Can I see tea?


From the vaults. Dedicated to all teachers about to embark on delivering the new Computing curriculum…

Originally posted on All Change Please!:

Over recent weeks All Change Please! has posted about the draft National Curriculum requirements for Design & Technology, Art & Design, and History. Now it’s time to look at the new-fangled Computer studies (or as a DfE press release recently called it, ‘Computing Studies’), and to help us we’re delighted to welcome back the wondeful spirit of Joyce Grenfell, who is leading today’s Key Stage 1 lesson.

“Ok class, let’s all gather round. Today we’re going to learn about computers. I expect you already know a lot more about them than I do, don’t you? Well at least I’m rather hoping you do. Now, first make sure your smart phones and tablets are all switched off please – you’re not really supposed to have them in school are you? No, I’m sorry Larry you’ll just have to finish working on your facebook hacking app later – which reminds me, you…

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Now this is what I call a Textbook


In days of old, when teachers were bold, this is what a school textbook used to be like.

Before the not-missed-at-all Miss Truss was given her marching orders she made a number of speeches in which she advocated a return to the regular use of the  textbook. As such she was simply providing yet another example of the DfE policy-making process as being ‘Come up with a vote-winning bit of spin and don’t actually bother to think about the implications of implementing it’.

The problem is that the production of textbooks is now very different from the way it was back then in the days when everything was apparently wonderful. In those days school budgets were more bountiful and publishers could afford to employ armies of reviewers, editors, proof-readers, picture researchers and designers, and authors were carefully chosen as being recognised experts in their field. Their royalty rates, although never more than 10%, meant that reasonably good sales over an extended period of time would provide an adequate return on their considerable efforts. And there was a wide variety of small, independent publishers looking to specialise in a range of subject areas and age-ranges and to take risks on books that might or might not be particularly successful, providing something of quality and value had been produced.

But of course, like everything else outside the DfE, things have changed over the past fifteen or so years. For a start there are now just a couple of really big educational publishers, considerably reducing choice. Authors are now usually relatively inexperienced, foolishly hoping that being published will look good on their CVs and as a result prepared to work for next to nothing – often just a share of 5% on a work that will probably be out-dated by a curriculum change before its first reprint. Content is now all about delivering the narrow requirements of the specification with an emphasis on teaching to the test, rather than providing a broader, more pedagogically sound coverage.

Meanwhile manuscripts go through largely unchecked by subject specialists and desk editors. Picture research budgets have been slashed, and page-by-page design is a thing of the past. Titles are focused on the main subjects that have the biggest GCSE entries and the most extensive book-buying habits, such as science, maths and geography. And as prices have risen, classroom sets have become increasingly expensive and unaffordable. No wonder so many teachers have chosen to produce their own content more suited to the needs of their own learners and their preferred teaching styles.

There are, however, some things that Ms Textbook Truss might have suggested that would have been more worthwhile. The knowledge-base of most subjects has now become so extensive that it has become increasingly difficult for teachers to cram everything in to the limited number of periods a week they have with each class. As such, high quality independent study support resources of the electronic kind would be a valuable development. Unfortunately at present these are usually produced by new-media companies with little or no pedagogic experience, and more with the intention of winning an award for the cleverness of largely superficial so-called ‘interactive’ animation than with actually assisting learning. So something to improve the standards of electronic resources would have been something really worth speaking about. At the same time, there are teachers in many non-core subjects who could usefully be guided towards the more effective use of support resources within their lesson planning.

But wait, wasn’t Truss missing a trick here? Just think about it: ‘Text’ and ‘Book’, ie a Book of Texts. Not the ‘No need to think or plan, ready-made just pop-in-the-microwave, everything blended into in one easy-to-open package NC/GCSE/A level course of study’ that they all are these days, but surely if we are heading back to the golden age of the 1950’s, what’s really needed are books that contain a series of learned academic discourses on the subject in question? No engaging photos or artwork or course, except maybe four pages of black and white ‘plates’ placed on their own in the very centre of the book. And if these were produced as e-books they could be distributed very cheaply to all children to read on their smart phones on the bus on the way home…

If that doesn’t raise academic standards, All Change Please! doesn’t know what will…

On and on and on. That’s Life?



