The ‘one thing’ I’ve learned about teaching from The Simpsons

As part of its new Teaching, Learning, Assessment and Development policy, Capital City College Group has launched a new initiative called One Thing to encourage teachers to take greater ownership of their career development by coming up with ‘one thing’ they want to develop or improve this academic year. In this blog, City and Islington College A Level History and Politics teacher Debbie Bogard explains how Matt Groening’s cartoon creation The Simpsons has inspired her ‘one thing’ – to introduce more metacognitive approaches to her teaching and learning.

“There’s a great Simpsons episode where, following a computer error, a careers aptitude test suggests to Bart that he become a policeman. It also informs Lisa that she’s not going to achieve her dream of becoming a professional saxophonist. In the role reversal that inevitably follows, Bart becomes a school prefect and Lisa a disruptor: smoking in the ‘bad girl’ toilets, being rude to those in authority and, in the ultimate act of rebellion, hiding all the teacher editions of the textbook. Cue a comical sequence in which every teacher in school is exposed for their lack of knowledge and utter dependence on the answers provided by their textbook. As with all Simpsons episodes, it’s charming and funny and has a poignant ending (no spoilers!) but, as ever, there are lessons to be learnt.

“Prevalent in education is the notion of teacher as ‘content provider’ and font of all knowledge, with student as vessel and passive recipient. The perennial challenge of ‘getting through the content,’ along with the assumption that exams will return next summer, means we run the constant risk of perpetuating this cycle. That’s not to mention the added pressure surrounding fears of a significant ‘knowledge deficit’ following the last eighteen months of disrupted schooling. In his seminal work Pedagogy of the Oppressed, educator and philosopher Paulo Freire discusses the construction of an educational programme whereby ‘authentic education is not carried on by “A” for “B” or by “A” about “B,” but rather by “A” with “B” mediated by the world – a world which impresses and challenges both parties, giving rise to views or opinions about it.’ I think it’s crucial that this idea of learning as both a collaborative endeavour and as something dynamic and evolving, is introduced early on in the academic year.

“When I think back to the early years of my teaching career, I remember just how crucial those first few days and weeks were in terms of establishing rules and routines, managing behaviour and creating a positive learning environment. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out that way. I have particularly bad memories of one year 8 class where, straight out of teaching training and full of idealism about student ownership of learning and the democratic classroom, I naively (read: idiotically) encouraged the students to come up with their own set of rules for the class. Chaos ensued, and I spent the rest of the term desperately trying (and failing) to regain the upper hand.

“Luckily, those days are over, and I find myself in the fortunate situation of starting the school year without having to worry about classroom behaviour, whether or not to smile before Christmas and the myriad of other potential pitfalls and obstacles that can mark the trappings of teaching at secondary school. Instead, teaching in a lovely sixth form college, there’s a great opportunity to start an ongoing dialogue with students about the kind of education we believe in and want to nurture, develop and practice. We should build in regular opportunities in the curriculum for our students to reflect not only on what they’re learning, but why they’re learning it (ie: why is it meaningful and important? How does it fit into a bigger picture?) as well as how to learn effectively. This involvement can lead to greater motivation and engagement, as students can become more self-directed and in control of their learning.

“One way to do this is through the early and explicit teaching of metacognitive strategies, whereby students are guided in how to think intentionally and consciously about how they think and learn. Research from the Education Endowment Fund emphasises the importance of ‘metacognitive talk,’ recommending that students are explicitly taught and are familiar with the language and concepts around planning, monitoring and evaluating their learning. Through adopting a metacognitive approach to our planning, we can build in opportunities in our schemes of work for reflections on learning at specific points, for example, approaching a first essay, resubmitting a piece of work, planning for and carrying out a micro teach to the rest of the class and / or carrying out a piece of independent research.”

Similarly, the Schemes of Learning and, in particular, encouraging students to reflect on their understanding at the end of each week, creates the opportunity for us to provide a range of more reflective and searching questions that prompt students to think about and evaluate their learning: for example, what strategies did I use for learning this week? What challenges did I face and how did I overcome them? What changes could I make next week to help me learn more effectively? Through embedding metacognitive strategies, the classroom can become a space for developing higher level problem-solving and critical thinking skills, where students work collaboratively and take risks without fear of failure or anxiety around ‘getting it wrong,’ and where mistakes are understood as a valuable and instructive part of the learning process.

“Spoiler alert: at the end of the Simpsons episode, Bart ends up taking the blame for Lisa’s textbook misdemeanour, is punished accordingly, and everything goes back to the way it always has been in Springfield. Here’s hoping that the academic year ahead aligns more with Freire’s vision than Matt Groening’s. Rather than fall into the comfortable – and comforting – trap of setting ourselves up as the experts, and our students as mere receptacles, I’m determined to start this year with an emphasis on collaboration, and treat the process of learning as something exploratory, interactive and meaningful.”

Students given chance of a lifetime to study in South Korea

Thirty students from Capital City College Group will be embarking on the educational trip of a lifetime – and boosting their skills in the process – when they spend three weeks in South Korea next spring. London’s largest college group has secured £108,000 in funding from the Turing Scheme to provide the study and cultural visit planned for April 2022

The Turing Scheme is the UK’s global study and work programme and replaced the European Union’s Erasmus scheme following Brexit. The 20-day trip to South Korea has been organised in partnership with Keimyung College University (KMCU) in Daegu in the south of the country and Kyungbuk College and JEI University in Incheon in the north.

