PISA: A balanced analysis?

So the PISA results were released today and with them a flurry of online articles providing various analysis and conclusions from the data.   It is my intention to post a couple of times over the coming weeks in relation to PISA and standardized testing.    As my first post my inspiration comes from a twitter discussion from the weekend, as part of the weekly #sltchat, where recruitment was being discussed.    The below tweet highlights the particular strand of the chat which I would like to highlight:

This strand of the discussion revolved around this constant need to bang on about how UK education is failing, is poor, isn’t working and a variety of other less than positive descriptions.

So what does this have to do with PISA.   Well, during my usual browse through social media and the news I came across an article in the Guardian looking at the PISA results.   You can read the article in full here.   The title:

“UK schools fail to climb international league table “

The use of “fail” in the article title; Not exactly a positive start.    It become more interesting when you dig around in some of the figures.   Lets just take the Science results;  The results show a fall from 514 in 2012 down to 509 this year which seems to align with the less than positive reporting however this doesn’t tell the full story.   It should also be noted that a drop of 5 represents a less than 1% variation.   Could this variation be explained through uncontrollable random variation within the sample group?    Is this drop statistically significant?   I doubt it.

Ignoring the issue of statistical significance for a moment, the UK science position in the rankings rose 6 places between 2012 and 2015 which seems to be a slightly more positive picture.   Also looking at the average of all countries we find that this fell from 501 to 493, representing a drop of 8 yet the UK only dropped by 5.   This UK difference, the drop of 5, could be considered as an improvement against the average across the period.   Also we should note that UK score of 509 is above the average, which again sounds reasonably positive.   A US article on the TIMSS data from last week had proclaim merrily that US students were “above average” however in this negative article we in the UK make no such claim despite the fact it would be valid.   The article was quick to point out falling UK results but didn’t report changes in the OECD averages across the period for comparison.

The article also didn’t share any information with regards the numbers of students involved in testing within each country and how this sample compares to the overall population of study within each country.   From a statistical analysis point of view this information would help in establishing the reliability, or lack there of, for the data.

So all in all I feel the negativity of the article doesn’t truly tell the story plus there is a lot of information missing which may cause us to question or at least assign less weight to the findings.

And all of the above is before I start discussing the issue of using standardized testing as a way to direct how individual students are taught in individual schools within individual geographical areas each with their own individual needs and context (did I use “individual enough to get my point across?).    Not to mention possible discussions in relation to the statistical value of the findings and also the impact of natural random variation on the results.

Do I like or value the PISA finding?   No not really, but that isn’t the point here.   My point, and I may have gone the long way about it, is why are we allowing such a negative view to be projected onto our education system when even the data seems to have some possible positive indicators.   Lets have some celebration of successes for once, of first steps in a positive direction.   Lets have anything except finger pointing!


Social Media, parents and our kids

facebook_iconIn the last week I have read two separate articles with regards the use of Facebook by parents and the impact on their children.   The first of the two posts was posted on BBC News entitled “Should children ban their children from Social Media?” while the second was in The Guardian entitled “I was so embarrassed I cried: do parents share too much online?”.   I found the discussion an interesting one and hence this post.

My use of social media for sharing personal info is very limited.  I post very occasionally on Facebook, generally using it to send birthday wishes, etc. as opposed to posting my own content.    I use twitter heavily however for professional as opposed to personal purposes although I will admit that the line between these blurs; Posting about my morning walk to work I was considering the teacher wellbeing side of professional life however these posts could easily by categorised as providing some insight into my personal life.    I have almost never posted pictures of my two children as they have grown up so hopefully they will never have cause to be embarrassed by something that I have posted in relation to them.    That said they may still be embarrassed by something I have posted at some point in time, albeit not directly related to them but embarrassing in that it was posted by their dad.

So how can we mitigate against this potential embarrassment.   The easy however impractical solution is to stop posting.   If I don’t post anything then there isn’t anything to be embarrassed about.   Following this thought process, I can think of a few occasions when I have made a comment or said something embarrassing; does that mean I should stop talking?   I am sure there have been a few occasions where my kids wish I would.   The other problem with this approach to reducing embarrassment is simply that Facebook and social media are now a part of our lives.    Updating friends and relatives as to events and milestones is now more common than the old approach of taking a photo, having it developed and then putting it in a photo album or in a shoebox in the cupboard.   Social media makes the sharing easy and convenient to do and in doing so it adds to the richness of life.   Having moved back to the UK after a number of years in the UAE I am still able to keep up with the events and friends despite them being an eight hour flight away.   They still form a part of my life.

