Our obsession with international comparisons is harming education

The headline in ‘The Times’ on Wednesday 13th May 2015 was “Poor maths is costing Britain trillions”. A new international comparison had graded countries according to mathematics standards and then calculated how much the underperforming students were costing each country. Britain would be, it declared confidently, 2.3 trillion pounds better off if poor attainment in mathematics was addressed.

2.3 Trillion! That sounds like a number plucked out of the air by a primary child trying to come up with a falsely exaggerated large estimation. “How many grains of sand are there on the beach?” Moments of quiet mental computation and then the child blurts out “2.3 trillion” and probably adds “at least” just so you understand the estimation is suitably conservative.

This week I was talking to teachers making the move to join us working in Spain. I asked one of those teachers why they had applied to our school. I was interested to find out what made us stand out from the thousands of international advertisements on the TES Online site. The answer was that he felt from reading our website and the pre-interview materials we send out that the school was interested in the whole child. He commented that our academic standards were high (which they are) but that the school communicates an ethos that this is only a part of the work we do.

There can’t be a greater aim as a school than to be educating the whole child. Providing opportunities for children to participate in creative activities including art, dance and music. Providing opportunities to take risks, fail and then learn. Yes, academic standards in core subjects are important but they are not the only way to guarantee the prosperity of a nation. The same newspaper on the same day reported the highest ever auction price reached for a work of art. 175 million dollars of painting. I wonder if Pablo Picasso would have passed the numeracy test used to compare nations. I wonder, if he had failed, what his predicted contribution to the nation’s finances may have been.

High academic standards are essential. Individualising learning so that students can progress to their own capacity in each subject is essential. Reacting to information about international comparisons, especially when that reaction leads to a “more of the same” solution is not helping achieve higher standards and is not helping young people have a worthwhile education that prepares them for life out of school.

I often face discussions about children who are attaining slightly below average grades in English or mathematics. The first suggestion is often to consider an additional lesson, a support class. Does an additional class of English help a student accelerate their progress? I remain unconvinced. I much prefer to reflect on what we doing with the hours of English lessons that we already deliver and how we can more carefully target that teaching to the needs of the individual child. An approach of “more of the same” isn’t going to help a child that isn’t making the required progress with the system currently in use. What we need to get into the habit of doing is reflecting on how we can change our teaching to match the needs of the children who are not meeting the standards we wish to see.

Last year there was a really interesting international comparison produced by Pearson. Following the PISA test announcing that Britain was sliding down the international rankings for mathematical attainment Pearson produced a comparison of problem solving capabilities. All of a sudden Britain started to look Great again. The student’s ranking leapt.

It is time to stop getting caught up in international rankings. Who is deciding what to measure? Are they aware of how their surveys and rankings are encouraging a “more of the same” solution in schools?

Our obsession with international rankings is damaging the education of the current generation of children. It needs to stop. We need to look at what is taking place in school and make sure that what we are delivering is a world class education that is tailored to the needs of individual children. What works in one country is not necessarily what is going to work in another. What works in one school or even in one class is not necessarily what is going to work in another. What works for one teacher may even be in part dictated by their style, their relationship with the class. This “one size fits all” education that now seems to be striving for global equality in provision is a dangerous path that ignores individuals.

And so what of the 2.3 trillion pounds Britain is losing because of poor mathematics standards? I’m going to watch with interest the problem solving nation that has re-evaluated the need for computing skills and focus my attention on making sure the individual children I work with are making outstanding progress and enjoying their education. When they look back they will know they were well prepared for life; they will understand that they learned how to learn; most importantly, they will have fond memories of the festivals put on at the theatre, the fiestas we celebrated along the way and the school community that welcomed them and made every day an experience worth attending.

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What mistakes are we making with primary assessment?

A BBC news article today published statistics from a poll carried out by market research firm Opinion Matters. It highlighted the pressures felt by primary school children in the United Kingdom as they approach their end of Key Stage 2 assessments.
But what exactly are we getting wrong about assessment?

Firstly, let’s take a look at some of the data that made the headlines in today’s article about primary assessment.

