Education Technology Action Group consultation

Last Monday I was invited to Sanctuary House to contribute to two face to face meeting relating to the Data and Infrastructure strand identified by the Education Technology Action Group (ETAG)  as one of its three key workstreams. ETAG, as outlined on Group Chair Stephen Heppell’s website, is an independent group set up at the behest Michael Gove (Secretary of State for Education), Matthew Hancock (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for further education, skills and lifelong learning) and David Willetts (Minister of State for Universities and Science). The purpose of the group is to make recommendations that will “aim to best support the agile evolution of the FE, HE and schools sectors in anticipation of disruptive technology for the benefit of learners, employers & the UK economy", identifying “any barriers to the growth of innovative learning technology that have been put in place (inadvertently or otherwise) by the Governments, as well as thinking about ways that these barriers can be broken down.”

In relation to central government, I’d identify current barriers as 1. the current gap between educational policy and the social, political and economic impact of technologies, and 2. within the schools sector, a seeming reluctance to engage with or countenance these changes as mainstream, and 3. an apparent reticence to recognise the curriculum wide relevance of the use of technology to support learners and be used by learners – the current focus being on students learning about technology, which confines discussions relating to staff development needs and practice to computing.  The common theme here is that at the level of policy relating to schools, the use of technology for education is being perceived as a separate, specialist area, rather than an effective and integral range of approaches and tools to support learners and learning communities.

This isn’t, of course, to say that there is any shortage of schools and school staff making effective and creative use of innovative approaches that are supported, or made possible, by the use of technologies. If you believe, as I do, that school staff are best placed to effectively develop practices that make best use of technologies, the job of those supporting their work should be to ensure they have the ability to do so. While many schools and school staff are confident and well equipped in terms of continuing development, the picture isn’t consistent. Recent DigiLit Leicester research (from 2013, and the soon to be released 2014 findings) indicate that while the majority of secondary school staff are highly confident in their use of technology, over 20% of staff working with learners are not confident about employing technologies to support key areas of practice. Staff confidence is critical to the ongoing use, development and adoption of technologies.

The public consultation on the three strands, Connected Institutions, Data and Infrastructure, and Understanding and Accrediting Learning, and an additional Wild Card cluster, is open until 23 June  - comments, proposals, suggestions or observations have been invited from anywhere in the world, by reply form, by email or Twitter (#etag), or for the Data and Infrastructure strand, via this Google doc.  The Action Group will spend the summer developing recommendations in relation to the consultation for short-term and long-term actions, which will be presented to ministers for consideration.

The call has expressed a preference for ‘short and terse’ responses, which the Action Group will review, and fashion into tempting recommendations. I’m focusing my bullet recommendations here on the use of technology within the schools sector, both ‘technology to support learning’ and ‘technology to support the running of the organisation’, since without accounting for infrastructure, connectivity and systems, we can’t really expect mainstream development of technologies to support learning and communities. My recommendations here are for areas that need to be addressed at national level, rather than left to luck, so should be supported through central government policy or activity, or partnership/endorsement.

Cluster 2 Data and Infrastructure – Led by Bob Harrison and Maren Deepwell.

(2a) Students with sight and control of their own complex learning “big” data. What prevents institutions from making best use of student data, both for teachers and by students themselves?

‘Big’ seems like an unnecessary descriptor/constraint in relation to ‘student’s own’ data. In terms of country wide data collection and management, we need to learn lessons from the recent outcry surrounding the NHS England, and parallel protests against student data mining and access in the US – particularly in terms of ensuring clarity about data use or potential data use, and engaging with communities about the collection and use of their data at all stages.

The text from the website suggests that learners will be incentivised by access to data relating to their achievement in relation to others data: “They will understand their own data, be able to act on it directly, have a sense of "where I am" relative to others now, to preceding learners, to international competitors, to the younger learners behind them, and so on.” This seems to be predicated on a future where all learners are motivated by high level ranked progression and achievement data, which is a highly problematic assumption. It also seems to eschew the validity of an educational experience of children and young people not in a position to make use of this data to improve their outcomes, for example, some children and young people with learning disabilities.