This is where things start to become a little more complex as the postings are about my life and therefore in the case of most parents include milestones and events with our children.    Milestones such as starting secondary school, walking for the first time, holidays with family and many other memories are eternalised through Facebook for others to see both when they happen but also many years into the unpredictable future.    It is in this future space that our children will start to develop their own online identify and social media profile.    This profile, through our posting as parents, will however have already started being created long before our children are able to make informed decisions with regards who they are within the digital space we now live in.    We as parents will have started to shape our children’s digital identify.    I acknowledge as parents we shape our children and therefore shaping their digital identify may seem nothing more than an extension of the parental role however I would suggest digital identify is a little different.   We shape our children’s attitude, outlook, beliefs, etc. however these can change over time.    In our digital footprint there is an element of permanence as once something is posted to the internet it may be impossible to remove.   Also there is the possibility for outsiders such as potential employers to view postings without access to the context within which the posting was made.

I would suggest one of the issues here is that when Facebook first became a hit there was little long term consideration for the implications of posting our lives online.    Young adults flocked to use Facebook without any guidance as to the later implications.   Consider the advice with regards not posting about your home address and holiday plans as a burglar could use this in targeting your empty home; this guidance didn’t make an appearance until after Facebook postings had been allegedly associated with a few robberies and the implications had been identified.    Fast forward a few years and those young users now have families with children complete with a digital record of their children’s early years thanks to Facebook.   Today I would say the implications of posting online are a little bit better known due to very public hacking incidents, cyber crime and celebrity scandals relating to social media use or the use of email in the case of certain presidential candidate.    We are a little more aware than we were.    We still have a long way to go in my opinion plus this is little use to the children of parents who posted every detail of their growing up, warts and all.

So what can we do?   Privacy settings are one part of the action we can take in making sure that only those people we really want to have access to our personal postings, and the postings relating to our children, have access.    Restraint is another action.   Rather than posting we need to consider how the posting might impact our children in future and if in doubt avoid posting.    We also need to open up communication with our children so they know what has and is being shared about them.    If you shared a potentially embarrassing photo of your child when they were younger do they know the photo exists and also which social media sites it has been shared on?    For truly embarrassing photos we can delete them although as with everything on the internet we must do so with the knowledge that everything posted cannot being removed as easily.    Any user could have copied a posting or taken a screenshot ready to repost so once it is out there it may not be possible to undo.    Another thing we need to do, which is something already well underway, is making sure our children are fully aware of the implications of social media.    When they go on to have their own children it would be reassuring to know that we have learned for any mistaken we may have made, and that they will not readily repeat them.

Social media is here to stay, a part of modern life, so the key is ensuring all using it understand the implications both on ourselves but also on the others who might be the subject of our posts including our children, or even just innocent bystanders to a poorly framed photo.    And on that note I will stick to limited personal use of social media, for now at least.

Some thoughts on GCSE and A-Level results

criminalatt from freedigitalphotosHaving read various articles following the recent A-Level and GCSE results I cant help but think that schools and more importantly education in general needs to make a decision as to what we are seeking to achieve, and stop acting re-actively to limited data which has been used to draw generalized conclusions.

Take for example the shortage of STEM graduates and students.    This was and still is billed as a big issue which has resulted in a focus on STEM subjects in schools.   More recently there has been a specific focus on computer programming and coding within schools.     In a recent article it was acknowledged that the number of students taking A-Level Computing had “increased by 56% since 2011” (The STEM skills gap on the road to closing, Nichola Ismail, Aug 2016).     This appears to suggest some positive movement however in another article poor A-Level ICT results were cited as a cause for concern for the UK Tech industry (A Level Results raise concern for UK tech industry, Eleanor Burns, Aug 2016).  Now I acknowledge this data is limited as ideally I need to know whether ICT uptake has been increasing and also whether A-Level Computing results declined, however it starts to paint a picture.

Adding to this picture is an article from the guardian discussing entries:

Arts subjects such as drama and music tumbled in terms of entries, and English was down 5%. But it was the steep decline in entries for French, down by 6.5% on the year, as well as German and Spanish, that set off alarm bells over the poor state of language teaching and take-up in Britain’s schools.

Pupils shun English and physics A-Levels as numbers with highest grades falls, Richard Adams, Aug 2016)

So we want STEM subjects to increase and they seem to be for computing, however we don’t want modern languages entries to fall.   Will this mean that next year there will be a focus on encouraging students to take modern foreign languages?    And if so, and this results in the STEM numbers going down will we then re-focus once more on STEM subjects until another subject shows signs of suffering.

It gets even more complex when a third article raises the issue of Music A level Entries which “dropped by 8.8% in a single year from 2015 and 2016”.  (We stand back and allow the decline of Music and the Arts at our peril. Alun Jones, Aug 2016).    Drama entries are also shown to have seen a decrease this year (Dont tell people with A-Levels and BTecs they have lots of options, Jonathan Simons, Aug 2016).  So where should our focus lie?   Should it be on STEM subject, foreign languages, drama or Music?

