Tag Archives: collaborative learning

Mathematical Mindsets – Jo Boaler.⤴

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I am working on (and shall be over the summer holidays) an online MOOC – Mathematical Mindsets, run by Jo Boaler.

If you haven’t come across Jo before, find her on the Twitter, google her or read her books. I love her methods for maths and the way she links them with growth mindsets.

I intend publishing some of my work here.

In my first piece, Jo shared three pieces of research onto brain growth with us and asked us to share our feelings about how this should impact schools.

 

Taxi Driver Evidence.

“You may have seen me show the evidence from London black cab drivers who have to undergo complex spatial training, at the end of which, they have a significantly larger hippocampus in the brain. At the end of being taxi drivers, when they retire, the hippocampus shrinks back down again.”

 

Taxi driver response:

This research shows that a brain that is being used develops and grows and that when the brain is not being used it regresses to its initial state. So in school I guess this means that we need to keep children thinking about their maths. The children who probably end up thinking about their maths are the mid-ability ones upwards who, if we are not careful are fed a diet of ‘more of the same with bigger numbers’. These are the children who are ‘high fliers’ who then plateau in their maths learning.

We need to use real-life challenging problems and investigations and games with all learners to ensure brains keep growing.

 

 

Half-Brain Case-study. “You may also have seen me show the girl who had half her brain removed. The doctors expected her to be paralyzed for many years or even for her whole life, but she shocked them by regrowing the connections she needed in a really

short space of time.”

 

Half-Brain response:

This research shows that the brain is a wonderful thing which scientists are still understanding…slowly in some cases.

In school we need to encourage our children to make connections within their brains to ensure that they keep developing. Brains don’t get full! We need to share this learning about re-wiring of brains with the children so they come to associate hard learning with something like a gym visit or fitness training – a development; and improver.

 

Stanford Case Study: “They brought 7 to 9-year-old children into the labs at Stanford, and half of them had been diagnosed as having mathematics learning disabilities, and half of them hadn’t. And they had these children work on maths under brain scans.

And lo and behold, they found actual brain differences. And the children diagnosed with learning disabilities actually

had more brain activity than the other children, more areas of their brain were lighting up when they worked on maths.”

 

Stanford response: Initially, this research seems to show that pupils who are thought have learning disabilities are working harder to keep up with (and by definition be not as good at maths as) their peers. Their brains are working harder, which means they will feel more tired during a maths lesson, be more stressed and require more breaks. We need to think in schools how we treat these children who are working harder, and it’s certainly not good enough to say X is not good at maths. It also suggests that schools need to find time to work closely with our ‘poorer maths attainers’ to get an understanding of where there learning is and to give them strategies to learn and develop their maths. – In an ideal world this can be done through group work and talk partners also.

Teachmeet Firestarter 2017.⤴

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It was cold. Cold like winter. In fact, it was winter, but 15 teachers from across the region started fires, literally and metaphorically.

The first part of the teachmeet involved using steel and flints to spark onto a cotton wool pad which had some vaseline on it. It was huge fun. I think your class would like it.

Once we’d managed a spark and ignited the cotton wool we added the kindle we’d been taught how to split and gradually built our fires. Some were in Kelly Cans and one was in a colander with a trivet on the top. Simple, but huge fun. We boiled the water in the Kelly Cans and mashed ourselves a cup of tea. I know my class would love this, all of them and when they went home that night I reckon they’d tell their folks.

Matt from Grounds for Learning explained how to keep it safe, how to use the equipment and gave examples of the ages of children who’ve done this. You’d be surprised.

Aileen gave out some red strips of paper to add to the fire with our reasons we don’t do more outdoor learning. For me it’s really a bit of laziness. I know when I’ve gone outside with my classes they’ve loved it and they are engaged. Engaging children is something I believe is vital to our children getting the most from school life. I burned my laziness paper, I need to do a bit better.

The more traditional teachmeet section that followed was, as always, interesting. Listening to teachers talk about what they do, why they do it and the impact it has always is. Listening to Aileen talk about children needing recent experiences to talk and write about sparked my thoughts. I need to get my class outdoors a bit more. Teacher after teacher talked about outdoor experiences they had with their classes and each one spoke of the engagement with the traditionally ‘hard to reach’ groups of children.

