A GLOW that can command the respect and support of teachers.

Remarks in moving the following motion successfully at SSTA Congress:

Congress notes the report from the ICT in Education Group set up by the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning and its recommendations regarding the future of GLOW and related ICT issues in schools.  Congress notes the failure of GLOW to achieve its potential and the resultant frustration for many teachers and pupils.
Congress calls upon the Cabinet Secretary to commission a successor to GLOW that can command the respect and, support of all Scotland’s teachers.

At Congress last year I argued that within the wider context of ICT in schools that:

“Unless and until schools can have IT ‘solutions’ that allow staff and pupils to immerse themselves in the task they are seeking to perform rather than… in the frustration of hardware and software…we will never see a genuine IT revolution.
It never fails to amaze me that the people who seem to dictate IT – are people who simply do not understand it.”
GLOW was conceived in and designed for a previous era in IT – where top down decision making trumped end-user experience.
It’s easy and understandable to take pot-shots at GLOW but GLOW’s failure was neither technological, nor software related but a failure of project management, implementation and communication.
As such it shares much of the same misfortune as CFE.
Following the withdrawal from Google from the tendering process for GLOW’s renewal, the Cabinet Secretary Mike Russell announced not only that the current GLOW contract would be extended until the end of this year but also that a group would be brought together to consider GLOW’s long term user-centred future.
Unlike nearly every such panel that relates to education or schools, a significant proportion of the group would be made up of – wait for it – practicing teachers! With the involvement of two pupils also facilitated.
The Group, was led by the Chief Scientific Adviser Professor Muffy Calder. It spent 5 months visiting schools across Scotland to look at the experience of using ICT for learning.
The report – published in January of this year, made a wide number of recommendations ranging from how the system is set up and supported, how it looks on screen to how it actually works.
Now the fundamental questions that any future GLOW must answer are simple:
Firstly, why use it?
Why put the effort in to change our teaching practice to incorporate the tools that GLOW offers?
How can it ensure that learning and teaching are the better because of it?
How can we ensure quality of and equality in access to GLOW – when 32 local authorities with disparate policies, priorities and resources have to lead the way?
An example of this is the issue of web filtering.
32 different filters meaning what is available to some is blocked to others.
At one point this year my school’s own website was blocked by the council filter.
The reason given was that I might be exposed to dangerous content!
Maybe the staff photo?
On this, the ICT Excellence group report suggests a simple solution – national filtering, linked to your GLOW account and avoiding stupid blocks put in place by non-educators.
At the heart of the new GLOW is in the words of Jaye Richards Hill, one of the ICT Excellence Group members:
“A secure authentication service providing access to different levels of tools and services. 
Some are core, like productivity tools and some national provided content. Others are integrated and supported by authentication.
There’s room for users to bring in their own tools and services in to one learning space. It’s responsive and user driven.
“Leveraging social network elements to share activity turns the online Glow into a thriving community, with a strong emphasis on sharing and communication between all users. 
Asking questions, discussing class work, with peers and teachers via the platform will really build a community for anytime anyplace learning.”
She refers to GLOW – as a potential school in the cloud.
That’s the vision – we need to now turn this vision into a reality.
Part of that will require better project management and leadership from the Scottish Government and Education Scotland.
It requires the direction of travel to be set by teachers rather than civil servants or corporate interests.
It also requires pressure from us – the end users.
We need to regard a digital learning environment as a right for ourselves and our pupils.
The ambition of GLOW will fail – if we are still stuck with internet connections slower than carrier pigeons, or computers that you seem to have to shovel coal into the back of to make them work.
On that note – I hope that GLOW isn’t one of Alex Salmond’s ‘shovel-ready’ capital projects.
Congress, the SSTA should support the ongoing efforts to take GLOW from its past failures to future success.
We should be vigilant to ensure that we do not have a successor to GLOW that commands the frustration and criticism of the profession – rather than its respect and support.