So, this summer more children have gained higher grades at GCSE and A level, and at the other end of the scale, more have failed. Sounds like Gove’s initiatives have paid off and academic standards are rising. That’s great, until you want to get your boiler fixed. Which is exactly what Carla, one of All Change Please!’s regular readers, recently discovered.

Friday 25th
Today I contacted Ariston as my electric boiler had stopped working. As it was just one month later than the warranty expiration date, they gave me the name of their repair company. I called them and explained the problem and that I needed an engineer. They booked him for the following Wednesday between 7am-1pm. They asked me to pay £85 +VAT there and then and £25 for any further 30 minute periods after the first hour.

Wednesday 30th
I stayed at home to wait for the engineer. By 1pm, as nobody had arrived, I contacted the company. They said that the engineer had come, rang the bell at 9:45 and left a message on my mobile to say that they will call to rearrange appointment. This seemed strange as I had not heard any bell and there was no card on the doormat.

Strangely, half an hour later the engineer arrives, but he was told that it was a gas job hence he has no parts! He has to come back again with the part. I told him that I had already paid for an hour’s work and I had clearly told Ariston what the problem was and I was not going to pay any extra, He said he will tell the company he had only spent 10 minutes. So, still no hot water tonight as well and another day to wait for them to come.

Thursday 31st
Having heard nothing further I call the engineers to check what’s happening. Apparently the engineer will come on Monday if I pay £186 now for the part, which I reluctantly agree to.

Monday 4th
Waited in. The engineer arrives, but has brought the wrong part, despite the fact that it is clearly numbered, so goes away again.

Tuesday 5th
Waited in. A different engineer arrives with the correct part. Unfortunately he is unable to remove the heating element. Why they had not done this the first time, I do not know. We would have realised that the boiler needed replacing and I could have saved £189 of parts. All at an added £25 per half-hour. For the third time, I call Ariston to complain. I am now leaving it to the landlord to sort it out

Wednesday 6th
Waited in. My landlord’s plumber arrives and is able to quickly remove the heating element, but he does not have any spare parts.

Thursday 7th
Waited in. Some new parts arrive, but the plumber informs me they are not the correct ones.

Friday 8th
Waited in. The correct parts arrive, the plumber fits them and departs. Looking forward to bath tonight! Unfortunately the water runs cold.

Saturday 9th
Waited in. We are still battling with the water heater. After three botched up attempts, one just to diagnose the problem, one with the wrong part, one with the right part but unable to remove the heating element, one with the landlord’s plumber that removed the element in just a few minutes but had to wait for the parts, one with the wrong part to be redelivered, one with right part in hand but not plumber, this morning the landlord’s plumber and an electrician come to check the boiler. After spending an hour checking the system they discover that the newly-fitted thermostat is faulty.

Monday 10th
Waited in. A plumber arrives from Ariston and replaces the Thermostat. Finally, seventeen days after reporting the fault I have hot water again!

Back in the 1990s Ariston used to have a clever advert that kept repeating: ‘Ariston And-on-and-on-and-on-and-on’ . I always thought that was meant to refer to the length of time their white goods lasted, not how long it would take to get them repaired…


There’s a catalogue of failures going on here. First are the workforce themselves who don’t seem to know what they are supposed to be doing and have not been trained well enough to identify and sort the problems out. As well as the boiler, the management and communication processes seem to have completely broken down as well. Then there is the manufacturer who doesn’t seem to care very much at all about customer-care.

