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Roy Blatchford's Column

Roy Blatchford
Contact: royb88@gmail.com

Artificial Intelligence (AI) beckons

The word 'robot' comes from a Czech word robota meaning 'forced labour'. It was first used to denote a fictional humanoid in a 1920 play. By the 1940s Isaac Asimov started popularizing robots and intelligent machines in his great science fiction short stories.

Perhaps it has taken longer than Asimov, George Orwell, Aldous Huxley and Ray Bradbury predicted in their fiction. This decade will surely see robots come of age in the shape of artificial intelligence reshaping diverse aspects of our lives.
  • In the arena of climate change, sophisticated software programmes will allow robots to distinguish between biological organisms and pollutants.

  • In transport, the autonomous, driverless car is already upon us.

  • In home alarm systems, AI can distinguish between occupants and unknown persons.

  • In healthcare, robotic surgery assistants will become commonplace.

  • In finance, junior accountants are being replaced by AI.

  • And 'transhumanism' - the fused human/robot - rightly excites ethical discussions.
What about in education?

The extraordinary becomes the commonplace - at a faster and faster rate. Like the frog which slowly boils in the pan, realising too late that it is cooked, do schools risk society's new technologies eluding them. In too many schools currently, the potential of e-learning is not fully harnessed. And the GCSE and A Level examination system has barely begun to respond to on-line assessing.

Schools are conservative organisations in the best conserving traditions. They rightly protect the past. At their best, they are also crucibles of change powered by the young.

The Z generation students with us today live actual and virtual lives intertwined. Their social media habits and views on the climate-challenged world are set to impact significantly on how adults lead nationally and internationally.

Forward-looking school leaders are setting aside time now with staff, students and governors to reflect on the lifestyles, technologies and everyday practices of their school communities.

Working groups, comprising learners and teachers of all ages, are studying:
  • How to deal effectively with cyber-attacks and ransomware demands - a key safeguarding issue for schools and colleges.

  • How best to introduce facial and voice recognition, protecting individual privacy.

  • How to introduce 'bring your own device' (BYOD) into schools, so that all students have real-time access, as appropriate, to the world's knowledge.

  • How to bring about carbon-neutral school environments, including home to school travel.

  • How any part of a school's provision can be enhanced by the presence of intelligent robots.

  • How classroom environments can be improved by AI as deployed in healthcare, transport or finance.

  • How curriculum content and assessment of students will be created and monitored through AI.
It was another celebrated sci-fi author William Gibson (Neuromancer, 1984) who cannily observed that the future is already here, but it's just not very evenly distributed. All of the above - already in place somewhere on the planet - will inevitably arrive on all schools' doorsteps. Astute leaders have started their preparations.

When railways were introduced, the questions of the time were: What would happen to the human body at speed? Would passengers faint? If cows saw the red-hot funnels, would they bolt or abort? And now HS2 beckons.

The problem with the almost tangible future is that the lead-in times are a killer. As with the apocryphal frog, schools risk realising too late that they are cooked - marooned in a different age. Optimistically, the students will ensure that their schools and teachers escape that fate.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) beckons (February 2020)

Roy Blatchford
Contact: royb88@gmail.com


A New Year's resolution for leaders: prevailing scepticism
A new, predictably unpredictable decade begins. The German poet Goethe wryly observed that everything has been thought of before - the challenge is to think of it again.
A New Year's resolution for leaders: prevailing scepticism (January 2020)

PISA in purdah
With politicians on doorsteps and civil servants in purdah, this month's publication of PISA results has not been accompanied by the usual idle chatter around rising and falling standards.
OECD's PISA tests have been running since 2000. They measure the ability of 15 year-olds to apply their skills and knowledge to real life problem-solving in reading, maths and science.
PISA in purdah (December 2019)

It's not what you say, it's the way that you say it
According to new research from Yale University, when we hear someone speak we form near-instantaneous conclusions about their social class. It takes just seven random words they claim.
The Professional Speechwriters' Association suggests that content only accounts for 11 per cent of our impact when we talk. Passion, expertise, voice and presence are all twice as important in making a first impression.
It's not what you say, it's the way that you say it (November 2019)

Why independent schools enjoy being independent
The Labour Conference votes to abolish independent schools. Social media have come up with witty suggestions about what to do with the great estates of Stowe, Eton, Wellington and Winchester once they are requisitioned.
Anyone who has attended the annual Festival of Education at Wellington College will know what I mean.
So as minds turn to thinking the unthinkable, let's pause to reflect on why the independent sector rightly values its independence.
Why independent schools enjoy being independent (October 2019)