Our final challenge was to write and then share:

‘What fires are you going to start:

In yourself?

In your class?

In your school?’

 

Well, I am going to take my class out once a week for at least half an hour of learning – I’m thinking this will be maths as this is an area I feel comfortable with and happy to challenge myself with.

In my school, I’m going to tell people how much my class enjoyed going out and offer to share the learning we’ve done and resources we’ve used.

In myself, I’m going to get my outdoor clothing organised so I can go out whatever the weather with my class!

 

Many thanks to Matt and Aileen. Grounds for Learning is know in the rest of the UK as ‘Learning Through Landscapes’.  Their website has lots of resources and ideas.

It really was cold, but it was worth it and I will make sure my children’s learning benefits.

 

TES Resource⤴

from

“Hello, Just following up on the last message. We would love to hear back from you to see whether you are interested in the £50 reward for uploading…”

 

The TES came a calling. Offering cash incentives.

 

“£50 reward for uploading 3 premium teaching resources to our website. “

 

I had a look.

 

What is a premium resource? It’s a resource on the TES site that you pay for.

 

I have enough problems remembering my login for the TES site.

 

I had a read of this post again. It’s about why i teach. I’ve done it for a while now. I still love it. It’s about the changing, the learning, the everyday being new, the unlocking of potential. It’s not about the money.

 

I am more than happy to share any knowledge, resources I have with anyone. For free. Get in touch and I’ll send you what I can.

 

I feel that the sharing of ideas, resources, skills and knowledge is a key part of teaching. It’s how we are going to improve our education system, our curriculum. It’s how we are going to prepare our young people for the future.

 

It’s also what we ask the children in our care to do when we plan group work.

 

As well as an ethical issue in getting paid for sharing my resources, there’s a further issue.

 

If I make a resource on my council computer, in my council lit, council heated classroom and maybe print out a few test copies on the council maintained printer, is it fully my resource to charge for?

 

If I use the knowledge that I have developed through the inspiring, knowledgeable teachers I have worked with, is it fully my resource to charge for?

 

If I use an idea that I have seen on someone else’s resource, even if I have adapted it, is it fully my resource to charge for?

 

I am lucky.  I work, and have worked, with some wonderfully knowledgeable, inspiring people. I learn loads from them. I see how they do things, I improve my practice, I incorporate their ideas and I steal a copy of their resources from them and use them with my class. Should I offer them money when I do this?

 

Sharing. It’s a fundamental part of education, it’s how we personally improve and it’s how we are going to improve the lives of our young people.

Hopefully I do it.

And it’s useful.

And I do it for free.

 

#Blimage – Seating⤴

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Photo - Steve Wheeler.

Photo – Steve Wheeler.

 

When I first saw this particular #blimage it struck a chord with me immediately. Seating arrangements! One of the things in teaching I’ve read up about and tried out lots of to get the best learning out of my class (and in my early years tried to improve behaviour with too).

 

What can seating look like in primary schools?

 

Well those desks suggest the old style of rows to me. The type of thing that was actually being phased out when I went through primary schools in the 1980s. I’m not sure of the benefit of rows. If you were partnered (as our desks were double desks) with the ‘wrong person’ it made school life miserable. (My step-daughter who is a hard-working girl who isn’t easily distracted and tries her best ‘won’ the seat next to the class ‘naughty’ boy who was very talkative. She was sat there for a couple of terms…say it quickly it doesn’t sound a lot does it. Two block of 8 weeks maybe. 80 days then. 6 hours a day. 560 hours of school. With no planned benefits to her, only unhappiness because she’s not sat with the rest of her group). So maybe that seating wasn’t of the 70s and 80s? I’ve seen it used in classes in schools I’ve taught in. I assume (though never asked) to stop off task interactions.

 

A more traditional seating arrangement in primary school is the ‘table’ of around 6 children. Why do we do this? To create group interactions? Because it what primary classrooms look like – (thanks to SMT who’ve shared that gem in the past)? So that we can engineer groupings to ‘settle’ the behaviours of some children? In the early stage of my teaching life I used table groups and changed them regularly, twice a year (or moved ‘individuals’ around as a behaviour measure). I dread to think.

