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…” https://pbs.twimg.com/media/Bs7PoSCCAAAKzcc.jpg:large

 

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:  http://vimeo.com/88452085

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..

http://games.usvsth3m.com/slap-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

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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.

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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.

Apparently:

 “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

Daisy, Daisy… is she both Right and wrong?

 

One of traditional far Right-wing teachers’ current favourite party games appears to be identifying what they describe as the myths of progressive teaching and learning. They then tweet to each other in utter disbelief and with great smugness when they encounter someone who has not been persuaded by their dogma - their self-assuredness and unwillingness to even consider views other than their own is frightening. Meanwhile the national press picks up on their sensationalist claims which it publishes with delight, giving the general public the mistaken impression that our schools are full of free-thinking, do whatever you like, so-called progressive Marxist teachers. And, as All Change Please! has already observed in RU a trendy teacher?, in reality, teachers of the type they seek to exterminate just don’t exist – they are just too busy in the classroom getting on with the job to even consider the matter.

In the video clip above, Daisy Christodoulo, current doyenne of the Right and author of ‘Seven Myths About Education‘, makes a very reasonable assertion, that knowledge is essential to learning – but then, as her colleagues do, she goes on to perpetuate a myth herself – that progressive teaching involves no knowledge transfer whatsoever. And of course what she doesn’t mention is that from the 1950s – when traditional rote learning was very much the order of the day – to the mid 1990s, standards of literacy apparently remained pretty much the same. Furthermore The Literacy Trust suggests that rates have risen substantially since the late 1990s. Of course the figures do rather depend on what is defined by the term ‘ poor literacy’.  Literacy figures simply a right-wing fantasy

And this pattern is repeated through the rest of the traditionalists’ so-called myths – indeed what they succeed most in doing is revealing their own lack of understanding about what contemporary approaches to education actually involve, and what is currently happening in a positive way in the majority of our schools. Most worryingly, the far Right are succeeding in demonising attempts to find and develop the new ways of learning that are needed to meet the requirements of the 21st Century.

All Change Please! feels that it’s about time some of the Right’s more outrageous statements were challenged, and so here’s All Change Please!’s myth-busting guide to the myths behind the traditionalists’ myths of progressive, child-centred teaching and learning. If the Right want to present a caricature of the Left, then it works the other way round too.

1. There’s no need to learn any facts
Traditionalists believe that progressives believe that teaching children facts prevents understanding and that they don’t need to have any prior knowledge in order to be able to adequately debate issues or solve problems. This is of course utter, utter nonsense as the vast majority of teachers readily agree that children need to acquire knowledge. However, they also realise that if children are only taught facts that their understanding of them will be limited, and that it is sometimes useful to set up learning activities in which children identify for themselves what knowledge they are likely to need and then set about acquiring it for themselves.

2. Just Google it!
Traditionalists believe that progressives believe that because the future is difficult to predict then there’s no point in teaching children anything, and that all knowledge can be easily found on the internet anyway. This is another gross misconception. Teachers accept that, while often very helpful, there are limitations to what can be learnt on-line. They also understand that while certain areas of basic knowledge remain essential, other areas of traditionally taught knowledge are likely to be redundant in the future, and so we need a proper reappraisal of exactly what facts should and do not need to be taught in school.

At the same time, what has become increasingly essential is that children learn how to learn for themselves so that they will be able to easily acquire and the knowledge they eventually do discover they need to have when the future actually arrives. And effectively learning things via the internet is in itself a demanding skill that we should be putting more emphasis on teaching in school, because at present it’s not something we do terribly well.

3. Teacher-led lessons are boring
Traditionalists believe that progressives believe that teacher-led instruction is by definition passive. Of course it’s not, or at least it needn’t be. Everyone knows that teacher-led lessons can be extremely effective and essential, especially when balanced with some practical work, and opportunities for learners to contribute their own ideas. Unfortunately though, there are still some traditional teachers who do little more than stand at the front of the class giving what is essentially a lecture, with pupils copying notes from the board.

4. It’s all about transferable skills
Traditionalists believe that progressives believe that only generic skills should be taught. But so-called progressive teachers realise that   there are indeed a wide range of skills that are directly transferable and could be better taught more effectively if properly managed across the curriculum. But they also accept that there are still certain skills that are unique to each particular subject discipline. In contrast, traditional teachers don’t like the idea that their specialist subject domains might not be quite as specialist as they might think and refuse to make any connections with other subjects. They like to place themselves in a walled garden, whereas in reality the world is rather more open-plan and inter-disciplinary with generic skills being applied alongside recognisable bodies of knowledge.

