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What next?

So, they’ve only gone and done it. SF & DUP in government together. As someone who grew up in NI, I have a range of thoughts/feelings on this. Firstly, it’s something that few really believed would EVER happen. If it couldn’t work with the moderates, it would never even get started with the extremists. But here it is, unbelievable.

There are obviously many people who are deeply hurt by this move ‘forwards’. I can only imagine what it must be like to have lost someone in the troubles, never mind having to deal with this as well. But the majority of Norn Irish seem to feel that it doesn’t matter who’s in there as long as people stop being injured and killed.

And what about education? Last time round Martin McGuiness (SF) was Education Minister and I seem to remember everyone being pleasantly surprised with how well he performed in this role. SF have education again this time in the form of Caitríona Ruane and it remains to be seen how she will perform. Their education policy does contain quite a few contentious issues such as the scrapping of grammar schools, the promotion of Irish-medium schools and the creation of an all-Ireland education system. The Irish-language issue has already come up in the Belfast Telegraph.

I think the way the NI Assembly is designed is that if one lot has a Ministry, then the Assembly committee is chaired by a representative of the other lot. Although this ensures both sides are represented in each area of power sharing, it’s bound to set up some whopping great arguments. People often say, as long as they’re arguing over education instead of actually fighting, we should be happy. But what effect will these arguments have on the schools and pupils of NI? Will there be a consistent improvement to education, or ideological point scoring?

As a voter, I know which of these would impress me.


In a previous post I finished by pondering on the ideology behind the Scottish and English education systems:
“England seems to be more right wing – devolved responsibilty for LEA’s and schools. Whereas Scotland seems more left wing – more centralised decision making from council HQ and the Executive.”

I think I’m now about to contradict myself. It occured to me the other night that there is significant difference in the approaches of the two countries to science education. In England, all pupils must study all three sciences until the end of key stage 4 (approx. 16 years old). When I was there, they could do this in three ways: single, double or triple award. In this way they all studied all three sciences but were awarded one, two or three GCSEs depending how much time they had spent studying it. The science curriculum has changed this year down south, so I’m not sure exactly how it works now, but I’m sure it still involves all pupils studying all three sciences until the end of key stage 4.

So, how does it work in Scotland? Well, in my experience so far, most schools teach all three sciences for the first two years (S1 & 2). From there the pupils choose their standard grades/int.1, which must include at least one science. In my current school this is slightly different as pupils are starting their standard grades/int.1 in S2, which means they study all three sciences for one year instead of two. I’ve also heard that in Scottish state schools it can often be difficult for pupils to take all three sciences at standard grade/int.1 due to timetable constraints.

The Scottish system is actually very similar to my own experience as a pupil. My year was the last in Northern Ireland to choose the sciences as seperate subjects, and although we could choose all three if we wanted to, I didn’t – mainly due to my relationship with my Physics teacher.

I feel that there are negative outcomes for both systems. As I have continued to pursue the study and teaching of science, I’ve always regretted dropping physics. Post 16, all three sciences are quite inter-linked and I suspect a better grounding in all three would have assisted my studies. It would certainly have enabled me to be a more effective key stage 3 teacher in England! Instead, I spent a lot of time learning physics on the job. Are we going to produce the well rounded scientists of tomorrow if many pupils aren’t studying one or two of the sciences past the age of 12/13?

I also believe that there is a wider social value to compulsory science education until the age of 16. Certainly as a Biology teacher, I really do feel that society as a whole benefits from every individual having an understanding of the biological processes taking place inside their bodies, and the world around them. But then, do all teachers think that their subject is very important and should be compulsory until 16? I suspect so.

There are problems with the English system too. One of the things I was dreading about teaching in England was having to teach a compulsory GCSE subject. When I was at school, the subjects we had chosen were normally enjoyable and with good behaviour. The subjects we were forced to take (English, Maths, French, RE) were a different matter! But once I was teaching it never seemed as bad as I worried it would be. I’m not sure why this is, but I suspect that it is often easier to engage challenging pupils with science compared with French and RE, thus making the enforced nature of the subject less of a problem.

