All posts tagged 'schools'

Are heads right to bridle at KCC's "hire-and-fire" plan?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, March 12 2014

Kent County Council is facing some awkward questions and unwanted publicity over a draft protocol that sets out to head teachers what might happen to them if they preside over a failing school and have been in charge for two years or more.

Under the proposals, heads will effectively be eased out, put on gardening leave and replaced. Given that under Ofsted's own inspection regime, if a school is in special measures it is regarded as failing to have the necessary leadership skills to improve things, you might well ask why head teachers are complaining.

Especially given that KCC has drawn up the policy document after being requested to by the Kent Primary School Forum. Cllr Roger Gough, the politician in charge of schooling and standards, admits he is slightly puzzled by the furore - as diplomatic as ever.

It is not as if head teachers don't know that this is the likely scenario - indeed, it happens more or less every time a school is failed by Ofsted, not just in Kent but every other part of the country. And many parents would find it hard to understand why, if their child's school is failing to make the grade, there is no change in the leadership of that school.

So, do heads have a genuine grievance? The long shadow of Ofsted looms daily over schools. Heads, governors and teachers live in an almost constant state of tension and nervousness about a visit from inspectors.

At the same time, education authorities bear the corporate responsibility of improving standards at all schools - yes, even academies - and education officials at County Hall have the DfE breathing down their necks, which is then transposed to schools.

It is a toxic combination. You can forgive heads for feeling a little aggrieved at the stark way in which KCC has set out the likely sequence of events although invoking the Argentinian junta's policy of "disappearing" military dissidents is a little over the top.

The analogy one head made with football club managers struggling to keep their team from relegation and keeping demanding owners happy with results is a fairer one.

The problem seems to be that heads, rightly or wrongly, feel that KCC has got the balance between offering support and threatening sanctions skewed towards the latter. 

There is no doubt that Kent does have a problem with recruitment at the top. In a selective system, the challenges facing non-selective secondary schools are sometimes seen as a disincentive to aspiring heads although there are a number of all-ability schools that prove that becoming an outstanding schools is not beyond them. 

KCC insists its overriding priority is to provide schools and heads with appropriate support, although given the axe that is being taken to school improvement services that becomes more difficult.

Under the stewardship of its director Patrick Leeson, standards have steadily improved but there are some signs that sustaining this improvement is going to be a greater challenge.

Heads are right to flag up their concerns about recruitment.

They are also right to question what looks like a fairly uncompromising approach by KCC to under-performance. 

The authority appears to have forgotten its own mantra that  'one size does not fit all.'

 

 

 

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The Schools Computing Debate

by The Science Blog, with Dr Beau Webber Monday, October 7 2013

An important aspect of a scientist’s life is designing and controlling their experiments, and analysing the resultant data.

For this, there is the need to be able to fluently write computer programs, and there are a range of recent computer languages particularly suited for scientific programming.

The 2014 National Curriculum [1] contains a Consultation on computing, which sparked a vigorous debate as to what aspects were appropriate for what stages.  “The reports summarising the consultation responses received on these matters have been published and the proposed orders have now been laid for debate in, and approval by, Parliament.”

So we ask, from a science aspect, on listening to the debate, should computing be taught in schools, and if so, what aspects / language(s) / notation{s} ?

Beginners to computing often ask three important sub-questions, that can be summarised as :

                1) Surely programming does not need to be so complex and arbitrary ?

                2) But I have a box-full of apples ?

                3) Why can't my robot dance and sing at the same time ?

These questions are equally applicable to a young scientist designing their first experiment :   the above three questions translate to

1)      I may need to make adjustments to the program controlling my experiment on the fly, is there a simple and intuitive way to do this ?

2)      My image sensors are giving me whole arrays of data at every step : how do I transform the complete arrays in one step ?

3)      Different parts of my experiment may need to have temperature and pressure adjusted at the same time,: how do I do this whilst also measuring the data ?