5. Projects are the only way to learn
Traditionalists believe that progressives believe that project and activity-based learning is the best way to learn. Actually they are probably correct about this one, especially if it is well-managed, guided independent learning that is being developed. However so-called ‘trendy’ teachers still acknowledge that practical work does need to be balanced with traditional knowledge-based learning, although perhaps more on an individual ’need to know’ rather than ‘just in case’ basis. The problem is that traditionalists generally won’t have anything to do with project work. In the first instance they’ve never tried it because they know it doesn’t work. And in any case they’ve never taught that way, and they know they would probably make a complete mess of it.

6. Every child is different
Traditionalists believe that progressives believe that each child learns best in its own particular way and that teaching methods need to reflect this. Again, they are probably right to think this about more modern approaches. Most successful teachers have realised through their own observation and experience that some children learn more effectively if they are presented with knowledge in a visual format or have done something active rather than just being told about it or have read it, i.e. verbally.

Traditionalists have read about a small-scale US academic research experiment that demonstrated that including visual or practical content made no difference to verbally-based knowledge-based test scores, thus apparently proving once and all that they are fully justified in maintaining their ‘sit-still, keep quiet and listen’ single style of teaching that fits a supposedly common style of learning. Of course in practice it’s impossible for more progressive teachers to prepare a different method of delivery for each child in the class (although computer-aided learning metrics claims it can and will), but nonetheless the vast majority of teachers will tell you that lessons that involve visual and practical work are generally likely to be more successful than those that don’t.

 

So having de-mythologised progressive teaching and learning, by this point All Change Please! is of course quite unable to resist the temptation to present its own highly controversial, completely biased – and entirely unsubstantiated by questionable small-sample research data – myths about extreme Right-wing traditionalists.

Progressive teachers believe that the most traditional right-wing teachers tend to like things to be black or white, right or wrong, good or bad, and they get anxious about things that are ambiguous or could be interpreted in more than one way. They enjoy asserting their authority over others and the feeling of being in control over them. They rather like the sound of their own voices and derive satisfaction from the idea that they are filling children’s otherwise empty minds with unquestionable facts and figures.

Traditionalists find teacher-led lessons easier to deliver, because child-centred lessons are much more demanding to manage and might mean they are not entirely in control of the classroom situation. They fear that the class might detect a gap in their knowledge and as a result develop a lack of respect. Assessment is a great deal easier too, because pupils either know the answer or they don’t.

Traditional teachers tend to deny that substantial change is happening in the world and that things will be different in the future, or to put it another way, they express a deep fear of change. While progressive teachers are generally happy to accept that a lot of what traditionalists claim is true, traditionalists feel the need to denounce progressive approaches, and to quote flimsy evidence as proof of the existence of Gove.

But, in conclusion, and echoing Alan Jones’ recent statement that:

“..the truth is that education is about both knowledge and skills, about what’s out there and what’s inside the child. It’s the intelligent blending of the two things that makes for good education, not the exclusive adherence to one or the other.”

what actually exists in the majority of our schools is a generally healthy mix of traditional and progressive teaching and learning, and there should not be any need for either side to feel the need to make unhelpful and highly contentious and misleading statements about the other. And while All Change Please! now feels a whole lot better for having at least launched a few retaliatory missiles, it knows that what’s really needed are some diplomatic peace talks in which the far Left and far Right can come to a negotiated settlement that ensures that today’s children are fully and appropriately prepared for whatever the future brings them.

In every other aspect of life people have evolved and adapted to changing conditions through progress – but All Change Please!‘s concern is that if the educational far Right has its way, we will soon be all extinct.

Thinking the Unthinkable

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On All Change Please!’s list of set texts this week was an article by Lucy Mangan in The Guardian, reminding us that the real point of studying English Literature at school was to develop a love of reading. And for the majority of children that’s unlikely to involve umpteen Shakespeare plays and 19th Century British novels. She even dares to suggest that perhaps there should not be any examinations in the subject. Quite unthinkable, of course…!  Lucy Mangan: Don’t stop with Steinbeck – let’s can all of Eng Lit

But what’s emerging in the new GCSEs is an increasing emphasis on academic subject content – even in the more practical subjects – as a preparation for study at university, with the doubtless result that an equally increasing number of children will, after 11 long years of formal education, be quite incorrectly tagged as being failures in life. And then there are the new A levels to consider. Their narrow, academic-led requirements are entirely inappropriate for most 16-18 year olds. With Gove’s new specifications sounding more and more like old-fashioned A and O levels it seems increasingly likely that BTECs will become the new second-class equivalents of the old CSE, so there’s some major long-term re-thinking that needs to go on here too if we are going to create a credible more technical or vocationally-orientated alternative that will have the necessary status in life and future employment.

