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Education news, comment and analysis | theguardian.com
  • Education wars: what the curriculum actually says about Australian history

    Guardian Australia examines Christopher Pyne's claims that school history neglects conservative leaders, Anzacs and western civilisation

  • The reading list: neuroscientists step into schools, understanding progress measures and phonics

    In our round up of the research, blogs and opinion pieces on our radar this week: a blogger debates phonics teaching and the #nurture1314 project

    Neuroscientists step into the classroom

    There is a wealth of research out there on ways to improve learning, but how can we make sure that insights are transferred into genuinely useful lessons for the classroom?

    It's a question that neuroscientists will be seeking to tackle thanks to a 6m fund that's been made available for research projects on how children's brains process information.

    When launching the study at the Education Media Centre, Dr Hilary Leevers suggested that while many advances had been made in understanding how the brain worked, they had made little impact on classroom practice. She also said there was little evidence on whether some of the techniques being used, such as brain training, really brought benefits to students.

    Kevan Collins, chief executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, which is running the study with the Wellcome Trust, said that there was a need for evidence-based research that was "politician proof".

    He said there were many ideas that "catch on" in schools, such as having extra lessons on Saturday mornings, but it wasn't clear if this worked and in fact could hinder students by damaging their motivation.

    Dr Hilary Leevers, who is head of education and learning at the Wellcome Trust, explains in detail why the project is important in a Guardian post and you can read more on the study on the BBC.

    What do government changes to progress measures really mean?

    This week a debate has been circulating on Twitter on the impact of a government paper on secondary school accountability reforms.

    In a great blog post on the topic, deputy headteacher Stuart Lock says he thought the paper was crystal clear on what the changes on progress measures meant for schools, but soon found out on Twitter that others weren't so sure.

    You can find his reading of the report on his site Mr Lock's Weblog and the full discussion on his Twitter profile.

    There's also a nice piece from a headteacher on the Kalinski 1970 blog.

    Have you come across any other good blog posts on this topic? And do you agree with their readings of the report?

    Questioning phonics teaching

    One of the best blog posts I read this week on teaching methods was from author and trainer Sue Cowley.

    The piece begins with her setting the record straight for anyone who thinks she is anti-phonics:

    "I refuse to let anyone label me as a 'phonics denier'. For the avoidance of doubt: Phonics is a very effective method for teaching the majority of children to decode written language and all teachers should know how to use it properly.

    "However, I do have concerns and questions about the current policy of mandatory systematic synthetic phonics. I refuse to be silenced in expressing these concerns and questions, no matter how vociferous my critics."

    She then goes through her argument in detail, sparking each point with quotes ranging from Mahatma Gandhi to John McCarthy.

    It's a thorough piece that raises lots of questions and food for thought.

    Round up of #nurture1314

    The #nurture1314 blog project has really taken off, with lots of great posts on teachers' 13 highlights from last year and 14 hopes for this year.

    The posts were an interesting mix of personal stories and reflections on policy. One of my favourites was from The Primary Head, whose highlights include an escaping child, feeling like a celebrity and Mrs Primary Head.

    Mark Anderson has helpfully collated all of the inspiring posts on his blog ICT Evangelist. Are there any that he's missed? And which piece would you recommend?

    This content is brought to you by Guardian Professional. Looking for your next role? Take a look at Guardian jobs for schools for thousands of the latest teaching, leadership and support jobs.

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  • Quiz: How good is your Australian history? (Thanks to Christopher Pyne)

    After the education minister said he wanted more Australian kids to learn about the country's western heritage, we have reimagined some key questions about the country's past

  • Man arrested over Bradford free school fraud claims

    Investigation by Education Funding Agency found serious failings in financial management of Kings Science Academy

    Police investigating allegations of fraud at a flagship free school arrested a 41-year-old man on Thursday.

    The Kings Science Academy in Bradford, is at the centre of allegations of "serious failings" in its financial management.

    It was alleged last year that the school claimed tens of thousands of pounds in public money that was not used for its intended purposes. There were also claims of nepotism. An investigation by the Education Funding Agency (EFA) found "serious failings" in the financial management of the school.

    The school, one of Michael Gove's flagship free schools, which also received praise from David Cameron during a visit in 2012, acknowledged initial difficulties but insisted that they had been addressed.

    The Department for Education said it sparked the police probe by referring the Academy to the UK's national fraud reporting centre, Action Fraud, after receiving allegations of wrongdoing. Officers refused to confirm the identity of the 41-year-old.