 

In latter years (after working with Shirley Clarke in Gateshead) I used tables of 6 children and changed them every Monday using lollipop sticks. The purpose behind this being to get the children interacting with as many different children in the class as possible. Finding out the skills and positive features that people they had never worked with had, as well as developing their own skills, through sharing their ideas and supporting each other in group work. It worked really well, and some of the feedback from the children about things they found out about each other was amazing. Of course if this happens you can’t have table points, table captains, table winners or table losers, you will need children to be self-motivated and working hard for themselves and not for external reward.

 

For the best part of a year I put all my tables together to form one large table in the classroom and mixed up the children weekly again using lollipop sticks. I did this after reading a book about how Apple and Google create spaces for ‘chance’ interactions. The class enjoyed working in this way and again reported that working with different people made for exciting learning time and exciting school time. (Behaviour, to my observation, was no worse using a ‘random’ approach to tables and seating than having ‘planned’ seating).

 

This coming year I am going for a horseshoe in my classroom with seating positions again changed weekly by random means. As well as the horseshoe, I have a table of 4 in the middle and a table for 8 for group teaching purposes. I will encourage the children to move furniture around for different tasks as they feel it suits their learning.

However, before all of this happens I will spend time in the first couple of weeks setting up the reasons behind our seating arrangements and setting up ground rules as well as discussing growth mindsets and key aspect of formative assessment. You can find loads of reading and resources about developing a growth mindset in the classroom all over the internet, and I have collected a few of the articles I have found useful here.

 

I’d be delighted to hear any of your ideas, arrangements etc in the comments.

 

.

 

The weakness of the network to nurture curiosity⤴

from @ Ewan McIntosh | Digital Media & Education

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While search technology made the process of seeking the answers to our questions easier and quicker, social technology and our networks have had a paradoxical effort. Has the ease of 'asking' numbed our curiosity to investigate unknown knowns for ourselves?

There’s a strange paradox at work here. We live in an era where information is more freely available and easily accessible than ever before. Learning has, broadly speaking, evolved in three stages. First, knowledge resided in books or was held by experts. Students had to “knock” – to go looking – to find the answers. Then came Google, and with it students learned to “seek” because it was right there at their fingertips.

With the advent of Facebook and other social networks, we’ve entered the era of “ask”. Knowledge resides in the minds of the network, so students can just throw out a question on their Facebook page: “Hey guys, how would you answer this question that our professor set?”...

Students don’t read lengthy documents – like academic papers – any longer. They don’t go hunting for answers. They just put a question out to their network, sit back and wait for the answers to come their way.

Craig Blewitt. Thanks to Matt Esterman for the initial hat-tip to this.

It's not just our students who have become this Generation Ask - their teachers, in droves, sit on Twitter asking questions to the network, whose answers are waiting there to be found. The technology of our networks risks turning us into lazy researchers, for one.

But more worryingly, not doing our own homework, our own research, and relying instead on what others perceive to be 'right', means that we don't accidentally rub up against the interesting tangents that always come with one's own, personal, more time-consuming research.

The unknown unknowns remain untouched in this age of the network, and each individual's 'filter bubble' merely narrows down those chances further. The more our networks act as a magnifying glass on the loudest voices, the less likely we are to see the bigger picture, the whole context, and gain the depth of understanding we would ideally seek.

Pic by Kate Ter Haar

The weakness of the network to nurture curiosity⤴

from @ Ewan McIntosh | Digital Media & Education

7071545621_1c0e40613d_z

While search technology made the process of seeking the answers to our questions easier and quicker, social technology and our networks have had a paradoxical effort. Has the ease of 'asking' numbed our curiosity to investigate unknown knowns for ourselves?

There’s a strange paradox at work here. We live in an era where information is more freely available and easily accessible than ever before. Learning has, broadly speaking, evolved in three stages. First, knowledge resided in books or was held by experts. Students had to “knock” – to go looking – to find the answers. Then came Google, and with it students learned to “seek” because it was right there at their fingertips.

With the advent of Facebook and other social networks, we’ve entered the era of “ask”. Knowledge resides in the minds of the network, so students can just throw out a question on their Facebook page: “Hey guys, how would you answer this question that our professor set?”...