Somehow we seem to have lost touch with the underlying essentials of learning. Also on All Change Please!‘s reading list was this worthy article in which the basis for GCSE assessment in Design & Technology is earnestly discussed:  Devising a learning journey for D&T

While it provides an enlightened exploration of the way in which potential 3D product designers of the future need to be educated, it fails to account for the fact that the vast majority of children who sit the examination are unlikely to end up working in this particular and highly specialised field.

The inherent value in D&T lies in the way in which it can help children learn how to develop the creative and analytic ability to propose worthwhile solutions to complex, open-ended problems, and to successfully communicate those ideas to others. At the heart of this is the highly transferable concept of modelling – representing ideas in different formats, materials and at different scales that make it easier, quicker and cheaper to explore and try ideas out. It also helps provide a rationale for a critical appraisal of the technological products, places and communications children will go on to encounter throughout life as consumers, citizens or specifiers.

The processes and products of professional design merely serve as a contextual reference point: D&T in schools shouldn’t be about overtly preparing children to become 3D professional product designers, which is what only a very small minority might become. Yet at GCSE the D&T debate seems to be centred around the assessment of a high level of knowledge of the application of mechanical and electronic control systems, the properties and working characteristics of a specified rage of materials, and associated tools and manufacturing processes, all based on an out-dated 1960s version of industrial design with a bit of added CAD-CAM. And it’s the same with the other GCSE subjects: they are far too specialised and wrapped up in their own inefficient, discrete, non-transferable academic bodies of knowledge.

Meanwhile All Change Please! recently heard of a school where a KS3 group were successfully undertaking extended cross-curricular project work. When challenged as to how this would meet the requirements of the various subject-based Programmes of Study, the response was that they were ignoring them and relying on their ability to demonstrate that they were effectively delivering the Importance Statements that come at the very start of each National Curriculum subject specification. In the rush to cross the t’s and dot the i’s of the PoS, the Importance Statements provide the rationale for what should really be happening in schools, yet in practice they are usually ignored and rendered impotent rather than important. Again, surely it’s time to start thinking different?

Finally, another article on All Change Please!‘s entirely global 21st century reading list, again from The Guardian, somewhat shatters the notion that undertaking an academic degree at a leading university will in itself provide a passport to a lifetime of well-paid work:  The ten skills students really need when they graduate

According to the author, there are some other things graduates looking for employment will need to be able to demonstrate as well their academic ability, such as a good business sense, a global mindset, a sound digital footprint, office etiquette, computer literacy, teamwork and people skills. Instead of more and more specialist academic subject knowledge, we should surely be paying more attention to these requirements in our school curriculum?

If we are going to develop a curriculum and delivery system fit for the 21st Century, then perhaps it’s time we started to think the unthinkable?

 

Image credit: Flickr gforsythe

 

 

Gove Wars: A New Hope

Scroll slowly downwards as you read, humming the theme tune to yourself

A long time ago, in a Tory Government far, far away….

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Decide you must how to outwit the knowledge storm-troopers and resist Darth Gove’s mission to make all teachers give themselves to the Dark Side – the pathway to many academic abilities some consider to be…unnatural.

For over a thousand generations, the teachers were the guardians of education. Now the question has become whether or not D&T departments across the country will be able to make enough little luminous green 3D printed Yodas in time to save the curriculum.

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May the blob be with you…

 

Image credit: Flickr/w1n9zro

 

 

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Teaching iterative design……….catching up with the curve.

Originally posted on designfizzle:

Falmouth University students presenting their designs to Sir Kenneth Grange

Falmouth University students presenting their designs to Sir Kenneth Grange

Things have changed in the design world.  I jumped at the invitation to join students at Falmouth University as they presented their ideas to to their visiting professor, Sir Kenneth Grange.  Now here’s the thing.  When I was growing up this man was shaping the world, indeed he was creating the design climate we all work in now. But he was doing it largely before the advent of the internet.  When a stunning new piece of his work came out I had to find out about it when it was published in Design magazine, yes, the paper based copy.  Perhaps that is why when I mentioned him to a group of design teachers recently not  a flicker of recognition passed across any face.  I can’t help thinking it would have been a different matter if I had said that I…

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Curriculum Noir: Who Stole The Arts?

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“Mr Marlowe?”

I looked up from my desk. In front of me stood Delores Anass – I knew her little sister from when I was at college. She was the art teacher from the local school and a tall, beautiful blonde – the kind that makes you want to go to life-drawing classes. There was no doubting she had all the necessary qualifications for the job. She gave me a million dollar smile I could feel in my hip pocket.

“I need you to find something for me. The Arts have gone missing from our school.”

I tried to resist asking, but it was about as useless as a D grade GCSE certificate. “When did you see them last?”

