Fresh from a few days at the Bett 2016 conference in London, one teacher firmly located in 2015’s educational firmament imagines a brave new world where technology has transformed teaching
Jimmy is a GCSE student. It's Monday morning and he arrives at school to begin his three hours of “normal” lessons. The night before, Jimmy has completed one hour of his compulsory, personalised online learning course for maths, which has been put together by the maths department at the start of the term. When I say “put together”, the teachers have simply dragged and dropped the relevant, pre-made “national standard” resources into Jimmy’s course space applicable to his ability level and the progress he is expected to make. He spends his hour engaging with video content, completing diagnostic quizzing and submitting answers. While working, he accessed live chat support from the maths “master teacher” who was on call for all students between 8pm and 9pm in a virtual chat room. The master teacher rotates every week and every chat session is recorded live and uploaded on to the school cloud instantly for future reference.
Anyway, that morning, Jimmy really enjoys his three hours of lessons, as he has already learnt the key content required to access them before even entering the room. With content secure, the teachers tend to spend most of their “in lesson” time facilitating the students in their application of higher order skills, challenging them to push their learning on, individually or in small groups. Jimmy’s teachers circulate the room for almost the entirety of each lesson; adding, enabling, mentoring and managing rather than dictating, delivering, entertaining and cajoling.
Jimmy finishes all his set tasks early. He politely asks the teacher to electronically certify that he has successfully completed the “in lesson” tasks. The teacher has a quick glance at his online assessment scores, marked by a virtual examiner, programmed to pick up nuances that only a robot could. Jimmy had passed with flying colours. Over time, he had realised there was no limit to how far he could go in his own learning. He wasn’t going to be held back by time frames, his peers or the confines of a particular curriculum or lesson plan. Learning was limitless. He is finding that he is receiving targeted verbal feedback from his teachers daily, both at home and at school. His parents are delighted at the attention he is receiving and wish that their own schooling had been so student-centric. Since Ofsted was abolished, the need to evidence for the sake of evidencing dissipated, allowing schools to minimise written feedback requirements and reallocate time and resources away from checking exercises.
Meanwhile, Jimmy’s friends, John and Alex, hadn’t submitted their online assignments (their class teachers had been automatically notified by email that they hadn’t logged in the night before). At the start of the day, they were sent to catch up in the supervised study centre. Both had sent him a text to say they were worried they were going to be “retained”, since the government had replicated the Finnish, American and German systems and allowed schools to hold students in particular year groups or classes until sufficient progress had been made, relative to each child’s starting point. Both had pledged to work harder and engage more.
Lessons finish at lunch. At this point, the majority of staff head off into their professional development clusters for two hours of “teachmeet”-style PD, with grassroots autonomy over direction. The history department spends the afternoon discussing the different interpretations of the causes of the First World War, even taking time to read academic texts together for an hour. The science team perform an “outside the box” practical to see if it could work with the students. The art department go out of school to visit a local gallery to plan a scheme of work around it. Others spend their time marking and assessing. Heads of department decide it all. The headteacher can see the teaching staff as his equal and implicitly trust their professional integrity, in the same way the head of a law firm would trust their lawyers. Teachers feel liberated, autonomous and encouraged. And yes – that’s two hours of teacher to teacher time every single day.
While staff are in their clusters, all 1,000 students are split into their different year groups and head to five learning hubs. They are large, sprawling spaces with high-speed wi-fi, cushions, colours and different learning areas. There are two master teachers in each zone, with 200 students and 20 support staff whose sole job is to monitor the students and administrate the afternoon. Those who need specific guidance are referred by a member of the support team to the master teacher remotely. He or she can intervene via video link instantly, whilst monitoring the screen time of all students simultaneously. Everyone wants to reach their potential and no one wants to be left behind. The culture is very much, if you want to work but need help – it’s on tap, its elite and its personal. If you don’t need help – accelerate away. However, if you “opt out” of everything, that’s your choice and parents are informed of your decision. Minimum behaviour standards are non-negotiable but behaviour for learning is completely choice-driven. Performance-related pay is a thing of the past.
All of this is only a microcosm of a larger push to ensure the UK is educationally self-sufficient against its high-flying educational rivals. In the year 2030, the value and prominence of exams has lessened significantly. Students now display their skills and experiences in a “project portfolio” on a national database charting what the young person can actually do in very implicit terms; play the piano, speak German, debate in public, choreograph dance moves or repair kitchen sinks. The curriculum has broadened incomprehensibly to allow students to tap into and pursue particular talents, using technology to facilitate that personalisation of learning. The fervent growth in robotics has changed the entire shape of the job market, which is now very much dictated by what individuals can offer, not more menial requirements.
Schools and school staff have embraced this brave new world. To make the whole thing stack up, teachers were asked to forfeit four weeks of their holiday over the year. Most went for it, with many experiencing what was termed “the energy abundance” by educational bloggers. “Work-life balance” has become a footnote in histories of an era now described as “industrial education”.
In 2030, the profession has become first choice for many graduates and only the cream of the crop can enter the classroom. The cream of the teaching crop, not the academics who simply can’t teach. The status of the profession has reached new heights and young people are starting to see education as an opportunity, not a given, once again.
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