No More Mobiles – Six Weeks in

At the start of September, I wrote my post No more mobiles about why we took the decision to ban mobile phones from school. There were several reasons, the foremost being the level of distraction they created. That original post generated quite a bit of interest, as did this follow up after the first week. Here’s the view from six weeks in.

Testing the boundary 

It probably won’t surprise teachers that after a smooth first week with only a handful of students using their phones, a few more decided to test the boundary in the second and third weeks, with a few more phones in evidence and a couple of arguments. The peak was only 24 phones in a week, though. I don’t think four or five a day is that bad, and once it became clear that the new rule was here to stay, that quickly dropped back to a few a week. We also had a couple of disgruntled parents, but they also complied with the policy when it was explained to them (one not to happy that his daughter’s plea that he must come in immediately to get her phone was not exactly the case!)

The Art of Conversation

As we approach the half term holiday, the main impact of the ban is as it appeared in the first week – students are spending much more time talking to each other face to face. At break and lunchtime, our cafeteria, social spaces and playgrounds are full of groups of children, chatting, smiling and laughing. The phones do come out again at the end of the school day, but they don’t seem to be missed in school.
As we thought, we have made some concessions for individuals who are, for example Young Carers or use apps to assist because English is an additional language. Our policy has also identified a few pupils with several phones – four confiscated from one, three of which parents didn’t know about!  Clearly a concern and that is being followed up.

Hopefully we have set the pattern for the year ahead. We are now planning specific ways in which pupils can use mobile devices purposefully, perhaps on Bring Your Own Device Days. As always, your comments are very welcome.

Fantastic Four: A fourth year of inspirational education quotes

I collect inspirational education quotes. I use these for ‘quote of the week’ on our staffroom notice board. This is the fourth year of quotes – 38 are listed in each collection, enough for one for each week of the school year. You can read the collections from previous years here:

Quote of the week – inspiration for Monday mornings

Quote of the week 2 – more inspiration for Monday mornings

Quote of the week – a third year of inspiration

As with the previous collections, I have done my best to ensure that each of the quotes below is accurate and attributed correctly. My apologies if I have made any mistakes – please let me know of any errors and I will rectify them. I hope you find these quotes as inspirational as I have.

  1. Your attitude is as important as your aptitude. Tanya Accone
  2. Music is an element that should be part and parcel is of every child’s life via the education system. Victoria Wood
  3. There is no system in the world, or any school in the country that is better than its teachers. Teachers are the lifeblood of the success of schools. Sir Ken Robinson
  4. Persistence can change failure into extraordinary achievement. Matt Biondi
  5. Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth. Muhammad Ali
  6. If you want the best out of life you have to be ready when the opportunity comes. Heimir Hallgrímsson
  7. Don’t be afraid to give up the good to go for the great. John D. Rockefeller 
  8. Every teacher needs to improve, not because they are not good enough, but because they can be even better. Dylan Wiliam
  9. Millions saw the apple fall but Newton asked why. Bernard Baruch
  10. Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in. Isaac Asimov 
  11. Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching. C.S.Lewis
  12. I wasn’t one of those kids destined to be a champion. It was a slow, steady slog. Sir Chris Hoy
  13. There are no shortcuts to any place worth going. Beverly Sills 
  14. Amateurs call it genius, masters cal lit practice. Thierry Henry
  15. You’ll never see a video game advertised as being easy. Kids who don’t like school will tell you it’s not because it’s too hard. It’s because it’s boring. Seymour Papert
  16. You can’t teach people everything they need to know. The best you can do is position them where they can find what they need to know when they need to know it. Seymour Papert
  17. In any given moment we have two options: to step forward into growth or to step back into safety. Abraham Maslow
  18. Skill is only developed by hours and hours of work. Usain Bolt
  19. If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. Dr. Wayne Dyer 
  20. Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom. Marcel Proust
  21. Success… Is the result of continual preparation, hard work and learning from failure. Geraint Thomas
  22. True ignorance is not the absence of knowledge but the refusal to acquire it. Karl Popper
  23. What sculpture is to a block of marble, education is to a human soul. Joseph Addison
  24. In order to succeed, people need a sense of self-efficacy, to struggle together with resilience to meet the inevitable obstacles and inequities of life. Albert Bandura
  25. Teaching is a beautiful job; as it allows you to see the growth day by day of people entrusted to your care. Pope Francis
  26. Teaching is a wonderful way to learn. Carol Dweck
  27. The best thing about being a teacher is that it matters. The hardest thing about being a teacher is that it matter every day. Todd Whittaker
  28. A prudent question is one half of wisdom. Sir Francis Bacon
  29. Ask at the end of each & every day: “What Went Right Today?” Angela Maiers 
  30. Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will. Mahatma Gandhi
  31. Education is transformational, the force that erases arbitrary divisions of race and class and culture and unlocks every person’s God-given potential. Condoleezza Rice 
  32. The answers you get depend on the questions you ask. Thomas Kuhn
  33. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts. Henry David Thoreau (via @AbdulRazaq_DPH)
  34. I find the quietest times of my life speak the loudest. Regina Dugan
  35. If your plan is for one year, plant rice. If your plan is for ten years, plant trees. If your plan is for 100 years, educate children. Confucius
  36. By being yourself, you put something wonderful in the world that was not there before. Edwin Elliot
  37. Children have to want to learn. So give them the love of story first and the rest will follow. Michael Morpurgo via @Booktrust
  38. A river cuts through rock not because of its power but because of its persistence. Jim Watkins

