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Education

“Nudge-u-cation” could improve education

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Dr David Halpern: Behavioural approaches unlock new solutions

MANY British adults are showing signs of pessimism about the state of education in schools, but are ready to place their hope in teachers who take a more experimental approach, a new survey has found.

The poll of 2,000 adults by the charity Pro Bono Economics, has found that only one in four British people (27%) believe that children today get a better overall primary and secondary school education than they did. As many as 43% say that schools are worse than they were in their day, while just 14% believe that there is no difference compared to the proverbial best days of their lives.

Meanwhile, the public mood among adults implies that there are fewer guarantees of security when it comes to jobs, finances, owning a home and a comfortable retirement.

Comparing today’s school children to their parents:

  • Two-thirds (65%) of British adults think that today’s young people will be less likely to own their own home;
  • 57% say they will have less job security;
  • 54% say they will be less likely to benefit from a good pension;
  • 47% say they will be worse off financially.

On a more optimistic note, only one fifth (27%) of respondents say that today’s children will be less likely to move to a more affluent area than their parents, and just 22% believe they will be less happy with their job and their lives overall. A mere 19% predict that today’s children will be less likely to attend university or go on to further education. But pessimism returns when it comes to comparing the future lives of today’s young people and the current life of their parents: only 6% of respondents feel that they will not be worse off in any way.

In their efforts to help young people reach further education, and improve their life chances and social mobility, some schools have been adopting behavioural science techniques – also known as ‘nudges’ – with the aim of improving academic achievement and attendance. This approach appears to have the support of many members of the public.

With the Education Policy Institute reporting that a large number of local authority-maintained schools are now spending beyond their means, the survey reveals that many now believe it is time to take a new approach to improving children’s education, attendance and grades. Over four in ten (44%) feel that teachers should be allowed to experiment with new approaches, and 26% believe teachers should test new approaches before they are more widely adopted. Only 12% think that teachers should continue as they are, adopting consistent, accepted approaches that are believed to favour academic progress.

“In less than a decade, behavioural science has moved from the fringes to the heart of policy,” says Dr David Halpern, Chief Executive of the Behavioural Insights Team, who delivered the Pro Bono Economics Annual Lecture on Wednesday (March 28) at the Royal Society.

“Successive governments around the world have seen the benefits of introducing a more realistic model of human behaviour to public services. Our own trials in education have shown how interventions as simple and low-cost as a text message can have transformative effects – from increased attendance to improved pass rates. Experimental and behavioural approaches are both unlocking new solutions and improving old ones.”

Behavioural approaches have also helped encourage the much wider use of experimental methods – notably the randomised control trial – in routine policymaking. In the UK, this empiricism has found expression in the ‘What Works’ movement and network, and in the creation of independent What Works centres covering education, crime, early intervention, local economic growth, well-being, better aging and, most recently, youth social work.

In his Pro Bono Economics lecture, Dr Halpern will explore the dimensions and potential of the What Works movement. In particular, he will examine the cutting-edge power of the behavioural approach when it comes to education and social mobility, while identifying the barriers that still limit its enormous possibilities.

Julia Grant, Chief Executive of Pro Bono Economics, commented: “Whether or not our education system really is better or worse than a generation ago, this survey indicates that many British adults don’t believe that young people are being properly prepared for the world beyond school. No matter whether they are planning on university, another form of further education or the workplace, there is a feeling that limits are being put on their life chances.

“The positive we can take from these findings is that people are willing to put aside their scepticism and embrace more experimental approaches to improving children’s learning, attendance, grades and access to further education.

“Collectively, we need to move away from the orthodoxy of approaches that are supported by little or no evidence of their impact and adopt new, experimental approaches that produce evidence to demonstrate their immediate success or failure.”

Education

Pembrokeshire school smashes the national grade average

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PUPILS at Castle School were thrilled to collect their exam results this week and discover that between them they had amassed an impressive set of passes.  In contrast to the national average which showed a drop of 1%, students improved on their already impressive average of 90%, collectively gaining 94% passes at grades A* – C.  

Many of the students in year 10 were encouraged to sit some exams early in those subjects they had been prepared for and were similarly rewarded, with their results reflecting the school’s overall average.  

The school’s head, Su Cowell, told us ‘these results are even more remarkable when you compare us with the national average of 61% and take into consideration that we are a non-selective school.  The pupils are to be congratulated on their impressive results. They worked extremely hard and all their revision and efforts have been rewarded. Credit must also go to our staff, of course, who worked tirelessly to ensure that every pupil has the best chance of not only passing but also securing the best grade they are capable of. ‘

Whilst all the pupils are to be congratulated, particular mention should go to Lucy Mansfield who has now amassed an incredible total of 14 GCSEs, with 11 A*s, 2 As and an even more impressive 100% in her Additional Maths exam which included A level material.  Teachers were also delighted that two-thirds of their scientists gained either A or A* in all three subjects, as did the class taking Latin. The school’s director, Harriet Harrison, added, ‘I am delighted to see that despite being non-selective we strive to fulfil each child’s potential and about half of our students take nine or more subjects at GCSE with some of them studying 11, 12, even 14, and still manage to get such impressive results.  In addition several of our students enrolled on an accelerated programme in maths, having already earned the top grade last year. It was fantastic to see that they all gained Distinction in the tougher Additional Maths GCSE with one of them getting full marks, which is incredible.’

As the school reaches its 10th anniversary next year, it has many plans to celebrate and hopes that one of those reasons will include another record-breaking set of results.