The other major drawback of compulsory science education to 16 is the effect on staffing and resources. It means much larger science departments, and although it’s great news for science teachers jobwise, I suspect it’s the reason science classes in England have not been capped at 20 – as science classes have been in Scotland, and other practical subjects (design & technology) have been in England.

So, how have I contradicted myself? We’ll here we have a situation where in England the state has dictated that all pupils will study all three sciences until the age of 16, whereas in Scotland the state has given pupils the freedom to choose their own science education. Perhaps I jumped too quickly to a conclusion!

Which do you think is better?

Did I mention Friday afternoons?

I just realised, that I hadn’t yet mentioned Friday afternoons! Up here, we don’t seem to use them for teaching. Hoorah.

No kids!

Walking into your room after your lunch on a Friday to find it empty is a truly lovely feeling. Not that I don’t enjoy teaching like, it’s just that teaching is a fairly abstract concept on a Friday afternoon in my experience – it’s very difficult to get anything in when all the kids are thinking about is the weekend. And although it is brilliant to be able to go home at lunchtime at the end of the week (really really brilliant), it’s even useful when you have to stay on instead. You can go to those working groups without staying into the evening and you can get all those niggly jobs out of the way and go home with a clear conscience.Can’t believe I’ve not mentioned this already!

Happy Easter

I’m so happy that my first term is over! It’s been a long one for me. It’s been a while since I had to teach a full timetable and it’s always a shock going back to that. This combined with getting to know the staff & pupils and dealing with the onslaught of prelims and reports – made more interesting with our double presentation of Standard Grade and Int 1 this year.

Well, I hope everyone has a very happy easter. I’m looking forward to a very good break which will include a week in Devon.

Easter explained

Different Cultures

My wife has finally managed to get herself a full time permanent post for next year. She is a primary teacher with a wealth of experience. When we were planning to leave Africa and come home we had assumed that she’d have no trouble getting a job and I would. How wrong we were. What has been most surprising is that most of her applications didn’t even result in an interview. When she has managed to get in the door, her interviewers sing her praises!

This experience has caused me to reflect on the Scottish approach to appointing newly qualified teachers. We both assume that one of the reasons it has been so hard for her to find a post is the system of guaranteeing a job for one year to NQT’s; this combined with the large number of teachers being trained these days.

We have been on the receiving end of this system before. When we last lived in Scotland, my wife had a temporary contract which she hoped would soon become permanent. I went off to England to train as a teacher, hoping to come back afterwards. While I was down south, the guaranteed system came in. My wife could no longer have her job, and there was nothing for me to apply for. So we had to move to England.

I can see the attraction of offering trainees a year’s work, especially when so many are being trained. But I have to wonder if it is the best thing for the schools and pupils of Scotland, or the trainees themselves. It results in a very high turnover in quite small departments that may otherwise have benifted from some stability. And the trainees often seem to be sent somewhere quite far from where they live. You also then have this strange system whereby NQT’s in one council are favoured for permanent jobs over NQT’s from other councils and experienced teachers.

These thoughts then naturally bring me to comparing back to England. Now, I think I was quite lucky with my job in England, but I can only speak for my own experiences. I was appointed in the February of my PGCE year, and it was a permanent post from September. I was supported massively by my department, school and LEA in my NQT year and beyond. From day one I knew I’d be working in this school for a number of years and committed great effort to my work knowing that the department and myself would benefit from those efforts. It is very settling knowing that your contract isn’t coming to an end.

The broader conclusion I have drawn from this comparison is the ideological differences between Scottish and English education. England seems to be more right wing – devolved responsibilty for LEA’s and schools. Whereas Scotland seems more left wing – more centralised decision making from council HQ and the Executive.

Is this an unfair conclusion to make? Which is better anyway?