Saturday, 16 May 2015

Elective use of laptops in examinations - Times Article

Article published in The Times 16/05/2015 on Berkhamsted School's introduction of elective use of laptops in public examinations.

Loophole allows students to use laptops in exams 

Nicola Woolcock Education Correspondent

Teenagers at an independent school will use laptops to sit some GCSEs and A levels this year, after their head teacher figured out a loophole to excuse them from hours of handwritten examinations.
The move could trigger a revolution in exams, speeding up the demise of the traditional test papers that are sat by about a million pupils each year.
Mark Steed, the headmaster of Berkhamsted School in Hertfordshire, said that while schools taught using 21st-century technology, they were forced to revert to outdated methods for exams. Thirteen of his pupils have spent the past two years using only laptops in subjects such as English, history and religious studies, rather than taking handwritten notes. This means that exam boards must allow them to use laptops, Mr Steed said, as it is recognised as their “normal way of working”. Eight took exams this way last year, the first year the school gave pupils the opportunity to do so. Until now, most schools have allowed only pupils with special needs to use technology in exams, complying with regulations laid down by the Joint Council of Qualifications, which represents exam boards. However, a clause in its guidance says:
“Centres [schools] are allowed to provide a word processor, with the spelling and grammar check/predictive text disabled, to a candidate where it is their normal way of working within the centre.” 
Berkhamsted School plans to broaden the practice in the next few years and other independent schools could follow suit. It comes amid growing concerns about children being marked down for illegible handwriting in exams, as they are not used to writing at length.
Mr Steed said:
“At present, new technologies are helping young people to learn better both in and out of the classroom, but then we transport them through time back to the 1930s to make them sit an examination. No wonder there is scepticism about the value of new technologies in education when the exam system is forcing us to use them with one hand tied behind our back.” 
He said that tablet and app-based learning was beginning to transform education for pupils aged four to 14, but then schools got cold feet when it came to GCSEs and A levels.
“As long as the exam boards and universities require young people to sit formal examinations in rows, in silence and without access to technology as a point of reference, then their schooling will inevitably devote significant time and energy into training them to excel in those conditions,”
Peter Hamilton, the chairman of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference academic policy committee, said: “It could be a very interesting way of working in the future.”

Sunday, 10 May 2015

A ‘Customer-focused School’ - Some thoughts on school marketing and why, how and when we should listen to parents.

My opening address at the AMDIS Conference at The Belfry on Monday 11th. May 2015.

From the conference programme:
In his opening address, Mark Steed explores the concept of a "customer-focused school". The presentation will look at how schools, through collecting data about their current and prospective parents, can gain customer insight and thus ensure sustainable growth. Using practical examples from Barkhamsted School, Mark will discuss ways in which schools can develop what they have to offer to create new demand by opening up new markets; and how far schools should go in listening to their parents.

Friday, 1 May 2015

Education, New Technologies and the Elephant in the Examination Hall

Assess the potential for technology-enabled innovation in products/services and processes in your organisation: 
Thus ran the assignment question for the 'Innovation and Technology module' of the Executive Masters in Management course that I am studying with Ashridge Business School.