The Observer

With my current S3 Modern Studies class I have been working on enabling them in shaping what we do. Last term through using a detailed survey on what goes on in class, sharing it with them and inviting them to analyse the results (in part this was also about developing their skills in analysing complex information).
In school we are trying to improve through the vast majority of staff taking part in a Teacher Learning Community related to AIFL – but one of the persistent challenges is making/finding the time to visit one another’s classes and give some feedback on what we are doing. We are also seeking to create templates that allow for a consistent approach when observing one another. It is a tick box sheet which runs the risk of foisting mechanistically similar lessons on us all and I’ve felt that it needs to be trialled before any roll-out.
These things all coalesced recently when I asked one of my S3 pupils to take the tick-box sheet and observe my lesson. It would be a challenge for both of us – for her, to metaphorically step outside of the class and what they were doing and try to take in the range of learning and teaching activities that were going on – and do so whilst trying to make sense of a bit of paper referring to QIs! For me – encouraging a pupil to take a warts and all look at learning and teaching in our class (without the possibility of sugar-coating that a colleague might add).
I gave her no prism, no advice and no conditions – it would be entirely up to her what she wrote.
In the lesson itself I did nothing differently to what I would normally do – there’s simply no point to any evaluation if it is of a false single impression!
A brief chat at the end of the lesson was followed up a couple of days later with a much more detailed dialogue as she explained her choices and comments and detailed her reasoning. I also explained and talked her through what those pesky QIs were referring to.
What struck me was firstly, the pupil’s remark that in thinking that the noise level was greater as pupils entered the room – may simply have been down to the fact that she was observing it – noticing it whilst not being part of it. That there were clearly things that ordinarily she would not see/hear or in any way notice – as she would be focussed on what she would be learning.
Some things were left off of the ticks – as the concepts/jargon were not clear but following our discussion, a second observation would be able to address these things too.
In any case, the tick boxes were almost an utter irrelevance to the quality dialogue about lesson organisation, assessment, behaviour management, pupil motivation and much else besides. I was given more feedback and insight into my lesson than from most if not all observations I have ever had.
As someone who has supported and encouraged pupil voice throughout my career, it has been a powerful reminder that there is a huge and continually untapped resource for improving learning and teaching within each of our own classrooms. It is also clear that there is nothing to fear from seeking out and listening to the views of our pupils – and plenty to gain.
The next stage will be to share some of the dialogue and outcomes with the rest of the class – and to work on what we’ve agreed are areas for me to improve upon. As well as this, I’ll be keenly sharing what I’ve done with colleagues and encouraging them to do likewise.

Protecting Teachers Online

At the present time the UK government, so alarmed at the dangers coming from the online world are planning on sweeping snooping powers that would allow the state to capture and monitor every email, text message and website use as part of a scheme that they cannot even say what benefits it would bring nor provide any reasons for it.

These proposals are an extreme over-reaction to many existing problems but what is needed is better safety online for people – not the end of freedom of thought or expression online.

Such networks are used by many to keep in touch, to get in touch and to share life events, movies, images and as I mentioned previously – as a huge opportunity for learning.

Regrettably, as Elish Angiolini said yesterday, they can also be used for hatred.

However, where we draw the line online is becoming an evermore nuanced question. For social networking undoubtedly played a significant part in the Arab Spring – helping people to educate, agitate and organise in the name of democracy yet, to many teachers and schools it has been a major bone of contention.

Though, it seems to have slowly died a death – can folks remember the famed ‘Rate my Teacher’ website? Where pupils after having been on the receiving end of a ‘telling’ could anonymously log on and then berate the adult who had the audacity to want to teach them maths. That site has fallen in popularity as people not just the young have access to an array of social networks including:

facebook, twitter, google plus, pinterest, twitpic, ping, BBM, youtube, digg…the list goes on and on…as do the possibilities for staff in schools to be abused.

Such cases are increasingly becoming part our work in defending and protecting members.

In a recent interview for the BBC’s Newsbeat a teacher claimed to have been forced to quit her first teaching job due to cyberbullying by pupils who made up allegations and spread stories about her online.

Recently also, a school rep approached me for advice when pupils had been caught taking images of teachers and using them to superimpose the teacher’s face on another and much more inappropriate image.

In this case, the culprits were caught the images deleted and parents informed. But congress, I’m not so sure that in all schools or in all local authorities there is sufficient support and protection for staff that are treated in this way.

Mostly, as far as I can tell the focus of councils has been to prevent staff from utilising the online world to criticise their employer – not responding to cyberbullying. This motion seeks to redress that and calls on all councils to ensure that staff are protected from abuse – from preventing it occurring and in dealing with it when it does.

Now Facebook and other social networks have made many changes that allow people to immediately flag up inappropriate content. This has been due to governmental pressure and pressure from groups concerned at the potential for abuse of children. However, there is much deeper concern with regard to facebook and others.