In a survey of 1,000 children 8 had smoked on the morning of their Key Stage 2 assessment. I suspect probably the same eight may have smoked on other mornings too and the assessment was not the pressure that caused the child to light up a cigarette.

In the same survey, 37 pupils had eaten chocolate on the morning of the assessments. Quite what relevance this has I’m not sure but the media drive for healthy eating in schools will I’m sure encourage some people to conclude exams make children eat chocolate and are therefore bad.

55% feared that bad results in exams could affect their future.

This then is the message that made the breakfast television news. 55% of children fear that doing badly in exams may affect their future. But surely that is no bad thing that students understand that exam success creates a greater range of opportunities in life and exam failure can restrict life choices? This is a fact. One of the principle purposes in exams is to find out what a student can do; to assess their competence in a given field. This is used eventually to guide young people into making effective career decisions. The more worrying fact about this Opinion Matters poll is that of the 1,000 students asked whether doing badly in exams may affect their future 450 students felt it wouldn’t. Nearly half the students, by the time they reach the end of the primary phase of their education, do not realise that exam success is an important part of future life. These students have had over half of the education they will receive to prepare them for examinations at 16 years old, examinations that will decide their future. Yet, they don’t realise the importance of examination performance. Is this an arrogance on their behalf with regard to the importance of education?

Perhaps instead it reflects the message we send young people about examinations in school. Certainly sharing examination results is important and parents should be able to make value judgements on the effectiveness of the schools available within their area. However, in an era when the primary function of examinations is to judge and grade schools in league tables is it any wander that children are confused about the purpose of examinations? The reason, I would suggest, that student don’t feel examination results are important in their future life is that they have grown up in a culture where the primary purpose of examinations is to judge the effectiveness of schools.

We need to get back to communicating clearly that examination results affect life choices. Passing more examinations at a higher level gives students greater opportunities when they finish school. Students need a folder of certificates when they go out into the workplace. A recognition of what they can do an understand.

We must beware of emotive language in reporting opinion polls that suggest examinations are damaging the health of our young people. Instead of making the examination itself the focus of our criticism we should look to the pressure being put on schools to achieve results, not for the sake of the children in the school, but for the sake of the teachers and managers of the school. The aspect that needs attention here is that children a significant minority of pupils (45%) have a disconnect between doing well in school and doing well in later life. This is the issue that needs addressing and the best way to address it is to revitalise the core purpose of schools, including the examinations that take place in those schools. The core purpose of schools is educating young people. Examinations should be about rewarding young people with a recognition of their skills and understanding. That way everybody will realise by the end of primary education that examinations are important. They may feel nerves on the day. You may have anxieties that need supporting by effective parenting and caring schools but ultimately, examinations matter.

What we need to do in schools is prepare children for examinations with regular testing. Make testing a part of the culture of education. Not national tests that are used as a stick for beating teachers and school but tests that form part of the fabric of the school day. Tests that encourage pupils to understand how to study independently. Tests that celebrate success of students and their learning. Testing is here to stay and today’s news surrounding the anxiety of pupils sitting Key Stage 2 assessments shouldn’t be interpreted as “testing is bad”, more, “the way we test needs improving”.

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Monthly top 5 roundup – April 2015

The power of five

Top 5 educational news stories of the month

1. The NUT vote to boycott baseline assessment
The NUT voted in their conference to take action against the introduction of baseline assessments. They argue that baseline assessment is not in the interested of pupils and is another tool that disregards pupil needs in favour of measuring schools and teachers.
2. Children who ‘fail’ English and Maths SATS will take re-sits in Year 7
Mr Cameron announced a “zero tolerance of failure and mediocrity”. Students that fail to reach the national expected standard at the end of Year 6 will be forced to take resits in Year 7.
3. Teacher banned from the classroom for two years for changing pupils SATS papers
Ian Guffick claimed he was making answers more legible but that explanation wasn’t accepted by the panel from the National College of Teaching and Leadership who banned Mr Guffick from working as a teacher for two years.
4. UK’s largest arms manufacturer is appointed to lead a failing academy
BAE Systems have taken on the leadership of Furness Academy in Barrow, Cumbria. Rebranding the school as “BAE Systems Marine Submarines Academy Trust” the managing director of BAE Systems Submarines said it was “an extension to our commitment in helping Furness Academy provide its students with the best possible education.”
5. Free school meals pledge from Nick Clegg
Mr Clegg announced a 610 million pound pledge to provide free school meals for all primary school children in the country.