There’s clearly something wrong in a world in which we can transmit video signals across the world in an instant, but still can’t get a boiler fixed without a great deal of hassle. What we clearly don’t need right now are more students studying academic degrees at university, while anybody who does something that involves anything useful or practical is deemed to be a second-class citizen.  As Natasha Porter writes here

“Unfortunately, “better with their hands” all too often suggests “not very bright”, or “poorly behaved”. We need to stop seeing vocational education as the option for non-academic students. The modern plumber, for example, needs to have strong arithmetic skills in order to understand complex pricing and measurements, as well as having excellent communication skills and scientific reasoning.”

And finally in true ”That’s Life’ style All Change Please! is indebted to Jenny, another regular reader, who recently posted about her recent unfortunate experiences trying to get a repeat prescription from her doctor.




The Importance Of Being Ignorant



Lady Bracknell. …I have always been of opinion that a man who desires to get married should know either everything or nothing.  Which do you know?

Jack.  [After some hesitation.]  I know nothing, Lady Bracknell.

Lady Bracknell.  I am pleased to hear it.  I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance.  Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone.  The whole theory of modern education is radically unsound.  Fortunately in England, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever.  If it did, it would prove a serious danger to the upper classes, and probably lead to acts of violence in Grosvenor Square.

From The Importance of Being Earnest, A Trivial Comedy for Serious People by Oscar Wilde. First performed on 14 February 1895 at the St James’s Theatre in London.


I know one thing, that I know nothing.”  Socrates, 5th Century BC


“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”  Albert Einstein, 1929


“There are a lot of facts to be known in order to be a professional anything — lawyer, doctor, engineer, accountant, teacher. But with science there is one important difference. The facts serve mainly to access the ignorance… Scientists don’t concentrate on what they know, which is considerable but minuscule, but rather on what they don’t know…. Science traffics in ignorance, cultivates it, and is driven by it. Mucking about in the unknown is an adventure; doing it for a living is something most scientists consider a privilege.

Working scientists don’t get bogged down in the factual swamp because they don’t care all that much for facts. It’s not that they discount or ignore them, but rather that they don’t see them as an end in themselves. They don’t stop at the facts; they begin there, right beyond the facts, where the facts run out. Facts are selected, by a process that is a kind of controlled neglect, for the questions they create, for the ignorance they point to.”  Stuart Firestein, 2012


Where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise.”   Thomas Gray’s ‘Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College’ (1742)

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This post is dedicated to all those A level students who got low grades in their results today: you will discover there is more to life than going to University.


Photo credit: Flickr  adesigna

You Say Right and I Say Left, Oh No…

1s-3214197147_9752dd52df_oThe left side of the brain is often said to work in an organised, verbal, convergent and analytic way, while the right side works in a more intuitive, imaginative, emotional and holistic way. Or does it?

As anticipated, All Change Please!’s recent Daisy, Daisy… post prompted a digital sack full of comments from a Mrs Trellis of North Wales and a Mr J Peasmold Gruntfuttock of Peasemoldia. The issue was to do with the use of the terms right wing and left wing being applied in an educational context. Which, like so many things these days, got All Change Please! thinking.

And what it thought was that the phrases right-wing and left-wing are commonly used amongst today’s twittering classes without any real understanding of what they mean, or rather represent. To help unravel them, it is helpful to consider the views/politics of the so-called right and left wings. For example, the far ‘right’ are usually thought to favour the ‘survival of the fittest’ and look to the past. They are nationalistic, authoritarian, respecters of established hierarchies and military solutions. Meanwhile the far ‘left’ are more associated with equality for all, freedom from oppression, inclusivity, multi-culturalism, diplomacy and pacifism.

But these days, the politics of the nation are far less opposed, with the vast majority of people occupying the centre in which the distinction between left and right is much less visible, and an individual’s beliefs and values largely consist of a series of moderate left and right-wing approaches.