During the visit students will take part in language classes and gain a cultural understanding of South Korea. They will also gain the skills and experience to thrive in the global workplace of the future with a focus on the green agenda and Industry 4.0 – a major area of economic growth in South Korea. Industry 4.0, also known as the fourth industrial revolution, is the innovative development of automation in manufacturing methods and industrial practices using smart technology.

CCCG has committed half of the places on the trip to students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Two thirds of the group’s students come from the lowest three bands of social deprivation and around 500 have special educational needs and disabilities. Seungeun Chang, Head of International Development and Operations, said: “This unmissable visit to South Korea will give 30 of our learners the chance to study and experience a dynamic global economy and recognised leader of the fourth industrial revolution.

“Those participating will gain vital skills, knowledge and behaviours to thrive in the workplace of the future, while also having the chance to immerse themselves in South Korean culture, giving them a rich experience that will undoubtedly have a significant and long-lasting impact on their lives.”

CCCG comprises City and Islington College, Westminster Kingsway College and the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London, and apprenticeship and training provider Capital City College Training.

In August, CCCG began a 16-week online programme for 27 students from the South Korean colleges including English lessons, employability skills and study in either Hospitality and Culinary Arts or Creative Media Production.

CCCG is planning to host a further 20 students from KMCU under a scheme sponsored by the Ministry of Education in South Korea.

Seungho Park, President of KMCU, said: “We’re delighted to be partnering CCCG on this programme. Since 2016 we’ve been working with CCCG and sending our students to Westminster Kingsway College to study and learn about life in the UK. This is a fantastic opportunity for our students to meet and work on projects with their peers from CCCG at our beautiful campus in Daegu. We are looking forward to welcoming the students from London and providing them with a great learning experience.”

Mind the gap: How we’re helping London bridge the digital skills divide

Earlier this year Capital City College Group teamed up with 01 Founders to launch the first tuition-free coding course in the UK. 

In a blog for London First, our CEO Roy O’Shaughnessy and Joysy John, CEO of 01 Founders, have shared how we are working together to reduce the digital divide and give people the skills and knowledge they need to succeed.

In the blog they refer to the types of study programmes on offer at our colleges including the course in partnership with 01 Founders, and how vital tech skills are to the UK and London’s recovery from the COVID pandemic. Read the full blog on London First here.

Mind the Gap: How We’re Helping London Bridge the Digital Skills Divide

Earlier this year Capital City College Group teamed up with 01 Founders to launch the first tuition-free coding course in the UK.

In a blog for London First, our CEO Roy O’Shaughnessy and Joysy John, CEO of 01 Founders, have shared how we are working together to reduce the digital divide and give people the skills and knowledge they need to succeed.

In the blog they refer to the types of study programmes on offer at our colleges including the course in partnership with 01 Founders, and how vital tech skills are to the UK and London’s recovery from the COVID pandemic. Read the full blog on London First here.

Students praised for ‘dedication and perseverance’ as they celebrate their A Level results

Students at City and Islington College and Westminster Kingsway College celebrated as they overcame the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic to achieve a fantastic set of A Level results. CANDI saw 23.2 per cent of students achieve A*-A grades and 75 per cent gain A*-C grades while WestKing saw 21% of students attain A*-A grades and 73.5% gain A* -C grades.

Students did not sit exams this year due to COVID-19 with their grades being determined by teachers’ assessment of their actual evidence-based ability, rather than predicted grades. Among this year’s top performers was CANDI student Lily Burge-Thomas, 18, who is going to study Architecture at Cambridge University where her mum studied Classics.

She said: “I’m totally ecstatic. Honestly, after these difficult two years it feels like all the hard work has paid off, and I’m really excited to be going to Cambridge and continuing my educational journey. My teachers have been amazing and really supportive. I came from a school where they really pushed you very hard to CANDI where you had to push yourself and be a lot more self-driven. I don’t know if it was the tough love of my old school or the kindness and support at CANDI but I got the results.”

Muhsin Chowdury, 18, gained three As in Politics, Media Studies and English Literature and Language and is heading to the University of West London to study Broadcasting and Digital Journalism. He said: “I had a difficult time during COVID with some of my family members seriously ill and in hospital. My teachers were exceptional and it was a privilege to be taken under their wing. The assurances I received from them during that period of deep uncertainty really helped me through it.”

WestKing student Emma Breatcliffe 18, achieved A grades in Philosophy, Biology and Mathematics and is going to study Physiotherapy at Brunel University. She said: “My main feeling is relief! Almost all of my A Level courses were online during the pandemic, and it was hard sometimes keeping homelife and school separate. My teachers were very responsive though. When I emailed any of them with a question, they came straight back to me.”

Elias Hashemi, 20, attained an A* in Maths, A in Chemistry and a B in Biology and is going to Southampton University to study Maths and Finance. He said: “I feel good. I’d had some personal problems and had to take two years away from studying, so when I came back, I felt like I was in the deep end. But I came back a bit older and wiser and concentrated on my studies.”

A Level results day also saw the release of results for vocational qualifications.

CANDI student Freddie Cook, 18, gained a triple Distinction in his Public Services diploma and is going to the University of Greenwich to study Criminology with Criminal Justice. He said: “I am looking to work in border security but also considering teaching public services after the positive experience I‘ve had at CANDI. I went through some tough times while studying and my teachers really helped give me the support I needed. For me, CANDI was like a second family.”

Kurt Hintz, Executive Principal of CCCG, said: “We are very proud of the great results of our students after such a disrupted and difficult two-year period. Our students have shown huge amounts of dedication, perseverance and resilience in adversity, which has prepared them well for their future university education and careers.

“We congratulate all of our students on their results and wish them well in their next steps. We would also like to give special thanks to our teachers and support staff who worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic to secure these results.”