Sunday, 18 February 2018

Why Secondary Schools need Art Departments that push the boundaries.

School Art departments always have a special atmosphere. This may be because school rules usually don’t apply there: uniform rules are relaxed, pupils necessarily wander around the studio in search of materials, and teachers rarely stand in front of the class, or it may simply be because the whole environment is so visually stimulating. They are busy places where creativity and self-expression are the driving forces. School Art departments are the epitome of a teaching philosophy that allows students to discover universal truths through exploration of their own ideas.
The best school art departments are examples of "ordered anarchy"
School Art has come a long way. When I was at school some thirty years ago it was the preserve of a minority who were gifted enough to be able to draw. Today, whilst those fine art skills are still highly valued, schools are also embracing modern art and thus democratising art by allowing the Jackson Pollock in us all to find its voice. 
Art is by its nature challenging. It makes us view the world differently. Art also provides an important outlet for the Artist and that is it why it is so important in schools. It is not surprising that Art chimes with teenagers. Creativity seems to come easily at that age when fostered in the right environment. Furthermore, as they progress through the formative years of adolescence, they need ways to express themselves as part of the process of testing out their understanding of the world around them. 

Zena Ezz Eidin –
Liberty leading the Refugees 

– reworking of Eugène Delacroix 
painting commemorating 
the 1830  French Revolution.
A great example of this process in action was the outstanding IB portfolio produced by Zena Ezz Eidin, a Syrian pupil at JESS, Dubai. Some of her work highlighted the plight of Syrian refugees, by reworking classical masterpieces for a twenty-first century context. 
Zena’s work took a new direction when, having secured a place to study Fine Art at Columbia University in New York City, she was initially refused a visa under the terms of President Trump’s travel ban. Her final IB pieces were an outpouring of satirical pieces by way of protest against the visa restrictions imposed on her and her compatriots. Zena demonstrated her passion and disappointment with the plight of the Syrian refuges through Art and Art enabled her to tell her story to the world. 

A strong and dynamic Art Department allows students to express their feelings and ideas in a way that it not always possible in other subjects because of the constraints of examination syllabuses. 

Dress by Lara Rudar  Year8)
Using GoogleTiltbrush
At JESS, our IB Diploma and specialist BTEC Art students have been at the forefront of exploring the new art-form that is Virtual Reality Art, which allows students to paint in 3D, thus combining aspects of both two-dimensional and three-dimensional art. In Virtual Reality the rules of gravity do not apply, and it is possible for the artist to move around within the painting. JESS IB student, Hannah Demeyere, was the first person in the world to submit a piece of Virtual Reality Art as part of her IB portfolio, recreating one of her physical sculptures in Google’s Tilt Brush. Other students have designed dresses within the Virtual Reality environment.  Examples of this medium can be experienced on the JESS Digital YouTube Channel.

Educators have a duty to prepare students for their futures. Those futures will include jobs that we haven’t even considered as yet and it is more than likely that these jobs will require the creative skills that students learn and develop within School Art Departments. Brainstorming techniques, creative reasoning, visualisation of problems and integration of technology are inherent within the design process itself. It is these core skills that are vital for our 21st century learners to ensure they are #FutureReady.

Article written for Emirates Education.

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

#Futureproofing your School: A Toolkit for Bursars

A presentation given to the COBIS Bursars' Conference at Dubai College on Friday 2nd February 2018.

Monday, 15 January 2018

The Journey to Review365

Appraising Ben. 

Every school has a Ben. Ben doesn’t prepare lessons or mark pupils’ work on time; Ben has poor classroom control; Ben uses outdated pedagogy and Ben is uninspiring; BUT each year Ben’s classes get grades comparable to those of other colleagues in the department. In time I discovered that the reason for this was that, as soon as parents found out that their child was in Ben’s class, they enlisted the services of a private tutor. 
As I sat across the table from Ben and his union representative, I realised that I needed an appraisal system that was capable both of addressing under-performance and of recognising those many teachers who go the extra mile. 