  • Support Digital Citizenship education: Ensure UK citizens, particularly young people, have access to information relating to data collection, use, access, permissions and privacy. If we are interested in enabling people to make decisions and take responsibility for their own lives and communities, and if we acknowledge that digital tools and environments play a critical role in how our lives are lived, in how communities engagement takes place, in legal and political processes, then we need to support citizenship education which embeds digital citizenship issues. We have significant, pressing problems now around rights and laws relating to privacy, identity, reputation, surveillance, consent and ownership in digital environments. Also supports strand 3a and 3b.
  • Digital literacy education relating to online presence for 14-16 year olds: Ongoing barriers to data portability between and across institutions, and relating to activities which take place outside of formal education, mean that equipping learners to collect and curate their own achievements. Rather than wasting money and time on central platforms, government should focus on ensuring all young people (particularly those aged over 14) have access to skills and advice about managing their online presence and identity, and making use of public and private digital spaces to manage information and data relating to their own achievements. Also supports Strand 1a, 1b, 1c and 3c.
  • Increase opportunities for young people to engage with data: Enabling young people to make use of data is one way of supporting a broader digital citizenship agenda – and we are fortunate to have examples of great work in this area – for example, civic hacks events and approaches like Apps for GoodCode the City, Social Innovation Camp, Young Rewired State. How can we extend and make ‘data for good’ opportunities accessible to more young people? Also supports strand 3a and 3b.
  • Support school staff development and innovation relating to assessment and feedback: The DigiLit Leicester research indicates there are high levels of secondary school staff confidence across a wide range of approaches to using technology for assessment and feedback, including self and peer evaluation for learners. Investment should be made in surfacing and sharing the range of existing effective approaches, and in the development of new approaches, and supporting school staff, leaders and governors in data collection and use methods and approaches. It’s important that we don’t limit work in this area by only focusing on quantitative data and summative assessment. Also supports strand 3a and 3b.
  • Invest in validation outside of traditional routes: validation for a range of skills and achievements, as well as more nuanced validation within existing qualification, is a potentially high impact area for development. Open badges represent an important approach to this – however, just focusing on employers concerns and needs in relation to the usefulness of open accreditation models risks missing important benefits, particularly in relation to young people – badges don’t just demonstrate achievement, they also positively reinforce achievements and can support young people in articulating their abilities. Also supports strand 3a and 3b.
  • Investment and development in Green ICT initiatives at school level: As well as the cost to the environment, energy costs account for a substantial portion of school budgets. Further work in this area should address how school communities access and understand building data, how data can be used to support the curriculum, and how schools can be supported in reducing energy costs. Also supports Strand 1b.

Notes from my groups discussion, which included Allison Littlejohn, Susan Easton, and Ewa Luger, and focused on the question How can learners make choices in relation to the use of their data? How can learners understand the implications of the use of their personal data? were captured by Allison and added to the Strand 2 consultation Google doc.

The 2b strand discussion of the Data and Infrastructure cluster focused on the safe and effective use of learner owned technologies inside and outside of the classroom, particularly in relation to Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) approaches. I won’t go into drivers and benefits of BYOD, the various approaches schools are taking, or the key implementation areas (community engagement, staff development, financing models, digital divide issues, acceptable use policies, network security, infrastructure, device management).