What is the potential for technology-enabled innovation in Secondary Education?
Well it's enormous - young people learning collaboratively, being creative in their learning, sharing apps, learning through gaming and so on. But hold on .. . . . . . . (and it's not me putting the breaks on here) . . . . . the potential for technology-enabled innovation in secondary education is currently limited by one significant external factor – the nature of British examination system. 
At present, new technologies are helping young people to learn better both in and out of the classroom - but then we take them away from their collaborative connected learning environment, and transport them through time back to the 1930s to make them sit an examination. No wonder there is skepticism about the value of new technologies in education when the exam system is forcing us to use them with one hand tied behind out back. 
Whilst tablet and app-based learning is beginning to transform education at KS1, KS2 and KS3, the whole process gets stuck there; and schools, understandably, get cold feet when is comes to KS4 and KS5. So long the Exam Boards (and Universities) require young people to sit formal examinations in rows, in silence, without access to technology (as a point of reference), then the nature of the schooling that takes place prior to those exams will inevitably devote significant time and energy into training them to excel in those conditions. Rather than getting the most out of the new technologies available to them, quite understandably, schools are harnessing new C21 technologies to develop C20 skills in order to sit C20 examinations. Thus it is no surprise that, when given a totally free choice of device to bring into school, 98% of Berkhamstedians from Y10 to Y13 choose a laptop. This is automation not transformation.
Online Examinations? 
Changes in examination board regulations mean that since Summer 2013 pupils who do not have a Specific Learning Difficulty who use a laptop as their "normal way of working" accrue a right to use laptops in public examinations: 
“Centres are allowed to provide a word processor with the spelling and grammar check/ predictive text disabled to a candidate where it is their normal way of working within the centre, unless an awarding body’s specification says otherwise. This also includes an electronic brailler, an iPad or a pc tablet.” JCQ General and Vocational Qualifications, Instructions for conducting examinations 1 September 2012 to 31 August 2013. Section 8.8 p.24;  (My emphasis) 
There is no inherent advantage in using laptops. The laptops have to be provided by the centre, the spell check has to be disabled and the pupils get no additional time. Parents are charged £100 for the provision of a 'clean' exam-ready laptop - this cost covers mocks and Summer exams. 
However, this is recognition by JCQ and the Exam Boards that laptops are the normal way of working for some pupils and that it would be penalising them not to allow them to sit exams using a laptop. ">It is for each school to define 'normal way of working'.
At Berkhamsted, we took the view that the pupil had to use the laptop in lessons and for homework for the length of their GCSE, AS or A2 course. As a consequence of this change, this year 13 Berkhamstedians (eight boys and five girls) have chosen to sit a proportion of their GCSEs and A-levels on a laptop under the terms of these regulations, mainly in those subjects which require extended pieces of writing such as English, History and Religious Studies. Small steps forward, but, again, this is automation not transformation.
Berkhamsted School Elective Laptop Use in Exams 2014 and 2015
Google in Exams? 
Mark Dawe, chief executive of OCR, argued that pupils should have access to the Internet when doing examinations on the basis that memorising reams of information was “not how the modern world works” (See 'Let students use websites during examinations' Times 01/05/2015). He is quite right. This is not a new debate, I recall a debate within the Cambridge Theology faculty when I was a student, as to whether or not undergraduates should be allowed to have a bible in their examinations. Access to Google is not an enormous step on from 'open book' English Literature examinations that were part of A-level English for many years. It all comes down to what we are testing here - knowledge of facts? the ability to put an argument together? or the ability to research?
Concerns about cheating in exams which have internet access are overstated. No one here is advocating that pupils be allowed to communications with others during exams. Key-stroke capture (which records what each candidate did whilst online) and plagiarism software, such as Turnitin, provide the means and method to deter and police the issues of access to the Internet.