So the earlier the best techniques for handling these disparate problems are shown to pupils, the better. Some answers to these requirements are given by :

                A) there is a set of concise / agile / array manipulating languages, which address 1) and 2)

                B) there are languages that excel at describing and handling multiple tasks simultaneously, which address 3).

There are two converging events that are further driving this discussion

 

  1.         is  that the Moore's law curve is flattening off (we can no longer expect a single computer chip to be twice as fast next year), and the next generation of pupils coming out of schools will have to think arrays and multi-processors to cope with the tasks they are presented with by science and industry
  2.          is the recent ready availability of sub £100 credit-card sized computers that can be joined into arrays or that even have multi-core array processors on the card.

 

Concise/agile computer languages :

To discuss points 1) and 2) in more detail; suppose we want to print the numbers 1 to 10 : a very important current computing language is C :

A loop in C : The minimum code necessary to produce the required output requires 11 brackets of 3 different types and 5 semicolons – omitting or misplacing any will probably confuse the compiler so as to result in unintelligible error messages.

 

#include <stdio.h>

int main()

{

    int x;

  

    for ( x = 1; x < 11; x++ ) {

       

        printf( "%d\n", x );

    }

return 0;

}

 

A loop in Apl :  ( a concise/agile array manipulating language.)  [2]

It uses the single symbol   iota, such that the above program can be written.

 10

 

Similarly, instructions to double the intensity of a whole array of data from an image detector, can be written without nested loops as :

Scaled ← 2 × Pixels

Parallel computer languages

There is much current debate as to the best computer languages for parallel processing, but a British designed language that offers many advantages regarding freedom from lock-up and contention is Occam [3].

The hardware revolution :

As an example of the sort of cheap computer that can be used in a school, home or scientific domain, either individually or connected in “processing farms” are the credit-card sized Raspberry Pi computers [4] and Arduino real-world interface boards [5]. 

Two Raspberry Pi £30 credit-card sized Linux computers on a home network, acting as web servers.

But as an indication of how fast things are moving, the credit-card sized Parallella [6] (available very shortly) will have an on-board chip with a 16 core array processor , each with memory and a floating-point processor ; again these can be connected into processor farms, giving serious amounts of computing for scientific purposes.

A 4 x credit-card sized farm of £70 Parallella computers offering a total of 72 processor cores.

So exciting times for those interested in where software and computing are going.

References and Links

[1]  http://www.education.gov.uk/schools/teachingandlearning/curriculum/nationalcurriculum2014/

[2] http://www.microapl.co.uk/apl/

[3] http://www.cs.kent.ac.uk/projects/ofa/kroc/

[4] http://www.raspberrypi.org/

[5] http://arduino.cc/en/Main/ArduinoStarterKit

[6] http://www.adapteva.com/

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Fortune favours the brave: How KCC took on Mr Gove

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, February 11 2011

"I do not mean to trivialise so important an issue, but it may be said that fortune has favoured the brave." The pithy words of Mr Justice Holman who has ruled in favour of KCC and five other councils in their legal battle over the scrapping of the Building Schools for The Future programme.

In other words, it was a bit of a risk but KCC and the other councils have been rewarded for sticking to their guns and taking on the schools secretary Mr Gove in the courts.

Despite some fairly naked spinning by the DfE, there really is no disputing that the councils have come out on top and the judge was distinctly underwhelmed by the way the DFE had gone about scrapping the scheme.

But the key issue is not the different interpretations being put on the ruling but whether Mr Gove will change his mind and agree to go ahead with some of the schemes he axed.

I'm told KCC is already marshalling its case but is conscious that in the austerity era, it is unlikely to be able to write a wish-list and watch as Mr Gove capitulates to all its demands. There is some political face-saving to be done here and the DFE will want to be able to portray itself as having listened but not rolled over completely.

But fair play to the county council. Any legal action is brought knowing there's a fine line between success and failure and this time, KCC was on the right side. There is now a glimmer of hope for schools in limbo where there wasn't before.

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Categories: Education | KCC

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