At the same time it is hard to observe many schools where extreme left or right-wing ideologies are prevalent. Except perhaps at the Colditz Academy. Most have a healthy mixture of the two. So in education the main debate at present is not so much about right and left-wing approaches but between those who champion so-called traditional education, and those who promote so-called progressive education. Confusion arises, because of course in practice ‘centrist’ left-wing teachers can be just as traditional in the classroom as ‘centrist’ right-wing teachers. And at the same time the idea promoted by the traditionalists that our schools are full of far-left anarchistic progressive educationalists is just complete nonsense.

All teachers want children from ‘deprived’ backgrounds to have the opportunity to access and benefit from education. Traditional teachers seek to achieve this by improving their academic performance, thus gaining them higher formal qualifications and potentially attending a Russell Group University, even though only relatively few will achieve this. More progressive teachers follow the idea that many children have other abilities and skills that are unrecognised by formal academic learning, and that they stand a better chance of success in life if these abilities are identified and developed while at school.

But as All Change Please! has observed before, most teachers are not driven by political ideological fervor, but more directly by their own personality which leads them to either need to feel they are in complete control of a situation, or that they find it more challenging to allow their students to take a greater degree of control for their own learning.

Meanwhile perhaps it’s more to do with left brain or right brain thinking, with (somewhat confusingly), left brain dominated teachers demanding a more logical, ordered approach in the classroom while right brain teachers are willing to take more risks?

But wait, what’s that I hear a traditional teacher saying?  “No, the left-right brain divide is yet another one of those many left-wing myths, which is why I just go on feeding kids facts from the front of the class…”

Well it seems it almost certainly is a myth, but that’s not really the point, because it has served a very useful purpose in getting teachers to be aware that the logical and the creative are equal partners that both need to be developed. What we really need to do is to teach all children to use all parts of their brain, wherever they may be, and get those parts to collaborate as much as possible

At the end of the day/lesson, the debate should not really be focused on whether traditional teaching is any better or worse that so-called progressive teaching, but simply whether traditional and more progressive methods are being applied well or badly in the classroom.

I don’t know why you say Hello, I say Goodbye.


Image credit: Flickr tza

Nicky Morgove – In The Nick Of It


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All Change Please! has somehow managed to obtain a transcript of a new BBC spoof ‘fly on the wall’ documentary intended as a replacement for the successful political satire ‘In The Thick Of It’ series. Here’s an excerpt…

Narr: “It’s the first day of term at the DfE Free Academy. As all the staff were made redundant at the end of last term, everyone is new.”

“Ah, you must be Nick. I’m Nicky Morgove, the new Headteacher.”

“Hi Nicky, yes I’m Nick. Pleased to meet you.”

“Nick, have you seen Nick yet? He’s late, and I think we all need to meet up together.”

“Hey Nicky, it’s me Nick!”

“Ah Nick. Great. You got here in just the nick of time.”

“Yes, and sorry I may have nicked your parking space.”

“So, Nick, let me introduce you to Nick.”

“Hi Nick!”

“Gosh, what have you done to your face?”

“Ah, I nicked myself while shaving this morning. I haven’t quite got the knack yet.

“OK, let’s begin. What are your thoughts Nick?”

“Well, without appearing to take the Mickey Gove, education seems in pretty good nick to me.”

“So, that’s a tick then?”

“Oh, hold on a moment, I’ll have to take this call. It’s from Clegg. Hi Nick!”

“This is going to get confusing isn’t it, I mean with us all being called Nick?”

“Yes, I agree. But I’m not going to get my knickers in a twist about it.”

“Wait I’ve got an idea. Why don’t we come up with nick-names for each other?”

“Ok. Good idea. Well I’m in charge so I shall be Nicky, but Nick, you can be Nacky, and Nick, you can be Noo. How about that?”

“Err. Where did you get the idea for those monikers from?”

“Well according to my intern who has just looked it up on the interwebworld thingy, the original phrase was used by Ken Dodd in the 1960s and went: ‘Nick nack nick nack nicky nacky noo’.”