The current examination hall reflects a time that has passed. There is little doubt that the examination system needs to change and will change. 
None of us works that way anymore. We work in teams. We work on shared documents. We work with people the other side of room - and the other side of the world. We run our diaries, take notes and communicate with other through our phones, our tablets, our laptops and our desktops. Indeed of most of the written notes we make end up on the fridge! When you last needed a fact, or a quote, or to check a spelling, did you pull an a encyclopedia, the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations or the OED off the shelf? or did you Google or Wikipedia it? Social media has meant that our professional networks include people we have never met and are never likely to meet. LinkedIn is replacing business cards (at least in the West!); and we share ideas and take part in debates across continents. We work differently, and, because of that, we should teach, learn and assess differently.
So what will the school and university assessment system of the future look like? 
If the future assessment system is to prepare young people for the demands of the C21 workplace (or indeed C21 academia), it is likely that there will be greater component of teamwork and collaborative working. Dissertations, projects, videos and presentations (think Screencast rather than PowerPoint) are likely to be a greater proportion of the overall assessment. This has already happened in some areas - the Ashridge MBA programme abandoned its final examination a number of years ago and now incorporates a number of practical assessments - such as 'live case' consultancy exercises - rather than assessing totally through extended essays and exams. 
Whilst traditional Harvard-referenced Dissertations assessing the skills of critical analysis and evaluation may remain as one component in a portfolio, we are likely to see a greater range of assignments where creativity, visual literacy and 'the ability to sell an idea' are likely to be valued skills, 
The end of examinations? It is very likely that universities and employers will still want a qualification system that identifies and distills out individual performance where a least part of the assessment process is conducted against the clock, It is almost certain that these will be online and will be much more like the tests that top law and accountancy firms are using as the first round of their employment screening process. Typically these give the candidate some key texts and data which they have a specific period of time to digest, before writing a report against the clock drawing on these sources. So it is a safe bet that exams are here to stay.

Is this new assessment system really that radical? These ideas do not really represent as radical a shift in our thinking as might at first be seen. Afterall, our present examination GCSE and A-level examination system already has some of the components of C21 examination: we examine individuals on their team performance in Drama and Sport; we have open book examinations in English Lit and we pre-release material in Art to allow A-level Art candidates to research weeks in advance of their final practical exam.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Wearable Tech Policy for School

At Berkhamsted, we are committed to pupils using mobiles devices to support their learning through appropriate use in school and at home. Alongside this, we believe that we have an educational responsibility to help young people manage how and when they use new technologies and thus have always taken an approach that we would rather 'educate' than 'ban',
So working within this context, the Senior Leadership Team this afternoon grappled with the thorny issue of how we approach the issue of 'Wearable Technology' (such as the Apple Watch) in school. It was a thoughtful and lively debate:
On one level, it would appear that there is little difference between having a fully connected mobile device in one's pocket and on one's wrist, so why the fuss?
Well, we decided that there are two reasons why a watch poses additional issues:
  1. First, from a teacher's perspective, wearable technology is very difficult to police.  When necessary, it is relatively easy for a teacher to say 'your phone needs to be in your pocket/bag', it becomes much more difficult to ask the class to remove their watches.
  2. Secondly, from a pupil's perspective, wearable technology is less easy to ignore. The buzz of a phone on vibrate mode in a pocket or bag is out of sight and sometimes earshot - whereas the temptation to catch up on a text/ or social media update is almost impossible to ignore when it's on your wrist.
So, we took a middle way: not banning, but discouraging wearable technology in school: our mobile device policy now has an additional paragraph as follows:

Berkhamsted School Wearable Tech Policy:
  1. If Wearable Tech is worn in lessons or in public areas around the school, the ‘Do not disturb’/’flight mode’ should be activated.
  2. Wearable Tech must not be worn in exams as this will result in disqualification. Exam Regulations do not allow any device capable of mobile communication. 
  3. Our strong advice is that pupils should not bring Wearable Tech devices to school, because they are likely to be a greater distraction than other mobile devices. 
  4. If a Wearable Tech device is deemed by the teacher to be causing a distraction around school, it is liable to confiscation until the end of the school day.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Appraisal and Performance Management in Schools - A practical approach

A presentation given as part of the leadership strand at TLAB15 on Saturday 21st March 2015


Monday, 2 March 2015

How MOOCs, Tablets and Apps are changing how we teach

Presentation given at The Society of Heads Annual Conference at Whittlebury Hall, Northamptonshire on Tuesday 3rd March, 2015


Friday, 13 February 2015

How to Conduct a Teacher Appraisal

An INSET given to Heads of Department on how to conduct a teacher appraisal


Saturday, 17 January 2015

What to look for in a School Management Information System (MIS)