I’ll cut to my recommendations in this area:

  • Support a national network of school Student Digital Leaders: School student digital champion programmes are an extremely important route. These initiatives represent a creative and effective approach to supporting learners who are enthusiastic about technologies in playing an active role in school ICT development and use, give responsibility to learners and are a non-confrontational method of embedding enhanced technology use across the whole school. They can play a critical role in BYOD implementation, and support the cultural change this approach represents. Student Digital Leader approaches should be supported nationally, either as stand alone student initiatives and/or as an integral function of student councils.
  • Support staff Digital Literacy: Staff development is critically linked to the successful implementation and sustainability of any BYOD approach, to the productive adoption of learner owned technologies, and to the development of technology use to support learners in general. Extrapolating from the DigiLit Leicester research (which collected self evaluation data from 942 secondary and SEN school staff), around 20% of secondary school staff are not confident in making basic use of technologies to support key areas of their practice. The approach we have taken in Leicester – situating digital literacy in professional practice, providing some central support and and providing opportunities and encouragement for staff directed development, has been effective in increasing secondary school staff confidence. Also supports Strand 1a, 1b and 3c.
  • Ring fence dedicated ICT funding within school buildings budgets: Funding and criteria for school building works needs to support rather than stymie school use of technologies, particularly in relation to passive infrastructure, WAN relocation costs, server design, power and data, wifi and ventilation design. This recommendation also supports Strand 1a and 1b.
  • Provide e-safety and cyberbullying advice and guidance to schools: Increasingly schools are making use of social technologies, for learning and teaching, as well as for communications. Schools also have a duty of care towards their learners and staff in terms of cyberbulling and e-safety issues. Inspection requirements relating to e-safety are not currently matched by the provision of official, or officially endorsed, advice and support in these areas. Schools who are not confident in relation to understanding and managing issues are unlikely to make use of the positive opportunities afforded by social technologies.  As a minimum, central government should issue guidance on addressing cyberbullying (focusing on both learners and school employees), and on using social media for community engagement. Guidance delivered by Childnet International  on behalf of central government was issued in 2007 (guidance for schools relating to learners) and in 2009 (guidance for school employees), but has not been updated. This recommendation also supports Strand 1a, 1b and 3c.  
  • Ensure the long term viability of e-safety and cyberbullying advice services:  The UK Safer Internet Center currently provides an important and critical service to schools and school staff with it’s Helpline service, which is part funded by the European Commission. This recommendation also supports Strand 1a, 1b and 3c.

Cluster 1: connected institutions – Led by James Penny with Dawn Hallybone

(1a) Learning will be significantly more global. How do we enable institutions to collaborate and learn from the best in the world – including their neighbours?

I’d suggest that within institutions, the issue is frequently about a lack of good collaboration and communications internally, let alone with neighbours. Focusing on schools – schools and individual staff members are increasingly aware of the wider agenda around ‘connected learning’ and the benefits of being connected educators. School have for a very long time made use of video conferencing and blogging to connect their classrooms, and the use of social media, and in particular social networking sites, to support educators engagement in professional networks and continuing professional development continues to increase. In terms of professional school communications, school now routinely make use of text messaging and email to communicate with parents. Use of social media and networking channels to provide information to parents and promote the work of the school (as opposed to individual staff members) is increasing.

  • Invest in Technology Supported Professional Development skills and approaches, focusing on introductory level activities and resources: The Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education runs the Connected Educators initiative to “help educators thrive in a connected world.” The DigiLit Leicester project has similar aspirations, and focuses on supporting staff not only to use technology in their practice, but to connect to and share their practice with other educators. Our research indicates a wealth of confidence and practice, but also a significant minority of staff that do not currently make use of the opportunities for self-directed professional development. Also supports Strand 3c.

 Wild Card Ideas 

 These are less wide card and more actons which will support all of the areas above: 

  • Provide educational technology training for school inspectors and governing bodies: Support school inspectors and empower governors to understand how technology can support learning, teaching and community development (by which I mean, the use of technology which includes learning, teaching and communications, but also extends to engagement, consultation, learner voice and governance). Equip inspectors and governors to be able to identify effective and transformative uses of technologies, as opposed to uses of technology to substitute functions and activities.
  • Coordinated support for use of technology across the curriculum for subject associations: support for subject specialist boards to ensure their members have access to information, research and activity relating to uses of technology.
  • Prioritise inclusivity and access to technology education: actively address inclusivity and promote diversity in relation to technology related activities and careers, in relation to gender, race, socio-economic status, disability (and outside of the compulsory education sector, age).  There are some great organisations already working in this space – for example the UK Online Centres, and CAS Include