I hope you find these useful. Comments are always welcome and Ibalways appreciate hearing about words of wisdom that inspire you.

Tackling behaviour to improve learning – a rocky road but we’re getting there

Last year I wrote a post called ‘Progress on behaviour – Haven’t I seen this graph somewhere before’ about work I had been leading on improving the behaviour of pupil premium students for whom we had identified poor behaviour as the main inhibitor to learning. That became my most read post by quite a long margin. The main point I made was that any improvements we achieved were not through a straightforward upward path, but through a messy reality including plateaus and setbacks, with any progress emerging only through perseverance. Here, I’ll discuss what impact our work on behaviour has had on the progress in learning of the children involved.

In my original post I identified three different ‘response types’ among the students involved:

  1. Pupils who reacted quickly to interventions and made rapid improvements in behaviour.
  2. Pupils who took longer to react and/or had more frequent setbacks, so made more gradual progress, with improvement taking longer.
  3. Pupils who did not seem to respond to interventions and whose behaviour did not improve, or even deteriorated.

Impact of Behaviour shift on learning

Not surprisingly, any consequent improvement in academic progress followed the same pattern, with the group of pupils who achieved the most rapid turn-around in their behaviour also making the greatest progress. 

The graph shows the correlation between shift in behaviour (measured using our school conduct points system) and GCSE value-added (through a simple comparison of prediction and end of year results, using old money A*=8, A=7, etc) for Key Stage 4 students. For year 11 the end results were actual exam results, for year 10 they were end of year assessments.

There is a statistically significant positive correlation between improved behaviour and value added (Pearson’s r=0.715 exceeding the critical value of 0.400 for p<0.05, N=18). 

Now, I know this isn’t exactly headline news: improving behaviour leads to a better chance of academic success. I do think it’s important. The rocky road of ups and downs that I described in my original post ultimately led to real positive gains for most of the students involved. Remember, they were those with the worst behaviour at the start of the year. This shows us that when the going is tough, and when there are setbacks, it really is worth persevering with these students. 

Broadly, the three student response types resulted in these outcomes:

  1. Rapid improvements in behaviour led to students generally achieving(and sometimes exceeding) their predicted grades.
  2. Students who made more gradual improvement picked up their performance but still had a slightly negative VA. Often other factors had a significant impact, including poor attendance, or the impact of events outside school.
  3. Students who did not improve their behaviour had markedly negative VA. this was often characterised by erratic attendance, lack of cooperation with the basics of the school code of conduct and, sometimes, difficulty in engaging parents.

Certainly for group 2, we have taken the view that earlier identification would have helped secure faster improvements in behaviour and better academic outcomes. We drew up our new student groups last term, so we were ready to proceed right from the start of the new school year in September. For the same reason, we’re also making sure we tackle attendance issues much more quickly. The toughest challenge is those students in group 3. We’re working so that our pastoral and inclusion teams are communicating more closely to respond to behaviours that may result from special educational needs, and use behaviours to identify unmet needs. We are also responding to the fact that the group of pupil premium students generally responded more gradually than their peers by making sure that, as a whole school, we our applying our ‘Pupil Premium First’ policy consistently.

My next job is to analyse the progress of the groups we set up because poor attendance was the main inhibitor to learning. As always, I welcome any comments or suggestions you may have.

No more mobiles – the first week

At the start of September, I wrote my post ‘No more mobiles’ about why we took the decision to ban mobile phones from school. There were several reasons, the foremost being the level of distraction they created. That original post generated quite a bit of interest, so this is my first update on how our decision is going, based on the first week back at school.

