Thursday, 1 December 2016

The Future of Schooling - A view from the Middle

A presentation given at the Digital by Design, Digital by Default – ISC Digital Strategy Group Conference 2016 held on Thursday 1st December at Microsoft, Reading, UK.


Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Empowering School Leaders to Manage and Lead I.T.

A presentation given at the Digital Education Show in Dubai on Wednesday 16th November, 2016.


Saturday, 8 October 2016

What is Digital Governance and why you need it in your school - Digital Governance Part Two

An Introduction to Governance
Corporate governance structures exist to ensure that executive management act in the best interest of the organisation/shareholders and not merely to maximise their own self interests. For example, school leaders will be familiar with the concept of Financial Governance which ensures that employees know the limits of their authority to commit the organisation’s financial resources. This usually takes the form of policy document which outlines the rules on expenditure, contracts, salary levels etc. Digital Governance works in a similar way. 
Digital Governance
An organisation’s Digital Governance document is in effect the rule-book outlining
  • why the strategy is the way it is (the principles on which the strategy is founded) 
  • who can make IS/IT decisions; 
  • how IS/IT decisions are made; 
  • what is permitted in the organisation. 
Digital Governance ensures that a year group/department/colleague can’t declare UDI and strike off in their own direction. These policies outline the rules for anyone who wants to purchase a new device/software program/app, and put in place procedures to check that the proposed development is aligned to the school’s wider strategy and compatible with the rest of the IS/IT network. 
“[It] is concerned with promoting consistent and coherent decision-making behaviour across an organisation regarding Information Systems (IS) and Information Technology (IT) in order to maximise the value the organisation derives from IS/IT” (Peppard and Ward, 2016, 368). 
The ‘Why’ of Digital Governance 
Digital Governance allows an organisation to align IS/IT developments to the wider vision and direction for the organisation. For example, Digital Governance enables organisations to standardize systems and processes, which ultimately bring greater efficiency and reduced costs. Digital Governance is a way to break down the ‘silo culture’ of some organisation as it puts structures in place which encourage alignment and collaboration. 