Learning from the Best. 
The starting point of the journey to Review365 was in November 2010 when I had the opportunity to visit the Human Resources team at the Basel headquarters of Novartis, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. It has the value and turn-over the size of a small country and its continued profitability depends on developing new drugs and medicines each year to replace those that are going out of patent. Novartis' success relies on attracting and developing the best talent in the world. There, the rewards for high performance and the cost of poor performance are literally measured in hundreds of millions (£s). 

The success of Novartis is founded on teams working collaboratively to develop drugs which go to market in a timely fashion. They use a 3 x 3 grid developed by The Harvard Business School to evaluate performance. 

This performance management tool combines two aspects: 'performance outcomes or results' on the y axis; and 'attitudes and behaviours' on the x axis. In the pharmaceutical industry, the loss to rival companies of experience and insight to rivals usually results in a delay in a patented drug getting to market that can reduce the profit margin on a drug by tens of millions of dollars. Thus, Novartis’ appraisal structure recognises that there is little point in rewarding a manager who get greats results and exceeds his personal objectives, if, in so doing, he causes a number of his work colleagues or subordinates to leave the company because of his poor attitudes and behaviours. During my days with Novartis, I realised that ‘attitudes and behaviours’ were the key to a successful school appraisal structure. 

‘Results’ v ‘Attitudes and Behaviours’ in Schools: 

The case of Ben illustrates that it is important that school appraisal structures take into consideration the 'attitudes and behaviours' of teachers. The attractive aspect of the Novartis approach to appraisal is that it doesn’t just look at outcomes or, in school terms, academic results. Rather it gives scope to evaluate how teachers do their job, distinguishing between colleagues who conduct themselves in a professional way on a daily basis and teachers like Ben.
An appraisal structure that looks at the key teaching competences allows appraisal to focus on teacher improvement and development and not just on results. 
Such a structure also provides scope to recognise those who are team-players, those who are excellent practitioners and those who go the extra mile for their pupils. It also provides a mechanism to highlight areas of relative strength, which might be harnessed by the school in spreading 'best-practice'; or of relative weakness, which then become areas to focus on in the following year. 

The Appraisal Grids: 

Over the past seven years, it has been my privilege to work with two exceptional senior management teams at Berkhamsted School, UK, and JESS, Dubai to develop a series of competency grids which effectively define those who are 'Requiring Improvement', those who are meeting the standard and are defined as ‘School Practitioners' and those who go well beyond what is required and called 'Lead Practitioners'. Different grids were created in MS Excel for School Administrators Teaching Assistants, Teachers, Middle Leaders, and Senior Leaders – each reflecting the important key competencies required for these roles. The grids have evolved and been refined over the past years – a process that will inevitably continue as priorities within the school and education change.

The Appraisal Process: 

The process starts with the appraisee completing a self-appraisal by selecting either ‘Requiring Improvement’, ‘School Practitioner’ or ‘Lead Practitioner’ for each of the key competencies. Their line-manager or appraiser then repeats the judgements for each competence from his/her perspective. They then have an appraisal meeting at which the appraisee and the line-manager discuss areas where they have made differing judgements and make agreed moderated judgments. At this meeting they also agree three key competency targets and one IT target on which the appraisee is going to focus during the coming year. 

Collecting Appraisal Data. 

The first versions of the appraisal process were completed on paper with the appraisee and appraiser highlighting the grids in different colours. In time this evolved into a process highlighting cells within Excel. This system has proved to be very effective at identifying personal strengths and weaknesses as well as areas to prioritise for INSET. However, like all previous methods, it fell short of expectations as it couldn’t help measure the scale of the training needs either for a particular department or for the school as a whole. This information is at the heart of school improvement. For example, we might discover that a large number of teachers across the school were not using ‘data to inform planning and evaluate the needs of students’, this then is not an issue for each individual teacher, rather, it is a School Training Issue

Hable and Review365. 

In March 2016 we at JESS, Dubai approached Hable, who had facilitated our move to Office365, to build an appraisal tool within SharePoint. However, after much trial and error, it became apparent that SharePoint was not sufficiently flexible to be provide the functionality which we need. Thus, in September 2017 Mark Reynolds, the founder of Hable, took the decision to invest in developing the web-based SharePoint App that is Review365, which launches at BETT this month. 
Review365 is a fast, efficient and flexible appraisal tool, which allows schools to take a more strategic approach to performance management and the identification of training needs.

