Cultural Change within education – how?

In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act. – George Orwell    –    “FIGHT!!!!’ Harry Hill (Harry Hill’s TV Burp – ITV 2010)

(Links open in new windows or tabs according to browser). Items in green are points added to give examples of WHY we need cultural change. Opinions shown are MY opinions and as I’ve spent decades defending peoples’ right to disagree so I’m going to use those same rights for a change 😎

I was challenged by Andy Wallis (over a fortnight ago!) to give my suggestions as to how we should bring about a cultural change within classrooms. This was after he read the post about Alan November’s thoughts on cultural change in learning, so herewith my views. What follows has been drafted edited and redone for days….and still it seems unfinished. But it has to go  out ‘as is’ so I can reflect further and take some more things from my CPD reading lists to keep me motivated and pushing my own small part of the revolution. I also need to finish my marking…..

I need to explain that as a former soldier I am used to being tested EVERY year to ensure I retain and improve my skills so I can perform my duties and improve my leadership to ensure I am worthy of promotion. Every year I had to pass tests in first aid, firearms safety and use, shooting skills, Nuclear Biological and Chemical Warfare drills, driving tests on armoured vehicles, signals and communications equipment, physical and medical tests and so on culminating in long treks over boggy fields worldwide with what felt like a tank in my backpack! I therefore have to politely disagree with those who say they shouldn’t be observed /tested every five years or that since they have XX years experience then they don’t need testing. Err no. For example, The New York Daily News has stated that

there is basically no relationship between seniority and teaching ability. A wide and scarcely disputed body of research finds that teachers’ additional experience stops paying off after about year three.

I often find that some people will read avidly about new thoughts or ways of doing ‘things’ in education whereas others will not. The excuse for not doing so is lack of time or information overload. Given the way things are changing and so rapidly too, perhaps it’s better to make the time to keep up or face falling behind. We are ALL on a learning curve until the day we die and even then we’ll learn something new – I wonder if the answer to my final ever questions will be “42 “or not.  😎  We have to keep learning to keep up with our students for a start!  So I have to say I wholeheartedly agree with Alan November’s view that we HAVE to stop spoon-feeding the kids and get them to learn for themselves, ie organise their own learning and also take responsibility for ensuring that they learn what they need and also to fill in the gaps! The theory is that teachers then become ‘Guides on the side’ rather than the ‘Sage on the stage’ that they are now. There are many problems with this wishlist though!

The most obvious one is that our students expect and demand that their teachers should be able to show them ”things” and to be as capable as them at using IT. The figures on ICT usage speak for themselves (see link here)

However despite the likes of Marc Penksy calling our kids ‘Digital Natives’ others such as Dannah Boyd and myself would argue that they are not in fact as familiar and at ease with technology as many think.  This is especially so in education. How many of our kids can cope with a Blue Screen of Death and know what steps they should take to resolve such issues? How many can really search Google effectively, seek out what they need, filter out bias and make use of the valid information whilst acknowledging their sources? This problem is then compounded by the fact that many teachers do not use, or want to use IT/ICT/technology in their lessons or even their classrooms. Many teachers have a feeling that technology is not everything and that is it is not yet proven to improve attainment, nor is it reliable and available enough within many schools. They want it to be useful, but within a classroom which is geared to producing students aiming for exams with all their restrictive boundaries and limited things to study rather than the broad curriculum and personal development and 21st Century skills they actually need. BUT the problem for all teachers is that the Standard for Full Registration to be a teacher in Scotland DEMANDS that they be able to use ICT. The appropriate passage is:


Registered teachers have sufficient knowledge and understanding to fulfil their    responsibilities     for     cross-curricular themes including citizenship, creativity, enterprising attitudes,   literacy   and numeracy; personal,      social and      health education; and ICT.  (As appropriate to     the     sector     and     stage     of development.) It goes on to say that registered teachers must “have sound knowledge and understanding of current guidance on the use of ICT in schools” and “use available ICT to enhance learning and teaching.”

Time and again we hear that we need to produce digital learners, lifelong learners and [insert any current buzzword of the moment here] learners. The Chinese tell their kids to learn English and computing, because they GET it. Jobs will be different (see the ones the UK government came up with here) in the near future and will require greater intrapersonal skills and the ability to find, assess and correctly USE and reuse information for the benefit of their firm, country or colleagues. A comment made by the Literacy Adviser, Bill Boyd, on the Alan November post said:  “I think Alan November gets it absolutely right when he talks about that cultural shift. It is explicit in Curriculum for Excellence so we have the ‘mandate’ for change.”