If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.

Facebook is about to launch itself onto the stock market in what may be the fourth biggest stock flotation in history with estimates valuing the company at $100 billion dollars.

It, along with google makes its money through targeting adverts at you based upon data it gathers about you. It needs therefore to have its users share as much as possible about themselves to draw more advertising revenue.

Of particular concern is the routine changing of privacy settings on websites that render what was once private – more open and available to onlookers.

The GTCS guidelines seek to help staff protect themselves from online abuse, from breaking their employers policies and potentially facing discipline through sensible advice and sensible precautions because increasingly here teachers (and others) have come a cropper by posting items online that they thought were just being seen by friends but in actual fact were available to all.

The GTCS are to be commended for being realistic – there is no point bolting the stable door on social networking – it’s too late. The reason why facebook is ‘worth $100bn – is that it has almost 900 million users – with a huge proportion of them being the pupils in our schools.

This issue affects not only teachers but pupils too and it’s a fundamental reason why blocking social media is not the answer.
Blocking hides away the potential for educating responsible usage


We must ensure that our members are protected from abuse online and the only way that will be done is by promoting responsible online behaviour that respects people even if they disagree with them. Since this noble idea is but an ideal, in the meantime, our employers must protect us from abuse when it does occur and must advise staff on how to stay safe.

Safety online doesn’t mean censorship online, nor does it mean tracking every email, facebook message or tweet. It doesn’t mean closing off the internet because to be safe online we don’t need to regulate the internet, we require to regulate our children or rather their parents.

As the Guardian’s technology editor Charles Arthur recently wrote:

“Frankly, I’m amazed by the tales of parents who let their children have TVs or computers in their bedroom. First of all, it’s like telling them not to socialise with you; and it’s by socialisation that we work out what we do and don’t accept as sensual, and sexual, and pornographic (and where the line lies). Watching TV together means you can discuss what you’re watching. Having computers in shared spaces (effectively banning solitary use), using the filtering systems that they have built in – these are solutions that work. They don’t need legislation; they don’t need complicated filters that will be routed around in a flash… they just need to be part of the family. You can’t turn off the internet, nor make its denizens respectable. You can, however, turn off the computer, or explain respectability to your child.”

Congress, It falls to us, as an association to protect our members and therefore it makes sense for to create user-friendly guidance for them on how to behave online and be protected too.

Please support the motion.

Changing the SSTA view on Tech

President, Congress

The area of IT is one where this audience, like the society it reflects, have mixed experience and expertise.

Regardless of this, there are some things that are very clear indeed.

First, the social media genie is out of the bottle and it isn’t going back in.

Second, we are now living in what amounts to a post-PC world with computing increasingly mobile and based on apps on smartphone and tablets rather than clunky old style boxes that sit on our desks.

With this [holding up an iPhone] I can call someone; email them; message them. I can search the web, shop, read a book and watch a film.

I tracked the development of my, as yet unborn baby and now record her growth as a child and then stream the videos to the net or the TV.

She is 6 months old and is growing up in an evermore connected world – and is learning to use devices that were once the stuff of science fiction.

Such devices have brought about a radical change in how people, especially the young communicate with each other.

Where we as adults view private space as being in our own home, many of our children view their private space as online.

Yet, there are many who view such technologies as a threat to the young, a threat to morality – and a threat to society as a whole.

Now, each time that there is a paradigm shift in communications technology there is an inevitable moral panic about what threat it poses to ourselves and our children.

As it was with the printed press, the radio and TV; so it is with the internet.

The connected and wireless internet known as Web 2.0 offers to us connection limited only by our imagination;

that is except when it is filtered or blocked or censored from being so.

By and large there are two kinds of places where mobiles aren’t allowed – Taliban controlled Afghanistan and your local school.

That learning and teaching are seemingly threatened by pupils and their mobile phones is an attitude typified by the head of OFSTED Michael Wilshaw who would rather see all such mobile devices banned.

In response to this, Steve Wheeler, Associate Professor in Learning Technology at Plymouth University blogged:

“The fact is, many schools are already harnessing the creative potential of mobile phones to inspire and engage students, both inside and outside the classroom. It’s also a fact that in schools where mobile phones are banned, many students continue to use them, and often for disruptive purposes.