School Management Information Systems (MIS) have developed over the past twenty years from relatively rudimentary databases that held parental data into the complex integrated systems now available. Today School MIS are asked to perform a range of key tasks including admissions, pupil tracking, discipline, reporting, fee billing, HR and a range of other functions. Choosing a School MIS is one of the most far-reaching decisions that the senior team will make for it has a direct impact on the operational efficiency of the organisation. However, because each school has its own structure, management style, priorities and is at a different stage of organisational maturity, it is very likely that no single MIS will be perfect. Few schools can afford to commission a bespoke MIS and off-the-peg solutions always entail a degree of compromise. 
Reticence to Change Schools are understandably reticent to change MIS for a number of reasons. First, it is costly both financially and in terms of organisational time and energy; secondly, a new MIS entails an enormous amount of training of both administrative and teaching staff; and thirdly, a new MIS usually entails a short period when organisational performance drops as key personnel get used to the new system. Thus it is common for schools to live with an under-performing MIS for a number of years, before it reaches the ‘tipping point’ at which the short term inconvenience of changing MIS outweighs the ongoing inefficiencies. 
Consider carefully who makes the decision The range of tasks that a modern MIS is asked to perform inevitably means that different users value those aspects of an MIS’ functionality that relate to their own area: the finance department typically emphasising the importance of fee billing, the Director of Studies - pupil tracking, the teachers – reporting and so on. Because different MIS have different strengths and weakness, the process of choosing an MIS can be problematic if one area of the school has a disproportionate say in the decision. Senior Leaders should beware the ‘silo mentality’: many a school Bursar has driven the decision over the choice of MIS without any regard to the academic needs of the school. All the key stakeholders (finance team, administrators, teachers and parents) need to have input into the decision-making process - the choice of an MIS should be a whole-school decision. 
Strengths and Weaknesses – Remember their roots There is no perfect MIS – they all have relative strengths and weaknesses. One way to understand these is to look at how each of the products started life and how they have evolved to what is on offer today. SIMS was founded on school admin needs in the UK state sector where timetabling and monitoring attendance/truancy were key; WCBS’s 3Sys and Double First’s Engage began their lives as accounts packages, which developed school administration modules and now have become integrated MIS; whereas iSAMS was initially designed from a teachers’ perspective as a bespoke product focusing on academic assessment and reporting. Today all of these products have developed and increased functionality, but it is worth bearing in mind where they have come from, as it typically explains why administrators favour SIMS, bursars and finance departments like 3Sys and Engage, and why teachers like iSAMS
Two Approaches: There are broadly two approaches to MIS. Schools are faced with a choice between the ease of use of the integrated modules and the additional functionality of the free-standing specialist software package. 
  1. Approach One: MIS Core + modules 
    All modern MIS are modular, offering a core database function to which schools can add modules that perform other functions: timetabling, tracking, reporting, internal and external examinations, mark books, admissions, attendance, co-curricular and so on. The advantages of the ‘core + module’ approach allows schools to develop their use of the MIS at their own pace and that there are no compatibility issues of integrating the MIS with software produced by different firms. 
  2. Approach Two: MIS Core + specialist software 
    The problem with the MIS Core + modules approach is that off-the-peg modules are never going to be as good as free-standing specialist software packages. Specialist software companies inevitably can devote more time to developing their area. For example, specialist timetabling software might make constructing the timetable easier for the admin team, but it may not be as easy to input and access data. The primary role of the MIS in this approach is to hold central data and to integrate the various “best-of-breed” specialist packages, which is much easier said than done. 
Compatibility and Integration When researching MIS, one of the most important areas to investigate is the extent to which their product is compatible with other specialist products. Key questions are: 
  • How easy is it to move data between the MIS and specialist packages? 
  • Does the MIS support team provide a specific Application Program Interface (API) to facilitate this? (These are a set of protocols and routines which integrate two software packages to enable them to share data seamlessly.) 
Look to the Future Few schools are likely to change MIS more often than every ten years. Those making the decision need to consider that there will be significant software developments within the lifetime of the new MIS. A closed system might meet today’s needs, but it is very unlikely to be fit for purpose in five years’ time if it cannot integrate with other products. Multi-browser products that can flex and integrate with other systems are more likely continue delivering functionality in the mid-2020s. 
And so to the Cloud It is almost certain that during the next ten years schools will migrate all of their data to the Cloud. It will do this for two reasons: first, it will be cheaper; secondly, it will make upgrades and data management easier for the MIS providers to service their products. This is available now, but, at present, schools are reticent to trust their data to remote, off-site servers. This is no different to schools a hundred years ago, most of whom had their own electricity generators because they didn’t trust the National Grid. In ten years’ time I suspect that we find the idea of on-site server rooms, as anachronistic as we do on-site electricity generators.  

