UK Digital Skills Gap – some musings

That good old question has come up again – Are schools teaching the wrong things, as far as information technology is concerned?

Terry Freedman has written an article in his blog on this topic and concludes with some useful questions. I agree with him that schools should not be about providing “fodder for industry” and that we need to help young people realise their potential turning them into lifelong learners. This is easier if pupils are motivated because they are enjoying their learning or see a point to it. With the current economic situation it feels like the “point” might be difficult to see so motivation may need to come from elsewhere.

With both my offspring approaching the end of their university education it is interesting to reflect on their ICT experience, my daughter in particular has been taught to do bold, italic and underline in about 20 different Microsoft products – at least that is how it seems! I think she picked up the transferrable skills after the second product if not first.

I am much more excited about the potential that I see in schools now. Learning is more exciting and ICT is beginning to integrate properly across the curriculum. It seems to me that what is needed is for teachers to have more confidence – in themselves, in ICT and in their pupils. They don’t need to know all the answers or be able to solve all the problems – that is what pupils need to learn to do, along with accepting that they may have to wait until tomorrow to find the answer.

So the debate goes on, and will go on. There is a skills gap. There probably always will be. Schools can’t hope to teach specific skills that will be needed 5 or 10 years ahead when Microsoft haven’t written the software yet! But we can help our pupils improve their ability to learn, adapt, transfer skills, work together and cope with a rapidly changing world.

I was also interested in the question “How about retraining and recruiting people in the 50+ age group?” 😎

English as an Additional Language

About one in ten pupils in England are learning English as an additional language. They may be immigrants, refugees or the children of overseas students or professionals working in this country. I have been in primary schools where there are over 26 different first languages spoken and I have heard of schools with even more!

The Internet has advice and a wide range of materials that are suitable for use in helping pupils whose first language is not English. There are also some good software packages around. There are links to some useful sites on my web site. If you have any other useful links or ideas do please email them to me.

Professor Sugata Mitri has been doing research in child-driven education and this film clip includes a short section on how he set a challenge to pupils to improve their English and their pronunciation and how they achieved this themselves using the Internet and their own motivation. Inspirational stuff!

Chemistry Add-in for Word

For all you science teachers out there – a new add-in for Word has just been released that makes it easier to insert and modify chemical information, such as labels, formulas and 2-D depictions, within Microsoft Office Word. You will need to read the documentation to get the best out of it but it looks as though it could help to simplify the production of worksheets, etc. I’m going to play with it to see how easy it is to produce clear documents that can be used on IWBs (I need to remember that Word is a word processor and not a DTP or animation package – repeat 100 times!)

Using Film in Education

Using Film in Education – Yorkshire Seminar

Friday, March 18, 2011 from 11:00 AM – 4:00 PM (GMT)

Bradford, United Kingdom

A seminar for professionals working with young people in schools and communities demonstrating how film can radically improve how you engage with young people and impact on their learning.

Location: National Media Museum, Pictureville, Bradford, West Yorks, BD1 1NQ

Date: Friday 18th March 2011
Time: 11:00 – 15:30

Attendance is free but places are strictly limited.

World Maths Day 2011

World Maths Day is the world’s largest education event where students (aged 4-18) compete in real time against other students from around the world playing mental arithmetic games on the World Maths Day website ( World Maths Day encourages students of all ages, backgrounds and abilities to have a go at maths in a fun, interactive and accessible way. Best of all participation in World Maths Day is free – all you need is internet access.

This year there are 4 age categories: 4-7, 8-10, 11-13 and 14-18.  Students and schools can join in whenever they like throughout the 48 hours, although only 100 games will count towards a student’s individual or class points score.  Students can continue playing beyond this point to earn points for the Mathometer.

World Maths Day 2011 will open for registration and practice on 1 February. Existing Mathletics schools can sign in with their current usernames and passwords. The official competition launches around the world on Tuesday 1 March with Auckland, New Zealand as host city.

For more information please visit

Schools of Sanctuary

We like to think of Leeds as a warm, welcoming city and our schools as welcoming and safe havens of learning. Leeds City of Sanctuary are committed to making our city a haven for anyone who needs its protection by creating a network of people and organisations right across the city, united in making our city more welcoming, open and fair for all.

Schools are invited to join with a view to :

  • Enhancing community cohesion
  • Bringing a global dimension into the classroom
  • Promoting race equality and cultural diversity
  • Helping with bids to attain Stephen Lawrence Education Standard or other Inclusion initiatives
  • Receiving an official certificate stating that you have become a School of Sanctuary!