Students don’t read lengthy documents – like academic papers – any longer. They don’t go hunting for answers. They just put a question out to their network, sit back and wait for the answers to come their way.

Craig Blewitt. Thanks to Matt Esterman for the initial hat-tip to this.

It's not just our students who have become this Generation Ask - their teachers, in droves, sit on Twitter asking questions to the network, whose answers are waiting there to be found. The technology of our networks risks turning us into lazy researchers, for one.

But more worryingly, not doing our own homework, our own research, and relying instead on what others perceive to be 'right', means that we don't accidentally rub up against the interesting tangents that always come with one's own, personal, more time-consuming research.

The unknown unknowns remain untouched in this age of the network, and each individual's 'filter bubble' merely narrows down those chances further. The more our networks act as a magnifying glass on the loudest voices, the less likely we are to see the bigger picture, the whole context, and gain the depth of understanding we would ideally seek.

Pic by Kate Ter Haar

When a Snow Queen starts a school: the no-grades route to University⤴

from @ Ewan McIntosh | Digital Media & Education

Drumduan

No grades (ever), no sitting down at desks, and harnessing student boredom as a motivator to create and explore might seem an odd recipe for academic success and entry to university, but that is exactly what one of Scotland's newest schools is attempting to do.

Drumdruan Upper School was created a few years ago by Scottish actress Tilda Swinton, star of many a Hollywood blockbuster and forever in my mind the terrifying Witch in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The school extends a Steiner education beyond the age of 14, and takes students through to their University years. The Observer has published a fascinating and detailed account of some of the recipe that makes this a special place and, above all, has bowled over the traditionally conservative schools inspectorate:

That is not what happened: the inspectors sat in the classes and watched the students. And if you watch the students at Drumduan, you soon notice they are confident, articulate, highly motivated and respectful. These are, in fact, the words used by the inspectors in their subsequent report. You might even believe the students at Drumduan wanted to be there. The inspectors clearly felt so, but it was when they had retired to an office to confer that Krzysztof, a master of the spontaneous gesture, delivered the coup de grace. He sang to them.

Music is something of a hallmark at Drumduan, where children participate in regular workshops – often on instruments like a wheelie bin – and start each day singing in four-part harmonies. “We were rehearsing in another room, and I said: ‘This song is terrific, we have to show these inspectors,’” Krzysztof recalls. “So we burst into their office – they were a bit alarmed – and I said: ‘I’m sorry, we’ve just got to sing this song to you.’” The song was “Media Vita”, a medieval score of haunting beauty that reduced the inspectors to tears, according to Krzysztof. Bowled over by their praise – he is a man whose emotions are close to the surface – Krzysztof asked if he could give them a hug, probably a first for all of them.

 ...

“There’s no grading, no testing at all,” Tilda had explained to me earlier. “My children are now 17, and they will go through this school without any tests at any time, so it’s incredibly art-based, practical learning. For example, they learn their science by building a Canadian canoe, or making a knife, or caramelising onions. And they’re all happy 17-year-olds. I can’t believe it – happy and inspired.”

Why education needs more fuzzy thinking⤴

from @ Ewan McIntosh | Digital Media & Education

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It’s been a decade since I first heard the education conference cliché that we are preparing our kids for a future we don’t even understand. I argue that since then we've done little about it, in this week's Editorial in the Times Educational Supplement.

Ten years ago, that wasn’t really true. In fact, the immediate future was pretty predictable between 2005 and 2010: the internet remained slow and some kids didn’t have it at home, most didn’t use Facebook, smartphones were still far too expensive and the iPad wasn’t launched until January 2010. Even terrorism was mostly still “over there”, and wars likewise, rather than recruiting from comprehensives in the Home Counties.

Since then the world has learned what “exponential” really means. The normal trajectory post-school is no longer a linear certainty but a struggle with what a new breed of thinker and doer embraces as “fuzzy goals”. This emergent group of young people, activists and senior industry leaders spends most of its days grappling with unknown unknowns – technologies, jobs, ways of thinking and, yes, even terrorist groups that we didn’t even know we didn’t know about.

At the same time, our understanding of “what matters” in education hasn’t budged beyond a few pockets of relative daring. We still operate within our hierarchy of subjects, overcharged curricula and an expectation that teachers will stand and deliver it. There is little room for fuzziness here.

