Saturday, 18 August 2012

Closely Examined v2.0

This is an updated version of a blog I published on our internal HR site at work earlier this week.  I tweeted that I had published it and this stimulated a discussion with @elearningguy @MikeCollins007 @ChangeContinuum @DaveBrown2001 about what the differences are between internally and externally delivered blogs, and whether there should be any.

There were good reasons, I thought, for not publishing this blog externally.  It features my son and his educational challenges this year, culminating in him getting his AS exam results this week.  He has his own twitter presence and, as twitter is my main social media collaboration and communication medium, I didn't wish to embarrass him by 'cross-contamination'. However, no-one at work knows him, and the blog would have a much smaller audience (work to do here with regard to internal engagement with SoMe).

David Goddin (@ChangeContinuum) asked if Sam had read it himself.  He hadn't - and still hasn't. So he hasn't had the chance to say whether he was bothered about it or not. My bad.  If I publish this blog today, it will be because Sam has read it this morning and OK'd it.

So, here's the original blog, with an update at the end on how things turned out. Enjoy and please comment on anything you've read, be it internal v. external blogging, privacy, education systems, ICT, change, L&D... Enjoy.

Like many other young adults in England and Wales, my son will get his AS exam results on Thursday this week.
Sam seems remarkably sanguine about this, despite what has been quite a rocky road for him in his first year at 6th Form College.  As well as taking three AS levels, he also had to re-sit his Maths GCSE following a D pass in the previous year at school.

The 'rocky road' to which I referred really touches on a couple of areas of concern that I have had as both of my children have worked their way through our state education system.  Let me say here however that I am a passionate believer in state education, but I am saddened at how it has become a political football over the last several years and as a result, has become muddled, target-driven and seemingly unsighted on the real needs of our children.

Natasha seemed to find a direction and a focus for her efforts.  She had an aim in mind - to study Interior Design at University - and directed her energies to the subjects and grades that she required.  She is now going into her second year at Nottingham Trent University, studying Interior Architecture & Design.

Sam, on the other hand, didn't have a plan.  Neither his Mum nor I, nor his tutors, seemed to be able to offer the guidance and support he needed to help him find a path through Year 1.  In the subjects that he enjoyed, he did well all year - Music Technology and Film Studies.  However, in ICT and Maths, he floundered - he skipped classes, missed submission deadlines, was unenthusiastic whenhe did attend and generally got himself into a position where his behaviour and performance was jeopardising his continuing at college.  I'm pleased to say that he did eventually get back on track, began to see a potential plan for Yr2 (and maybe Yr 3 as well), and got his head down.  We await his AS and GCSE results 'with interest'...

Two things here: I remain unconvinced that 16-17 year old young people are ready for the 6th Form College environment.  I think it's too early.  I think they still need the more formally structured day of school.  Maybe, just maybe, girls are slightly more mature and can adapt to the new, personal responsibility environment more readily, but boys? I'm not so sure.

Secondly, Sam hated his ICT classes.  He found them boring and irrelevant.  OK, he is in the fortunate position of having two parents who work extensively with IT, and has access to his own kit.  But the ICT curriculum takes no account of how his generation are already using IT in the real world.  To them, it's not 'ICT', it's 'Life' - communication, connection and entertainment - via smartphone, PC, tablet, iPod etc.  It's facebook,Twitter, Spotify, YouTube etc.

But as I say, he got his head down eventually and worked to catch up and do as well as he could in his exams.  But he's dropping ICT now, to take up Media Studies and Drama in Year 2.  Not exactly an endgame plan, but some definite themes emerging.

But here's the ironic bit: It turns out Sam's got his own YouTube channel where he posts his own film review video blogs (vlogs?)!  He's been doing this for two years, has posted tens of reviews, has hundreds of subscribers, over 45,000 views and he's done it all by himself.  He's used his passion for movies, his desire to have a say and a discussion with his peers; he's learned by watching and listening to others' video blogs, by trial and error, by feedback from his audience and, as a result, he's found his voice and his confidence has increased dramatically.  And co-incidentaly, he's just got his first part-time job, after a year of trudging round Brighton and Hove with his CV.  His first two-part interview and he aced it.

I think there's a message here for us about what the future of learning looks like and what UK schools, further and continuing education/learning providers need to consider and act on.  Front-loading alone does not work.  We don't know best, but we can certainly help our learners to develop their curiosity, questioning and analysis skills.  And we need to provide relevance, context, curation, facilitation, empowerment, access and the media and technology channels to enable them to be applied.  It's beginning to happen and I'm excited by the opportunities.

If you have AS, A2 and/or GCSE results coming this week and next, what's been your experience?  I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.  Good luck to you and yours too!

Post Script: Sam got his AS results on Thursday.  Sufficient passes in Music Tech and Film Studies to allow him to carry them forward to A2, starting in September.  He's dropped ICT, so we can gloss over that result. Just Maths GCSE to come now on 23rd August.  We are quietly confident.