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Education

WG invests £7.2m in STEM education

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Astronaut Tim Peake: Promoting STEM study

PRINCE’S TRUST Ambassador Tim Peake landed in Cardiff on Tuesday (Jul 17) to help the Minister for Welsh Language and Lifelong Learning, Eluned Morgan, announce £7.2m of funding to encourage young people, especially girls, to study Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) subjects at school.

The astronaut, joined the Minister at an event organised by The Prince’s Trust Cymru at Tramshed Tech where they met young people involved in the youth charity’s STEM-related programmes, There, the Minister announced an investment of £7.2m, including £5.2m of European Union funding, for two similar projects. Gwynedd Council’s £1.9m STEM Gogledd and Swansea University’s £5.3m Technocamps 2 have been awarded £1.4m and £3.8m of EU funding, respectively.

Both projects will help to ensure young people, particularly girls and young women, continue STEM studies at GCSE and beyond with the aim of pursuing STEM-related careers.

Over the next four years, STEM Gogledd will work with 600 young people, 60% of whom will be female, to enrich and promote STEM subjects through a range of activities that complement the mainstream curriculum within schools across Gwynedd, Anglesey and Conwy.

Technocamps 2 will work with 3,600 young people across West Wales, North Wales and the South Wales Valleys, two-thirds of whom will be female. It will target secondary schools which do not currently offer computer science as an option at GCSE, or where the subject is only recently available. The project will enable pupils in these schools to take part in workshops to build on their existing knowledge and enthusiasm for IT and computing.

Announcing the funding, the Minister said: “It is a pleasure to be standing alongside Tim Peake today to announce such an important investment which will help to build the skills of our young people to help drive a the Welsh economy.

“Wales must become a STEM nation if we are to build a modern, dynamic, open economy that benefits everyone in Wales. Both the pace and nature of technological change is increasing dramatically and, to have the skilled workforce to capitalise on it, it is vital we have more young people who choose to study STEM subjects to a sufficiently high standard. While this is quite a challenge to address for both boys and girls, the challenge for girls is much greater.

“This is why I am grateful to organisations like The Prince’s Trust for their pioneering programmes and to role models, like Tim, who are influential in promoting the study of STEM subjects. Tim’s Principia mission inspired a generation and showed just how far, literally, science can take you.

“We cannot just rely on people like Tim, though. We must all play our part in stimulating interest in these crucial subjects as a way of securing the next generation of STEM professionals in Wales. This is why I am so pleased to announce this £7.2m investment, £5.2m of it from the EU, for STEM Gogledd and Technocamps. This is a great example of EU funds helping to enthuse and excite young people, particularly girls, about the opportunities available to them.”

Philip Jones, Director of The Prince’s Trust Cymru said: “We are delighted that Tim Peake was able to join us and Welsh Government in promoting the importance of STEM to Welsh Education today. At The Prince’s Trust Cymru, we believe every young person should have the chance to succeed, and we believe Welsh Government’s latest commitment to STEM activities will help transform more young lives in Wales.”

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Education

Williams marks end of school year

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Proud of reforms: Kirsty Williams

AT THE end of school year, Education Secretary Kirsty Williams has set out what has been achieved through Wales’ national mission for education and what these changes mean for pupils, teachers and parents.

Last September, the Education Secretary announced a national mission to raise standards, reduce the attainment gap, and deliver an education system that is a source of national pride and public confidence.

At a conference held in Cardiff today, the Education Secretary explained how major changes to what pupils are taught, how they are taught and how their teachers are trained and developed are helping to transform schools as we know them.

One of the most significant and wide-reaching of these changes is the new curriculum to be rolled out from 2022. Over 200 pioneer schools across Wales are involved in developing six different Areas of Learning and Experience. This work includes embedding digital competence into all areas of teaching and learning and supporting teachers to develop the new curriculum.

A new independent report published today found that these schools strongly support the changes being made and are enthusiastic about their part in developing Wales’ new curriculum.

Teachers’ professional learning and development has been similarly instrumental to the national mission for education, with this school year seeing:

New professional standards for Teaching and Leadership developed with the profession, for the profession;

The establishment of a new National Academy for Educational Leadership to support all leaders in education at all stages of their careers;

New accredited Initial Teacher Education programmes to be delivered in the academic year 2019/20;

Plans for a new part-time PGCE and Employment Based Route into teaching from 2019/20.

Teachers and pupils will also soon begin to see the benefits of a £36 million fund to reduce infant class sizes, with the appointment of over 80 new teachers across Wales and a capital fund to build new classrooms.

Reducing unnecessary bureaucracy for teachers continues to remain a priority, with this year seeing a £1.2 million investment in the appointment of school business managers – helping headteachers to manage their workload and focus on raising standards and school improvement.

Kirsty Williams said: “When I announced our national mission for education last September I said that we would never be able to achieve our ambitions if we just stayed still.

“That’s why the past year has been all about momentum – a drive for self-improvement that reaches right across our education system.

“We still have much work to do but I’m proud of the reforms that we have introduced in a relatively short space of time. I am also genuinely impressed by how everyone in the education system has responded.

“When I visit schools and talk to teachers and pupils, I am always struck about what they’re achieving and how they are improving – whether that’s in developing the new curriculum or discovering new ways of teaching and learning.

“In return, we are introducing the most comprehensive changes to teacher training and development in years, ensuring that our teaching profession are fully prepared and equipped when they start to teach our new curriculum.

“Our schools are changing, education in Wales is changing and I’m confident that our national mission is well on course to deliver the wholesale reforms that we need.”

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