Published in the Independent Schools Magazine February 2015 p.12

Monday, 22 December 2014

Program or be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age - Book Review

Over the past twenty years most of us have spent a significant part of our working and leisure hours struggling (with varying degrees of success) to keep up with the pace of technological change. We have had little time to step back to reflect on the impact that it is all having on our lives. In Program or be Programmed Douglas Rushkoff presses the pause button to outline 'Ten Commands for a Digital Age' - suggestions for how we can regain control and make digital technologies once again work for us. Each of the 'commands' are based on tendencies or 'biases' of digital media.
  1. Time: Do not be always on. Digital technologies are biased away from time, and toward asynchronicity. Computers fundamentally operate outside time: a computer will wait forever for the next command. It is our use of computers that has made everything immediate. In order to regain control we need to disengage and "not be always on". The text/email/FB update will wait. 
  2. Place: Live in person. Digital media are biased away from the local, and toward distance/dislocation. Last week, I was in the open air restaurant of a five-star resort looking out over one of the most beautiful bays in Vietnam, a family of six (2 grandparents, 2 parents and 2 children) were totally disconnected. They sat around the dinner table playing on their phones. We see this all the time. We need to live in person and not in a virtual world. 
  3. Choice: You may always choose none of the above. The digital realm is biased towards choice, because everything ultimately must be expressed in terms of discrete, yes-no, symbolic language. In moving from the real world to the digital something gets lost in translation because inevitably digital representations are compromises. Too often we are forced into making choices that have been predetermined by the programmer. We need to recognise that we don't always have to play the programmer's game and choose not to make a choice. 
  4. Complexity: You are never completely right. Digital technology is biased toward simplicity and to reducing complexity. We must take care not to mistake digital models with reality. There is evidence that young people are increasingly finding it difficult to distinguish between experiences that they have had in real and virtual environments. 
  5. Scale: One size does not fit all. Digital technologies are biased toward abstraction i.e. to the separation of the individual from what is real (This is the most complex and subtle argument in the book). All media are biased towards abstraction: the written word separates the speaker from his words; the printing press disconnects the author from the page itself; digital hypertext disconnects the reader not only from the author but also from the original context, as well as enabling the reader to exit from a document at any point. The most obvious manifestation of the propensity of the digital towards abstraction is our daily encounter of 'people wearing headphones, staring into smart phones, ensconced in their private digital bubbles as they walk down what were once public streets'. 
  6. Identity: Be yourself. Digital technology is biased toward depersonalisation. The less we take responsibility for what we say and do online, the more likely we are to behave in ways that reflect our worst natures. We must make an effort not to operate anonymously. We must be ourselves. 
  7. Social: Do not sell your friends. Our digital networks are biased towards social connections - toward contact. Any effort to redefine or hijack those connections for profit end up compromising the integrity of the network, and compromising the real promise of contact. 'Friendships, both digital and incarnate, do create value. But this doesn't mean that the people in our lives can be understood as commodities to be collected and counted.' 
  8. Fact: Tell the Truth. Digital Technology is biased against fiction and towards facts, against story and toward reality. In the Internet age "the truth will out" - eventually - so tell the truth. There are significant implications here for the world of advertising. 'Those who succeed in the new bazaar [= communication age] will be the ones who can quickly evaluate what they're hearing and learn to pass on the stuff that matters.' 
  9. Openness: Share don't steal. Digital technology is biased in favour of openness and sharing. The Internet was built on a "gift economy" based more on sharing than profit, however we have great difficulty distinguishing between sharing and stealing. At present 'we are operating a C21 digital economy on a C13 printing-press-based operating system' - We need a system upgrade that rewards creators in a digital age with zero duplication costs. 
  10. Purpose: Program or be Programmed. Digital technology is programmed and therefore is biased towards those who write the code. If we don't learn to program, we risk being programmed ourselves. 'Each media revolution offers people a new perspective through which to relate to their world .... With the advent of each new medium the status quo is revised and rewritten by those who have gained access to the tools of its creation .... Access is usually limited to a small elite.' 'The invention of the printing press led not to society of writers but one of readers; we don't make radio and TV we listen and watch it .... Computers and networks do offer us the ability to write, but the underlying capability of the computer era is actually programming - which almost no one knows how to do. We simply use the programs that have been made for us. Only an elite gains the ability to fully exploit the new medium on offer.' 
This is an outstanding thought-provoking book which reflects on how we can regain our humanity in face of rapid technological change. Rushmore is no Luddite - he is an insider who, in the spirit of the age, has shared his insights. Program or be Programmed is a short book which will take a couple of hours to read - time well spent as it will change the way you think about our Brave New World.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