Where schools do allow mobiles as a part of their daily learning activities, the devices come out into the open, are no longer illicit, and can then be better controlled and used purposefully as a part of lessons. Which ever way we examine this issue, mobile phones are now a ubiquitous part in society, and are already playing a huge role in the culture of modern living.

Simply attempting to ban them from a place young people regularly gather is an impossible task. Schools should instead consider ways that mobile devices can be used to enhance and enrich learning, for in so doing, we prepare our children for the future, instead of rooting them in the practices of the past.”


Teachers are finding the benefits of that connected world too.

Many teachers now blog about their work in order to share successes and failures and benefit from the exchange of ideas that then follows.

Twitter is used to swap links to web resources ranging from a news article to a whole course.

In the era of cutbacks and lack of support, teachers are forming their own personal learning networks and supporting one another.

One such example is Pedagoo – a blog borne out of a desire to have teachers exchange ideas to the benefit of their pupils.

Every Friday, teachers share a strategy or an idea in a lesson that went well that week and share it online – with any teacher able to join in.

TeachMeets where teachers have organised their own CPD sessions – coming together to share snapshots of their practice to support and learn from one another – whilst many more people follow the sessions online via videolink or via twitter.

Or BeerMeets – where the virtual staffroom retreats to the pub.

There are many, many more examples that could be said to be revolutionary.

But there’s another use of social media that we have to pay attention to and that is as a tool for the association enabling us to reach out to, inform and involve our members – something we HAVE been doing, and could make much more use of in future.

But Congress, it’s not all sweetness and light.

There are many barriers – artificial barriers, placed in the way of this revolution. Whether it is the attitude of the great and the good, the blocking of technologies from being used; let alone fulfilling their potential; – to a simple lack of access for a teacher to play with and learn.

Instead, we are forced to adapt to stupid IT schemes to report, track our pupils and other things made more difficult due to bad design and whilst IT isn’t a panacea in education; the wrong IT, poorly run and executed is however an undoubted disaster.

These things have to change.

Routinely I spend too much of my time waiting on flawed IT just to work, forcing me to think around it rather than involving it.

The experience is jarring and as I consider myself to be more adept with IT than the average person, I can hardly imagine what it must feel like to those who are still uncomfortable.

This is of course, before we even get to the issue of software – which too often simply makes the matter worse.

Click – hang – slow response – crash.


Contrast this with my iPad. I click on the home button and swipe-to-wake.

I then point at an icon on the screen and ‘boom!’ I am doing the thing that I want to do and soon am immersed in it in the same way as a reader is soon immersed in the story in a book. The hardware has blended away to become simply an unnoticed conduit to the experience brought about by the interaction with the application.

This is the future – mobile, app-based technology linked to the Cloud. The days of the desktop PC in people’s lives are numbered – indeed laptops are now outselling desktops left, right and centre – with the growth in iPad sales outstripping them all.

Unless and until schools can have IT ‘solutions’ that allow staff and pupils to immerse themselves in the task they are seeking to perform,
rather than immersing themselves in the inevitable frustration of hardware and software created without any thought of the end-user-experience – we will never see a genuine IT revolution.

It never fails to amaze me that the same people who seem to dictate IT policy and procurement – are the same people who simply do not understand it.

My daughter has been born into a post – PC world however, the educators she will be taught by have not.

They need the tools and the support to be able to adapt and adopt because we simply cannot expect teachers to use 21st century learning technologies if they are still trapped by 20th century frustrations.

Please support the motion.

For Want of a Nail, the Shoe was Lost. For Want of a Shoe, the Horse was Lost…

Michael Cook, Cosla spokesman for human resources, said: “No-one would pretend … that educational outcomes are purely dependent on teacher numbers.”

It started with a cough. Then a sneeze. Then a throbbing pain in the throat and the head and the familiar signs of flu returned to the staffroom.
At risk from the forthcoming annual bout of teacher (and pupil) winter-related illness are not just the usual victims: colleagues who have to cover classes, business managers kept awake trying to fit less staff in to more empty lessons or the pupils enjoying their ‘curriculum for excellence’ from a textbook or a worksheet or a DVD.
Try telling the PTs spending day after day setting cover for classes where there is no teacher and no supply available due to ‘vacancy management’ and the pay cut for supply staff that there will be no impact on outcomes. Or, for that matter, on their health, their workload or their ‘professional development’.
This year, the pressure will be on to see if those who commissioned, signed and supported the CoSLA/EIS sell-out-agreement will be correct in their assertion that it was a success.
As schools have seen staffing numbers reduced, vacancies unfilled and supply unavailable the chances are that this winter will be the most challenging yet in our schools. An increasingly demoralised profession now coming up against the consequences of a deal struck to maintain teacher numbers at a slower rate of decline – for this year only.
On the horizon local councils are currently setting budgets that may well see overall teacher numbers kept but support services slashed, departmental and school budgets butchered and that’s just the good news, as council leaders seek to minimise the bad news this side of the local council elections. Shorn of the pressure to get re-elected what will the real post-election budgets reveal?