Should you friend your students? The short answer is no

Earlier this year I delivered a further cyberbullying guidance document on behalf of Childnet International for the UK Government's Department for Children, Schools and Families. The Guidance follows up (and designed to compliment) cyberbullying guidance, a comprehensive document  that formed part of the Safe To Learn: Embedding anti-bullying work in schools suite of advice. While the initial document was really well received both within the UK & internationally, teachers unions and associations were increasingly being asked to deal with school employee cyberbullying cases – in which the staff member was the person being victimised. I welcomed the opportunity to produce further guidance which would both support employees in term of basic digital literacy information and encourage employers to meet their statutory obligations. The document set out, ambitiously, to encourage policy and procedure be put in place for preventing and dealing with cyberbullying as a whole school community issue – which includes meeting and recognising the specific needs, rights and responsibilities of employees. In no other area of harassment would it be acceptable for an employee to be expected to deal with cases that rose within the work place on their own – yet the reports from school staff included cases where cyberbullying was not taken seriously or understood, and where they had been expected to sort out situations for themselves.

Cyberbullying: Supporting School Staff (PDF) was released in April this year (Google doc version here).  I've been talking about the document a lot recently, and I want to just explore in a little more detail the thinking behind the advice given to school employees regarding friending students in social networking services. The actual text is (with my emphasis):

‘Friending’ refers to the act of giving contacts permission to view information or contact you within web-based services. The terminology will vary from service to service – ‘Friends’ may be called contacts or connections, for example. Most social sites enable you to give different levels of access and set privacy levels on your own content and activity. These functions will vary from service to service but typically include:
•     Information that is only available to the account holder
•     Information that is accessible by contacts on the account
holder’s approved list, and
•     Information that is made publicly available, either within
the service or across the whole of the internet.

‘Friends’ does not necessarily refer in this case to people who are your actual friends, although you may choose to restrict your connections to that. ’Friends’ in this context may also be work colleagues, family members, and people that you have met online.

If you have a social networking account, do not friend pupils or add them to your contact lists. You may be giving them access to personal information and allowing them to contact you inappropriately. They may also be giving you access to their personal information and activities

So the text above outlines three basic levels of permissions granularity that can be found on most sites, gives a definition of friending, and very explicitly says don't friend pupils. This is explicitly prescriptive advice, based on the case studies reviewed during the document negotiations, and an implicit understanding that the school staff accounts referred to are either personal, or contain elements of personal activity (I previously posted on a definition of three basic online identities, characterised as personal, professional, and organisational).

The approach taken then – don't friend pupils – reflects the kind of boundaries between staff and learners that we'd expect to see in offline behavior. You wouldn't expect a teacher to give a school aged pupil their home phone number, show them pictures of their friends or regale them with the weekends social exploits. Obviously friending isn't the only issue here – managing publicly available information so that you are comfortable with what co-workers, learners and employers can access about you is also addressed in the document. The research and anecdotal evidence indicates that we operate within social network services as if we were in a closed, private world. This isn't naive – I think it's a necessary fiction which makes social networking services human spaces. The do not friend advice is there to reinforce the message that private online is typically back of a post-card private, especially if we are within environments where we're not entirely sure who has permission to see what (*cough*Facebook*cough). It also reflects the leakiness of our online identities, the way in which the personal is often hand in hand with the professional.

What the advice isn't trying to do is to put anyone off evaluating social networking services to see if they could support learning & teaching effectively. The advice goes on to state:

If you want to use web-based social networking sites for a class or for the whole school, use a service that doesn’t give contacts access to personal information and updates, or allows collaboration without requiring permissions.

Alternatively ask pupils to create new, work-focused accounts for themselves, and run them as they would an online portfolio or CV.

