Open Thinkering


Tag: school

Weeknote 36/2020

Trees and path at Thrunton Woods

This week I got into a new rhythm with Thought Shrapnel, restoring it to something approaching its strapline – i.e. a stream of things going in and out of my brain. I’m pleased with the result, although it will evolve and change as I do.

As a result of that focus, I only wrote a couple of posts here, which both happened to be framed as questions: What’s the purpose of Philosophy? and What do we mean by ‘the economy’? They’re part of my ongoing contribution to the #100DaysToOffload challenge, and I’ve been enjoying reading contributions by other writers. There’s an RSS feed if you choose your reading (rather than have it served up algorithmically by social networks) 😉

This week featured a Bank Holiday in the UK, so it was a four-day working week. Team Belshaw spent Monday in Thrunton Woods, which we’ve never been to, despite only being 25 minutes away from where we live. Of course, we decided to do the red walking route, despite the fact that our two children were on their mountain bikes. Cue me and our son having to carry bikes up a very steep section, broken up with tree roots. Still, it was fun, and we went out for lunch afterwards.

Despite the four day working week, I managed to fit in the same number of hours of paid work as usual. I ended up doing four half-day for Outlandish, continuing to help them with productisation and in particular developing what they offer to help teams work more effectively. There’s only a couple of places left on their upcoming Sociocracy 101 workshop.

For my home co-op, We Are Open, I’ve been mainly focusing on business development, submitting three funding bids on Friday. We’ve got some things to work through internally as the co-op expands and grows. That can lead to difficult conversations, some of which we’ve been having this week.

Those connecting with me via video conference in the last few days would have seen something new behind me in my home office: a full-size dgital piano, and a tiny Korg NTS-1 synth. Inspired by Mentat (aka Oliver Quinlan) I decided that it’s been too long since I tried making my own music. 25 years, in fact.

The piano was my parents’ and was at our house while my two children had piano lessons. Given our eldest gave up a few years ago and our youngest decided she no longer wanted to play during lockdown, it’s been sitting in our dining room gathering dust. I noticed it has MIDI ports to the rear, so I’ve hooked it up to the Korg synth and experimenting with the noises I can make. And they are definitely ‘noises’ at the moment…

This weekend, my wonderful wife and I celebrate our 17th wedding anniversary. We’re pretty much middle-aged now, so celebrating it by going for a child-free long walk and having coffee and cake. Our children will be at my parents’. It’s a shame we can’t really go away, but on the plus side the pandemic has meant we’ve explored many more places locally than we have previously!

Talking of children, they were back to school this week, both starting new schools. They seem to be really enjoying it, especially being back among their friends rather than mainly connecting with them via Fortnite.

Next week I’ll be working a couple of days for Outlandish and getting started on a new piece of work for Greenpeace through We Are Open. Other than that, I’m still looking for a bit more work, so hit me up if you see anything Doug-shaped!

Image shows path through trees at Thrunton Woods

Why we need more e-learning staff tutors

In February 2008, whilst walking back from the staff room to my classroom I knocked on the door of my Headteacher’s office. At the time I was teaching History with a bit of ICT at Ridgewood School in Doncaster and had noticed that the school wasn’t using the technology it already had very effectively. The ‘five minutes’ I asked of Chris Hoyle (one of the best leaders I’ve worked for) turned into a fairly epic conversation. In fact, when the bell went and I rose to go and teach Year 9 for the last lesson of the day, Chris buzzed through to his secretary to get someone to cover my lesson.

Chris and I agreed that the problem was that teachers, busy at the best of times, needed showing what could be done with technology. He asked me to write a job description that I thought would help improve the situation. I did so (with the help of others) and, once he’d toned it down from a senior leadership position(!) we agreed upon my becoming e-Learning Staff Tutor starting from the academic year 2008-9.

