are all sorts of people with opinions and views telling him how to run his team but actually it is players that win games. As a head teacher I am acutely aware we get all sorts of advice, guidance and “this is how to” BUT  it is teachers that make a difference.

  • teachers not systems
  • teachers not policies
  • enthusiastic, inspiring and knowledgeable teachers.

Policies and systems are important but no one decides to become a teacher because of policies and systems, they decide to become a teacher because they were inspired by a teacher or by a subject or both; they love children and now they have a subject they wish to share. My audience were present as PGCE mentors because of a deep desire to help the next generation of teachers, to create more teachers and we head teachers like to find inspiring knowledgeable shiny new teachers.

Some Subject Knowledge Myths

Graduates know everything about their subject when they graduate as though the things they didn’t quite understand when they went into finals having got their 2:1 or even 1st somehow mysteriously drop into the brain. The 30% you got away without knowing is now “in the brain” Well it sure isn’t! After graduation I did one year of reseach and in my first day of lab work used  a chemical (Benzoyl Chloride for those interested] which was described as a powerful lachrymator, but me and my arrogance not wanting to check  at what lachrymator meant just assumed it was the word that meant you went to the toilet a lot. so I took care not to drink or taste it [not difficult] having completed my experiment threw my solution down a sink to find a whole lab of chemists with tears streaming down their faces having to leave the room and as we were evacuated me being totally embarrassed. No the gaps of knowledge are not filled in!

Graduates knowledge automatically updates as the world discovers more about that subject new gaps occur. Or maybe some part of history you have to teach wasn’t covered in HE. Or suddenly as an English teacher you have to understand the new 19th century novel thanks to Mr Gove designing the spec. This can be seen as nuisance or you can have the attitude of my brilliant English staff and see it as a chance to read stuff you haven’t read before.

IMG_2928The school curriculum, the school content never changes hey have in my subject I can tell you a topic like Solubility has come and gone and came back it. The Born Haber cycle was in then out then back in a new form then gone and I’ve not checked the new specs!

 

 

Some Subject Knowledge Truths

Graduates know more about their subject than school students. We hope that’s true after 3 years and £27,000 and all of us should be able to keep ahead on knowledge

Graduates worry about other aspects of the classroom. Shine new ITT people have other bothers:

  • Will the pupils behave
  • Will I cope with the marking, feedback, will I even be able to answer the exam question myself
  • Will their parents moan about me
  • Will my classroom turn into an example of chaos and riot
  • Agh should I be a teacher

It’s nimageot just about knowledge. Back in the day when I did a PGCE we had what we called books and if you were asked a question the answer was in a book so you found it there or bluffed. Now you can google it, so can pupils, but learning is much deeper matter and, it’s really all about

  • Understanding,
  • reasoning,
  • application,
  • synthesis …..maybe more

Knowledge has to fit into a curriculum. Whatever knowledge the graduate has or does not have the demand is in a curriculum be that for Y7 for Y9 top sets or for GCSE or Level and maybe when we get this wrong we underestimate our pupils and maybe there is truth in the Ousted chiefs criticisms of the way we work with bright pupils

Graduates should be able to make a subject “come to life”. OK there is a curriculum but get the  best bits of your subject, the exciting and interesting stuff into the lesson. Children love this and if we keep winning them over they will enjoy the lesson, learn and see they can progress. That is the virtuous circle of success

Stay in the mainstream of being a subject specialist. I am a reasonable Chemist ( hey Ive a degree and an FRSC) Im an OK Chemistry teacher- but when you give me KS3 biology I can kill it. I never did any Biology, in my day an all boys grammar didn’t do Biology.

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Sir I don’t think you know how to use this microscope

I did a little in my degree and sure I can teach it BUT do I know if this lesson on photosynthesis is putting the right emphasis on the right foundations. Bet someone who taught KS4 or 5 would identify better the exact basics to grasp. One reason I think our Maths and English results are so good is because people teaching KS5/4 teach Y7 and Y8 – when they cover adverbs in Y7 they sure have an eye on what will be needed post16 or GCSE and make sure they start building it well. Drip feed complex ideas form an early age.