Another quote from Alan November is “In future teachers won’t say ‘Hand it in’ they’ll say ‘Publish it’ “and this is another aspect we need to address despite the efforts of council IT to restrict our students’ ability to share and publish their work. They are, after all, students who will share, remix, comment on and republish information in the different formats that THEY need, not what it might have been originally. The trouble is most of this now happens at home as they can’t do it at school. Hang on? Isn’t school where they’re meant to be learning to survive in the 21st C environment and how to do all this safely and properly? What we as teachers need to do is show them how to do this without plagiarism rearing its ugly head and also how to use the information having checked its validity, bias and whether it is the right information for the task/topic at hand.

So we have the “mandate for change”, with a future curriculum crying out for ‘modern’ teaching methods and the inclusive use of IT/technology which needs to be so firmly embedded within the lesson that it is almost unnoticeable. How do we achieve this?

These are MY thoughts – they will annoy some people but unless we actually debate the issues rather than some faceless bod taking a decision about the tools and learning environment we need and refusing or being unable to justify it then we are doomed to fall behind China, India and [insert name of any other country you wish].  I welcome comments for or against any aspect and as a staunch defender of democracy am happy to amend my views if you can persuade me. I might be a grumpy old man but I’m an open minded GOM! To finish this part of my post,  Doug Belshaw had a great wee note up which said:

Learning from the Extremes. Much as I found We-Think by co-author Charles Leadbeater a tortuous and platitude-riddled affair, I’m looking forward to going through the report in more detail. A great point is made on p.16 about it not being education we need to reform but society:

Spreading learning is not just a question of providing more teachers and schools. A parallel process of social and cultural change is critical, so that learning is taken more seriously at home and in society. An educated society does not just have an effective school system; it has a culture that values learning.

The first thing is to ensure all our teaching and support staff are trained, willing and enthusiastic about using IT. Kerry Turner has an excellent post here giving tips on how to create an atmosphere within the staffroom which encourages staff to think about how to embed ICT within their lessons not just use it to tick a box for HMIe. We also have to start thinking the unthinkable about whether the IT or ‘Computing’ teacher or the IT/Computing department is best placed to encourage and show how to implement the new paradigm. Should IT Depts remain but only do the ‘official’ stuff such as programming, hardware etc or what? One nearby school has removed all IT courses and now sends their kids to College for them instead. The IT teacher post then became a PT ICT who now has responsibility for training staff, encouraging the use and expansion of GLOW and showing people how to use ICT to improve both inclusion and attainment. Another interesting change I thought was great is that Stirling High has an ICT Teacher who also acts as CfE teacher (See this post from Alan Hamilton) who helps staff embed CfE and ICT into their lessons. ICT cannot be assumed to be a disparate subject; it HAS to be part and parcel of every subject as well as Additional Support Needs/Social Vocational Skills and the like and as such MUST be embedded and used by all staff not just teachers. Of COURSE this will take time, and it will need separate periods on the timetable to ensure the students get eased onto GLOW for example. But GLOW doesn’t need to be taught to the kids by an IT teacher – all staff should be capable.

“The only truly effective web filter is an educated mind.” (Bill Boyd – The Literacy Adviser)

We need to educate people about some extremely outdated, if not misplaced, ideas held by some IT Departments within  some Local Authorities. Mine for example, tells me that twitter is banned by thousands of companies because it is a virus risk. Wonder if the experts at the Scottish Government, Learning Teaching Scotland and the SQA to name but three who use twitter to keep their customers etc informed would agree? Currently only 1% of tweets are spam thanks to the hard work of the company who run it. Thus the virus or spam risk is actually negligible compared to the rest of the internet. I have been tweeted by S5 students at 10pm on a Friday about problems they have doing essays or homework. I’ve sent them links or search results and they’ve appreciated this kind of response straight away. My S4 are currently tweeting each other and myself with tips, requests for advice or just keeping each other going prior to the Standard Grade exam on 29th April.  I’m NOT saying teachers should be available 24/7 to students but it does help the relationship if they know they can get in touch if they really need to. Thus in the absence of anything else twitter will help us to keep our kids motivated and able to ask for help when they want it. Let’s not forget they expect to be able to access information at the press of a mouse button or the tap of a Smartphone screen. Hundreds of schools are using twitter and email to keep parents and students in touch with what is going on. Meanwhile we STILL await the Council policy on social media…..which is really needed NOW not when it is yet another reaction to an incident. Staff and students as well as parents need to know what and when we are able to provide in the way of additional help inside and outside the school environment.

