To Cleverlands we go

To Cleverlands we go

Guest blogger and audience member Jenna Watson shares some of the key takeaways for teachers from our seminar 'Assessing the World - Visiting Cleverlands'.

Jenna Watson profile photoThere was a lot to take away from Crehan’s seminar last Thursday; for teachers who are trying to make sense of the shifts and changes we’ve been experiencing in the UK, you’ll definitely find some of your answers in Crehan’s work. The rich and detailed picture that Lucy Crehan paints of PISA’s top performing countries makes for an enlightening read and she was able to build on this that evening. Reflecting on this I would like to share three pertinent themes from her seminar that I think we as practitioners can particularly benefit from:

1. We need to question media stereotypes about education in other countries:

Crehan spoke of the importance of not taking what is said in the media at face value. Finland is a good example. If one searches for information about Finnish education you’re likely to develop an impression that education is “unorthodox”, “unmeasured” and “subjectless”. However, there is much more to Finnish education that these buzzwords. China, in turn, yielded another shock to Crehan’s impression of East Asian education. Rather than finding classrooms filled with shallow and mechanistic rote learning, she found that repetitive learning gave learners a deeper understanding and thus, ability to apply their knowledge.

2. We can use the policies and practices of other countries to provoke reflection:

Whilst, like Crehan, I’m no advocate for ‘cherry picking’ pieces of educational policy; there are some findings that she shared that are fascinating. Some such examples are the Lesson Study approach, the importance of effective (and reduced) timetabling to the continued improvement of the profession, and the negative impact that setting and streaming has on the attainment gap. Each of these ideas have prompted me to reflect, not only on what is currently happening in the broader context of education in England, but also how I manage my own time as a teacher, and how I engage with students.

3. There is something to be discussed around ‘systemic alignment’:

One of the more subtle, though important, takeaways is that we need to start talking about systemic alignment. Whilst there is a great deal that can be learnt from different systems, as discussed in the previous point, these ideas need to be adapted to fit the context in which they are implemented. Crehan gives a poignant example of the education system in Singapore, a system she describes with both admiration and concern, for a variety of reasons:

But you can’t simply implement the same policies elsewhere and recreate the Singaporean’s success, because some policies will most likely have different effects in different places.” (pp. 147 - 148)

Crehan’s seminar generated a great deal of discussion that evening, and, of course, I highly recommend reading her book if you haven’t already. Now, more than ever before, we need to engage with the trends in international education, to question, reflect and adapt good practices that have robust evidence to support them. This is necessary next step for teachers in order to continue to improve our system and increase opportunities for our students.

Jenna Watson
Teacher, University of Cambridge Primary School and Chartered College of Teaching Trustee

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