“Is your intern called called Nick, by any chance?”

“No, actually, he’s a Dick.”

“Ah, Nicky, I was going to say – about the GCSE English set texts. I think all students should have to read Nicholas Nickleby, don’t you?”

“Yes, that’s a great idea!. Oh, in that case I also suggest A level students should study Lemony Snicket?”

“Well that’s all good then.  And quite enough work for today. Now we’re at the DfE I think we all deserve a nice long holiday, just like the teachers get. I’m off to Nicosia. I shall probably buy lots of souvenirs – I just can’t resist those little nick-nacks. And I’m looking forward to wearing my nice new Nike trainers and going off for lots of picnics.”

“Hmm – sorry, but there’s a slight problem with that in that someone will need to be here during August to explain either why lots more students than usual have failed their exams, or why the results have been massaged to make it look like they improved as a result of Gove’s reforms.”

“Being a bit pernickety aren’t you Nick? I mean, there’s no need to panic.”

Well it’s just that Dave has said we have to be nice to teachers, not nasty, Nick.”

“Gosh, this is going to be more difficult than I expected. Anyone got a cigarette? I really need some nicotine.”

“No, sorry. Smoking makes me sick, Nick. But you can have a bite of my Snickers bar if you like.”

“There’s something else I’m a bit concerned about, Nick. How do you think teachers will react when they discover we all went to private schools?

“Well, let’s just not mention it and hope no-one notices?”

“Err, I’m afraid it seems they already have…”


You just couldn’t make it up, could you? Anyway, at this point thankfully All Change Please! realises it just can’t take it anymore and leaves the room, takes its medication and has a refreshing cup of tea and a nice quiet lie down in a darkened room.

So, finally, hands up anyone who remembers John Patten? He was another somewhat deranged and abrasive secretary of State For Education who was in office from April 1992 until he was sacked on the 20th July 1994 – exactly 20 years ago.

Oh, and an extra mark for anyone who can name Michael Gove’s predecessor, who had a wider role, the good sense to leave things much as they were, and was in post from June 2007 to May 2010?

And one Special Scholarship Extension Question for Michael Gove only – Read this news item and write an essay entitled ‘Oh, dear what can the matter be‘ in which you describe exactly how it feels like to be seen as a complete and utter failure.


Image credits: Wikipedia, Flickr, and Wikipedia and Flickr



They Think It’s All Gover…

Just eight minutes before the end of extra time and a mighty roar rings out across the length and breadth of the land as teachers discover that Michael Gove is no longer in charge of education. England might not have won the World Cup, but at least Gove has been relegated, sent off, excluded, expelled, and hopefully given a lifetime ban from entering any structure in which education is taking place. Schools can now start to prepare for a long summer of content.

So what were you doing when you heard the news?” teachers will be asking each other in decades to come. July the 15th 2014 will long be remembered as the day thousands of children and teachers were liberated from Gove’s tyrannical four year reign.

Well, ding dong, the wicked Gove is gone. And isn’t it good to know that Cameron has clearly shuffled the cabinet entirely in the interests of the country, and not in any way an attempt to gain more votes in the next election. And that although Gove has gone from education, he certainly won’t be forgotten as apparently he will be making regular appearances on TV and Radio in his new role as Team Cameron’s ‘Ask Gove’ Media Minister.

I’m Left, You’re Right, She’s Gone…*

So it also seems we must also bid farewell to Little Ms No Support Truss and wish her, well, in her new post. The truth is that All Change Please! was rather fond of her, or rather that is of making fun of her speeches, and particularly as in ‘There’s No supporting Truss’. And while Truss’s departure is good news for education, it’s doubtless bad news for the environment.

(*The geriatrics amongst us will of course immediately recognise the reference to Elvis Presley’s 1955 Sun studio recording)

And no more ‘Hancock’s Half-hour jokes either – Matthew Hancock is off to become Minister of state for energy, business and, err.. Portsmouth?