You can find more information and advice about Social Network Services at

Interesting 09


Really delighted have spoken at Russell Davies‘s Interesting this year. It’s easily one of my favorite conferences – entertaining, educational, creative, unpredictable and inspiring.

My topic was psychological violence in late 1970s/early 1980s girls comics, & here are the notes. Enjoy!

During the 1950s – 1970s children’s comics were an important part of the UK cultural landscape, with individual titles typically selling 200,000 – 300,000 copies per
week. Following a dip in sales figures in the mid 1970s, a group of predominantly male writers, including UK comic legend Pat Mills, were brought in by IPC to rework content away from catatonic tales of foreign princesses and posh schools, and into the twilight zone, via some evident concerns with environmentalism and interests in paganism.

Girls comics up to 1970s can be pretty much placed on the spectrum of the history of conduct literature, a genre that appeared in print in the UK as early as 1475. Conduct literature promotes and aims to reproduce acceptable moral, domestic and social behaviour, and particularly concerns itself with the souls and reputations of young women and wives. Piety and virtue are typically valued above all other attributes. Modern day equivelants are still popular, and every so often someone will knock out another best seller that instructs insecure women how best to conform in order to get some loser to date them.


We can find lots of examples of prescriptive behaviour tracts thinly disguised as quizzes and not so
thinly disguised as articles on what being a proper girl involves in the three titles I’m focusing on: Tammy, Misty, and Jinty.

Make friends with your MIRROR! Is the title of one piece from the 1981 Jinty annual – less of an article and more of a manifesto for self regulation: “Let the mirror be your best friend! It will never lie to you! Don’t forget, if you haven’t got a double or triple mirror, you can get good views of your back by holding a small mirror and using this to look into the reflection in your long mirror.”

Obviously written by someone irretrievably harmed by reading Discipline and Punish while on acid, the annual also contains specific advice on the correct way to sit in a chair, as determined by body shape. The illustration above shows three women who’s incorrect chair occupation means that they will never get married. Advice to Di, who enjoys sitting backwards astride a chair despite being otherwise normal, includes “She should really remember that, although she’s got a nice shape, leaning forward in close fitting jeans is stretching the point! She’d feel just as dashing, and look less hippy, sitting around the other way, an maybe resting the heel of one shoe on the chair seat while circling her knee with one arm. Try it!”

Mills et al’s involvement in late 1970s and early 80s produced some of
the most interesting childrens’ comic book writing, ever. During
this period, the repetitive moral lessons that constituted girls comic
book content – the inevitable punishment and comeuppance of vanity,
selfishness, and slattern like behaviours, the Cinderella-miraculous
ending and reward of sacrifice, hard work, and humility – didn’t
disappear. The boarding schools, ballet classes and horse fetishism were still there too, although new scenarios involving science fiction and horror settings emerged. Under Mills’s stewardship, IPC girls titles
wholy perverted the existing tropes by taking them to their hysterical,
nightmarish conclusion. The horror, punishment, and suffering of the innocent was totally
amplified by the new story lines, for example in the notorious Tammy story Slaves of Orphan Farm, where every week the writers attempted to outdo Gods testing of Job. In The Slave of Form 3b, a domineering student discovers she can hypnotize a weaker classmate into doing her evil bidding. The unsuspecting dupe eventually wins the respect of her school and even a medal for bravery, but not before falling off the roof while hypnotized and becoming crippled. A Life for A Life, a short strip from Jinty’s 1978 annual told the story of two London hospital employees – nurse Celia and Doctor Josef, marrying. They had previously met years before when SS Officer Josef had been taking Celia out to shoot her, and Celia sacrificed a chance to escape in order to save Josef (presumably not his real name) after he bungled the job and accidentally shot himself.