“We’re professionals, we’re trained, we’re disclosed… but can’t be trusted to monitor YouTube?” (Sonia Livingston at BECTA)

OFSETD recently produced a report (pdf here) on the use of technology:

  1. Pupils in the schools that had ‘managed’ systems had better knowledge and understanding of how to stay safe than those in schools with ‘locked down’ systems. Pupils were more vulnerable overall when schools used locked down systems because they were not given enough opportunities to learn how to assess and manage risk for themselves.
  2. In the outstanding schools, senior leaders, governors, staff and families worked together to develop a clear strategy for e-safety. Policies were reviewed regularly in the light of technological developments. However, systematic review and evaluation were rare in the other schools visited.
  3. The outstanding schools recognised that, although they had excellent relationships with families, they needed to keep developing these to continue to support e-safety at home.
  4. Few of the schools visited made good use of the views of pupils and their parents to develop their e-safety provision.
  5. In some schools there were weaknesses in e-safety where pupils were receiving some of their education away from the school site.
  6. The weakest aspect of provision in the schools visited was the extent and quality of their training for staff. It did not involve all the staff and was not provided systematically. Even the schools that organised training for all their staff did not always monitor its impact systematically.

Back to the Council; as another example, we asked for a wiki to be unblocked so the S1 kids could add their book reviews to it. Just a simple wiki with one page for each student to add their thoughts on the book they were reading. The reply showed a lack of understanding as to what we were asking for and I personally felt that the writer was confused as to the difference between a wiki and a blog as the email kept referring to blogs. Yet wikis are normally a collaborative space for numerous users to have input and blogs are usually an individual’s work or social thinking space where others can comment and this is a difference some have yet to grasp. We were told the matter had been referred to the Education ICT Support Group (EITSPGP) and refused by them. The reason given was that wikis and blogs will be within GLOW soon. So S1 are unable to use IT in an interesting way within and outwith school until it arrives in GLOW in some far off future. But then this council blocked their own council CfE Resources site so teachers couldn’t access the thing inside school…..and yes, it’s STILL blocked even after being publicised by an article which I contributed to in the annals of the TESS on 5th March! The same council refuse to update the security risk that is IE6 to IE7 or 8. And yet go next door to another council and they have wireless networks available for the kids to use with their own laptops or go South and see a council where the school runs the blocking filter according to LOCAL needs and after discussion with parents and students. Other schools outwith my authority use Firefox or Chrome, have access to internet sites decided on a local basis by the school and also have full support staff for GLOW and blogs for example.

Look at East Lothian (also blocked by our authority) who will be the model for blogging within GLOW. Hundreds of students, staff and parents blogging daily about their learning and how they all work together to raise attainment and improve the learning experience! They have taken on board the potential and made their cultural change fr the benefit of all. Just to make a point about student blogging, Prof Delaney Kirk recently wrote: “Sarah Needleman writes about how recent college grads can use a blog to attract employers in an article in the Wall Street Journal.  As she notes, corporate recruiters are surfing the internet to “unearth job candidates, expanding their talent pool and gaining insights they say they can’t get from résumés and interviews.”  Recruiters also check out candidates’ blogs to determine their writing skills as well as additional information on education and experience that can’t be determined from a one page resume.  In addition, putting on a blog that you are job hunting allows you to network with many more people than just telling your friends.  Many companies are now googling their job applicants and savvy students can use  the internet to “sell” themselves.

So the questions being asked include: Why are we not letting our students blog? Why are we blocking ePortfolios based on WordPress? Why are we blocking sites based on decisions made on the often spurious grounds of safety when the kids haven’t even been taught how to be safe online?

We also and most definitely need to get rid of  most of the council education HQ setup.  In the four years I’ve been in my school I’ve NEVER seen the Director come and give a talk or have a chat with the staff. Cultural change must start with leadership from the top otherwise it becomes a revolutionary act from the bottom!