In this week's Times Educational Supplement, I expand on how fuzzy problem-finding and -solving are some of the core skills that we've been ignoring too long in the search for standaradisation and content-heavy cramming. What do you think?

Pic by HB2

Do we actually want to close the achievement gap?⤴

from @ Ewan McIntosh | Digital Media & Education

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I end this small run of blog posts with the question posed by Professor Brian Boyd at the beginning of our evening:

Do we want to close the achievement gap?

We know we can close the gap. It’s been done or almost been done before in Scottish education, but the answers have been ignored as they pass us by. The simple clue is this: poverty is single biggest predictor of achievement, and according to research (Hammonds sic, reference required), aged 10, a child living in poverty is 60% less likely to get to university.

Boyd borrowed from his own mother’s report card to ask us what kind of education we desire. Is it the academic success at all costs route, or is there another option we need to value as much, if not more? His mother’s report card, one that prevented her from becoming a secondary school pupil in Glasgow, is filled with G and FG, until the last point: Character and conduct - excellent.

What kind of pupils do we want to develop in Scotland? What do we value in our assessment system? Opening up opportunity for all is a tough game to play when the examination system rewards only certain types of behaviour, few of them related to what the Curriculum for Excellence says we stand for. In his own small community in East Kilbride, three secondary schools enter a period of meltdown as the local rag sets about creating its own local league table of performance, with those three ‘teams’ in competition for the top spot (or at least not the bottom one). Therefore, we must stop basing “the gap” largely on attainment.

First of all, Boyd would like us to remove the traditional, and non-sensical academic/vocational divide. Is the law or medicine degree we value not vocational? (Are all General Practitioners not Plumbers, as Dr Murray on the panel suggests?)

Second, we must start from the ground up, in the early years. It is with parental expectations from this youngest age that we can help prevent the gap becoming quite so large in the first place.

Third, there is no research that supports setting. So why do we continue? Telling students they’re not ‘top’ will certainly reinforce their expectation and aspirations to be anything other than top.

Fourthly, pedagogy doesn’t have to be a dirty word. Teachers must have opportunities to talk about learning and teaching, to hone their craft and learn from each other.

Finally, cooperation instead of competition between departments, school types, ages, stages, and sectors is the only way we can begin to crack this question. Scottish schools have never been comprehensive, really. People have flocked to what is perceived to be ‘the good school’, making them better schools as a result. And the rest of them?

but, collaboration with business… a step too far?
Collaboration with business might be the hardest step for Scottish school to take, in a system recognisable today as the one set up by socialist forefathers in the name of equality. For some in the education sphere there are, without a doubt, perceptions that business is anything but equality in action, but instead a position of privilege at the expense of others. This surely has to change.

Maybe it is telling, in fact, that NoTosh, a company I founded five years ago, with the explicit aim to bring creative approaches from creative enterprises into the classroom, sees less than 0.5% of its turnover generated in Scotland, and none of that comes from schools. The picture above, in fact, is of one project where we brought entrepreneurship skills to the vocational education system in Finland. In non-business speak: Scottish schools aren't as interested as nations all over the world, when it comes to seeing how learning, process and leadership from outside education might help us inside formal education. 

One thing is sure: the narrowing and closing of the achievement gap in its widest sense is not something schools and the school system will manage to do on its own. It is, perhaps, long time that conversations between business, creative enterprise and the public service begin to happen much more often, with much more drive to deliver for our children. 

Do schools ever want to partner with business?⤴

from @ Ewan McIntosh | Digital Media & Education

 

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“Teachers like to agree with each other, when we talk about learning. It’s hard to change that, when the model we have wanted to make work has nonetheless been failing for 40 years.” Professor Brian Boyd

No area has remained up there in the contentiousness charts in Scotland as the notion of business and education working together to do something better for our young people.

Most schools do not ‘partner’ with colleges or universities. Instead, they are production facilities for undergraduates and college entrants. Fewer are set up to systematically provide apprenticeship opportunities as well as learning. At NoTosh, we’ve been working on a few, nascent projects to change the attitudes of schools from being these production facilities into something more of a life support - what metrics of success might we use if schools judged their success on the results of their alumni, five, ten or twenty years down the line, much like universities do?