“There is a plan, and I’m part of it…”

Well it’s definitely a case of All Change Please! at the DfE for next term. But the really interesting question is exactly who is this plucky Ms Nicky Morgan (age 41¾) and why doesn’t she have a more interesting and unusual name that All Change Please! can easily make pun of?

Her approach will be interesting to watch as it unfolds. In order to extend her career into the next parliament, she has just ten months to persuade all those disillusioned teachers to vote Conservative, but at the same time not be seen as a so-called ‘soft minister’. Well, it seems we had perhaps better get on our knees and start praying:

Hmm. Not of course that All Change Please! has anything against committed Christians, providing they just refrain from imposing their beliefs on others – not of course that an Education Secretary would ever dream of doing such a thing. We will just have to wait and see if RE becomes a compulsory Baccalaureate GCSE subject.

Meanwhile Ms Morgan is a former solicitor and has worked as a corporate lawyer specialising in mergers and acquisitions, so we will doubtless  see various Academies and Free Schools being acquired and merged. Oh, and you had better watch out if you are gay.  However, apparently her husband is an architect, so perhaps schools of the future will have a few more curves in them.

But wait. All is not lost. Back in 1966 there was an excellent ‘New Wave’ film entitled ‘Morgan A Suitable Case For Treatment’, so let’s welcome Nicky Morgan ASCFT…


So who is replacing Truss and Hancock? It seems like Nick Glibb is making an unwelcome return, and here’s DfE newcomer Nick Boles, who has been appointed as minister of state at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department for Education, to include equal marriage implementation, so that should go down well with Ms Morgan ASCFT.

JUST A MINUTE…. Surely that means that the DfE is now being run by Nicky, Nick and Nick…? Or as All Change Please! realises to its absolute delight ‘Nicky, Nacky Noo’, as it will now refer to them as!

And finally, in case you missed it last week, here’s a final chance to show your feelings for the dearly departed Michael Gove..

and to wonder if its popularity had anything to do with today’s announcement?

No, Stop Messing About!



As readers of a certain advanced age will know, Kenneth Williams was a cast member of the popular 1950s radio programme Hancock’s Half Hour.  And that his catch-phrase was ‘No, Stop Messing About’.  Fast forward some 55 years and the cast members of Matthew Hancock’s Half Hour seem intent on doing what they know how to do best: messing about with education.

Further to the examples they recently gave of their plans for new world-class 19th century vocational education, the DfE has since come up with another to add to woodwork, dressmaking and how to wire up a light bulb.

“In the past, too often they would learn some abstract theory at school. They might describe an engine, for example, rather than actually strip down and rebuild a motorbike. They would then struggle to find work, or an employer willing to give them the training they should have already received”.

Ah yes, good old motor-cycle maintenance. Yes, a lot of employers are currently looking for school-leavers able to plug one end of a computer cable into a motorbike so that the completely closed system can be automatically repaired and fine-tuned. Still All Change Please! supposes such a course might come in useful when they need to ‘get on their bikes’, Norman Tebbit style, to go to look for work in some other country.

Meanwhile, somehow the DfE have been messing about so effectively that they have somehow managed to completely miss this report from from the New Economics Foundation Innovation Institute, which clearly sets out the issues for STEM-related learning.

“The skills crisis is a well-aired issue, but forecasting the skills requirements tends to be based on immediate local or short-term priorities. There is no coherent vision and no national strategy.

The problem has been exacerbated by the rapid technological change that is sweeping through the workplace: 3D printing, robotics, nanotechnology, cloud computing, mobile technology and the internet are causing major disruption in many sectors. New roles are proliferating, while traditional skills are falling out of fashion.

Why, for example, are so many colleges focusing on carpentry and bricklaying and ignoring building information modelling software, which will become compulsory on all government construction projects from 2016?