The ‘Who’ of Digital Governance 
There is significant debate about who should be making IS/IT decisions. There are real dangers in leaving these decisions to IT Network Managers as, too often, decisions are made from self-interest. Equally, there are dangers in allowing enthusiastic administrators/ educationalists who do not understand the technical aspects of school networks to dominate -they are fundamentally responsible for the legacy spaghetti. Instead, it is worth considering two other common models:
  1. Digital Governance Committees. These groups combine some of the senior team with teachers and the Network team. Together they can evaluate new technologies and put in place the necessary infrastructure to ensure that it is effective. Such a group is well placed to draft the initial Digital Governance Document and to revise it as necessary. Large organisations may like to differentiate between a wider digital governance group, which oversees policy, and a narrower network architecture group, which looks at the technical specification of the network required to deliver that strategy. 
  2. Digital Leadership Roles. It has become quite common for large firms in industry to appoint ‘Chief Digital Officers’ (CDOs) to drive digital change from an executive level. Some schools have appointed Assistant/Deputy Headteachers/Principals to fulfil this role. This is undoubtedly an excellent solution as it means that a single senior leader has time and authority to drive the necessary change. However, the difficulties are cost and finding a candidate with sufficient pedagogical and technical knowledge to be able to do the role effectively. 
The ‘How’ of Digital Governance 
As with all other areas of school life, there are inevitably good ideas competing for limited resources. The Digital Governance document should define the process by which IS/IT decisions are made and how competing IS and IT priorities should be managed and implemented. It is often helpful to consider these as either ‘demand’ or ‘supply’ decisions: 
  1. ‘Demand’ Decisions include deciding how much to invest in IS/IT and how these decisions are prioritised. (‘We want to be able to . . . . ‘) 
  2. ‘Supply’ Decisions include deciding on required IT capability, how projects and programmes will be managed, and IT services delivered. (‘Here’s how you can do it . . .’) After Peppard and Ward, 2016, 371 
The ‘What’ of Digital Governance A Digital Governance document should define the School’s IS/IT policies on the following areas: 
  1. Define the core Information Systems for the organisation 
    At JESS our core Management Information System is iSAMS and we are endeavouring to consolidate other systems into it. 
    At JESS, we are moving to a Teaching and Learning environment in Office365, migrating away from a locally held Intranet. 
  2. Define the compatibility requirements for new software 
    At JESS we are endeavouring to ensure that all educational software can either be run from remote desktop, or on the Cloud. o 
    We are endeavouring to ensure than all other administrative systems integrate with iSAMS. 
  3. Set out the rules for procuring Cloud-based services. There is a trend away from making a one-off purchase of a ‘software package’ to contracting for ‘software as a service’ on an annual licence. The same applies to ‘storage as a service’. In many ways these are no different from other contracted services which fall under the remit of financial governance. 
  4. Define the specification for hardware procurement outlining specification requirements and clear expectations in terms of performance. This should include the specifications for Servers, Switches, Cabling, End-user devices, and other Peripherals (especially printers!) o There is much to be said for having an agreed specification for the ‘standard classroom’ – this brings greater reliability to the system, allows for quick and easy replacement if a piece of kit fails, and aids familiarity for teachers moving between classrooms. o For example, at JESS we have a policy of replacing Interactive White Boards (IWBs) with 75” Screens. This means that we will not be replacing like-for-like when IWBs fail. (In practice, we reallocate resources to ensure that the new monitor is installed in the location in the organisation where it will be most effective, which is not necessarily the classroom where the IWB failed.) 
  5. Define BYOD and Guest User Policies. Schools need to have clear policies on Bring Your Own Device and outline the Terms and Conditions under which non-school devices might be connected to the network. 
  6. Define the School’s User Behaviour and Security Policies. It is essential that school have clear policies relating to data access and levels of security, which outline what to do if the event of a failure or breach. These should sit alongside the school’s Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) which defines the way in which all users in the organisation conduct themselves on the network and online. 
Given the fast-moving nature of IS/IT, each policy needs to be subject to regular review, at least at six month intervals, although it makes sense to review hardware specifications on a monthly basis, given the rate of change in this area.
Links, References and Further Reading:  

Does your school have a legacy spaghetti network? - Digital Governance Part One

Does your school have a
legacy spaghetti network?
Most school IT systems have evolved with well-meaning enthusiasts in the vanguard of the IT revolution: a school management system here, a time-tabling package there; a laptop programme in Physics, an iPad programme in French; a great app for English teaching here, a graphing package for Maths there.
Most school networks are testimony to at least a decade of anarchy. 
It is common for schools to hold data in multiple databases and to use a range of local, network and web-based packages which aren't integrated. Each new teacher and administrator joining the school brings great new ideas and 'innovation' and, with it, even more complexity to an already overloaded system. The result is what Information Systems experts term legacy spaghetti.
Ultimately this situation is a failure of a past school leadership which did even know they needed to understand how IT systems work before setting them up. Such an oversight is both understandable and forgivable for it was a time when IT expertise was not part of the school leader's toolkit, but it does pose a significant challenge for today’s school leader.
Why is legacy spaghetti a problem? 
‘Legacy spaghetti schools’ are tying themselves up in more and more layers of complexity that mean that pupils, teachers and school administrators are wasting precious time and resources. At some point the school reaches a point (and perhaps yours is already there) when the whole system begins to run so slowly that upgrades and simply adding more RAM and Terabytes just won't solve the problem. In the long run legacy spaghetti means that the school network will no longer be fit for purpose will prevent schools from keeping up with innovation. Resolution of these historic issues is possible but it does require strong Digital Leadership today and good Digital Governance going forward.

In Part Two Digital Governance - What it is and why you need it in your school I will explore what is Digital Governance and how schools can put it in place.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Leading Digital – Turning Technology into Business Transformation by Westmann, Bonnet and McAffee – Key Points

Leading Digital outlines how firms in any industry can harness digital technologies to gain strategic advantage. The book categorises four types of organisation according to their ‘level of digital mastery’ with the follow characteristics:
  1. Beginners – an immature digital culture usually with a management sceptical of the business value of advanced technologies; 
  2. Fashionistas – a digital culture which lacks an overarching vision; but has many advanced features which exist in silos. 
  3. Conservatives – an overarching digital vision which is underdeveloped, but active steps are being taken to build digital skills and culture; there is strong digital governance across silos.
  4. Digital Masters – a strong digital culture flowing from an overarching digital vision with excellent governance across silos; many digital initiatives generating measurable business value. Digital Masters combine digital capabilities and leadership capabilities to achieve performance that is greater than either dimension can deliver on its own. 