This blog was written for the Hable Blog.

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Lead Yourself First - Inspiring Leadership through Solitude by Raymond Kethledge and Michael Erwin - Book Review

Summary of Key Points and Argument

Lead Yourself First has an important message: we need solitude if we are to be effective leaders. Solitude provides the space that allows leaders 
  • to be analytical
  • to be intuitive
  • to be creative, and
  • to find moral courage.
Most importantly solitude allows leaders time to develop the core principles or underlying values that ground one's leadership and serve as a source of strength and direction when times are tough. Times of solitude can be found in any number of ways: on a long walk or run; in a library; or through writing a journal or daily meditation. 

The approach of the book is summarised by Jim Collins in his Foreword (Click here to download a sample of the audio book.)

Today's leaders face greater pressures because of the "always-on" culture that comes with new technologies. This makes finding solitude all the more important.
"Society did not make a considered choice to surrender the bulk of its time for reflection in favour of time spent reading tweets or texts." (p.181)
The highlight of the book for me were the insights on leadership by Doug Contant, formerly  President and CEO of the Campbell Soup Group:
"Leaders need to work on personal leadership as well as organisational leadership." 
"Leadership is an inside-out process - you need to be fortified within before you can lead people around you." (p.131)
I particularly liked the idea that Contant spends 30 minutes each morning thinking about five things:
  • My family
  • My work
  • My community
  • My faith
  • My personal well-being.
The authors suggest a number of important ways  to embrace solitude.
  1. Reset expectations:  find the balance between accessibility and distance: try putting in the calendar "time to think" each day and "no-meeting days";
  2. Find Space for solitude: get away from your computer and leave your phone behind.
  3. Prepare for solitude: "percolate beforehand" identifying issues to consider in advance.
  4. Prepare emotionally:  "Solitude brings one closer to the truth and sometimes the truth is discomforting."
  5. Embrace hard thinking:  think about complex problems.
  6. Identify your first principles and stay connected with them. Be an authentic leader.
  7. Find a higher purpose for your leadership and share it with your followers.


Overall, Lead Yourself First is a much needed reminder that leaders need to take time to reflect and ground themselves in order to do their job more effectively and in that sense it is a worthwhile read. The authors are at their best when they are analysing the issue and offering practical advice (as in the paragraph above).

However, where Lead Yourself First falls down is that the subject doesn't warrant a full book. As a consequence, the authors draw on numerous examples to illustrate its simple message. A further deficiency is that far too many of these are taken from military history (Eisenhower, TE Lawrence, General Mathis, Platoon Commander Katie Simonis, Lincoln, Hooker and Grant to mention a few). At times I felt I was reading the edited highlights of the West Point Reading List combined with the collected anecdotes from contacts made during the authors' military service. Often the length of the narrative (especially the detailed descriptions of battle scenarios) was often well out of proportion with the point that was being illustrated. In what felt like padding (and a deliberate counterblast to the military perspective) the book draws to a close with three extended historical examples of moral courage: Churchill, Martin Luther-King and Karol Woytyla (Pope John-Paul II), without much application to the book's themes.

Having said that, many of the examples were interesting in their own right - it was an unexpected pleasure to fill in some gaps in my knowledge of the US Civil War and of C20 History - but I did not think that the authors worked hard enough to draw out the lessons of their many examples to further their argument about leadership in a significant way. 

Friday, 1 December 2017

JESS Dubai's Journey into VR and AR

A Presentation given at the ISC Digital Strategy Group Conference held at Microsoft, Reading on 30th November 2017

The Digital #FutureSchool - Automation, Innovation, Disruption

A Presentation given at the ISC Digital Strategy Group Conference held at Microsoft, Reading on 30th November 2017


Monday, 6 November 2017

In Praise of the Gap Year

As a School Principal, I’m often asked what I think of a young person having a GAP year between school and university – well, the short answer is that I’m a great fan if they’re done right. Let me explain . . . .