We should also move away from outdated assessment and qualification models. These create artificial learning levels that can hold back a student’s natural pace of enquiry and development. Learning should be student-led, with the tutor acting as coach and facilitator. It should be grounded in real-life scenarios and placed into context.”

The full report can be downloaded here

And if it had recently heard from its collective brain instead of thinking about nothing else but the possibility of an extended playtime, the DfE would have surely studied this Infographic, provided of course that they had not got it messed up and completely obliterated by sawdust and engine oil.  It presents what it claims will be the 10 most important work skills in 2020. Driven by our increasing longevity, the rise of smart machines and programmable systems, a new media ecology, superstructured organisations and the diversity and adaptability of a globally connected, the skills our current generation of schoolchildren will require include: Sense making, Social Intelligence, Novel and Adaptive Thinking, Cross Cultural Competency, Computational Thinking, New Media Literacy, Transdisciplinarity, a Design Mindset, Cognitive Load Management and Virtual Collaboration. And All Change Please! would like to add its own ‘Quality Long-term Health Care’ for those of us who are actually old enough to remember Hancock’s Half Hour.

Of course no-one knows exactly what the skills of the future will be, but that’s the point – what we need to do is to ensure today’s students know how to acquire new knowledge and be able to learn new skills as they emerge during their lifetime.

In this age and culture of technology, surely what we urgently need is a technology-led rather than academic-led curriculum? Now that really would, as Kenneth Williams might have described it, be ‘Fantabulosa’.

But until that happy event, please DfE, just STOP MESSING ABOUT

And finally, if you haven’t already, do scroll back up to the top and watch at least the first couple of minutes of the video to listen to Kenneth Williams trying to pick up a female-impersonating Hancock…

Hancock’s Half Hour


Talk about taking one step forward and six steps Baccwards…

All Change Please! can report that the other day Skills and Enterprise Minister Matthew Hancock spent his Half Hour announcing further details of the new TechBacc.



On the one hand was the laudable statement that “From 2015, all practical qualifications for 14- to 16-year-olds will be forced to meet rigorous new standards… to put them on par with academic qualifications”.  Now if All Change Please! didn’t know better it might believe the DfE really did know what they’re talking about this time, but as soon as it read “Previously, young people were encouraged to study meaningless qualifications completely unrelated to their lives or the rapidly changing world of work”, its suspicious were quickly aroused. The statement continued:

Previously, the development of practical skills for 14- to 16-year-olds was too narrowly focused on abstract theory. This has changed so that pupils could now:

  • in woodwork, measure, cut, joint and finish their own piece of furniture – previously they may have just studied the design of a chair

  • in textiles, students may now design and make an outfit from start to finish using a range of dressmaking or tailoring techniques – previously they may have just analysed the impact of changing technology on dress making

  • in electronics, use motion detectors, batteries and microprocessors to wire movement-controlled lighting – previously they may have just analysed a light to see how it functions.

Given that vocational courses are generally aimed at those who find abstract theory difficult to grasp and write academic essays about, it seems rather unlikely that any previous vocational qualifications were awarded simply on the basis of studying the design of a chair, analysing the technological history of dress-making, or describing how a light works. And of course designing and making furniture or an outfit from start to finish, or designing with electronics have long been a feature of GCSE D&T courses.

It rather seems that the DfE have followed Michael Gove, slipping down some sort of mysterious worm-hole time-warp and have found themselves stranded in a make-believe wonderland back in the 1950s where youngsters who are good with their hands end up learning a really useful trade that will see themselves through life, help them set up and maintain their nice new council house and have something nice to wear to church on a Sunday. What appears to be on the horizon is a return to woodwork for the boys and dressmaking for the girls, or as it used to be called in the good old 1950s, ‘Homecrafts’. Not that there’s anything wrong with learning these things, it’s just not even going to match up to the future needs of the ‘white heat of technology’ envisaged back in the 1960s. Somehow it sounds more like a preparation for life on benefits or the minimum wage.