On the first day back everything went very smoothly. We had made the decision to give students warnings and literally only a handful them needed a reminder about having their phone out, or headphones round their neck. All responded straight away, a couple saying it was news to them. Several students proffered their phones for safe-keeping at reception in the morning but mostly there was no phone in evidence. It’s likely that most had decided to keep their phone off and in their bag. I only spotted one student at lunchtime with their head almost inside their bag – “I’m just putting it in my bag.” The first day back usually goes smoothly though, doesn’t it?

The rest of the first week continued much the same way however. By Friday several staff reported that they had given reminders / warnings to students, but students had responded quickly and put their phone away. Colleagues also said that students were giving each other reminders not to have phones out.

What surprised me was the lack of complaint or questions from students. I had thought that the new policy wasn’t a change as far as lessons went, but at break and lunchtime, some students would might have difficulty adapting. This just didn’t happen. Apart from the few reminders I mentioned, phones weren’t in evidence in the cafeteria, indoor social area, playground or the field. 

So what were students doing if they weren’t on their phones? Talking to each other, face to face, in groups, chatting, smiling, laughing! I also think there were more playing sport, skateboarding, etc. These are just casual observations – most pupils chatted in groups last year, with maybe one in four on a phone at the same time, more were outside playing but we had good weather last week. Colleagues report a ‘renewed focus’ among students, but then it was the first week of the year. We will need to see how things develop as the year progresses.

Did we have to confiscate any phones? Yes, six from five pupils, who did not respond to reminders (that’s  about 0.4% of students). In my first post on this I listed four reasons for our decision to ban mobiles:

  1. Distraction, most likely to be those who had fallen behind their peers and could least afford it.
  2. The high proportion of behaviour incidents in school that centred on phone usage. 
  3. Use of social media in bullying (and other interpersonal  nastiness).
  4. Thankfully much less frequent and involving very small numbers of pupils, the use of mobile phones in the involvement of children, by older peers and adults in substance abuse, crime, and CSE. 

In all five cases, confiscation was because of 1 – distraction from getting to a lesson on time – moved to 2 by the students’ choice to ignore a warning. In a couple  of cases there may be a connection to 4, readers will appreciate that I cannot write more on that.

This may or may not turn out to be representative of the year ahead, we shall see. I aim to write another update later in the autumn term. As always, your comments are very welcome.

No more mobiles 

From September we are banning the use of mobile phones in the secondary phase of our all-through school (we have never allowed them at primary). As this is a contentious issue, I’m going to blog about how it works and what issues arise.

This first post is about why we took the decision.

Our school opened in 2003, combining former middle and upper schools. We moved into new buildings in 2006 and opened our primary phase in 2012. We have grown as as school in parallel with the growth in mobile phone use by children and the development of smartphone technology. Up to now our policy has been that mobile phones should be off and put away in lessons (unless a teacher specifies their use for an educational purpose) but can be used at break or lunch. 

Last year a team at the LSE produced this paper on the positive impact on exam results at schools which had banned mobile phones – Ill communication: Technology, Distraction & Student Performance. The results were clear-cut and chimed with the concerns that mobiles, especially mobile access to social media were a distraction to students. Nevertheless, we could also see that there could be educational advantages in using this technology, and that we could involve students in the decision. We spent a year monitoring the impact of mobiles. Our Principal spoke to students in assembly about the research on mobiles, how persuasive the evidence was for a ban, and how we would be considering it.

At the end of last term we announced the new rule, publishing it in our newsletter. We took many factors into consideration but four predominated in our thinking:

  1. A proportion of students are distracted by social media. As the LSE research found, these were more likely to be those who had fallen behind their peers and could least afford the distraction.
  2. A high proportion of behaviour incidents in school centred on phone usage. This was a minority of students but took up a disproportionate amount of staff time.
  3. In almost all incidents of bullying (and one-off interpersonal nastiness) social media was a key component. Incidents were prolonged and magnified because of social media comment. This involved a small number of students but a vast amount of staff time.
  4. Mobile phones are a central aspect of the involvement of children, by older peers and adults in substance abuse, crime, and CSE. Thankfully this involved only a very small number of children but they are the most vulnerable of those in our care.

The most frequent educational uses of phones, outside of computing lessons. were recording homework or for reference (e.g. dictionary, web search). Other resources for these are available to all students.