I’ve still got the overview of what I got up to during my first term in the role, where I spent 50% of my time teaching History and ICT, and the other 50% of my time teaching the teachers. I had a small budget (a couple of thousand, from memory):


  • Lunchtime staff sessions (two per week) on web applications and free resources that enhance teaching and learning.
  • Advice to staff via email
  • Face-to-face advice and guidance of an informal nature
  • Preparation of resources for staff training sessions (online and print)
  • One-to-one booked sessions on self-identified areas of development defined by members of staff
  • Involvement in ICT Management Group
  • VLE training for Years 7 and 8 during Form Period
  • Involvement in Becta award-winning Humanities project convened by Balby CLC
  • Involvement in Open Source Schools, a Becta-funded project (speaking at BETT 2009 as a result of this)
  • Research into new technologies and pedagogies resulting from these technologies
  • Implementing and feeding back on new technologies (e.g. purchase and use of six netbook computers).


  • X members of staff have attended at least one lunchtime e-learning session*
  • A total of X members of staff have booked X one-to-one sessions
  • Email is now being used by the majority of staff within school
  • Every department in the school has had some contact with e-learning sessions, with the exception of Drama and Music
  • There are in excess of ten subject-related blogs around the school
  • The RE department are now using their new interactive whiteboards to enhance teaching and learning after requesting some training
  • Smaller issues relating to the school network not picked up on the ‘big sweep’ have been identified and are in the process of being rectified (e.g. location of network points, ability to print to network printers)

Areas for Development

  • Number of staff attending lunchtime sessions tailed off as term wore on – strategies to prevent this?
  • Ability to visit other schools and conferences for research and development limited by impact on teaching Year 10 GCSE History students. Currently only practical time available is Thursday afternoon.
  • From informal conversations, it is clear that staff would welcome an extended amount of time spent with them as a department. This time needs to either be carved out of a school day, INSET day or arranged in an after-school context.

*obviously there were real numbers here but I can only find the draft of this document!

With an increasing number of schools considering going one-to-one with devices and/or considering a ‘Bring Your Own Device’ (BYOD) approach, the need for positions like the one I had for a year at Ridgewood is increasing. Many people will have seen the way the press picked up on the recent Nesta report Decoding Learning. Unfortunately they got it wrong: it’s not necessarily that schools are buying useless gadgets it’s that not enough time and money is being spent on showing teachers how learning gains can be made by using the technology effectively.

I’d love to see schools not only have a senior leadership position for whole-school technology/ICT strategy but, in addition, someone (or a team of people) with the skills to not only teach young people but teach teachers. Get that mix right and technology really does have the potential to transform learning!

Image based on an original CC BY-NC Computing At School Scotland

On private schools becoming academies.

The King’s School isn’t too far away from where I live. It’s about to merge with a local primary school to turn from being a £9,990/year private school into an Academy.

I have mixed feelings about this, for a number of reasons. But first, a couple of (massive) disclaimers:

  • I attended a session for ‘potential Oxbridge candidates’ at The King’s School when I was 17 years old and felt very out of place
  • I used to be a senior leader in an Academy and didn’t have the happiest of times whilst I was there

If you’ve read what I’ve written for any length of time, you’ll know that I’m against private schools. So a school moving from independently-funded to state-funded status, should be a win – right?

I’m not so sure.

First of all, the Academy system as it now stands is problematic. It strikes me that the current government have taken the previous administration’s programme and turned it into a trojan horse to remove the power of Local Authorities, to eventually disapply the entire school population from the National Curriculum, and to create a pseudo-market in state-funded education.

Second, as one parent mentions in the Guardian article it’s not a good thing if a private school merging with a state school is being done “to prop up a school that’s failing to recruit enough students”. Could it be that, like banks, private schools could see government funding as a ‘bailout’?

Finally, and this is something that many people have reminded me of in my attacks upon private education, nothing happens in a vacuum. Compared to the local area, Tynemouth is already an extremely expensive area in which to live. My family certainly couldn’t afford to live there. Chances are that selection-by-fee-paying will be replaced by selection-by-house-price.

So we have a fudge. A pseudo-market in a pseudo-state system with pseudo-traditional examinations.

Perhaps it’s time to move to Scotland.

Image CC BY-NC Paul Thirkell