Top 5 pages from this site

1. How important is a TEFL qualification for teaching English abroad?
TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) or TESOL (Teaching English as a Second or Other Language) are often seen as important qualifications for UK teachers working overseas. How important are they in Spain and are they worth the study and expense?
2. Driving in Spain – the law
The Internet is home to lots of conflicting advice about the legalities of driving in Spain, especially as an expat from the UK.
Is your UK driving licence valid? How long can you drive a car on UK registration plates?
In the light of recent stories about an increased number of people being stopped and paperwork expectations being enforced more strictly than in the past this article explains some of the basic information about motoring law in Spain.
3. 5 things I know about language learning
Research says that language learning is facing a ‘difficult climate’ in England’s schools. A BBC report says that schools are introducing languages earlier but still students don’t wish to continue their language studies as they get older.
4. Plenary: Speaking and listening about learning
Here is an idea for a plenary that can be used in any lesson. It is a structure for encouraging pupils to speak about their learning and in so doing to reinforce the learning that has taken place in the lesson.
5. Five strategies for effectively working with a teaching assistant
Teaching assistants, classroom assistants, learning support assistants, interventionists. What’s in a name? What does research tell us about their effectiveness in raising standards and how best can other adults be used to support teaching and learning?

Product of the month

This month’s product of the month is an online TEFL course offering a fantastic 50€ discount.
i-to-i are an internationally recognised provider of TEFL qualifications and are currently offering a 50€ discount on some of their top selling products. They offer a free taster to help you decide which course is right for you and also offer a free consultation with an advisor. Their aim is to ensure that you have a worthwhile training experience and that your TEFL qualification equips you effectively for teaching English.  Click below for a list of courses that i-to-i can offer online.


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Foundation, KS1 and KS2 teaching posts for September 2015

New teaching posts available in Spain for September 2015.
Teach in Spain – visit the links to the TES Online advertisement below and apply for your September 2015 teaching position.
If you have any other questions about living or teaching in Spain then please do post them in the comments box and I will reply.

All teachers are offered a full time, permanent contract from the first day of their employment. Annual salary is made in 12 monthly payments and tax is payable at the local rate. The school is able to offer some flexibility in year group and accepts applications from teachers in foundation, Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2. Newly Qualified Teachers are welcome to apply.
The final date for applications is Friday 8th May 2015 with interviews held in London during the week beginning Monday 11th May 2015.

Foundation/KS1/KS2 teaching post

Below are links to a variety of pages providing information about living and teaching in Spain. If you need more information about teaching in Spain please do contact us.

5 things NQTs should know about working abroad

5 things to know about renting in Spain

5 tips for your interview with an international school

Relocating to Spain with a family – a guide

Teaching in a British School in Spain – a FAQ

A comparison between teaching in Spain and teaching in the UK

Applying to teach in Spain – which school should you choose?

 

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How important is a TEFL qualification for teaching English abroad?

TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) or TESOL (Teaching English as a Second or Other Language) are often seen as important qualifications for UK teachers working overseas. How important are they in Spain and are they worth the study and expense?

Qualified teachers looking for work in Spain are best advised to look for work in a British/International school. These schools will value the Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) from the United Kingdom and the work expected will be familiar to teachers used to working as a class teacher in the United Kingdom.

If you are not a qualified teacher then the work market is a little more uncertain. Some independent schools, including British and International schools, may well consider unqualified teachers and in addition may have teaching assistant positions available.

So, what are the advantages of being TEFL qualified?

A TEFL qualification improves your employability and may well improve your salary.