    A DfE spokesman said: "The department acted as soon as it received allegations of wrongdoing at Kings Science Academy. We formally investigated and referred the case to Action Fraud.

    "This resulted in a police investigation which is ongoing. Separately we are recovering appropriate funds.

    "All free schools are held to rigorous account. The vast majority are performing well with three-quarters rated good or outstanding. But where there is failure we will not hesitate to intervene."

    Detective Superintendent Lisa Griffin, head of crime for Bradford district, said: "As part of West Yorkshire police's ongoing investigation into matters at Kings Science Academy, Bradford, a 41-year-old man has today been arrested at premises in Bradford and is currently being questioned in relation to suspected fraud offences."

    Griffin later said the man had been bailed pending further inquiries.

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  • Connecticut school board member resigns over Newtown remark

    Gregory Beck stepping down just two months after being elected. He said he would observe the shooting's anniversary by distributing ammunition

  • Science minister breathes new life into university wind tunnels

    Cash for wind tunnels will boost pioneering work on aerodynamics, says David Willetts

    Wind tunnels at seven UK universities are getting a huge funding boost to support their pioneering aerodynamic research, the minister for universities and science, David Willetts, has revealed.

    The 13.3m investment will allow students and researchers to use the wind tunnels to come up with more efficient designs for road vehicles and aircraft.

    Institutions that will receive funding are the universities of Southampton, Oxford, Cambridge and Glasgow, Cranfield University, City University London and Imperial College London.

    Announcing the funding at Imperial today, Willetts said the upgraded wind tunnels would help the UK to "get ahead in the global race".

    He said: "The investment will support vital research. It will create energy savings, and bring environmental benefits."

    The university wind tunnels have been used in the past to advance Formula One car design and create better aircraft components.

    Students will now be given the opportunity to use them for projects that benefit society, such as improving the efficiency and noise reduction of aircraft.

    At Imperial, the funds will be used to position lasers inside one of their wind tunnels to model airflow more accurately. Glasgow will introduce a "gust facility" to its tunnel.

    Behrooz Barzegar, head of flight physics integration at Airbus UK, said: "These initiatives are key to developing aircraft that provide cleaner and more accessible air transportation."

    The seven universities will combine to form the National Wind Tunnel Facility (NWTF), which will receive 10.7m from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and 2.6m from the UK Aerodynamics Centre.

    Willetts also announced that 19 new Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs) will be opened to support a further 900 students in postgraduate training for engineering and science. The new CDTs come on top of 72 centres unveiled in November.

    Professor David Delpy, chief executive of the EPSRC, said the CDTs "will provide training in many areas of science and engineering, including quantum technologies, manufacturing, robotics, energy and sustainability".

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  • Harassment of climate scientists needs to stop | Richard Schiffman

    Climate change denialists are suing scientists, seeking access to their private emails. They will stifle inquiry and scientific progress

    When Michael Mann chose a career in science, he didn't think that he would be denounced on billboards, grilled by hostile legislators on Capitol Hill and in the British House of Commons, have his emails hacked and stolen, receive letters laced with an anthrax-like white powder, and become the target of anonymous death threats.

    Mann also did not imagine that he would be spending quite so much time with lawyers and in courtrooms. Today, he is the plaintiff in a controversial case that is being argued before the Virginia Supreme Court. It pits the scientist against a climate change denialist group, which is seeking to get a hold of several years worth of his emails, as well as those of dozens of other climate investigators.

    Mann, who currently directs Penn State University's Earth System Science Center, is one of the authors of the so-called "hockey stick graph", which Al Gore used in his film, An Inconvenient Truth, to illustrate the precipitous rise in global temperatures since the dawn of industrialization when humans started spewing the heat-trapping greenhouse gas CO2 into the atmosphere. For the "sin" of helping to create this "exhibit A" in the scientific case for climate change, the conservative semimonthly, the National Review, called Mann "the Jerry Sandusky of climate scientists". Blogger Rand Simberg wrote on the Review's online site:

    Except that instead of molesting children, [Mann] has molested and tortured data in the service of politicized science.

    The Penn State researcher didn't take this insult lying down. He sued the National Review and the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which also published the offending blog; the case is currently pending.

    Mann is also challenging the American Traditions Institute (ATI) in court ? they've recently changed their name to the innocuous-sounding Energy & Environment Legal Institute. This group, funded over the years by entities controlled by the Koch brothers and an assortment of big energy corporations like Exxon Mobil, is the one that wants Mann's emails. They say that they are entitled to this information under Virginia's Freedom of Information Act (VFoia), which gives media and citizen's groups access to the documents of public employees. (Until 2005, Mann worked at the University of Virginia.)