And whatever happened to good old ‘social mobility’? Over the last thirty years the whole argument against these sorts of courses has been that they did not contain enough academic content to enable children who used to be called ‘late-developers’ to change their ‘learning pathway’ and gain entry to University. So how is that going to be resolved? Exactly how will the standards be equated with academic qualifications? It all sounds like another case of something the DfE have not thought through properly, but that doesn’t matter provided it gets some positive spin in the Daily Mail.

Meanwhile these days simply having specific ‘practical’ skills, while better than nothing, is not enough to ensure worthwhile 21st century employment. For example, to have any relevance at all, the ‘woodwork’ course will need to offer a much broader based experience, from wood crafts, coppice management and sustainable forestry, through construction carpentry and joinery, to automated wood fabrication techniques and modern engineered cellulose materials derived from wood products. And the content will also need to ensure that students have a wider understanding of the nature of business and the expectations of the workplace.

And anyway, if we’re going to have a TechBacc, isn’t it also time we had an ArtsBacc?

In other news… an article by Liz ‘No support’ Truss Britain-needs-a-revolution-in-the-classroom claimed that teaching was now the preferred option for Oxford graduates. And that’s the problem: academics are simply breeding more academics – education is little more than a self-perpetuating academic renewal device completely unconnected with the real world.

She’s right of course in one respect, Britain does need a revolution in the classroom. Just not the one that she has in mind.

And finally… some breaking news… Apparently:

Alan Milburn, the Government’s social mobility tsar, says that schools are “wasting young talent on an industrial scale” as figures suggest 2,000 bright pupils from poor backgrounds never reach their potential.

Meanwhile yet another spokesperson from the DfE said: “Improving the life chances of children from disadvantaged backgrounds and closing the gap between the rich and the poor is our overriding ambition.”

By ‘potential’ Alan Milburn means attending a leading academic Russell Group University and doubtless ending up with a job serving coffee at Starbucks, or, of course, teaching. As opposed to the quite unthinkable alternative of following a technical or vocational course and setting up a successful business. Provided that is it’s not in woodwork or dressmaking of course.


Image credits: Flickr  Philip Howard    /  Britt-Marie Sohlström

Teach Last

25972179_bddb47af9e_bThe English Department of Bash Street Academy prepare for battle

Re-train recently retired to teach at inner city schools, say Tories  (Warning: opens in Daily Mail)

Tory plans for retired pensioners to retrain as teachers  (The Torygraph)

Retrain retired teachers, say Tory MPs  (The Grauniad)

Today, senior Conservatives from the so-called progressive 2020 group have proposed a new scheme in a bid to save public pension funds by reducing the number of elderly who receive pensions.  It involves encouraging the recently retired to train to become teachers in inner-city schools, thus ensuring their life expectancy will be substantially reduced.

“Given the amount of stress and pressure involved we doubt whether they would survive their first year in the classroom”, a spokesperson didn’t say, before not adding, “We would expect the number of heart attacks and suicides to increase dramatically, thus saving the country billions of pounds over the next thirty years. Meanwhile these people may have a wealth of experience but it will be completely out of date by the time today’s children reach employment age, so they won’t be missed.”

Suggestions that Michael Gove will be amongst the first trainees were rigorously denied.


 “The 2020 Conservatives is about the radical progressive centre ground of the parliamentary party, setting out bold ideas for unleashing social mobility and enterprise in 21st century Britain. We are setting out a programme of reform to show how economic and social enterprise and responsibility can go hand in hand in a competitive and compassionate Conservative Britain.”

You have been warned…

Meanwhile 2020 All Change Please! would like to propose a parallel scheme in which recently retired teachers would be retrained as politicians, lawyers and bankers in attempt to sort out the complete mess the country is currently in.


Image credit: Flickr/CatherineSmith