I suspect that further research would result in further articles raising concerns about still further subjects, either in the entries or the results.   Can we divide our focus across all areas or is there a particular area, such as STEM subjects, which are more worthy of focus?  Do the areas for focus change from year to year?

As I write this my mind drifts to the book I am currently reading, Naseem Talebs, The Black Swan, and to Talebs snooker analogy as to variability.     We may be able to predict with a reasonable level of accuracy, a single snooker shot however as we try to predict further ahead we need more data.    As we predict five shots ahead the quality of the surface of the table, the balls, the cue, the environmental conditions in the room, etc. all start to matter more and more, and therefore our ability to predict becomes less and less accurate.      Taking this analogy and looking at schools what chance do we have of predicting of the future and what the UK or world will need from our young adults?    How can we predict the future requirements which will be needed from the hundreds of thousands of students across thousands of schools, studying a variety of subjects from a number of different examining bodies, in geographical locations across the UK and beyond.

These generalisations of data are subject to too much variability to be useful.    We should all focus on our own schools as by reducing the scope we reduce the variability and increase the accuracy.   We also allow for the context to be considered as individual school leaders may know the significant events which may impact on the result of their cohort, individual classes or even individual students.  These wide scale general statements as to the issues, as I have mentioned in a number of previous postings, are of little use to anyone.   Well, anyone other than editors wishing to fill a space in a newspaper or news website.






My back story

Its day 5 of #29daysofwriting and I have to admit to being on a bit of a low today however I may elaborate on this and the reasons later in the month.   For now I am going to follow on to Claire Bracher and share #mybackstory.

Where did I grow up?

I grew up a little way outside Glasgow which provided the open areas and playing fields not so easily available in the centre of Glasgow.    I have some fond memories however have since seen so many other things that although I enjoy popping back, it no longer has the draw it once did.   Having qualified as a teacher I move south to the North West of England where I enjoyed a very successful period before embarking on an exciting journey which took me to the educational world of the middle east and the UAE in particular.   8 years later and I recently returned to the UK, this time to the south west of England.


Why did I become a teacher?

I enjoyed the technology subjects in school and became thoroughly engaged in technology related extracurricular activities.


Call me a geek if you will.  As part of this the head of department asked me to help out with some of the younger pupils, which may have been my first step into teaching.   As I came to the end of my formal schooling and as I looked to the next step my father showed me an advert from a university looking for trainee teachers to study a degree program.    Having enjoyed working with younger pupils while still a pupil myself, this opportunity seemed ideal and the rest is history.    I still love working with a room full of students all with differing ideas and thoughts, all brimming with creative potential, although in recent years I have spent more time in rooms full of teacher as opposed to students.   That said I have found myself lucky to find the room of teachers filled with the same diversity of ideas, thoughts, and the same outpouring of creativity and motivation.

What does my perfect school day look like?

The perfect day is filled with positivity, creativity, critical challenge and collaboration.  The perfect day is one you look back on and can see what has been achieved by all those involved.   Sadly today has fallen far short of this!

What am I most grateful for?

My fathers encouragement to develop my IT skills and my electrical and electronics skill as these have supported me throughout life so far.   I am also thankful of the opportunities which have presented themselves including the fortuitous advert and the opportunity to go to the middle east.

If I could have a super power what would it be?

Not sure on this one.   Maybe super strength or super speed as basically these are 2 areas in which I lack.

Hope you enjoyed reading.  Keep sharing!!

Reflections on New Years resolutions after 1 month

OK so its now almost a month since I decide upon and shared my new years resolutions.  You can read my resolution here.    So far I think I am doing quite well however I purposely set my targets in such as way that success could be quantifiably measured.   So how have I actually done so far:

1: To blog at least twice per month:   So far for January I have managed 4 posts and during Feb my plan is to be involved in 29 days of writing.   As such I may actually exceed my target of 24 postings even before the end of the 2nd month of the year assuming I manage 29 posts across Feb.   Even if I do manage 29 posts the challenge will then be to continue blogging in the knowledge that I have already achieved the yearly goal.


2.   1.9 tweets per day over the year: In January so far I have managed 200 tweets so this is significantly above the target of around 60 per month. I think buffer has been particularly useful in doing this as it has allowed me to set up my tweets for a couple of days ahead whenever I find myself with a little spare time (and that doesn’t happen that often).   I also think my increased engagement in twitter chats such as #satchat, #sltchat and #mltchat, to name but a few, has helped here.

3. achieve Google Certified Educator Level 2 status: Still haven’t progressed this one yet however there is plenty of time. Just need to get the appropriate practice with GAfE in, then book the exam.


4: read at least 1 book per month:  Am currently on my 4th book for the month although 2 books had been partly read before I picked them up again in Jan.   Am enjoying getting the reading in and hope to manage 1.5 to 2 books per month.