Any cultural change relies on training and professional development which increases staff support for change. Currently the only way we get CPD in school is either through our OWN efforts where we teach each other, online at HOME (how ironic…) or as in many cases we sign up to be SQA markers simply to get the workshops we need to do our job. I believe Mike Russell the new Education Secretary is considering moving towards a national control of education model rather than local. This would be better. My own authority for example is so small yet so wasteful in spending its money on extra staff, lots of ‘non jobs’ and yet more buildings with new facilities for the whole HQ staff that it really should be closed down and become part of Grampian or even Highland. At least then it would have the clout for example, to get the national leaders in education up here to give us CPD. And the numbers of staff in HQ could be cut and the savings used in schools. Each teacher could then be given an allocation for CPD which is used as they need for their development rather than being taken by the HQ. Currently we have NO money for CPD and have had none for two years now. The political and governmental leaders keep yapping about how we need to do this [CfE AifL insert acronym here] and improve IT skills etc yet they don’t give us the time, support and budget needed but rely on the goodwill of far too many teachers who work long hours trying to sort things that the council staff or government should be doing. As East Lothian are leading the way with new models of running schools I would be interested to see if my authority have the courage to do the same. Finally and most tellingly as an example of the council mindset outside school, as well as being a real kick in the male proverbials…

Today it was confirmed that in our new school opening in 18 months time that we would NOT be given Smartboards in the English Department or anywhere else for that matter despite being shown lovely pictures and plans and being asked if we wanted whiteboards on the left or both sides of the Smartboard in our new rooms! Shortly after that was confirmed to me I saw a group of HQ staff having a meeting in one of our rooms and the tea trolley was groaning with beverages and cakes. This in a school where we and the parents had to buy our own coffee on Parents’ evening due to the budget cuts that don’t appear to be having an effect on the HQ staff. Lead by example was another maxim drummed into me in the Army!

Whatever system is in place once we remove the excess outside the schools, we still need to provide the hardware, software and training to ensure teachers ARE confident and eager to use the tools they find to enhance their lessons and their students’ learning.

Finally, we also need to let the kids in and get them to help! There ARE student experts out there who use social media or other sites/software all the time and in a few cases have put my 33 years of IT experience to shame. You will note that I have not mentioned GLOW as such and this will have to be a separate reflective exercise. I am keen on GLOW but there are some real obstacles to surmount before GLOW shines. I’ll hold those thoughts for now!

Bulletpoint time: Cultural change needs – bound to be more – suggestions?

  1. ALL staff not just teachers to be trained, enthusiastic and EXPECTED to embed ICT within lessons as appropriate to enhance administration, inclusion, learning and teaching as well as attainment.
  2. All individual Computing/IT teaching Departments (not the technicians!) to be either spread across departments or their responsibilities for teaching moved to the Colleges and ICT seen as a whole school responsibility provided by all staff.
  3. We also need to expand and enhance Design and Technology departments not cut them to ensure we seize and use the opportunities that will arise with future technology.

  4. Councils to be kept the heck away from education budgets. Funding should be based on what individual schools need not what is cheapest (and therefore won’t work/fulfill the requirement/do the job) or what the council non teacher thinks.
  5. Let schools be schools with total control of their own budgets and drag themselves into the 21st century the way they and their LOCAL student population need.

  6. Students to be allowed to have an input but not to such an extent that the learning objectives are lost under the desires to ‘have fun’. 😎
  7. An acceptance that ICT can help but learning and teaching also is just as important in many ways. Sometimes a cardboard box will do just as well as a PowerPoint! “Teach not tech” is a true saying but we really need the tech if we are to get our kids into the coming future.

By coincidence there was another blog with similar thoughts and I urge you to read it too.

Whispering Change

Finally a great point and something to return to later:

You can’t get to outer space with a rowboat. You need something with a little more oomph.

Neither can you get to genuine 21st century learning environments without putting a computer in every kid’s hands. Not just some of the time. All of the time. Is 1:1 computing sufficient in and of itself? Will magic happen if every kid gets a laptop or a netbook? No, but it’s a necessary and essential condition without which the true magic never will occur.

Why aren’t you moving more quickly to get a computer into every student’s hands? (Yes, I mean you.)


Have at it! Constructive comments welcome to enable me to reflect, adapt my views if necessary and adjust to the fact that some things just will take too long and that I’ve only got 15 odd years left to do them before I retire to my sailing boat in the South China Sea!


  1. Hi Dave,
    Finally managed to read your post. There is not only food for thought here, but a veritable feast for the brain. Well done on raising so many issues which really do need to be addressed if we are to make real progress in schools. Your final point – the computer in every student’s hands – is probably the most telling. This will happen, but more quickly in some places than others. Interestingly, it seems to be lack of finances which is causing cultural change in local authorities, and by the time they finish losing all the staff they think they can afford to lose, those who are left are going to have to find more innovative solutions as the old model isn’t sustainable. Look forward to seeing other responses.

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