Tes - The education podcast The Tes podcast brings you all the latest news, reviews and opinion from the world of education

September 21, 2018  

Join the Tes team as we discuss what the introduction of performance-related pay has meant for schools and teachers.

We also ask whether Labour will expand on its vision for a National Education Service at its annual conference, and discuss the findings of the survey of 5,000 governors that Tes and the National Governance Association carried out.

Tune in and enjoy.

September 21, 2018  

In this week's TES FE Podcast the Department for Education's FE Commissioner, Richard Atkins CBE chats with TES columnist Sarah Simons. 

September 19, 2018  

“Systematic phonics is the great equaliser,” states Anne Castles, distinguished professor in the department of cognitive science at Macquarie University. “If the child does not have rich language background, you can teach them phonics then they can go and read and supply themselves with that rich language, which is so key for their ability to access the curriculum later on.”

Speaking on this week’s episode of Tes Podagogy, Castles argues the evidence this is the case is now compelling. 

“There have been thousands of studies that have looked at phonics in various ways, various forms and using various measures,” she reveals. “We are at a level of confidence now where we can say we have a pretty good understanding that if a phonics programme follows a set of principals then most likely it will be effective, because it would fit with the broader evidence base we have.”

Evidence for phonics

Despite this evidence base, however, she admits to understanding why the topic of phonics remains controversial.

“It is certainly true that is has been more difficult to document evidence of the success of phonics in the long term, but we are starting to see that evidence come through,” she says. “However, we do need more of it.

“And a lot of teachers have used whole language methods for a long time and have experienced success. There are plenty of children who will learn to read regardless of the method being used. So it is very hard for teachers, as they have seen a method bring success, to be told there is a better method.”

She says there has also been a tendency on both sides of the argument to claim phonics should be the totality of reading instruction in the early years - or that this is what people wish to happen - and this has fanned the flames of the debate unnecessarily. It’s an issue she touched on in a co-written article for Tes earlier this year and one she revisits in the podcast.

“There should never be a suggestion that the only reading instruction children should be getting is phonics,” she says. “They should be read to, they should be enmeshed in a reading environment, they should be engaged in all sorts of reading instruction.”

A balanced approach

Another claim she says is unhelpful is that, if well taught, every child will ‘get’ phonics. That is simply not the case, she says, but what phonics can do is help teachers spot those with reading disorders sooner. 

“i don’t believe it is true that all children will ‘get’ phonics if they are taught properly,” she explains. “There are some children who are instructional casualties - they have no reading disorder but have not been taught explicitly and have needed the instruction - but there will also be a group who will continue to struggle way past the first few years of schooling [despite good phonics teaching]. What phonics can do, is help us spot those children who do have reading difficulties. By having a phonics check in place, you can pick out the ones who do not seem to be responding well and get some intervention in place. “

In the podcast, she goes on to discuss the evidence base in ore detail, to talk about the commercialisation  and politicalisation of phonics and how that influences the debate, and also about the problems with identifying language problems at too early an age. 

September 13, 2018  

The Tes team discusses the findings of a heavyweight commission that has been examining how schools are held to account.

We also hear about the concerns of two mothers whose daughters were raped by classmates.

September 13, 2018  

In this week's episode Nigel Duncan, Principal of Fareham College shares the secrets of creating a successful pop-up enterprise.

September 11, 2018  

“Most things in education, we have no idea whether they work,” admits professor Steve Higgins.

The professor in the school of education at Durham University and co-creator of the EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit, speaking on this week’s Tes Podagogy podcast, explains that this is because research in education is extremely complicated.

“Schools are unpredictable places and you cannot control all the variables. But when you control all the variables for a study in the lab, you make it less applicable to the real and hectic world of classrooms.

“Lab studies are useful in exploring some of the theoretical components but when you move into a field trial in schools in the real world you want a much better idea of whether this is practical and whether it makes a difference and if so how much. From that you can learn whether you think it is worth trying the approach in other settings. This is expensive, and you could not test everything this way, but unless you do test things this way you run the risk of always assuming you know what is effective without really knowing how much difference it makes.”

Transfer problems

He believes certain fields of research are falling victim to difficulties in transferring to the classroom.

“With memory, you want to control and understand the variables, so design a study to do that in the lab, but in a school you want to answer a slightly different question, which is what is the best way to remember a particular skill or content, so that children can use it to be successful in school, and that is a lot more complicated. Motivation studies are also tricky. You can isolate all the variables in the lab, but when those concepts reach schools you get the messiness of the real world and it becomes more complicated again.

“Even if you do have a really rigorous series of lab studies you still need to do translational research to understand which of those are actually useful for the classroom and not all of them will be”

Selective enquiry

He goes on to express concern about the kinds of schools engaging with trials and the impact that might have on the results of those trials.