The book also has some very useful self-assessment tools:
  • How well is your organisation building digital capabilities?
  • How well is your organisation building leadership capabilities?

Structure of the Book

Part One: Digital Capability: the what of digital mastery 

  • How firms engage with customers and how they can create a ‘compelling customer experience’. 
  • How digital technologies can transform operational processes and ‘exploit the power of core processes’
  • How digital technologies can produce and reinvent new business models. 

Part Two: Leadership Capabilities: the how of digital mastery

  • How to create a ‘transformative digital vision’. 
Re-envisioning the customer experience
Re-envisioning operational processes
Combining both of these to re-envision business models 
  • How to engage and energize employees to make the vision a reality. 
  • How to put in place good ‘Digital Governance’ which will keep the transformation on the right track. o Standandise o Automate o Accelerate 
  • How to develop ‘technology leadership capabilities’ to drive the transformation forward. 

Part Three: the Leader’s Playbook for Digital Transformation – concrete management guidance on how to get started. 

  • How to frame the ‘Digital Challenge’
  • How to focus investments
  • How to mobilise the organisation 
  • How to sustain the change. 

Some favourite quotes from the book: 

“The digital operations advantage is about more than great tools. It’s a combination of people, processes, and technology connected in a unique way to help you outperform you competitors.” p.69 
“Companies fall apart when their model is so successful that is stifles thinking that challenges it.” p.87 
“Leadership capabilities are essential to achieving true digital transformation, they turn digital investment into digital advantage.” p.95 
“When your technology leadership capabilities are weak, everything is a risky struggle. When they are strong, you can do great things.” p.171 
“Focussing investment is where the rubber meets the road in digital transformation.” p.189 

Some thoughts in response to the book

  • Digital technologies have not brought cost savings in education because of increased compliance. 
  • Digital transformation will not be possible in secondary schooling until it is liberated from the shackles of the (British) examination system. 
  • So many schools have not imposed digital governance. Enthusiasts have been allowed to run off in all directions. There needs to be a balance between empowerment and anarchy.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

The Pivotal Role of School Middle Leaders in Setting and Maintaining Standards

A presentation given as part of Developing Middle Leaders INSET at Ranches Primary School, Dubai on Thursday 25th August 2016

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Independent School Medallists at the Rio Olympics 2016

Independent Schools continue to make a significant contribution to British Sport (28% of Team GB for Rio 2016 come from Independent Schools) - this is something that we should celebrate. 
The final statistics in detail:
  • 62 women have won medals for Team GB (2 won two medals), 22 of whom were educated at a UK independent school – 35% 
  • 73 men have won medals for Team GB (1 won 3 medals, 5 won 2 medals), 20 of whom were educated at UK independent schools (2 won 2 medals) – 27% 
  • 135 competitors have won medals for Team GB, 42 of whom were educated at UK independent schools – 31% 
Congratulations to the following former pupils of Independent Schools who have won medals for Team GB at the Rio Games:

Gold Medals:
  • Cycling
    • Katie Archibald (Glasgow Academy) Team Pursuit (WR)
  • Equestrian
    • Nick Skelton (Bablake) Individual Showjumping
  • Hockey
    • Crista Cullen (Oakham) 
    • Alex Danson (Farnborough Hill) 
    • Maddie Hinch (King's, Taunton) 
    • Shona McCallin (Repton)
    • Lily Owsley (Clifton College) 
    • Sam Queck (Birkenhead High - then GSA)
    • Susannah Townsend (Sutton Valence) 
    • Georgie Twigg (Repton) 
    • Nicola White (Oldham Hulme Grammar)
  • Rowing
    • Helen Glover (Millfield) Coxless Pair 
    • Heather Stanning (Gordonstoun) Coxless Pair
    • Constantine Louloudis (Eton)  Coxless Four
    • George Nash (Winchester)  Coxless Four
    • Tom Ransley (King's Canterbury) Eight
    • William Satch (Shiplake) Eight
    • Andrew Triggs-Hodge (Belmont Grosvenor) Eight
    • Phelan Hill (Bedford) Eight
  • Sailing
    • Hannah Mills (Howell's, Llandaff) 470
  • Triathlon
    • Alistair Brownlee (Bradford Grammar)
Silver Medals
  • Canoeing
    • David Florence (Stewarts Melville) C2
  • Equestrian
    • Fiona Bigwood (Croydon High) Team Dressage
    • Karl Hester (Elizabeth College, Guernsey) Team Dressage
  • Rowing
    • Victoria Thornley (Rydal Penrhos) Double Sculls
    • Olivia Carnegie-Brown (Queen Anne's Caversham) Eight
    • Katie Greves (Headington) Eight
    • Frances Houghton (King's Canterbury) Eight
    • Polly Swann (George Heriot's) Eight
    • Zoe de Toledo (St Paul's) Eight
  • Rugby Sevens
    • Dan Bibby (Kirkham Grammar) 
    • Alex Davis (QEH Bristol) 
    • Ollie Lindsay Hague (Millfield) 
    • Tom Mitchell (Worth) 
    • James Rodwell (Berkhamsted)
    • Marcus Watson (St George's Weybridge) 
  • Swimming
    • James Guy (Millfield) 4x200m Freestyle Relay
    • Duncan Scott (Strathallan) 4x200m Freestyle Relay
    • James Guy (Millfield) 4x100m Medley Relay
    • Duncan Scott (Strathallan) 4x100m Medley Relay
  • Triathlon
    • Jonathan Brownlee (Bradford Grammar)
Bronze Medals
  • Athletics
    • Emily Diamond (Bristol Grammar) 4x400m Relay
  • Diving
    • Tom Daley (Plymouth College) Synchronised 10m Platform
  • Gymanastics
    • Amy Tinkler (Durham High) Floor [NB current pupil]

Looking Back to London 2012
My thanks to Georgina Belcher at the ISC for helping me with identifying the former schools of TeamGB.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Sport, the Nature v Nurture Debate and Luck - A fresh look at fortune by Ed Smith

Luck by Ed Smith is an eclectic discussion of, well, luck (there's a clue in the title - Ed) and its associated concepts of chance, fate, randomness, risk and fortune. 
The narrative draws on insights from the ancient Greeks, history, economics and anthropology; illustrated with anecdotes and examples from everyday life and, unsurprisingly (given it's a book written by a former England batsman turned Times columnist) from sport.  

Nature v Nurture
The most interesting part of the book is an exploration of the nature-nurture debate in relation to sport. In many ways it is a much-needed counterblast to the current orthodoxy that there is no such thing as talent (pace Matthew Syed's Bounce and Malcolm Gladwell Outliersand that we all have the potential to be champions if only we put in the 10,000 hours. 
In discussing nurture, Smith argues that there isn't a level playing field, highlighting the difference in opportunity that that comes with an independent education compared to one in the state system. (He doubts whether he would have opened for England had he not had the undoubted privilege of honing his cricketing talent as a boy at Tonbridge). This is supported by further analysis of the backgrounds of England's rugby and cricket sides and of Team GB. 
Beyond these advantages, Smith accepts that top sportsmen and women need to put in the hours, but that there is still an element beyond our control (= luck). 
Roger Federer and Usain Bolt don't train any harder than their rivals - the differentiating factors come down to innate advantages (= talent). 
In fact Smith predicts that days of the top sportsman (generic) who succeed because of hard work alone (e.g. Ivan Lendl) are numbered. His argument is simple but persuasive: today there are no secrets that bring the sporting elite a competitive advantage (diet, training methods, coaching, tactics, facilities etc) - these are all universal. Thus, the only differentiator at the highest level is innate talent. 
Ceteris paribus talent will triumph. 