    ATI claims that they are just defending good science. But their view of science is an odd one. The group was instrumental in preventing North Carolina from using data on sea-level rise in planning their decision making. They are also going after climate researchers in Texas and Arizona and at Nasa. Why are they so interested in getting their hands on the private correspondence of these academics?

    ATI's counsel, David Schnare explained in an email:

    These emails represent a period of time when the science upon which major national and international policies have been based was being done. In light of the extremely important public policy issues that these emails informed, the public has a right to know what these government employees were doing and how they were doing it.

    Freedom of Information (Foia) laws, like the one being used by Schnare's group, were enacted at the federal level and also in many states to help insure transparency and accountability in government. They have proved invaluable tools for journalists and public interest organizations seeking to uncover information that some in government would prefer to hide. But applying these so called "sunshine laws" to academics at state-run academic institutions is something new.

    It's a dangerous precedent, says Peter Fontaine, an environmental lawyer who began his career at the EPA and is one of the founders of the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund. Fontaine, who is representing Mann before the Virginia Supreme Court, believes that ATI is on a fishing expedition for anything they can find to embarrass Mann and cast doubt on the validity of his work. They've hijacked laws aimed at transparency, he told me, in order to intimidate scientists who are engaged in controversial research ? a move calculated to have a chilling effect on the free and open sharing amongst colleagues which is essential in the scientific process.

    Fontaine cites the Climate-gate scandal in 2009 in which a server at the University of East Anglia in the UK was hacked into and the emails of leading climate researchers from around the world (including those of Michael Mann) were released on the internet. These emails ? snippets of which were published out of context by denialist groups ? were used, cynically Fontaine says, to undermine public confidence in climate science and those engaged in it.

    "I was just appalled by the witch hunt which ensued after that," he told me in our interview. Fontaine contacted Mann and asked him if he needed any help ? an offer which the climate scientist took him up on, resulting in today's litigation.

    Mann and his lawyer have some powerful allies in their current fight. The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has filed a friend of the court brief on their behalf, as have the University of Virginia, the American Association of University Professors.

    NAS President Ralph Cicerone wrote me in an email:

    This is an issue of academic freedom for researchers and their universities. Broad requests for vast amounts of data and records are draconian and expensive. They add extra burdens, especially at US public universities. Over time, they would act to chill inquiry and stifle scientific progress.

    Michael Halpern of the public interest group, the Union of Concerned Scientists agrees, saying that the email demand is the 21st Century equivalent to eavesdropping on conversations around the water cooler. However, a scientist's right to privacy, Halpern admits, is not absolute. The science itself ? the final data and research methods ? needs to be fully disclosed, he says. But the scientist's private email correspondence should remain just that: private.

    "Freedom of information laws rightly exempt internal communications and deliberations in order to facilitate the free exchange of ideas," Halpern says.

    Not everyone agrees with this exemption. Media outlets including the Washington Post, the Associated Press, NPR and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press have filed friends of the court briefs on behalf of ATI. Strange bedfellows indeed ? the mainstream media teaming up with a right wing climate change denialist organization! The media groups aren't siding with the denialists on their trashing of climate science, of course. But they argue in their briefs that the public's right to know trumps the need of scientists to conduct their business outside of the glare of the public eye.

    This is a shortsighted view. Surely we don't need to pit freedom of the press against academic freedom. Reporters know how vital it is to communicate with their sources confidentially ? the work of journalism would scarcely be possible without this guarantee. They should be willing to grant the same protective right to privacy to the scientists who they report on.

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  • Teachers, what are your career goals for 2014?

    Forget 5:2 diets and finishing War and Peace, teachers tell us what 2014 has in store for their working lives, professional development and careers

    Sarah Findlater is assistant principal at Riddlesdown Collegiate.

    This year I am committing to ensuring I celebrate successes as much as I can, both with my staff and students alike. We all need to be and feel appreciated. I want to continue to strive to be the best leader I can; I care deeply about the staff and students I lead and hope never to stop wanting to be better for them. I have reflected a great deal about my marking and feedback practices and hope to continue improving them with my classes; it is one of the most powerful tools we have as teachers and I want my students to fully benefit from it. I have learnt a huge amount about educational technology over the last year and a half and now want to use it consistently well to help my students to progress. It is the future and we as educators are lagging behind. I have some great classes this year and I want to have fun while we learn. Here's to a great year.

    Lindsey Newman, physics teacher, Buckinghamshire.