If (or possibly when) Scotland’s teachers say ‘enough is enough’ and start to work to their actual contract, Councillor Cook may well be proved correct because it is often the case that so many teachers go beyond their duties to ensure the best for their pupils. When CoSLA only get what they actually pay for, perhaps the good Councillor will join us in the real world.

The Behaviour Guru

Tom Bennett nails the false hopes of so many senior managers:

But with some students, who persist in their self-destruction, there has to come a point at which a school says, ‘OK, we’ve tried. Cheerio.’ People who howl at this as some symptom of faithlessness are invited to consider this: do you realise what the cost to the other students is, by allowing such people to remain? I’ll tell you for free: it means that the other kids learn half as much. I promise you this. You can have one or the other. Take your cat calendar aphorisms and your rainbows and ponies about every child being a bundle of dreams and fairy wishes, and stick them up your arse. We teachers have no time for your fantasies. The children have no time for your fantasies.

Why IT will not replace the book – until the iPad rules the world.

You pick up a book; you open it and just read. Immersed in the story you easily get beyond noticing the book itself – the pages, the typeface or the binding. You might flick to the cover  and compare what you see with the story that the author has brought into your mind.
However, just imagine that the next age is stuck to the one that follows. It jars because you have been removed from experiencing the story to experiencing the book and its failings. As you attempt to prize the pages apart you fume a bit about cheapskate publishers or shoddy workmanship but soon, you are back in the story and you move on. Unfortunately, a few pages further on it happened again and more pages are stuck together, and then later still it happens again. Soon, the failings of the book start to cloud your experience and your interest in the story starts to wane. Ultimately, you might throw the book away or move on to another book or move onto another activity altogether.
The vast majority of our experiences with books are not like this, and our reading is seldom disrupted in this way. Indeed, we take it for granted that this will be the case – which is why a ‘faulty’ book is so frustrating. Imagine for a minute the impact upon readers and reading if suddenly all books were made with pages stuck together – or covers that simply didn’t open – or pages from another story inserted in them. Yet, this is exactly what seems to happen with much ‘modern’ IT.
The average classroom PC takes a good wee while to boot-up, you then face a log-in to fully start and you can access the desktop. Another log-in might take you online whilst a further password allows you to read your email. All of this comes after the PC has started-up and run whatever antivirus software and incidental bloatware has been installed on it.
Then you can log-on to GLOW or wait, that’ll be after you have registered you class having had to log-on to E1 or whatever.
This is my experience and I am sure I am not alone.
Routinely I spend too much of my time waiting on flawed IT forcing me to think around it rather than involving it. The experience is jarring and as I consider myself to be more adept with IT than the average person, I can hardly imaging what it must feel like to those that are still uncomfortable.
This is of course, before we even get to the issue of software – though I think that people will see that too often the software simply makes the matter worse. Click – hang – slow response – crash.
Contrast this with my iPad.
I click on the home button and swipe-to-wake.
I then point at an icon on the screen and ‘boom!’ I am doing the think that I want to do and soon am immersed in it in the same way as a reader is immersed in the story. The hardware has blended away to become simply an unnoticed conduit to the experience brought about by the interaction with the app.
This is the future – mobile, app-based technology linked to the Cloud. The days of the desktop PC in people’s lives are numbered – indeed laptops are now outselling desktops left, right and centre – with the growth in iPad sales outstripping them all.
Unless and until schools can have IT ‘solutions’ that allow staff and pupils to immerse themselves in the task they are seeking to perform rather than immersing themselves in the frustration of hardware and software created without any thought of the end-user-experience – we will never see a genuine IT revolution.
That so many school/LAs still invest in low-quality bloated Wintel desktop PCs and frown at the mere thought of wifi is a sign that we will continue to fail to catch-up with where pupils are at. Far less ‘skate to where the puck will be’.