5. To use tools such as Evernote and Buffer to allow me to work smarter: Buffer in particular is being of excellent use. Haven’t really made much use of Evernote lately however am making increasing use of the calendar in MS outlook to manage my time and meetings. Working Smarter will continue to be something I need to re-examine.

6. To get involved in twitter chats: Have had regular input in particular into #sltchat. Am also getting involved in #mltchat, with both chats being on my outlook calendar so I get reminders. I see further chats being added as the weeks progress.


7. To get involved in events and conferences: Have been loving #appsharelive and am looking forward to the next one in Feb. Went along to BETT however I didn’t find it that useful. I think I will need to plan the BETT event better should I decide to go to it.     So far in Jan I have also missed a couple of other events mainly due to personal commitments.   I would hope that I will be able to find the time for future events which may arise.

8. To experiment with video and YouTube: Haven’t managed to progress this yet however there is plenty of the year remaining so am ok at this point with the lack of progress here.


In addition to the 8 points I shared I have also subsequently identified an additional target which relates to fitness.   Sadly fitness is not something which I am particularly good at focussing.   I would say that it is a personal weakness for me.    Thankfully I managed to identify a simple and easy way to build on my fitness level without the need for me to attempt to change my daily routine too significantly.   Basically I am now logging my steps using my phone each day.    I am then trying to build of my daily number of steps and in doing so build on my fitness.   I hope that I may even get the point that a short jog is not out of the question.    The fact that I have identified a process I can actually engage in, in relation to fitness, is a positive step [ LOL! ] as far as I am concerned.   I consider it especially successful given the fact it is a personal weakness which I have previously been able to make little progress on.

Overall I would say it has been a good January for me in terms of my resolutions.    I now need to build on this and have an even better February.



New years resolutions a week on!


2016 represents a new year and as such I have created and shared my new years resolutions (you can view these here).    I have started this year with a focus on “doing the right thing” and therefore have dropped my previous approach of keeping a to-do list.  I found that no matter how hard I worked and how many items I crossed off the list, my to-do list always had more items on it.   In addition I also caught myself adding items to my to-do list which I had already completed just so that I can score them off; the act of adding these already completed items being a total waste of time other than providing a false sense of satisfaction.  Instead this has been replaced by a weekly list of what I hope to achieve in a week.  This list is not a specific list of tasks but more a limited list of areas which I wish to address.   I have tried my best to limit this list to a maximum of 5 work areas per week.

I also have an Urgent vs Important board in my office however I have done little with this so far given prior to Christmas I managed to pretty much fill the board to the point that the urgent and important axis were no longer visible.    At this point it ceased to be of much use for me so at the moment sits as it was prior to the holidays.  This will need to be revisited in the coming weeks.


Within my weekly focus list I have also added my PLN commitments with regards blogging, reading and contributing to twitter.   So far I would say I have done reasonably well on this with my current book, “The Silo Effect” currently lying half completed after only a week which by my standards is quite impressive.   In addition I have been reasonably involved on Twitter making use of Buffer where possible for more general contributions in addition to engaging in chats such as #sltchat or events like #appsharelive.   I hope that I am able to continue with this pattern.


The one area which I would see as in need of action is the physical side of things in that I haven’t engaged or planned to engage in any physical activity which I am conscious has always been an personal area for development.    My hope would be that I can plan to address this starting in the coming weeks, however I should note that after 7 years in the Middle East, outdoor activities in a UK winter are proving to be less than enticing.

If you contributed and shared your resolutions how has your first week gone?

New Years Resolutions

The new year is now almost upon us. As such it is time again to decide on the new years resolutions. This year I am adopting a SMART approach to my plans. This is the result of my review of last year where my plans were a little vague and difficult to measure. I have tried to be a little more specific and measurable this year.

My New Years resolution relate to my interactions with my PLN and my professional learning. They do not include resolutions relating to my job for which I have a separate more formal road-map / plan for the year or to myself personally.


My PLN related new years resolutions for this year are as below:

  1. To blog at least twice per month throughout 2016
  2. To maintain my presence and contributions to twitter (697 or 1.9 tweets per day over the year)
  3. To achieve Google Certified Educator Level 2 status
  4. To read at least 1 book per month including re-reading existing books
  5. To use tools such as Evernote and Buffer to allow me to work smarter as opposed to harder
  6. To get involved in twitter chats including #sltchat on a fortnightly basis
  7. To get involved in events and conferences including virtual events such as #appsharelive as well as actual events such as BETT
  8. To experiment with video and YouTube as a sharing medium at least four times within the year.

If I was taking a leaf out of @byusuf I might describe it as #share , #experiment and #grow

I look forward to 2016, new opportunities and new challenges!

Also posted on staffrm.io here.