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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

Globalisation with a difference at Lampeter

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Tabula Peutingeriana: A copy of a Roman original world map

AN INTERNATIONAL multidisciplinary conference that aims to explore approaches to the theme of ‘globalisation’ across the ancient world will be held at UWTSD’s Lampeter conference next month.

Entitled “Re-Thinking Globalisation in the Ancient World” up to 30 academic experts from Asia, Europe, South and North America will visit Ceredigion to present papers and take part in discussions at the three-day event. Keynote speakers at the conference include Professor Mark Horton from the University of Bristol and the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Germany and Professor Michael Sommer from Universität Oldenburg.

Conference organiser and Senior Lecturer in Roman History and Archaeology at UWTSD Associate Professor Ralph Häussler said: “We’re very much looking forward to hosting this conference and welcoming so many distinguished experts in the field to Lampeter – it truly is a ‘global’ conference. The purpose of the conference is to provide new insights into cross-cultural interactions and responses in inter-connected and entangled regions of the ancient world.

Methodological issues relating to the theme of ‘globalisation’ will be analysed in different contexts, notably the application of this concept in different regions and different periods of the ancient world. In the 21st century ‘Globalisation’ is a buzzword for our interconnected and fast-moving modern times. But globalisation is not new. Already 2,000 – 3,000 years ago, we can identify comparable developments, like an ever increasing inter-dependency between distant regions of the ancient world. Nowadays, the concept of ‘globalisation’ and of a cosmopolitan society has come under increasing scrutiny for contemporary society. Therefore the study of globalisation with regards to the ancient world will enable us to place this modern debate within a wider historical framework. Everybody is welcome to come along and take part in what promises to be a fascinating discussion.”

The Conference will start at 8:30am on the 8th May and come to a close at midday on the 10th May 2018. More information can be found here: https://bit.ly/2qF2NTB.

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Education

Creative coding challenge for schools

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Animating challenge: Schools invited to combine poetry and computing

ABERYSTWYTH U​NIVERSITY’S Computer Science Department is calling on primary school pupils across Wales to take part in a unique coding competition combining poetry, Welsh mythology and creative computing.

The challenge to children aged 7-11 years old includes animating a poem by Eurig Salisbury, a lecturer at Aberystwyth University’s Department of Welsh & Celtic Studes as well as an award-winning writer and former Children’s Welsh Poet Laureate.

Alternatively, contestants can also choose to animate a Welsh myth or legend – from the Mabinogion, for example.

There will be prizes for the winning teams as well as a visit to the winning entry’s school by a team of computer scientists from Aberystwyth University who will hold a day of educational coding activities.

The aim of the competition is to encourage children to give coding a go and to learn new skills for the workplace of the future.

Organiser Dr Hannah Dee, Senior Lecturer at Aberystwyth University’s Computer Science Department, said: “Coding is a digital skill which will only increase in importance. People often think that coding is just spreadsheets or numbers. This contest aims to show that it’s much than that – you can code pictures, animations, and even poetry. Creative coding is something everyone can have a go at, particularly using Scratch, a kids’ programming language.

“We have four top prizes this year with winners awarded either a Pi-top Laptop or Kano Computer Kit or and we are grateful to both companies for their sponsorship and support.”

Fellow organiser and lecturer Martin Nelmes said: “As a Department, we visit schools the length and breadth of Wales with our coding activities and find that creative coding like this really fires students’ imagination. We held our first coding competition last year and the entries were inspirational. I can’t wait to see what pupils come up with this year.”

First prize in last year’s competition went to Johnstown School in Carmarthenshire, with second place going to Ysgol Gynradd Pentrefoelas in Betws y Coed in Gwynedd, and third to Brynnau School, Pontyclun, Rhondda Cynon Taff.

Eurig Salisbury, a lecturer in Creative Writing at Aberystwyth University’s Department of Welsh and Celtic Studies, said: “It was a privilege to be part of this coding competition last year and to see young children take up the challenge of creative computing to illustrate one of my poems. It’s a fun activity but it’s also educational with coding becoming an increasingly fundamental skill to those growing up in the early part of the 21st century.”

Further details about the competition and how to enter can be found on the website of the Department of Computer Science

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Education

Pupil Deprivation Grant boosted

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Allocation levels guaranteed for two more years: Kirsty Williams

SCHOOLS across Wales are to share in over £90m in 2018-19 to help their most disadvantaged learners, Education Secretary Kirsty Williams has announced.

The Cabinet Secretary has written to schools across Wales to confirm how much they will directly receive in 2018-19.

In addition to over £90m committed this year, £187m has been guaranteed for the remainder of the Assembly term, so that schools have the stability to plan ahead.

The Pupil Development Grant (PDG) helps schools tackle the effects of poverty and disadvantage on attainment and is targeted at learners who are eligible for Free School Meals or are Looked After Children.

Schools use the PDG in a number of different ways, including nurture groups for children who may be socially and emotionally vulnerable, out-of-hours school learning, on-site multi-agency support and better tracking of pupils as they progress through school.

This year, the PDG for the youngest learners (pupils aged 3-4 years old) has increased from £600 to £700 per pupil. This builds on last year’s doubling of financial support from £300 to £600 per learner in the early years.

Primary and secondary schools will continue to receive a rate of £1,150 per learner, and this rate also continues to apply to learners in education other than at school (EOTAS).

From this year, schools will also have greater flexibility to support learners who have been eligible for Free School Meals in the previous two years.

Advisers and coordinators from education consortia are also on-hand to provide extra support and guidance for schools on using the funding.

Kirsty Williams said: “Reducing the attainment gap between pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds and their peers is at the heart of our national mission to raise standards. This is one of the most effective ways in which we can break the cycle of deprivation and poverty.

“Time and again, teachers have told me how much of a difference PDG funding has made in raising aspirations, building confidence, improving behaviour and attendance and in involving families with their children’s education.

“Teachers have also called for greater certainty around future PDG funding and that’s why I’m pleased to be able to guarantee allocation levels for the next two financial years and reaffirm our commitment to the grant for the lifetime of this Assembly.

“We have always said that the PDG is there to support all pupils who are eligible for Free School Meals, not just those that are struggling academically. That’s why I want schools to ensure they are supporting more able pupils as well.

“I would also encourage all schools to make full use of the PDG advisers and coordinators from the education consortia – they’re there to help when it comes to making the best use of the funding and ensuring that we raise attainment across the board.”

An independent evaluation of the PDG last year found that many schools consider the funding to be ‘invaluable’, with further evidence from Estyn and the Welsh Government’s raising attainment advocate, Sir Alasdair MacDonald, showing the majority of schools are making well thought out decisions on how to spend the funding.

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