GAP year – a gateway to Independence

A GAP year between school and university comes at a time of enormous freedom – school leaving examinations are in the past, and the three or four years of undergraduate study lie ahead. A GAP year is the first time in a young person’s adult life that he or she has undirected time, free from the pressures of education. Time is the most precious thing that we have and a GAP year is a real privilege and shouldn’t be wasted. GAP years give young people a real opportunity to spread their wings and develop independence in a way that is not possible whilst at home or university. They are about self-development and self-discovery. In many ways they are self-indulgent, but that does not mean to say that they need to be selfish. They have the potential to be a time of developing habits that will carry them through university and into life.

The five ingredients to a great GAP year: 

1. Learn something. 

A GAP year is a really good opportunity to learn something new – it doesn’t have to be academic study. Why not learn a language, to code, to ski, or to cook but take the time to master to something new that you can take with you into university and into later life

2. Work. 

Most young people do not have an idea of what the world of work holds for them. Taking a GAP year gives an important opportunity to have a taste of the world of work. It provides an opportunity to gain a degree of financial independence by making the connection between earning money and paying for the necessities and luxuries of life, such has food, accommodation, travel and entertainment (which hitherto most likely have been funded by the ‘Bank of Mum and Dad’!)
Work in an office. The fact is that most graduates end up working in an office at least for part of their time at work. A GAP year gives an opportunity to gain an insight into that world and to experience the discipline of working regular hours and being accountable to a boss for one’s performance. This is fundamentally a different relationship that the young person will have had with their teachers at school: work places are fundamentally less supportive and are much more demanding. The skills and experience gained here will stand the person in good stead both in terms of developing good work habits for university, and in terms of helping make choices about the sort of career which he or she wants to pursue.
Do a manual job. It may seem odd to suggest that a Gapper should spend some time doing manual work, but a couple of months working in a restaurant or bar; or working in a factory is a great training ground in life. One of the greatest skills in life is being able to get on with people at every level of society. We may aspire that our children will end up being the successful businessmen or businesswomen eating in the restaurants, rather than being a worker serving at tables; but young people will grow into better managers and leaders if they have an appreciation of what it is like to work on one’s feet late into the night; or to do a night shift. Indeed, experiencing a period of time doing manual work can provide much-needed motivation to make the most of their time at university.

3. Read for fun. 

It is the nature of many courses at school and university that there is little time and energy left to read for fun. A GAP year provides an excellent opportunity to develop a love of reading and to grapple with some of the world’s great literature.

4. Travel. 

A GAP year is a great opportunity for a young person to see the world, not as a tourist, but by spending time living in another culture. There are very few other times in life that one can spend three months in one country and move on to the next. Living abroad at such a formative time of life can be life-changing. Meeting people who have different cultures and ideas challenges the norms with which we have been brought up. This is an important stage of growing up and coming to independence. We increasingly live and world in a global society (nowhere more than here in Dubai) and the young person who has travelled and can draw on experiences from around the world is more likely to be able to relate to a greater range of people at university and in life.

5. Volunteer. 

A GAP year is a great opportunity to ‘give back’ to society in some way by offering their time and energy as a volunteer. This might be working for a local charity, by giving up time to help in a school or soup kitchen, or by working in an orphanage in Katmandu.

It is the nature of ingredients that they are not consumed in isolation. The delight of the recipe is in mixing them up. Working, learning, reading and volunteering may all be combined with travelling.

Planning a GAP year 

GAP years need a lot of planning. The first thing to note about a GAP year is that it’s not a year, it’s 15 months, as young people typically end their exams in June and don’t start university until late September/ early October. The second thing to consider is that the exercise of planning the year is itself one of the most valuable learning opportunities of the whole GAP year experience. The gapper should be encouraged to book his/her own flights and accommodation and secure his/her work and voluntary placements.
Parents will undoubtedly want to be reassured that appropriate arrangements are in place and act as a critical friend, but need to be prepared to step back and allow the young person to lead the process. No GAP year is the same, much will depend on how and where the young person is going to spend the time (e.g. living at home, staying with relatives, back-backing, working abroad) and how the GAP year is funded. My advice to parents is not to totally fund the travel element of a GAP year. For example, parents might pay for a round-the-world air ticket and give a daily allowance (again, the level of this will vary depending where the young person is travelling (US$ 15 will fund a room and a feast in parts of Asia, but will barely buy a Coke in Scandinavia).