The importance of putting values at the heart of a global organisation.

Pharmaceutical giants probably don't spring to mind when thinking of values driven organisations, so it was great interest that I learned of the changes that are taking place in one of the world's largest drug companies.
I first visited Novartis five years ago. Then it was an organisation, like most others, driven by a culture of profit and individualism and where "work-life integration" had replaced any notion of "work-life" balance. The company boasted that its Campus had several restaurants, a supermarket and a post office so that domestic chores did not force employees to leave early and thus the firm could maximise the length of the working day. The performance management structure primarily rewarded results. The only hint of what was to come was that there was a recognition in their appraisal structure that an individual getting great results through poor 'attitudes and behaviours' was fundamentally bad business.
Novartis PRP Matrix up to 2014
Five years on and, after six months of company-wide consultation, Novartis have just launched their new values. The 23 values that were neither known nor understood by their employees have been distilled down to six core principles, two for each of the three areas:
  1. Patient and Customer: innovation and quality;
  2. Team: collaboration and performance; and
  3. Self: courage and integrity.

The order of these values categories say much about the vision for the organisation for they put the needs of customer/patient first, and the needs of the team above those of the individual. The shift from a 'me' culture to an 'us' (team and society) culture is significant.
So how are these values worked out in the organisation? Well drugs companies do have a good story to tell. They do change lives. They do make the world a better place. Novartis invests billions in new drugs - of course they do it to make a profit, but without that profit there wouldn't be investment.

The organisation has shifted from valuing the individual to the team rather than the individual. Hence collaboration and team performance at the centre of the values structure. The clearest evidence of this shift is in the performance management matrix. The bonus structure use to reward results over attitudes and behaviours. From January 2015, that will not be the case. Results and values will have equal weight. 
Novartis PRP Matrix prior from 2015
The personal values of courage and integrity emphasise the need for individual employees to live up to their responsibilities and to operate within an agreed ethical framework.
Novartis is able to attract some of the world's greatest talent and they actively look to appoint high-fliers who have 'agility' i.e. who are able to apply their skills in different contexts as they around their global postings at two-year intervals. Interestingly, no one spoke of 'work-life integration', rather they had introduced more flexibility about working hours and locations (campus wide wireless VLAN).

The world needs ethical drugs companies.  
I shall follow Novartis' progress with great interest and wish them every success in this venture.

(I would like to thank the Talent Management team at Novartis Basel for their wonderful hospitality and for sharing their vision with a group of headteachers - priceless INSET.)