 

A few challenges

Pupil growth in understanding mirrors yours. There are always better ways to teach better ways to work out how to deliver your subject after a few years of working out that this be the topic doesn’t get a learnt very well in that particular way we is the subject experts can probably sit down and find a better way. in the 80’s I taught Chemistry the same way I had been taught and the same route as my degree. By the time of Salters I was teaching JUST the part needed at a particular stage, we revisited ideas, we did ideas in a circular way that genuinely held learning and it meant we revisited Chemical ideas. It worked and worked well and we  saw that in results in numbers carrying on in the subject and guess what – we saw it in their understanding. Avoid the errors of dropping really difficult concepts and ideas on pupils too early in their learning before they are mature enough to cope.

Importance of the story of the subject (even Maths). All subjects even Maths have a story to tell – a history, a set of characters, set of discoveries, a context, a baddie a discovery. I can name you all these in Chemistry. Have a fund of stores or look at my post on storytelling.

Importance of secuIMG_2943re understanding not teaching to test – PPS (past paper syndrome). No teacher reading this hasn’t had the frustration of a pupil asking “whats in the test?” or doing past papers sometime in January and not doing very well.  We need to use our own deep understanding of our subject to show pupils just how to grasp, understand, learn and progress.
No point doing exam papers (yet) be secure in your knowledge and understanding) and sure we might have to do some simple testing to see if you have and to see how we help.

Using new technologies. I love what I have in the toolbox for teaching so we must keep an eye on ICT or Activites to enhance BUT we use out subject knowledge. I’m reminded of some of the early software I was shown by enthusiastic software salesmen aiming  to show me how wonderful chemistry could appear  on the interactive whiteboard. Watch! You can pull a virtual bottle of acid from here and look you can pull across test tube and choose a bit of zinc or other metal to add. Now, drop it in and click here to open the bottle and look the equation is written underneath and there is the reaction: some bubbles of hydrogen the pupils can guess what it is and the little splint will come over and on imagethe screen appears the word “pop” what do you think of that? It’s quite nice but I’d rather g
et a bottle of acid out give it to my pupils and a test tube and let them do the pop test to see the delight in their faces and the motivation which will probably drive them to work out the equation ready for tomorrow when if they’ve worked it out they can do a few more themselves in real life. Use technology but use your subject common sense

Importance of the keepy uppy in your subject there is the obvious importance of keeping up in the subject and chemistry as in most subjects things has seen dramatic changes. Nanotechnology didn’t exist back in the 80’s. We need to keimageep up with our knowledge, we should enjoy that. It will get us excited: a new material anew discovery, scientist on the international space station. I teach my pupils about DNA and the structure and hydrogen bonding and it’s fascinating and actually give them the 1953 article (a single side of A4 paper) that was in nature and I remind them that in
1953 this won a Nobel Prize and in 2016 it might get them three marks in an exam.Surely there is nothing more important than us keeping up our frontier knowledge to excite and inspire the next generation – cos someone did that for us , a teacher a copy of New scientist a TV programme. Get in touch with your professional subject: ASE or RSC for me.

Delight of discussion of your subjectone of the best parts of the teacher’s job is spending time in the staffroom or on CPD opportunities OR with pupils, talking through some of the issues. How can we make this better? What does this mean? Did you know that? Have you seen this? Hey and if you can draw in other staff, the renaissaince people in te staffroom then the discussion makes the job richer, and all the better

Lifelong learning. You and I dream of creating lifelong learners, and we are lifelong learners of our sunbelt. Use the vehicle of your subject knowledge to sign the deal.


Some Questions

Q1 what importance does your ITT, NQT RQT or frankly your CPD programme place on Subject Knowledge?

Q2 Have we neglected subject knowledge at the expense of pedagogy and lost out

Q3 Should we try and wrestle subject knowledge back to being the “first love”?