GAP years between school and university are not right for everyone. There is a school of thought, to which I subscribe, that young people who are going to study Mathematics-related subjects should go straight up to university. The argument here is that the nature of Maths is such that 15 months away from study can be detrimental. Conversely, there are few arguments against a young person who is going up to read languages should not benefit from a GAP year living and working abroad practising the language in a practical setting.


There is little to be gained from a gapper heading off on a 15-month jolly at the expense of the parents. The aim of a GAP year from the planning stage to its execution should be to foster the personal development and independence of a young person by giving a range of enriching experiences. The key to a good GAP year is that it is rigorous and challenging. Oh to be 18 again!

This article was published in the November edition of Education Journal Middle East pp.21-22.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

How top schools can help educate the 263m children in the world who are not in education.

Interview about how top schools can use new technologies, such as Virtual Reality teaching and Blended Learning, to educate some of the 263m children who are not in education.


Interview at the HMC Annual Conference in London, 04/10/2017

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

How Disruptive Innovation may change schools in the future: Lessons from Dubai

Presentation given at the HMC Conference in Belfast on Wednesday 4th October 2017.

Dubai The UAE has the fastest growing private schools’ sector in the world; and Dubai has more international schools than any other city. This rapid expansion has necessitated innovation and has led to the development of new models and structures for schooling. For these reasons, Dubai is a strong candidate to be the birthplace of a “disruptive innovation” that will transform secondary education around the globe. So what lessons can we learn from the private schools’ sector in Dubai? 

Four lessons from Dubai 

  1. The Not-for-Profit (NFP) Sector was not equipped to meet the rapid growth in demand for schooling. The earliest international schools in Dubai were established in the 1960s and 1970s with financial support from the Ruler, Sheikh Rashhid, and the Oil and Gas companies and supporting industries. They were established as Not-for-Profit entities. NFP organisations are by their very nature more conservative and were not equipped to expand and develop sufficiently quickly and so For-Profit companies have filled the space. The NFP schools remain the top schools in Dubai but today they represent only about 3% of the school places in Dubai. 
  2. The For-Profit groups offer education at different price points: The For-Profit sector in Dubai, unsurprisingly is driven by the economic drivers of ‘return-on-investment’, ‘economies of scale’, scalability, differentiated markets and keep costs down – especially of staffing. The For-Profit groups offer Premium, Mid-range and Budget in the same way that airlines offer First Class, Business and Economy seats on their planes. The differentiators between the price points are school and class size, the range of facilities available in the school, the qualifications of teachers, and the amount of teacher-pupil contact time in the week. 
  3. The For-Profit Groups invest in central I.T. systems: Large schools groups have levered technology to achieve economies of scale to achieve a measure of standardisation and to share best practice. For example, Nord Anglia and GEMS have both developed global CPD portals for teachers; and GEMS have developed a shared VLE for their schools. 
  4. Schools in Dubai embrace innovation GEMS Wellington Silicon Oasis is pioneering “Blended Learning” IB program, where students use a combination of online resources and video-conferencing. JESS currently has a group who are experimenting with Virtual Reality technology as a way of making JESS lessons available beyond the physical bounds of the school. 

Research into Alternative Models for Secondary Schooling – Replacing Teachers 

My research was for a Dissertation for MSc Executive Masters in Management with Ashridge-Hult Business School (May 2017). This (small sample) study investigated why alternative models for secondary schooling have not been adopted in the way that they are being adopted in tertiary education, by comparing the attitudes of School Principals (educationalists) to the attitudes of School Owners/CEOS (business people). The study broke down (‘decomposed’ – after Susskind 2015) into seven tasks which specialist teachers (e.g. a Physics teacher) do: 

  1. Lesson Planning 
  2. Teaching – to transmit/impart subject information 
  3. Teaching – to set tasks to groups of students 
  4. Classroom Management and Supervision 
  5. Working with Individual Students 
  6. Assessment, Grading and Monitoring 
  7. Parental Communication and Reporting 

The two study groups were asked if it would be acceptable to practice in their school for that task to be done by an alternative to a specialist teacher:

  1. A Non-Specialist - A qualified teacher who is not a qualified specialist in the relevant subject to be taught; 
  2. A Teaching Assistant who is not a qualified teacher; 
  3. A Specialist Teacher via Video-Conferencing - A qualified subject specialist teacher who is not physically present who contacts the students via video-conferencing. 
  4. An Online Learning Programme which students access via a computer in school. 