City of Glasgow College have partnered with Newlands Junior College (NJC) to make the experience of a day in college more than what, in other circumstances, is too often perceived as a day off from school. The Junior College is called this, and not a school, for that very reason, to mark it out as a stepping stone between school and full-blown college. NoTosh helped last August to provoke the team around their thoughts of what 'unschool' might look like.

The College was backed and founded by Jim McColl, one of Scotland’s top business people. 

In the future, suggests, McColl, might be be possible to take funding of learning out of its pre-existing silos, particularly for this group of students, about 60 in every city at these ages, who just need a different approach to the traditional comprehensive approach? A crossover funding model that helps learning happen in both ‘school’ or Junior College and college or university might be interesting. In fact, some of the world’s top universities are thinking of such models for their own students: Stanford’s 2025 project talks about the Open Loop, where learning and work happen over far more than the usual four year degree, offering students a chance to grow through not just learning, but contributing to society through their work, too.

Such continuums of learning, from school to college to work, are the most rare in the world - we’re lucky in Scotland to have one in the form of Newlands Junior College. If we struggle to collaborate between educational institutions, then collaboration between those not in the world of formal education - namely businesses - feels far fetched. 

McColl is frank on his views of the traditional ‘comprenhensive’ education he received: he couldn’t get out of secondary school fast enough. In his small primary school “people cared”. He was the Dux of his class, even if, he jokes, the class only had seven pupils. Aged 16, he gained his Weir pumps apprenticeship, the choice grounded in nothing other than the fact it was the closest bus stop to his house. But, once there, the trainer told him: “Just work hard and we’ll give you all the support you need. If you want to get to the top, you just have to work hard.” He did. And in 2007 he bought the company. One might say he was successful, but not by any metrics of today’s academic race to nowhere. What he did have was a strong sense of self-efficacy, that sense that he could change the world around him, his own circumstances, through his own efforts. This is what is behind most powerful learning.

He saw that, particularly in Glasgow, poverty and deprivation were holding back too many youngsters. He held Focus Dinners with all the heads of Glasgow schools. They confirmed what he had believed: aspiration from the family was a key differentiating factor.

“Aged 14”, they said, “we can tell who is waiting to check out when they’re sixteen.”

Comprehensive is not comprehensive, he says: “We force kids who are just naturally more vocational into an academic system that doesn’t cater with them.”

The curriculum is made up one around a third in traditional core subjects of maths, science, English and technology, a third of College-based learning and the rest is Life Skills, led by Skillsforce, another partner from the world of non-formal education led by former military personnel. Each week has a theme related to doing better in life. “This week is eye contact week” explains McColl. “It’s funny at first, because they all over-emphasise things, but by the third or fourth day they’ve grown in confidence and hold conversations.”

The culture of obstacles lives on

The culture of obstacles referred to by Dr Murray, in her work engaging young people in the world of medicine, is what must be defeated, though, and it has to include the public sector. But the public sector has to do a better job not to hold back potentially useful ideas from outside its parameters. It has taken six years to get Newlands Junior College where it is today. Had the team waited for every funder and ‘stakeholder’ to give their accord, it would still be a sketch on paper. A third of local schools in Glasgow still refuse to engage with the model at all. There are also people who are too focussed on their own power games, and students are suffering in the meantime.

Compare this slow pace with the measured but impassioned ambition of McColl, who sees NJC and its future cousin schools around the country as always remaining a small family of schools, maybe 10-12 of them, and very much part of the system, an additional resource rather than an outside bolt-on to the system. 

We've got high hopes, hi-i-i-i-gh hopes...

Key to businesses’ success is their sense of high expectation - businesses with incremental improvements in mind barely get past their first tax return. This sense of high expectations is visible in everything NJC does, from its physical decor to the time and effort put into excelling at life, not just subjects. There was an almost disapproving ripple of excitement when the audience were told every youngster at NJC has an iPad. Frankly, it was the statement of entitlement to whatever it takes that was the point, not whether the kids got an iPad or an A4 pad on entry to the school.

All things being equal, are opportunities for all young people there, and are aspirations from all of those around them there? Making sure schools provide that aspiration is the key.