Alan Moore, commenting on that period:

…Pat Mills and John Wagner had previously spent eleven years
working on the British girls comics. They had grown cynical and
possibly actually evil during this time. I think it
was John who used to write a script called “The Blind Ballerina” and as
the title suggested it was about a ballerina who was blind. John would
just try to put her in to increasingly worse situations. At the end of
each episode you’d have her evil Uncle saying, “Yes, come with me.
You’re going out on to the stage of the Albert Hall where you’re going
to give your premier performance” and it’s the fast lane of the M1.
And she’s sort of pirouetting and there’s trucks
bearing down on her.”

Misty_jpg The huge success of Tammy, which ran from 1971 to 1984, was partially based on some actual research by IPC magazine into what girls enjoyed reading about. Apparently they liked to be made to cry. Vulnerable amnesiacs who avoided multiple, mysterious attempts on their lives to discover their parents had been killed in some kind of transport ‘accident’ sent sales figures of up to a quarter of a million a week, along with stories which included:

Alison all Alone – Alison has been kept prisoner by her foster parents for reasons unknown.

Roberta’s Rebels – Roberta Russell decides she will do something
about her hierarchical school system where the “Serfs” slave to the
sporty “Supremos.”

The Ice Girl– A girl must keep her ice skating secret from her father, who was crippled in an ice-skating accident.

Sadie in the Sticks – an exploited girl whose only refuge is her talent for making objects with matchsticks

Lights-Out for Lucinda – Lucinda becomes trapped in a district
where people still think it is World War II, due to her father drugging
them so he may use them as slave labour.

Cora Can’t Lose– Cora Street goes on an obsessive binge to win
as many sports trophies as she can, in order to win her parents’
respect. Danger looms when Cora suffers a head injury which will kill
her unless she has an operation, but she is so obsessed with winning
trophies that she ignores the warning signs.

Becky Never Saw the Ball – aspiring tennis star Becky Bates is making a comeback after going blind.

Particularly hilariously, and never really explained, was the way Becky had her entire head bandaged.

Jinty, which ran from 1974 to 1981 before being incorporated by Tammy, introduced science fiction, adventure, and horror to the girls comic market.

Battle of the Wills –
a girl discovers a scientist with a duplicating machine that enables
her to continue with her gymnastics while her double is forced to do

The Human Zoo – twin girls and their classmates are kidnapped by telepathic aliens to
whom humans are mere animals. The treatment the humans receive
parallels the treatment meted out to animals on Earth (zoos, circuses,
slaughterhouses, bloodsports, vivisection and beasts of burden).

Worlds Apart, written by Pat Mills and drawn by Guy Peeters, was my personal favourite and still a classic of science fiction:
six schoolgirls find themselves in a series of strange worlds governed
by their main characteristics: greed, love of sport, vanity,
delinquency, intellectualism, and fear. Jac Rayner loved it too:

Worlds Apart, where six girls find themselves trapped
in a series of worlds which are distorted versions of their own
desires, and can only escape through the death of the girl whose mind
they’re in… Any story which starts ‘The day began like any other. A
road tanker carrying highly dangerous chemical waste left a government
research establishment’ has got to be good, but as we journeyed through
the fatty, sporty, vain, criminal, brainy and scared lands, we not only
got the girls’ staples of peril and adversity (with some handy moral
lessons), we got a superb adventure story”

Misty only ran for two years before being cannibalised by Tammy. Focusing on horror and

mystery, Misty is probably the title that had the most impact on it’s readers, and retains a huge fan base., a fan site archive and community hub that’s now been officially recognised by current Misty copyright holders Egmont. Classic strips included:

The Four Faces of Eve – Eve Marshall is trying to unravel her true identity, but she seems to be the bits and pieces of four dead women.

Winner Loses All – The lead character has a horse called Satan. She has sold her soul to the devil in order to help her father, who subsequently died anyway.

extra link love:

Pat Mills interviewed by Jenni Scott at Oxfords CAPTION convention

Creating Tammy: A True Story

Some of the story descriptions in this post were taken from Wikipedia – you can see the originals by clicking through the linked title names.