This study found that both School Owners/CEOs and School Leaders are resistant to replacing “specialist classroom teachers” with “qualified teachers who are not subject specialists” and with “teaching assistants”; but found an openness to replacing them with “specialists teaching via video-conferencing” or through students using “online learning platforms”. 
This study found that the potential “drivers” towards the adoption of these models are: 

  1. Improved Pedagogy 
  2. Reducing Costs 
  3. Addressing Teacher recruitment issues 

This study found that the potential “blockers” to the adoption of these models are:

  1. Concerns about the Quality of Student Learning; 
  2. Concerns about a Change in Ethos of the School; 
  3. Concerns about Parental Reaction. 

This study found that alternative models for secondary schooling have not been adopted because both the majority of School Owners/CEOs and School Leaders see no reason to change as the status quo still works. However, it is likely a potential shortage of specialist teachers will serve as the catalyst for the adoption of alternative models for schooling.  

Looking into the Crystal Ball – Five Prophecies for the Future of Schooling around the World 

So if we apply the principles of Dubai’s For-Profit sector to the global Learning-School problem, what solutions might we see?

  1. Education For-Profit will become the norm around the world.
    Not-for-Profit education is not equipped to meet the global demand for education, the inevitable consequence is that the For-Profit sector will fill the void. 
  2. Being taught by a specialist teacher in a classroom at Secondary level will be a luxury.
    Technology won’t replace teachers everywhere – but it will in many places. In the future, it will only be Premium Secondary Education that will be delivered by specialist teachers in classrooms drawing on a range of real and virtual resources. This will remain the norm in the UK Independent Sector and in top International Schools around the world. Budget Secondary Education will not have subject teachers, but will be delivered totally through online courses on learning platforms. However, for many young people around the world this will be better than the present situation of receiving no education at all. Mid-Range Secondary Education will be delivered by “super-teachers” via Virtual-Reality Conferencing. The For-Profit will invest in new technologies in order to maximise the impact of teachers and these will become much more common around the world, particular where Governments are funding schooling. For example, the US Public School system is in the vanguard of this (for an overview see Keeping Pace with K-12 Digital Learning, 2015). To date there has been little appetite for adopting this model in the UK as was witnessed earlier this year when counsellors rejected the plans to use Blended Learning at the Ark Pioneer Academy in Barnet (see TES 30/01/2017). 
  3. Blended Learning and Virtual Reality Teaching will be the disruptors of Secondary education.
    Blended Learning has scope both to raise standards by personalising education and to reduce costs. As the platforms and content improve, we will see their wider adoption. We also already have ‘Virtual Teaching’ through video conferencing which enables pupils around the world to be taught live by a remote teacher. Furthermore, ‘Virtual Reality’ already enables pupils to travel through time and space – to experience the ancient Colosseum in Rome, life in the trenches or a World-War One dog-fight with the Red Baron. Once these two technologies are combined so that we have ‘Virtual Reality Teaching’, it will be possible for a pupil can put on a headset and ‘feel’ as if they are in a real classroom with a world-class teacher, or be taken on a virtual school visit to any place in time and space. 
  4. There will be ‘superstar teachers’ commanding very high salaries.
    One of the consequences of the rise of Virtual Reality Teaching is that there will be the rise of superstar teachers. The For-Profit sector has a proven record of investing in talent where it can made wider savings. It will inevitably pay to attract top talent, particularly in shortage subjects and their global educational networks will provide a platform which will enable great Virtual Reality teachers will be able to reach millions of students. These teachers will inevitably be very well paid and, given the nature of the C21, it is likely that they will be famous and become celebrities. 
  5. Primary Teachers will be assisted by Robots.
    Young children at a formative stage of development need human interaction to shape their learning, thus it is highly unlikely that it will ever be possible to replace teachers in primary schools with technological solutions. One consequence of the predictions for secondary education outlined above is that primary schooling will need to teach the skills to enable young people to access non-classroom based forms of education. It is quite possible that robots will replace Teaching Assistants, performing basic instructive tasks such as teaching basic mathematics and listening to children read. 