If you are a qualified teacher and you are looking to teach the  National Curriculum or an International curriculum abroad then a TEFL qualification will not be as important as your teaching qualification and experience. However, if you are looking to schools that have a high proportion of students for whom English is not their home language then you are going to need to demonstrate knowledge and confidence in how these students learn English. Working in Spain I quickly realised that Spanish students have a theoretical knowledge of their own language that is significantly above the knowledge possessed by English students of their own language. Helping these students move forward in their learning then requires a strong understanding of grammar. If you don’t know your past participles from your gerunds or struggle to identify a predicate then perhaps a course to boost you grammar knowledge might be extremely useful.

Teacher who are not qualified and are looking for work as a language teacher or looking to work as assistants in international schools would certainly benefit from a TEFL qualification.

Anything you can do to add to your CV and demonstrate that you have prepared for the work for which you are applying can only be a positive. A high quality TEFL qualification teaches valuable strategies to help students with meaningful learning. It should give a strong grounding in the rules governing the English language whilst also providing ideas or materials to help in classroom. TEFL courses range in length from 20 hour introductory courses through to 140 hour intensive courses providing all the tuition and materials you would ever need to teach English as a second language. The important point is to ensure that your TEFL qualification comes from a reliable provider. There are a huge number of providers and many of them offer qualifications that sound on paper equal and yet in practice may not be recognised.

Are you considering a TEFL qualification? Would you like to complete your study and gain you qualification using professionally developed online resources?


i-to-i

i-to-i are an internationally recognised provider of TEFL qualifications and are currently offering a 50€ discount on some of their top selling products. They offer a free taster to help you decide which course is right for you and also offer a free consultation with an advisor. Their aim is to ensure that you have a worthwhile training experience and that your TEFL qualification equips you effectively for teaching English.  Click below for a list of courses that i-to-i can offer online.


Happy New Adventure

Click here for TEFL Courses Home

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Driving in Spain – the law

The Internet is home to lots of conflicting advice about the legalities of driving in Spain, especially as an expat from the UK.
Is your UK driving licence valid? How long can you drive a car on UK registration plates?
In the light of recent stories about an increased number of people being stopped and paperwork expectations being enforced more strictly than in the past this article explains some of the basic information about motoring law in Spain.

What do you need to pay attention to if you want to ensure that you are driving legally in Spain and are not going to have any problems if the Guardia Civil stop you to check your paperwork.

“Circulation permit” – this is the official document with technical details about the car. It has to be carried at all times. Failure to produce this document or having an out of date ITV results in a 500€ on the spot fine. If you are driving a UK registered vehicle this is the ‘Vehicle Registration Document’.

ITV certificate – You have a legal obligation to carry the certificate from the most recent ITV test and to have displayed the sticker. Not doing so results in a fine from 10€ to 200€. If you are driving a UK registered vehicle this is evidence of your most recent MOT.

Driving licence – Failure to carry a driving licence carries a fine starting from 10€. If the licence is out of date this rises to 200€ and if you cannot prove you are legally permitted to drive (eg. You are banned or don’t hold the correct licence for the vehicle being driven) it rises to 500€.

Insurance – You do not now need to carry your insurance documentation and proof of payment but it is advisable to do so as this may still be asked for if you are stopped. If your insurance is not up to date, which can include not having paid the most recent premium, your car will be confiscated and you will have a fine of between 601€ and 3,0005€. In addition, if you were involved in an accident you would be personally liable for the damage to any other vehicles and for all medical costs for any injuries.

Driving with a UK registration plate:
This is becoming increasingly enforced so I would advise checking the details and making sure you are legal. If you bring a car over to Spain on UK plates and are on UK insurance then check you are covered by that insurance. Most companies only allow for 30 days of cover. This is extremely likely to be checked if you are stopped and the above notes about insurance would then apply.
You are legally allowed to drive a car on UK plates for up to six months. If you are stopped it is your responsibility to provide evidence of when the car was brought over (eg. Ferry tickets). To bring your UK car onto Spanish registration plates is best done by employing the services of a gestor. The cost is likely to be around 1000€-1500€ which will include the registration tax and annual licence fee.
If you have UK plates that are beyond the six month period and you are stopped be aware that you can be forced to pay the IVA (VAT) on the assumed Spanish value of the car. This is currently 21% and is paid in addition to the bills above for transferring the car to Spanish registration plates. (Eg. If a car is valued by the Spanish authorities at 10,000€ then should you be stopped outside of the six months the IVA due would be 2,100€ and you would then have to pay the registration fees above to transfer the car to Spanish plates.) In the past people have been given a period of grace after being stopped to deal with this transfer but increasingly it seems the fines are being applied immediately if the car is not legal.