    In view of all this took the decision to ban mobiles in schools. We have addressed parental concerns about safety on the journey to and from school by collecting phones at the start of the day  and handing them back at the end (yes, that has required logistical planning). If a pupil keeps their phone off and in their bag all day we will be none the wiser, of course, but if a phone is used it will be confiscated until a parent / carer can collect it. The exception we have made is students with special needs or disabilities, or who have English as an additional language and use specific apps to help them access the curriculum.

    All that has been theory up to now; we start on Monday 5th September. I’ll be posting updates on how it goes. Your comments are always welcome and I’d be interested in hearing how other schools address this issue.

    Top Ten Signs that We’re Back to School

    Has ‘Back to School’ come as a bit of a shock? Here are my top ten signs that the lovely long Summer holiday is over and that the new school year has started. How many have happened to you?

    1. You breathe out a sigh of relief that the waistband of your work clothes still fits – and a button pops off.
    2. When you finally find your lanyard again you realise that the age gap between your staff ID photo and reality is now pushing the bounds of credulity.
    3. As a result of the ‘Summer IT Upgrade‘ your computer crashes when you try to log in (after finally remembering what your password was).
    4. When you do succeed in logging in, you find there are now 247 emails in your inbox.
    5. During the start of term INSET day you find that at least a dozen new educational acronyms (NEAs) have been invented since the end of last term.
    6. On the first day that the pupils return someone asks ‘Sir?’ / ‘Miss?’ And for a moment you wonder who they’re talking to.
    7. The bells, the bells! Your life becomes Pavlovian again.
    8. You scald yourself with your coffee, no longer having the luxury of time to let it cool down.
    9. You spend the latter half of the morning with your legs crossed because you can no longer just pop to the loo when you need to.
    10. After your first busy day, you realise with a sigh that you have to get up at THAT TIME again tomorrow… and tomorrow…

    So, how many did you score out of ten at the start of this term?! Anything I missed? What would you put in your top ten?

    Remember, though, what we do makes a real difference to the children we teach. And just think: some people have jobs where they actually have time to be bored!

    If things are getting a bit much, you might want to have a look at my post on Workable Wellbeing.

    New Specification AS – Waiting for Results Day

    I originally wrote this a few days before the 2016 AS and A Level results came out. I added the postscript after the dust had settled on results day.

    I teach psychology, one on the new AS specifications taught from September 2015. This Summer’s AS exams were the first test of the new specification, my teaching of it and interpretation of the assessment criteria. That adds a little spice to the wait for results day, for teachers as well as students!

    We opted for the AQA specification, and had done the AQA A specification previously. There was really good support for the new specification from this exam board and a wealth of sample assessments, Mark schemes and commentaries. The last time the specification changed, there were considerable differences in the style of some questions from the sample materials, but this wasn’t the case this time round. I’m aware, however that odd things can happen in the first year of a new exam and research commissioned by the DFE shows that the grade distributions can plateau or fall when specifications change, as for A levels in 2010 and GCSEs in 2011 (DFE RB203, March 2012). It’s this knowledge that means that, irrespective of how long I’ve been teaching, how much I prepared for the new course, how well the students performed in internal assessments or PPEs, I can’t be as sure of how they will do in the actual exams as I was the year before.

    I was pleased to see that Ofqual are also aware of the issues surrounding assessment of the new qualifications and say they have taken steps to ensure standardisation across the transition, so that students examined in the first year of a new course are not penalised. They also plan to publish their analysis of the results on AS results day (you can read the Ofqual blog post on setting standards for new AS qualifications here). I haven’t been impressed with some strategies used to ‘maintain standards’ especially moving grade boundaries (as you can read in my post Beating the Bounds from last year), but I’m hoping that this move to be ahead of the curve and transparent with a prompt statistical analysis is a positive one.

    So, like my students, I’ll be awaiting the results a little nervously this year – probably good for me to feel a little of what it’s like in their shoes, but I’m hoping that lessons have been from the introduction of new assessments in the past, so results will be a true indication of students’ performance.

    Postscript 18/8/17

    The results are now all in, I now now how my own students did in their exams and Ofqual have published their promised analysis (read it here).

    Nationally, the picture seems fairly stable with a 1% increase for A grades at AS continuing a trend (although only 0.2% for psychology). In general Ofqual say the outcomes for the new AS exams were similar to those taken by 17 year olds last year.

    As for my own students, much the same story. There was a slightly positive VA versus forecasts overall, so I didn’t need to worry and will have a keen bunch to embark on the first run of ‘A level Year 2’ (we decided to enter everyone for AS this time round).

    I hope your experiences with the A Level & BTEC were similarly positive.