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Make It Stick by Brown, Roediger and McDaniel - Key Points

Make it Stick is a book about effective learning strategies, It is based on the latest findings of various research studies into how Cognitive Psychology can best be applied to Education and is written by experts in this field.
The central thesis of this book is that the most effective learning strategies are simple but often counter-intuitive. The key points can be summarised as follows:
  1. Learning requires effort: some kinds of difficulties ("desirable difficulties") during learning help to make the learning stronger and better remembered;  When learning is easy, it is often superficial and soon forgotten. Don't confuse fluency/familiarity with learning
  2. Learning is better when you wrestle with new problems before being given the solution, rather than the other way round.
  3. Retrival practice (= self-quizzing) - recalling facts or concepts or events from memory - makes learning stick. This can be best done by regular testing as part of the learning process either in class or individually. Thus testing is formative - a means to the end - which is learning. 
  4. Practice that is spaced out, interleaved with other learning and varied produces better mastery, longer retention and greater versatility. Cramming and chunking are NOT effective learning methods.
  5. Mastery moves from knowledge to know-how. When learning, distill the underlying principles, look for patterns, make connections. "Knowledge is not know-how until you understanding the underlying principles at work and can fit them together into a structure larger than the sum of the parts." (p.158)
Interestingly, the authors criticise pandering to individual learning styles:
"We acknowledge that everyone has learning preferences, but we are not persuaded that you learn better when the manner of instruction fits those preferences." (p.132)
Departing from the main theme of the book, there is an interesting chapter (7) on how to 'Increase your Abilities', which explains neuroplasticity and how IQ can be improved, before launching into a number of memory techniques.
The final chapter (8) distills out the book's principles with tip for different user groups: students, life-longer learners, teachers and trainers.
Make it Stick is an important book for students (of all ages) and teachers alike (particularly in the secondary and tertiary age phases). It challenges many traditional methods of learning and does so with a weight of research behind it. Schools would do well to take on board its central points. Teachers might like to review their schemes of work considering how they will incorporate more testing, spaced interleaved and varied learning into their programmes.
For more information go to, where there is an chapter by chapter summary of the book.

I must say that I found the book's (somewhat apologetic/defensive) tone and style intensely irritating throughout. It was a dry read and it was repetitive - I can only think that the authors decided to model the concept of "desirable difficulty" and "spaced learning"! 

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

The Great Degeneration: how Institutions decay and Economies die by Niall Ferguson - Summary of key points

Niall Ferguson is a prophet of our time. His great strength as an historian is that he applies the lessons of the past to comment on the present and to warn about the future.
In the The Great Degeneration Ferguson sets out to discuss the state of our political, economic, legal and social institutions by opening up what he calls four 'long-sealed black boxes': 'democracy', 'capitalism', 'the rule of law' and 'civil society' (p.11). Each of these four themes originally formed a Radio 4 Reith Lecture in 2011 and now form a chapter of the book (Links to the Reith Lectures can be found at the end of this article).

Chapter One: The Human Hive
Ferguson, revisiting some of the arguments in his excellent book Civilisation: the West and the Rest, sets out to explain the 'great divergence' after 1500 whereby Western civilisation fares so much better than other civilisations. His answer is that institutional evolution is the key to understanding Western ascendancy: it was Western institutions and in particular 'the rule of law' is what made the difference. He argues that the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the 1689 Bill of Rights was a turning point that laid the foundations for the subsequent economic developments of agricultural improvement, imperial expansion and industrial revolution (p.32-3).
Turning to the present, Ferguson argues that excessive public debts are a symptom of the breakdown of what Edmund Burke called 'the partnership between the generations'. For Ferguson a great malaise of modern society is that Governments around the world have allowed public debt to grow out of control allowing 'the current generation of voters to live at the expense of those at yet too young to vote or as yet unborn' (p.41).