This advice is offered as a plain English overview of some of the most important laws affecting expat motorists in Spain. If you wish to add anything else relevant please do send your additions to submissions@ukteacherinspain.com

The European Driver’s Handbook from the AA contains regularly updated advice on driving in Spain and other European countries. It is essential reading for anybody needing a quick overview of the motoring laws of European countries.

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Spanish Sundays – Easter week or Semana Santa

Semana Santa is the Spanish name for ‘Easter week’ or ‘Holy week’. During the 16th century the catholic church wanted to tell the story of Easter in a way the average man could access. They chose to do it using street processions depicting scenes from the death and resurrection of Jesus. That tradition lives on now in colourful street pageants throughout the week.

Semana Santa Alzira

Easter parade in Alzira, Spain

Despite appearances, the Easter parades are well structured and and each element carries its own symbolic relevance.

Drums being played in an Easter parade in Alzira, Spain

Drums being played in an Easter parade in Alzira, Spain

Each segment of the procession in Alzira is represented by a different brotherhood, each bearing their own standard.
Most include a band playing sombre music, sometimes only a single drum beat. The strange looking hats are representative of mourning.

A standard is carried to indicate the brotherhood responsible for the coming part of the procession

A standard is carried to indicate the brotherhood responsible for the coming part of the procession

The heart of the procession is the ‘imagen’, a carried biblical scene depicting a section of the Easter story.

An imagen is carried through the streets of Alzira, Spain

An imagen is carried through the streets of Alzira, Spain

Spanish Sundays is a regular feature of this website and provides a window into life in Spain. To view more articles like this use our on-site search feature and type “Spanish Sundays”. If you live in Spain and would like to contribute please send your article, accompanied by images, to submissions@ukteacherinspain.com


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Foundation and Key Stage 1 teaching posts for September 2015

Posts available in British schools in Madrid and Andalucia.

Teaching positions are currently being recruited for a September 2015 start. There are positions available for Foundation Stage teachers, Key Stage 1 teachers and also for assistants. The basic salary offered is 22,500€ with increments available for teachers with the experience to take on a coordinator role.

Teach in Spain. British schools in Spain provide the opportunity to teach the British curriculum in a stunning setting.

Teach in Andalucia in the south of Spain or if you prefer the city life, teach in Madrid.

To apply please send you CV and a covering letter to:
recruitment@ukteacherinspain.com

Interviews will be via Skype.

To read more information about teaching in Spain check the articles below.

5 things NQTs should know about working abroad

5 things to know about renting in Spain

5 tips for your interview with an international school

Relocating to Spain with a family – a guide

Teaching in a British school in Spain – a FAQ

A comparison between teaching in Spain and teaching in the UK

Applying to teach in Spain – which school should you choose?

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5 things I know about language learning

Research says that language learning is facing a ‘difficult climate’ in England’s schools. A BBC report says that schools are introducing languages earlier but still students don’t wish to continue their language studies as they get older.

Why is the UK consistently lagging behind in languages? Is it simply that there is an arrogance associated with the dominance of the English language?

5 things I know about language learning

1: Learning needs a purpose
If students believe that English is the dominant language then this will produce a laziness when studying other languages. It will be more difficult to see the reason for study and without a purpose it is far more difficult to motivate oneself into learning. Do parents, schools or society in general encourage students to see the importance of language learning in order to fit into a global economy?
From my own experience I would suggest as well that language learning in some parts of Europe is considered normal and attainable. Living and working in the Valencian community in Spain students are brought up bilingual in Spanish and Valenciano. (Valenciano is a dialect of Catalan.) In our school children then develop that further with English throughout school. In Year 7 they begin to learn French and throughout school have the option to take Italian, German and Chinese as additional languages. Language learning is the norm. Students understand that they will be a part of a global economy and recognise the importance of language fluency if they are to take their place in such an economy.
I remember as a child having to earn French in school. Day trips to France on the Newhaven to Dieppe ferry only served to emphasise the futility of studying French as everybody one met spoke perfect English. It wasn’t until I moved to Spain that I had a genuine reason to learn to speak a foreign language. Students in the UK need to see a purpose to their language learning and that purpose comes from understanding the benefits of fluency in more than one language.

