Do they really get it, or are they just giving me the correct answer?

This article by Dr Niki Kaiser was originally posted on the Kaye Chem Notebook. I wanted to share it with you in the context of ‘future-ready education’. It is no longer enough to teach knowledge, even if that is sufficient to pass an exam. To succeed in the future, our students need a deep and intuitive understanding of their subject. Few writers address this with either the clarity or the practical teaching background Niki does.


One of the topics I most like to teach in chemistry is ionization energies: explaining their relative magnitudes, and outlining the consequent evidence for a shell structure in atoms. Students must draw on a range of fundamental ideas to master the new concepts that I introduce to them and, although they tend to struggle at first, they eventually “get it”, and the joy that they Continue reading

An A-level in Good Character? Yes, we can do that.

The Battle of Waterloo, it is said*, was won on the playing fields of Eton. Building character, not imparting knowledge, was traditionally seen as the primary task of the British public school and, subsequently, its state-funded inheritors. The quintessential attitude was sportsmanship. Not winning or losing, but playing the game right.

As time went on knowledge and skills came to be valued equally, as they should be, but somehow that pendulum just kept on swinging and now Continue reading

What Second Life teaches us about chatbots in education

chatbotsPhoto credits: Linden Labs/Alamy

Do you remember the virtual reality environment Second Life? Seven years ago it had over 20M users and it was being hyped as the place where we would all soon transact our business and social lives. Now gone and forgotten.

Well, not quite. Second Life continues to deliver real value in applications such as town planning, or the teaching of History. Their journey has been a classic example of Continue reading

If this is reflective learning then we should throw away the mirror

reflective learnersI’ve just picked up a post on LinkedIn (here) that labelled the the above sheet as “Developing reflective learners”. Really???

To save your eyesight, here are the two student comments from the bottom of the sheet:

I think that I did well on talking about the formation of ox-bow lakes and identifying river processes. However, I didn’t do well on the formation of waterfalls and advantages and disadvantages of channel straightening.

Continue reading

Overwork won’t just kill you; it will kill your students’ chances too.

September is here again, and teachers across England are returning to school. Refreshed from a much-needed summer break, they are ready to draw the very best out of the children in their classes. By half term, though, they’ll be knackered again, and by December they won’t know which way is up. Again.

Why? It is quite simple. Classroom teachers work, on average, 55 hours/week, rising to 60 hours for senior teachers, according to the DfE. Far from being heroic, this is plain stupid. Take a look at this graph from the OECD, comparing the productivity and average hours worked of different countries, across multiple industries. The correlation is all too painfully obvious.


Teachers’ real hours are approx 55*30=1,650 hrs/year which initially sounds quite good. However, by squashing them all into 30 weeks instead of the usual 48 (2 weeks hol + 10 days of bank hols), we get all the stress of 55*48=2,640 hrs/year. Right at the far end of the this scale.

But don’t teachers’ long holidays compensate? A well-known study from Ford says yes, but only for a few weeks. After that, you are actually less productive than if you worked only a 35-hour week.


My opinions are not exactly radical. The DfE issued its Workload Challenge in 2014 and is still pushing hard for teachers’ workloads to come down. However, according to the TES, they are not getting anywhere. Teachers’ workloads have actually grown during that period.

It seems that SLTs are by-and-large ignoring the advice. The TES reports that only 20 per cent of senior leaders said their schools “actively addressed” the recommendations. I think this is a strategic mistake that is hitting schools where it hurts most: in the exam results. Tired teachers can’t teach.

This is not something that is going to be fixed with timid action. A little easement here or there will soon evaporate and we will be back to where we came from. My suggestion to any head teacher reading this: copy the French. Their legally-mandated 35-hour work week translates into a simple rule: no working from home. At all. Marking, lesson prep and everything else takes place in school. Challenge your HoDs to prioritise jobs according to their impact on learning, and simply dump those that fall below the 35 hour threshold.

Scary? Yes. But doable? France says ‘Oui!’, and so do I.