Post Post Script (23/08): Sam got his GCSE Maths result today - Foundation level 'C' Pass, highest achievable on that grade!  We are all dead chuffed! Thanks for your interest.


  1. I think your's and your children's experiences and your reflections will be shared by many others across the country. Your blogging about it is not so common, which makes it even more valuable so well done for doing it and well done to your son for all he has achieved so far.
    Interestingly, he has achieved a lot so far and is clearly a self-starter with a passion. Many, many teenagers across the globe are the same. That's where they are developmentally - post the adolescent neurological fizz. This is such a wonderful time for trying things out.
    However, our school system only sees grades as the measure of success. And as we continue to do that so we continue to detach schools from the individual needs, wants and potential of our children (we also subject our teachers to slavishly pushing to get kids to make the grade, which is no fun for them either). The future is very exciting if it means we focus on the fact we were all born to learn! Thanks for sharing this Niall - certainly got me thinking. And good luck for the 23 August.

    1. Thank you Martin, really appreciate your thoughts. It's the failure to engage their passionss that is missing for me. Instead of slaving over 'database management' in ICT, they could have been encouraging projects like Sam has gone off and done himself with YouTube. If someone had only stuck a telescope in my eye during my first years at secondary school and said, "Look at that - that's Mars. Can you see the polar ice cap?", who knows where I might have ended up career-wise! Looking forward to our next meet-up whenever that will be.

  2. I'm late reading this Niall but really enjoyed the post. Yours and Sam's experience mirrors some of what my family has experienced. Whilst I was the traditional child - GCSE's/A-levels/University - my brother (who's dyslexic and dyspraxic) and my sister took ended up taking different paths. At the time it was a big deal, especially for my parents. But now I wonder if it matters.

    Both my siblings have found their way and my sister in particularly works in a field she is passionate about (horse racing). And let's face it, how many people get to do what they really, really love for a living? Not many!

    I'm convinced Sam's generation will be one of self starters regardless of what happens in schools. Job prospects are more limited, but there seems to be a real entrepreneurial spirit there. And given the tools, they can clearly learn and do whatever they put their mind to - as witnessed by Sam's blog and his commitment to finding a part-time job. And that to me, is marvellous :)

  3. Love that you posted this here Niall and the thinking it's prompting for me (& others). I have this sense of the traditional school system not being fit for purpose - not in terms of teachers failing children but more in terms of the process & curriculum being modelled on systems that we've left behind...

    Watching Sam's YouTube channel just reinforces that. What I think is striking is that not only has Sam established his channel but he also has the skills/attitude needed to post/manage/reply to those comments. He's managed them well and I'm sure in his style - where did he learn all of that? What qualification would demonstrate all of those skills?

    For me it shows how capable we all are given the opportunity and how poorly qualifications measure such capability.

  4. Hi Niall, thanks for sharing. Since Jack was in primary school we've been told by his teachers that he will not set the academic world on fire - Jack suffers from learning difficulties which means his reading and writing suffers most. We can't call it dyslexia though even after repeated visits to school and requests to get him a statement!

    In secondary school he is now going in to year 9 where he will choose his GSCE subjects and Jack wants to do ICT, Graphic design /Art & Drama. The whole experience with Jack reminds me of the talk - Is school killing creativity by Sir Ken Robinson.

    Your comments about ICT struck a chord with me as Jack also has a YouTube channel and records Xbox footage and edits it and posts it to his channel He has taught himself to do this (with some help from YouTube mostly) and really enjoys it and hopes ICT will help him become better at what he enjoys. I fear that it will serve to do nothing but scare him to death and but him off ICT.

    He has also set up self-hosted wordpress blog where he will be adding xbox controllers he makes and he also has a twitter account.

    OK so what? Well for a 13 year old kid who has problems with literacy I'm very proud for the way in which he uses technology to do what he enjoys and he has learned so much (from YouTube). Whilst i think of the way in which he learns at school there is a massive disconnect and I think this disconnect will get bigger and bigger as Jack will probably learn more from his out of school activities. I will certainly be supporting this as much as humanly possible :)

  5. Kate / David / Mike, Thanks for your comments; I'm amazed at how my blog has opened up this topic! What I'm picking up really strongly here is a theme around how Web2 technology and social media tools have opened up new and empowering channels for so many - the 'less academic' in particular. These people / kids are not 'thick' or lazy. They are just disengaged from an educational approach which spectacularly fails to address their needs, preferences and passions. I am inspired by your and their stories to believe that we will see more and more of this and that things will change as a result.

  6. Great news Niall...and well done Sam!! Won't go into detail here but will tell you story of my kids when we next meet. I am just incensed today and the more I think about it the crosser it makes me. Are we really trying to create a generation of kids who are failures just because they don't tick boxes or fit into the system? Don't get me started :-)

    1. I'll look forward to having that conversation - amongst others - at LearningLive Lesley!