2: Learning needs to be structured and have high expectations
The article linked to above positively reports that many primary schools are starting language learning in Key Stage 1. This is a positive development but we also need to look below the surface and see the presentation and content of those lessons. By the end of Key Stage 1 the majority of our Spanish students will have a fluency in English. In most cases this will be already approaching first language fluency. What expectation is placed on language learning in Key Stage 1 classes in the UK? How can that expectation be raised? If students are learning some basic vocabulary that is a great start but where is the rigour and expectation that seven year olds can be fluently bilingual?

3: Language is easier to learn if you have an academic understanding of your native language
The recent changes to improve the standard of grammatical understanding in the UK is to be welcomed. However, it still stops way short of what  is expected in some other educational systems. Spanish students have an extremely high technical knowledge of their own language and consequently are able to apply this to learning other languages. They are able to understand quite high level concepts and rules that govern English because they can relate it to the technical knowledge that they have of their own language. This can’t be taught in any other way than through structured language lessons.
If the UK can start producing schemes of work for English language that focus on understanding grammar terms and rules then the building blocks for developing additional languages will be far more secure.

4: Language learning is most effective when it is delivered by teachers with a native fluency
A huge part of the success we have in teaching English in Spain is that we have the benefit of excellent qualified teachers with English as their home language. This makes teaching and correcting language something that is intuitive. Students consistently receive models of English in interactions throughout the day. As much language learning occurs in correcting students in the corridors and on the playgrounds as happens in class.
This immersion system for language learning is incredibly effective. A couple of years ago a student started Year 5 with no knowledge of English. One might expect starting so late would make things more difficult. By the end of Year 6 that students independently achieved Level 5 in both reading and writing. That success would not be possible without highly trained native English teachers.
Frequently we take in students from other local schools who come with excellent grades in English and a confidence that they will adapt easily due to their prior learning. What we see in every case is students that have been taught by teachers for whom English is a second language and usually these students are starting only slightly above a beginner level in English. Sadly that is the state of language learning for most students in the UK. Attracting quality teachers who have the language being taught as their native language is the key to securing higher levels and higher take up of languages in the UK.

5: Language learning is ongoing
We don’t teach students that they will learn English. We talk about reaching a fluency in English and then, the teaching continues. Language learning doesn’t stop when you achieve a particular level of proficiency but is something that develops throughout life. My own Spanish language level is sufficient to communicate but I am learning on a daily basis.

Start learning another language today with an incredible saving from Rosetta Stone – the world’s leading provider of online language courses.

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Shareday Friday – Plenary: Speaking and listening about learning

Here is an idea for a plenary that can be used in any lesson. It is a structure for encouraging pupils to speak about their learning and in so doing to reinforce the learning that has taken place in the lesson.

Ending a lesson in a way that recaps the learning and provides time for reflection is a key method for making learning visual in your classroom. This resource provides a great way to emphasise the learning that has taken place. If you can end the lesson by making the learning visual for the pupils then there will be a much greater retention of the learning.

Plenary - Speaking and listening about learning

Plenary – Speaking and listening about learning

Speaking and listening plenary (Click to download as a PDF)

Two strategies for using this resource.

1: Print out and laminate the speech bubbles, enough to provide one for each member of the class. In groups provide time for pupils to think about and verbalise their contribution. Before leaving the class invite each pupil to contribute using the speech bubble as a model for their own learning review.

2: Print out the sheet as a table mat and encourage pupils to review each lesson as a group.

A plenary that focuses on learning and provides opportunities for speaking and listening. For more great ideas about making the plenary count check out this invaluable book by Phil Beadle.

The book of plenary – here endeth the lesson
By Phil Beadle

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