“Oh, about a year ago I guess. All the children were happily singing and dancing and painting wonderful pictures, and now they are all so dull and listless. I think it’s got something to do with this new curriculum and more rigorous examinations. Of course I hope you understand there’s nothing left in the budget to pay you with.”

“Well, trouble is my business, but I’ll see what I can do and then we’ll find a way to work something out. Do you run life-drawing classes by any chance?”

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I said farewell to the lovely lady and the next morning I put on my jacket with the leather elbow patches and slipped quietly into the school, posing as a pre-Ofsted inspector. She was right. There was no sign of the Arts anywhere. Just rows and rows of silent, obedient children staring solemnly at washed-out whiteboards or aging computer monitors that should have been retired long before they qualified for a state pension. No paintings on the walls, no posters announcing drama productions or concerts. The buildings and furniture had obviously had a great deal of expense spared on them. It was if someone had turned out the lights and everyone had gone to sleep, big time. Clearly something was badly wrong. Suddenly the loud, jarring school bell that signaled the end of playtime rang somewhere inside my head as I realised I’d seen it all before, and it meant only one thing. The infamous, arrant knave of hearts who stole the arts, Big Mickey Gove himself, had to be somewhere in the picture.

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Delores suggested I talked to the Headmistress, Ms Trust. She was dressed smartly, the sort of woman you just know will be good at evidence, facts, lies, damned lies and statistics. When I asked her if she knew where the Arts had gone she went as white as chalk-dust and trotted out a well-rehearsed speech about raising academic standards and providing opportunities for all, and I quickly guessed the Gove Mob had already got to her, doubtless promising her more money to become an Academy. She sure was one lady I’d like to see at the bottom of a lake.

It was getting late, but on my way downtown I stopped in at the local Painteasy. The front of the shop was filled with cans of unimaginative pastel shades of household emulsion and dreary colour scheme chooser charts, but the man at desk recognised me and pressed the button under the counter that opened the door to the secret studio workshop at the rear of the premises. The windows were high up, so you couldn’t see what was going on from outside, but inside the space was full of excited children hooked on the hard stuff, completely intoxicated from various forms of real learning – totally absorbed with experimenting, taking risks, working together and making things happen. And best of all you could freely ask for any type of Arts activity you wanted without fear of being told you were missing out on yet another worthless academic qualification.

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I bumped into the Painteasy Director, Edward G (aka Ken) Robinson, and asked him if he knew what was going on with formal education. “We’ve never had so many kids visit us after school” he said. “I just feel sorry for all those we have to turn away. It’s the Gove Mob. They’re back in town, and they’re driving the Arts even further underground.”

So my hunch was right. But I also knew there was nothing I could do about it. Not on my own anyway. I was proud to be a member of the Blob, but the Blob had fallen into the cleverly laid trap of thinking that if it somehow became more academic it could raise its status with the Mob and things would get better, but all it got them was some extended prose.

Somehow the Blob needed to stand up for itself and fight back. It was time for it to start sending out the message that there’s more to life than words and numbers and knowing stuff, and that it’s through the Arts that children learn to understand that there can be more than one correct answer and that there are many other ways to see, experience, interpret and judge the world that go beyond writing essays and solving quadratic equations.

At one level the Blob had no choice but to do what the Mob told them, but at the same time it had to find ways to be more disruptive, and behave like only a Blob without any defined shape or size can, silently seeping into tight corners and crevices of the curriculum where and when no one is looking. That’s what the Mob hates the most about it – the Blob has no fixed structure, no clear rules, no 100% reliable way of formally assessing what it’s doing.

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The next day I called back in on Delores, and told her what I’d discovered. I tried to fob her off by saying I would write on my blog that one day the Blob would overcome the Mob, but it fell about as flat as an academic’s mortar board that’s lost its tassel. She began to sob and saying goodbye took a long time, but eventually I managed to drive off into a sombre, stormy sunset that reminded me of  the ink stains on a school boy’s well-used tie.

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As I drove, I found myself recalling the words of that great crime writer Raymond Chandler that somehow seemed to sum it all up:

“Without magic, there is no art. Without art, there is no idealism. Without idealism, there is no integrity. Without integrity, there is nothing but production.”

Because that’s exactly what our schools have become – factories of mass produced memorisation of out-dated facts. What’s needed right now in education is a little bit of real magic and a lot less political sleight of hand.

I decided I must re-read some of Chandler’s novels. Now what they were called? Let’s see, there was The Little Sister, Trouble Is My Business, Farewell My Lovely, The Big Sleep, The Lady in the Lake, The High Window and The Long Goodbye.  And I wondered if I could somehow work the titles into my next post..

 

Image credits: emilano-iko / dinohyus / jjjohn / dinohaus