Why not consider making your school a School of Sanctuary and promoting Leeds as a City of Sanctuary via your parents and website? 

If you want to know more about Leeds City of Sanctuary there is an event in Leeds Civic Hall on the 17th February at 7pm


Naace has made available free ICT CPD for Teachers, Classroom Practitioners and anyone passionate about ICT In Education. It can be found at 

Five predictions for 2011 that will rock the education world

2011 will be the year that we start to look for real leadership for educational technologies, and start to look into using new technologies to do “amazing” and “magical” things

The Education Futures website has  five predictions for the key stories that will rock the education world in 2011. It’s American but it could apply here as well.

The author summarises the five predictions in five words – “mobile, mobile, change, change, and mobile“. The words that struck me most are:

2011 will be the year that we start to look for real leadership for educational technologies, and start to look into using new technologies to do “amazing” and “magical” things

The Weather

The British do have a real thing about the weather. I’ve recently been involved in setting up a weather station, we’re still in the process of deciding what information to make available on the website but you can see it by clicking here. On a recent visit to the school almost everyone was saying how they visited the site several times a day to see what the weather conditions were, as well as the indoor temperature! And relatives were doing the same. I must admit that I also have visited the site regularly, partly to check that it is still working (paranoia?) but also to see what the extremes for the day were. For the pupils, there is loads of numeracy and presentation skills associated with using weather data, and we can perpetuate the British fascination with the weather.

We should be getting some relatively decent weather for a few days before the wind direction moves round and we start to get another arctic blast at the weekend. I am a regular feeder of birds but it was interesting to note that during the recent snow fewer birds came to our garden, they are back now so I can only assume that many of them went further south to warmer climes, something that I learnt from this years Autumn Watch. Do please remember to feed the birds in your garden, and your school grounds if possible. It is incredibly rewarding. It is not too expensive to put a bird feeder cam in your school grounds and then you can watch the birds feeding from any web browser in school. One example of an excellent feeder is at the Abernethy RSPB reserve. Another one is at our own local RSPB reserve at Fairburn Ings but this is not on all the time. If you have a camera and would like me to put a link to it on my website, let me know.

Collecting weather data and using bird cams are both ways that we can use ICT with our pupils and promote an interest in the environment. If you want to know more do contact me.

Every Child Outdoors

The winter weather we have been experiencing, plus doing my back in, has meant that I have been able to sit watching the birds in my garden more than usual. Despite the back, I have been able to top up the bird feeders and replace the ice in the bird bath with fresh water most days. And the small effort on my part has brought big rewards. Blue, great, coal and long tailed tits, chaffinches, robins, doves, pigeons, sparrows, magpies, a sparrowhawk, the list goes on.

I also had time to catch up on some reading and one particular article in the RSPB magazine struck me. It was called “Every Child Outdoors” – you can read the RSPB report by the same name on their website. In 2005, Richard Louv coined the phrase “nature deficit disorder” – research has shown that increased contact with nature can reduce modern problems such as ADHD, vandalism and obesity – Louv’s phrase describes the human costs of alienation from nature. The RSPB, and other environmental organisations believe it essential that our young people are exposed to nature as much as possible. After all, the future of the planet will be in their hands and if they don’t know about or appreciate nature they aren’t going to do anything about it.

If you want to know more or get involved I have put some useful links on the my environmental links web page. Let me know if you find something useful, are inspired to do something or have other useful links I can add to the web page.

Junior Librarian

I’ve been recommending, installing and providing training on this software for years now but over the last year I haven’t done much with it. Having been asked to provide some training this week I have just been going through my “lesson plan” and been reminded of what an incredibly useful tool it is for schools if they think beyond the library walls.

It is brilliant as a library package but what about all those other resources around the school? Books, posters, equipment (digital cameras, etc), games, videos, DVDs, CDs, etc. They can all be put onto Junior Librarian. If you enter the cost of the item, the location where it should be, and all the other information, install some usb bar code readers on computers around school, then you have a database of all the items, their locations and their usage (and who uses them!) Then if there is a request for another new digital camera you can look and see how often the existing cameras are booked out.

And websites as well. Staff can add useful websites to Junior Librarian along with key words. Then when pupils are looking for something about Red Kites or other birds they may find a book in the library, a website and a poster.

The other great thing about Junior Librarian (and I am sure there are lots of others) is the company that produces it. Micro Librarian Systems (MLS) are always very helpful and are always seeking to find new and better ways of using their software in schools.

So thank you to the school that has asked me to do some training on it for refreshing my enthusiasm for such a brilliant piece of software. And if you would like some training on it, or even a demonstration of it, then do contact me.