Final Thoughts on the Future of Schooling 

Prophecy is more about reading the signs of the time and working out a likely a future position from the current direction of travel, rather than predicting the future receiving some dislocated revelation from on high. Prophets are rarely popular because they are usually delivering a message that people don't want to hear. I believe that the signs for a possible future of schooling are there for all to see. In an ideal world every child in the world would receive the quality of education that is available at a HMC school but, for reasons of logistics alone, that isn’t going to happen. However, I do believe that technology has a very important part to play in giving every child the opportunity to have at least some form of basic education. Indeed, there is real scope here for Not-for-Profit schools to open their virtual doors and allow children around the world to experience the world-class teaching that takes place in our schools.  

Three Questions to consider 

  1. What will the future workplace look like?
  2. What will schools look like in the future? 
  3. What should we be teaching young people to prepare them for the future? 

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

GCSE results: academic success cannot be measured by grades alone

Today sees thousands of students who study in UK curriculum schools in the UAE receiving their GCSE results. Like many others, this year I am an anxious parent, hoping that my sixteen year-old has got the best possible set exam results that will allow him to progress to the sixth form on a path that I hope will take him to university and, from there, on into successful and fulfilled employment. Amid the anxiety and relief, the questions nagging at the back of many parents’ minds on results’ day are ‘Did my child get the best possible grades that he could have?’ and, given the amount we invest in our children’s education in the UAE, ‘Has the school done a good job?”
As parents and teachers we know that not all children are the same. Some have a greater aptitude for academic studies than others; for some work comes easy - for others it is hard; some make a huge effort – others are lazy or disengaged. For this reason, academic success cannot simply be measured by the final grades: a gifted student who achieves 10 A grades may have under-performed, whereas a less gifted student may well have fulfilled her potential and achieved 5 Bs and 3Cs. The true measure of performance in any examination is not raw results, rather we should judge our children’s performance in relation to their ability. The question is how do we decide whether or not a student has fulfilled his or her potential?
One important way of evaluating this is by looking at a measure of “Value Added”. The Durham University Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring (CEM) has been researching student performance for over thirty years. Over this time, millions of students have been tested at the start of their secondary schooling (aged 11) and their performances monitored at GCSE (aged 16). These data allow CEM to define with a high degree of accuracy what grade a student of a given baseline score is most likely to get in their GCSE in a given subject. This is not to say that all students of the same ability get the same results: the CEM data set is able to outline the percentage chance of a student of a given ability will achieve. For example, 2% of students with a given baseline score might have a got an ‘E’ in French GCSE, 8% got a ‘D’, 21% got a ‘C’, 29% got a ‘B’, 26% got an ‘A’, and 13% got an ‘A*’. In this case the ‘most likely grade’ is a ‘B’. Thus if a student of this ability gets an ‘A’ or an ‘A*’, it might be said that he or she has exceeded expectations; whereas if the student gets below a B grade, he or she has fallen short of expectations.
Value-added is also a useful measure of evaluating schools, departments and even teachers. A school, department or teacher who consistently has students who are exceeding expectations is adding value and is doing a great job; conversely a school, department or teacher whose students consistently fall short of expectations indicates the urgent need for improvement. Savvy parents looking for a secondary school, would be well advised to ask for the schools’ value added scores, rather than just their raw GCSE results – they can be far more telling.
At JESS, we use CEM baseline data to set aspirational targets for students (and staff). These targets are published to parents and we report on the student’s performance in a given subject against these targets.
Results days are always anxious times for all concerned. It usually is a time for celebration, as well as a time for relief. When your child brings you the result slip, don’t forget that their greatest achievement is sometimes the hard-fought ‘C’ grade in the subject that they find most difficult. Good luck!

A version of this article was published in online version of The National.