“One of my worries is that we have a self=selecting group of schools who volunteer for trials and they are the schools who are looking to improve anyway and are looking for different ways to help the children in their care, and that may bias your results. Ideally you would want to randomly select schools, but that is not practical for all kinds of reasons. So we have to be cautious about generalising from the findings.”

In a wide ranging interview he also discusses randomised controlled trials, comparisons with medical research, teacher research and the role of research in education.

September 7, 2018  

Join the Tes team as we discuss a highly-critical report about Ofsted from MPs on the Commons Public Accounts Committee.

We also reflect on landmark academic research which has raised a series of concerns about the practice of setting in schools.

Tune in and enjoy.

September 5, 2018  

“If a teacher takes a moment to think about what they actually do in their own classroom, there is tonnes of experimentation. You try a lesson plan one way and you realise at the end of that class that it’s really not going as well as you would have liked and then maybe your new class files in and you tweak it a little bit,” says Angela Duckworth, Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.

Duckworth, best known for her work on the science of ‘grit’ – the combination of passion and perseverance for long-term goals that she says sets high achievers apart from the rest of the population – is currently conducting research more broadly into character education through her non-profit organisation Character Lab, with the aim of providing a robust, scientific basis for teaching the ‘soft’ skills that are viewed with scepticism by some.

To do this, she explains in this week’s episode of Tes Podagogy, she is relying on classroom teachers conducting experiments with their classes. This is a task that they are more than equipped for, she believes.

“I know that in the UK there is a really robust and reasonably recent, but really robust and admirable tradition of doing research in schools,” Duckworth says. “So, the idea of experimentation isn’t really new [for teachers]...I think that idea of really closing the loop and doing it systematically with measures and statistics is of course new.”

The Character Lab Research Network conducted its first large-scale experiment in January, with 14,000 high school students, who participated in a variety of different activities designed to increase positive character traits.

“It was a coin-flip which activity they would get. This enables us to see if any of the activities were helpful, which of the activities were more helpful than others,” Duckworth says.

'Innovation and experimentation'

The random nature of the experiment was the best way to ensure fair results, but it also required the teachers taking part to take a leap of faith and accept the uncertainty of the scientific method, she adds.

“Generally, teachers like to try to give the best thing to their students and just give it to all of them. When I was a classroom teacher I never did anything with half my kids that I didn’t do with the other half of the kids and so that is a bit of a paradigm shift for some teachers.”

So, what has Character Lab uncovered about character education so far? In the podcast, Duckworth shares her findings and explains why she is hopeful for taking this research further, working in collaboration with teachers and helping them to become "psychologically wise".

“Innovation and experimentation is what every teacher has to do. We’re just hoping to do it in a more cumulative way.

“So many things that teachers figure out work for them, they never really get to tell other teachers what it is that they did and why it might have worked, because teachers tend to not have that medium. But scientists, that’s kind of what they do: they have hypothesis, they test it, and whether it works or not, hopefully you write it up and you tell the world so that the insight can be shared,” says Duckworth.

September 3, 2018  

In the first episode of the new Tes English teaching podcast, the founders of the Team English Twitter community talk to Jamie Thom about collaborative working

It is the start of the academic year and with it comes the yearly tidal wave of teaching and learning guidance for us to wade through. It may be well intentioned, but so little of it takes into account the enormous workload that teachers are already facing. And even less is related to what we are immersed in day-in and day-out in the classroom: subject teaching.

Finding targeted, quality CPD that is subject-specific and doesn’t add to workload can be challenging. This is what led Becky Wood and Nikki Carlin to set up Team English, a free online community where English teachers can collaborate. The account has amassed over eighteen thousand Twitter followers in just two years.

“True collaboration is so much more than just designing a scheme of work together,” says Carlin, speaking on the first episode of the new Tes English teaching podcast.

She and Wood believe that effective collaboration could be the solution to one of the biggest challenges that we English teachers face: navigating the demands on our time and finding a better work/life balance.

However, they also stress that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to making use of a collaborative resource like Team English.

“What works for one person might not for another,” says Wood. “Find out how you work best and avoid comparing yourself with others.”

Wood and Carlin also suggest how English teachers might prioritise their time in terms of their classroom craft, giving helpful suggestions about what we should streamline in our teaching.

Carlin explains how getting rid of PowerPoints from her lesson has saved her hours in planning time and left her free to focus on what really matters in English: the texts we teach.

“I was filing my lessons with busy work, what I call fluff; the reality is I realised is it is all about the text,” she says.

Jamie Thom is an English teacher at Cramlington Learning Village and the author of Slow Teaching: A guide to finding calm, organisation and impact in the classroom.

August 31, 2018  

As teachers prepare for the start of the new academic year, the Tes team discusses an analysis of teaching hours that shows how the curriculum has changed in schools in recent years.

We also reflect on education secretary Damian Hinds' first major interview for the new school year, and re-cap some of the bigger stories you may have missed over the summer.

Tune in and enjoy.


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