    This year I want to start leading my own department because I know my ideas work in my classroom and I want to try them out in a wider setting, I also want to be more involved in the wider running of the school. I'm being supported by my current line manager and previous head of science, who have been mentoring me in preparation for taking on some responsibility and I'm on the look out for jobs to apply for.

    My second career resolution is to get better at sharing resources within the department. I see so many excellent learning resources being used so often in my department and we should be better at sharing what is working and what isn't. As teachers we are continuously reinventing the way we present information and so sharing the ways that are working can help us to plan outstanding learning experience while also saving us all some time.

    Kevin Jones, headteacher at Luckwell Primary School, Bristol.

    My professional resolution this year is to do everything I can to persuade people coming in to the job that despite all the uncertainty and negativity around teaching at the moment it is still an enormous privilege to work with young people in education. In practice, I want to model this around my own school by celebrating my team's achievements loudly and publicly, and thanking those responsible sincerely for them. I want to maintain my own positive mood in the face of any latest morale-sapping policy announcement, and surround myself with colleagues who can do the same. I want to share this with the new generation of school leaders by getting more involved in induction, mentoring and coaching for new heads. Life is too short and the job too important to become jaded, especially before you've even started.

    Tim Taylor is a teacher working in Norwich, a visiting lecturer at Newcastle University. He edits and writes for Mantle of the Expert and Imaginative Inquiry.

    My New Year's resolutions for 2014 are a bit coloured by a year spent on chemo tackling Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. This year I would like to spend more time teaching. My illness means I'm unlikely to take up a full-time post any time soon, but I've been working supply since September from nursery to year 6 and I love it. There is something wonderfully exciting about working with children across the primary age-ranges: in their different ways, they are always full of energy and always open to a challenge.

    Imaginative Inquiry and Mantle of the Expert are still teaching approaches outside the mainstream, but their use and application are growing and more and more schools are developing an interest. Since the start of 2013 I've been writing planning-resources and blogging information to support this work, I would like to do a lot more of this in 2014.

    I'd also like to attend more conferences and do more work supporting and working alongside other teachers. My view is teaching and learning is a complex business and we will never develop the perfect approach. But by striving towards that elusive goal through professional practice, review, and dialogue we will develop ever more effective strategies.

    Joanna Duncan, history teacher Mill Hill School, London.

    I decided to join Teaching Leaders last year to develop my career. The programme focuses heads of year and heads of department on raising standards, and in 2014 I will track the progress of an entire year group. I have set myself challenging targets, and will attend evening sessions and weekend seminars designed to boost my own confidence and help me achieve my goals. I'm excited about doing this over the next 18 months, as the scheme has a really good track record and should help me to improve teaching and learning in my department.

    Ross Morrison-McGill, assistant vice principal (teaching and learning, continued professional development, intitial teacher training), Greig City Academy.

    Those who know me as @TeacherToolkit, know that I have been using Twitter in professional and inventive ways to enhance my own professional development. Last January, I started an online campaign to use social media as a forum for my very own job hunt; an audacious move for any teacher, albeit a senior teacher. This is for a 500-mile career move from London to Scotland, utilising my Twitter followers as my eyes and ears for advert awareness and application support. After an eight-month battle to gain registration with General Teaching Council for Scotland, the online search is working and I believe Twitter, blogging and my professional learning networks will help me find a new opportunity in 2014. You should consider it too?

    Peter Smith, assistant headteacher at East Bergholt School in Suffolk.

    Be better at my job. Not that I'm knowingly not now, but have a fresh pair of eyes for everything I do. Not be suspicious of new or leftfield suggestion and not do things as that's the way they've be done before considering whether it works. Keeping in mind what's right, what I'm good at and listening to others. I hope through that sort of approach my career will continue to develop. The best form of personal continued professional development I've ever completed was by studying for my master's in education. Through the research of educational theory, and deliberate and sustained reflection on my own professional performance. I'm going to make a concerted effort to keep this approach. I'm also going to continue to read about good practice (Twitter helps!), learn from others and reflect on what I do. I feel that this will allow me to progress my career further.

    Eugene Spires, assistant headteacher for teaching and learning, The John of Gaunt School, Trowbridge.

    I am looking forward to using some new video technology to reflect upon my own teaching. I have not been filmed teaching for some years but know how powerful it can be to improve practice. I am also looking forward to using this technology to support our joint practice development across the school by tapping into our extensive reserve of skill and experience to allow our staff to learn from each other in non-judgemental ways.

    We want individuals to be able to reflect on and improve their own practice without any input from anybody else. We want pairs of teachers and small groups to be able to use the footage for coaching conversations that will support those involved to develop a specific area if their practice. We also want to be able to share aspects of best practice across the whole school and to promote a culture of learning and developing together.