The 'Forgotten Third' deserve the dignity of a new type of qualification
It is a remarkable statistic in the home of the English language, and in one of the world's top economies, that one third of 16 year-olds, after 12 years of compulsory schooling, fail to achieve what the Department for Education describes as a 'standard pass' (grade 4) in GCSE English and maths.
This was the starting point for the independent Commission on 'The Forgotten Third' which was established by the Association of School and College Leaders...
The 'Forgotten Third' deserve the dignity of a new type of qualification (September 2019)

The Forgotten Third: Final report of the Commission of Inquiry

Reading for the summer recess
Radical Candour Kim Scott, Machines Like Me Ian McEwan, Sandettie Light Vessel Automatic Simon Armitage, Average Is Over Tyler Cowen, India Connected Ravi Agrawal and Why We Dream Alice Robb.
Reading for the summer recess (August 2019)

End of academic year reflection (July 2019)
This past year I have visited nearly 50 schools in the UK and overseas. Sometimes it has been as a reviewer (Blink), sometimes as a leadership coach, sometimes to work with students and teachers, sometimes to listen to headteachers' views on a range of educational matters.
End of academic year reflection (July 2019)

Eight Leadership Maxims
With acknowledgements to the headteachers and principals across the UK and overseas I have worked with this academic year.
Eight Leadership Maxims (June 2019)

It's the curriculum, stupid!
Bill Clinton's successful 1992 presidential campaign slogan memorably read 'It's the economy, stupid'. His lead strategist James Carville hung a sign with these words in the Little Rock campaign headquarters: what was intended for an internal audience rapidly became the election signature tune.
In the contemporary schools landscape, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector has hung up the sign: 'It's the curriculum, stupid'.
It's the curriculum, stupid! (May 2019)

Postcard from Shanghai
Away from its gridlocked, elevated highways the largest city in the world works. Shanghai: a modern, socialist, international metropolis.
Contrast frenetic New York, chaotic Mumbai, the bedlam of Cairo - Shanghai hums with purpose. Twenty-six million souls occupy countless high-rise towers cheek by jowl with the stylish housing and municipal legacies of the French, British and American Concessions. The Huang Pu river bends through the downtown like a proverbial dragon's tongue.
Postcard from Shanghai (April 2019)

The Forgotten Third
Each year in England over half a million 16-year-olds take their GCSEs. A third of these students do not achieve at least a standard pass (grade 4) in English and mathematics.
Why is it that a third of 16-year-olds, after twelve years of compulsory schooling, cannot read or write English at what the Department for Education (DfE) describes as 'standard pass' level?
Why is there not proper recognition of the progress these young people have made as they move on to further education and employment?
The Forgotten Third (March 2019)

The tarnished jewel of Higher Education, UK
I encounter many senior politicians, top civil servants in education departments, principals of schools and colleges across the globe who have spent what they describe as memorable and enjoyable years in British universities.
The tarnished jewel of Higher Education, UK (February 2019)

A Happy New Year from Ofsted
Roy Blatchford drafts HMCI's New Year Message

An important tipping point in this country has now been reached. In 2018, approaching 90% of state-funded schools were judged good or better at their most recent inspection. That should be recognised as a fair achievement for the nation.
A Happy New Year from Ofsted (January 2019)


Roy Blatchford CBE

Roy Blatchford is founder of www.blinks.education - working with schools, academy trusts, colleges and universities in the UK and internationally. He has spent the past three years implementing education system reform in the Middle East.

He recently chaired ASCL's Commission 'The Forgotten Third', and currently chairs the East Sussex Secondary Board.

Roy was Founding Director (2006 - 2016) of the National Education Trust. Previously he served as one of Her Majesty's Inspectors of Schools (HMI) in England, with national responsibilities for school improvement and for the inspection of outstanding schools.

He has extensive experience of writing inspection frameworks, nationally and internationally, and has reviewed over 1000 schools and colleges in Europe, USA, Middle East and India.

For 30 years Roy has been an international trainer and conference speaker on English and literacy, school improvement, leadership and curriculum development. He has been an adviser to various UK governments, including Deputy Chair of the DfE Teachers Standards Review (2011) and of the Headteachers Standards Review (2014).

Roy began his teaching career in London, moving to be Principal of schools in Oxfordshire and Milton Keynes. He is Visiting Fellow at Reading University, was a visiting university professor in the USA, and is co-founder of the Mumbai-based education foundation Adhyayan. He is the author/editor of over 150 books.

Roy was appointed CBE for services to education in the 2016 New Year Honours.

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