Chapter Two: The Darwinian Economy
Reflecting on the causes and lessons of the global financial crisis that began in 2007, Ferguson argues that over-complicated financial regulation was a key factor. Characteristically, he provides historical insights by reference to Walter Bagehot's Lombard Street published in 1873, which reflected on the financial crises and legislation of the nineteenth century. He concludes by arguing for a return to 'Bagehot's world where individual prudence - rather than mere compliance - precisely because the authorities were powerful and the crucial rules unwritten' (p.77); and that rogue bankers should be incarcerated pour encourager les autres. The chapter would be a useful addition to a reading list for anyone preparing for a university interview in Economics or Banking and Finance.

Chapter Three: The Landscape of Law
Ferguson argues that 'the Rule of Law' is fundamentally good because of the material consequences that it brings, particularly because it is conducive to economic growth. The key to this important aspect of the Rule of Law is the ability of societies to develop effective, low-cost enforcement on contracts; but history tells us that the problem is getting the enforcers (often the state) not to abuse their powers. Ferguson argues that, viewed historically, the English system of Common Law 'was superior in performing the twin roles of contract enforcement and coercion constraint to all other systems (French, German, Scandinavian and Chinese). This is because English common law systems offer greater protection for investors and creditors, and thus people in these systems are more willing to invest and lend money. It is the flexibility of common laws systems that make them superior. He cites two judicial appeal summations to make his point:
"Common law adapts itself by a perpetual process of growth to the perpetual roll of the tide of circumstances as society advances."  (Danzig, 'Hadley v Baxendale', p.277)
"In the course of deciding the case before him he [the judge] may, on occasion, develop the common law in the perceived interests of justice."  (Lord Goff in Kleinwort Benson v Lincoln City Council, 1999)
Ferguson then identifies four present threats to 'the Rule of Law':
  1. How far our civil liberties have been eroded by the national security state ("a choice between habeas corpus and hundreds of corpses"?! p.97);
  2. The intrusion of European Law, with its civil law character, into the English legal system;
  3. The growing complexity of statute law;
  4. The mounting cost of the law.
The consequence particularly of these complexities and cost is that societies become less competitive economically. Citing the Oxford Developmental Economist, Paul Collier, Ferguson argues that there are four steps which developing nations wishing to establish 'The Rule of Law' need to put in place:
  1. reduce violence
  2. protect property rights
  3. impose institutional checks on government
  4. prevent corruption.
Ferguson concludes the chapter by arguing that the present malaise in the West is because there has been a shift from 'The Rule of Law' to 'The Rule of Lawyers' -  where rather than using the law to make a better society, lawyers are using the law to their own ends.
The chapter would be a useful addition to a reading list for anyone preparing for a university interview in Law.

Chapter Four: Civil and Uncivil Societies
Ferguson here argues that reform of our society must come, not from public institutions, but from the the citizens of civil societies working independent of the state. He tracks the decline in membership of voluntary associations both in US and the UK and argues that it is these institutions that are the key to a civil society because they foster a sense of corporate responsibility among individual citizens, rather than relying on the state to solve society's ills. Indeed he goes so far as to argue that some of the finest institutions in the world are independent of governments, in particular, the Independent School sector and the top universities.
Ferguson's solution to the ills of the modern West, is that we all need to get more involved in society:
"True citizenship is not just about voting, earning and staying on the right side of the law. It is also about participating in the 'troop'." (p.132)
In the final chapter, Ferguson looks to a future of increased urbanization and mega-cities with a degree of optimism. His argument is that the net benefits of urbanization are conditioned by the institutional frameworks within which cities operate.
"Where there is effective representative government, where there is a dynamic market economy, where the rule of law is upheld and where civil society is independent of the state, the benefits of a dense population overwhelm the costs." (p.142)
This is an excellent little book (it is only 152 pages) and will take a couple of hours to read and many more to digest. It is very accessible - add it to the list of books your pupils should read before leaving school.

LINKS: The Reith Lectures 2012: The Rule of Law and Its Enemies
  1. The Human Hive - Ferguson argues that institutions determine the success or failure of nations.
  2. The Darwinian Economy - Ferguson reflects on the causes and lessons of the global financial crisis.
  3. The Landscape of the Law - Ferguson asks if different systems of law are key to economic success.
  4. Civil and Uncivil Societies - Ferguson asks what constitutes a vibrant and independent civil society.
These can be downloaded as MP3 podcasts from here.