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  • Herbie Hancock named professor of poetry at Harvard university

    Jazz legend will give lectures on 'the wisdom of Miles Davis' and 'Buddhism and creativity' during two-month tenure

    Jazz pianist and composer Herbie Hancock has been named the 2014 Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry at Harvard University. He'll be delivering six lectures on The Ethics of Jazz in February and March at the Cambridge, Massachusetts university, covering such topics as "The Wisdom of Miles Davis", "Buddism and Creativity" and "Innovation and new technologies"

    Hancock, who turns 74 in April, says his lectures will cover the practical lessons he has learned about the harmonious connection between "the essential values in jazz and the values of Buddhism". He has practiced Nichiren Buddhism for most of his career.

    Established in 1925, the Norton Professorship has been awarded biennually to key figures from across the arts; previous holders of the chair include TS Eliot (1932-33), Igor Stravinsky (1939-40), Leonard Bernstein and John Cage (1988-89).

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  • Compassion is the key value I try to teach students

    After two years of Teach First, Hannah Matthews took a break from teaching but supply work brought her back and helped her see the job's potential for making a difference

    Hannah Mathews teaches health and social care at The City of London Academy. Her scheme to send students into care homes for older people is bridging the age gap and helping students from deprived backgrounds into employment.

    I left teaching after the first two years of Teach First but came back. I never went into the scheme thinking I would be a teacher. I just thought it would be a fantastic opportunity, a chance to make a difference and a challenge. I just wanted to try something else. So, I did two years in marketing instead, working in an office. But that wasn't quite satisfying me either so I meddled around with a few other things. I did a masters degree in psychology, as well as policy work, coaching, and supply teaching to keep the funds going. To my surprise it was supply work I enjoyed the most. I was given a longer placement at my current school because of the ash cloud in Iceland in 2010. Somebody noticed me teaching and asked if I would stay. There was a full-time position to teach psychology and the idea of seeing students more consistently drew me back. Then the post for a teacher in health and social care came up. It's not really what I was trained to do, but I took on the job.

    The idea to send students into care homes came naturally. Health and social care is a BTEC, a vocational qualification, so I try to give students as much hands-on experience as possible. One thing we do is work a lot with a local nursing home. Going to a care home and talking to an elderly person can be really daunting for a teenager. They have no idea what they're going to say or do. Initially they are not very excited, but as soon as they are faced with the challenge, standing outside the front door of the care home, they become very nervous. The adrenalin kicks in and they realise that talking to an elderly person is not easy. Afterwards, however, they cannot stop talking about it for days, weeks, or even years after their visit.

    Health and social care really meets the needs of my students. Most students at my school who study health and social care are white, working class girls ? one of the most underachieving groups. If I was teaching them psychology, they wouldn't be enjoying it. But health and social care is a subject they can achieve in and experience. I can take them down to the care home tomorrow and they can get a real sense of accomplishment. It's about widening those comfort zones just a tiny bit and opening them up to the possibility of getting a job afterwards. A lot of them do get work because they've got the right attitude ? they're caring, compassionate and are willing to get stuck in.

    Compassion is the key value I try to teach students. If I can teach that to students at this age, hopefully that will underpin everything they do in the future. My students get an awful lot out of showing compassion to somebody else. It makes them feel much better, more powerful and able to bring about change. It's lovely for the elderly people as well to see that teenagers can be caring, can be compassionate and they have a really good giggle together a lot of the time. It widens everyone's horizons.

    Caring for my dying dad fired my passion for health and social care. Dealing with elderly relatives was probably the extent of my social care experience. More recently, however, my dad had cancer for quite a few years and sadly died six months ago. I was very involved with his caring, which we did at home because of my mum's nursing and social care background. I was home every weekend, helping my dad ? moving him, sitting him up, lying him down and feeding him. I of course came into contact with an array of health care professionals and the difference a compassionate cleaner can make to your day is astounding. I pass that on to my students every day.

    If you're working with someone more vulnerable than you, it doesn't matter what your job is ? whether you're a cleaner or a surgeon ? if you show compassion, you will make a massive difference to that one person. You have the power to change their day, no matter who you are.

    Every single day you've got a potential to make a difference. In reality it probably only happens once in a blue moon but at the end of every day I go home and think maybe that little pep talk I gave will stick in student's head and help them. Or maybe that activity they did in class will help a pupil get that A in an exam. At the end of the day, you always think you might have made a difference in someone's life, which I didn't get in the other jobs I tried.

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