Having paid some attention in the last few weeks to the 2012 CBI report outlining their view of the way that Education is THE crucial factor in improving the economic well being of this country in the long term, I am now more convinced than ever that the focus Inspire2Learn is applying to many of our activities is essential. The report outlines lots of different issues that the business world feel need to be addressed by the education system and by and large they fit with our experiences working in our schools. Take the primary years as an example. The report suggests that primary schools essentially widen the gap between the most disadvantaged and the rest. For this area I can address that concern directly. Our primary schools are VERY focussed on ensuring that this gap does not widen, in fact they ensure it narrows. OfSTED judgements and results in formal tests back this up, we are one of the most improved areas in the country in this respect. So that aside, what else does the report suggest? It explicitly states that qualifications are often not the main problem that employers are concerned about. A lack of the skills that are not ‘tested’ and not specifically ‘taught’ is what holds many of their potential employees back. These skills are defined in the table taken from the report: Educationalists will immediately recognise echoes of various PSHE schemes and ideas like Claxton’s 4R’s in their choice of vocabulary and focus. They also add that in their view it is ESSENTIAL to ensure regular contact between schools and business to raise awareness of opportunities and also provide excellent role models. Interestingly the report suggests that this should begin: “in the primary phase – at a time when aspirations and attitudes are being shaped …… There is a strong case for doing a great deal more at this stage to broaden pupils’ horizons” (p.42)
Now let’s get back on track…. STEM day 3 was busier than ever. Mixing students from Freebrough Academy (Yr10) and Normanby Primary Academy (Yr5) we had a fabulous day of hands on activities ranging from building bridges to creating physical databases. Unlike previous events we began the day as one large group in the auditorium where the manic John Kilcoyne did his best to set off the fire alarm with every chemical explosion he could muster. It set the tone for the day as the children were then full of enthusiasm for everything else we threw at them. Have you ever wondered what is in toothpaste? How do they test if it is effective? Ask any of the students who worked with Ann Bunting from Middlebrough College and they will tell you about the chemicals involved and much you should bother paying for your next tube! Mike Roberts worked his expertise with groups to programme a mobile phone remotely using an Arduino. It was fascinating to see Mike working through the code as some of the students chipped in ‘you’ve missed a bracket off’ when it was time for fault finding. Liam Weatherill from the Engineering Development Trust had a really innovative approach to the use of databases that didn’t use a computer once. From sorting verbal information to rearranging a gazillion buttons, the children really engaged with his hands on approach to how a database actually works.
A STEM day wouldn’t be complete without Connor Lishman from Cleveland Bridge. He wanted to improve his workshop from the previous event by extending the spa of the bridges that had to be built, supplying a wider range of materials but using a charging system (poker chips) for what the children could use. It worked really well and it was brilliant to watch the collaborative planning and execution of the work actually achieve the purpose it was set for. Gareth Attwood was a star! Drafted in at the last minute to hold the fort in a structure building session (think marshmallows and spaghetti) he really engaged the students with what a good structure might look like and how to bring it together. He sad to me at the end of the day, ‘I isn’t just the activity, it is about the questioning, the engagement and communication skills that make them successful’. I couldn’t agree more.
Thanks have to go once more to STEMnet who use their fabulous ambassadors to make the day possible. We aim to run an expanded program of events next year and also offer some free training for anybody who wishes to come and run these type of workshops. We do appreciate that not everybody is comfortable to be in that ‘teacher’ role and we want to support anybody who wishes to give something back to their local community in this way. All in all, really inspiring. Children talking about it for days afterwards and a comment from one staff member at Normanby “that was an amazing day, it is the sort of thing that our kids needs to give them a reason to do well at school”.
Let me remind any reader who has made it this far to the comments referred to earlier in this post from the CBI. Engaging our youngest learners sets the tome for how they progress. Give an eight year old an hour making bridges with an actual engineer and that sort of experience is potentially life changing. They aren’t too cool for school at that age! Although the days are very successful, and will continue, we also want to build a more regular contact programme in association with partners like EDT and STEMnet to better give students a context for their learning, for doing well at school, for developing those life skills (made explicit). If you would like to be involved please let us know. As a starter for ten we will be announcing a project that any school can get involved with FOR FREE beginning after Easter. It will involve students of all ages working as an after school club, an informal lunchtime group or even a whole class, it doesn’t matter, the work will be focussed on developing those employability skills and showing that development.
We like to think that we are pretty quick off the mark at Inspire2Learn and within hours of the DfE announcing the list of providers for the 2016 Reception class baseline assessments, Pauline had managed to arrange for all but one of them to come and speak to an invited audience of schools about what they could offer. Even the provider who was unable to attend sent along lots of information, a presentation and copious apologies. A packed auditorium representing every school in Middlesbrough, nearly all of the schools in Redcar and Cleveland and a handful from Stockton and Darlington were given the opportunity to engage with each of the providers to ensure an informed decision as o what they would use.
It reflects one of the main aims of I2L, to ensure that local schools get the best CPD and information available nationally…at a local venue, for very little cost. It is not an exaggeration to say that schools are increasingly turning to I2L not only for the events that we offer but also to organise events on their behalf for a specific need. We are owned and run by the local schools so our objectives are your objectives. If you are planning on an event that involves several schools please let us know and we will help. Not only do we have a fabulous team in the office who will help ensure that all delegates and speakers are kept informed of what they need to know but we also have an enormous car park, free wifi and once the coffee has been drunk we will wash the cups!!!
Another packed meeting yesterday at Inspire2Learn focussing on Early Years. It is striking that EYFS practitioners always turn up in their droves to share their experiences and ensure that they have the most up to date information about national expectations that they can get. Pauline as ever is pivotal to this as the relationship she has with the schools has developed a real community of practice ethos around her courses and in school support. Staff vote with their feet!
The EYFS is an ever changing landscape, was the theme of the update. Practitioners from 30 schools gathered to share experiences and responses to the latest developments in the world of the early years. To begin, we shared the HMCI document, ‘Getting it right first time.’ This document has had quite an impact on pre- reception provision and Ofsted judgements. There has been a shift in emphasis, by Ofsted, to nursery classes where evidence of high expectations and aspirations form a major part of the Ofsted judgement. Equally nursery assessment procedures are under scrutiny, especially the entry baseline which is increasing in importance. In the future all children will have their baseline score carried through school and referred to at all assessment points, in order to determine progress. The next document shared was the ‘Early Years Outcomes’ document produced by the DfE to replace the defunct ‘Development Matters. The National Figures for the EYFSP were shared next and schools were given a spreadsheet and a headline sheet to help with data analysis.
For the second part of the evening the focus moved to the updated Ofsted document. This update features several changes for EYFS including how children’s developmental levels should be described. During this session schools who had undergone a recent inspection shared their experiences, corroborating the earlier statements regarding the focus on the nursery class. In all cases inspectors spent a full day in the nursery class and interrogated the data fully.
At the end of the evening all schools were given access to al the documents through a shared share point site.