Tonight At Morning Break

 

Each Christmas All Change Please! attempts to write a post under the influence of a well-known literary work, such as last year’s Theresa in Wonderland, and before that George Osborne’s Twenty Fifty One, and of course not forgetting The Gove of Christmas Present.

This year’s inspiration is Tonight at Noon, written by the Liverpool poet Adrian Henri, and published in the 1967 ‘The Mersey Sound’ Penguin Modern Poets series. The title is itself taken from a 1964 album and track by Charles Mingus.

The basis of Henri’s poem is that each line presents a contradiction through a reversal of the truth, eg… “Elephants will tell each other human jokes” and, rather topically, “Politicians are elected to insane asylums”. But the final lines reveal his real intention – to express his hope that an equally unlikely event will occur: “You will tell me that you love me”. The full poem can be read here.

And now, All Change Please! is proud to present its own updated educational version…

Tonight at morning break

Tonight at morning break
Teachers will award politicians a 3% pay-cut
Tonight at morning break
Independent schools announce they will now only accept children who are eligible for free school meals
School children will hold Ofsted inspectors to account
Free schools will be charged under the Trades Descriptions act for not allowing children to be free to choose what and when they want to learn
Children will meet teachers and parents on cold winter evenings to discuss their progress as adults
And a portrait of Michael Gove will be hung upside down in the entrance to every school

Tonight at morning break
Children will shout at teachers to ‘sit down and be quiet!’ so that they can concentrate on learning from their smart phones and tablets
Teachers will stop marking exercise books with different coloured biros and start painting pictures in them instead
Every student in the country will achieve above-average GCSE results
Children will stop having to write in art, and start dancing their answers to maths problems
Students will learn that there is more to life than facts
And politicians will accept that educational research evidence is highly unreliable

Flipped lessons are taking place as children start teaching their teachers
Children are uniformly forced to wear their own choice of clothing to school
Teachers are teaching children instead of subjects
Students who fail all their GCSEs are found to be more employable than academics
School lunches are ranked against other countries according to their PIZZA scores
STEM is turning into STEAM
Russell Group universities are only accepting students named Russell
Nick Gibb is announcing his intention to resign as Secretary of State in order to join the BeeGees

              and
You will tell me that you love this post and share it widely on social media over Christmas
Tonight at morning break.

 

With thanks to the late Adrian Henri, and Alan and Duncan for a little help!

Welcome to the Hotel Russell Group

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You can check out any time you like
But you can never leave!

All Change Please! has often wondered why the Russell Group of Universities is so-called? Formed in 1994, a nod to Bertrand Russell perhaps seemed more likely than a reference to Ken Russell, Russell Crowe or Russell Brand.

But the reality is that the name indirectly originates from Russell Square in central London, which, when it was created in 1804, was named after the family name of the Earl of Bedford. And then in 1898 ‘the latest of the sumptuous Hotel Palaces of Modern London‘, a large and palatial grand hotel was constructed on one side of the square, and named ‘The Hotel Russell’.

Now it so happens that in the early 1990s, All Change Please! itself used to make regular visits to the Hotel Russell. Passing by its impressive grand staircase one came to the public lounge which was well known as the favoured meeting place for publishers and academics from London University. At the same time, its position, right by Russell Square tube station and a short walk from Kings Cross, St Pancras and Euston, made it ideal for those travelling from other parts of the country. Although the refreshments were a little more expensive than those in McDonald’s (remember this was long before the advent of today’s coffee house chains), it was still much cheaper than hiring a meeting room, and the staff were happy to let you stay all day in exchange for some dainty lunchtime sandwiches or a memorable classic British afternoon tea. In winter there was a real roaring fire and for an hour or two it was possible to imagine oneself back in the elegance of the Edwardian era. That was until the management cottoned on, and eventually started asking silly prices for its refreshments that only over-rich and over-here Americans and Arabs would dream of paying.

Meanwhile, before you all rush there to check it out, be warned that it’s no longer there as it was – it has recently been completely refurbished and imaginatively renamed as The Principal London and redecorated in a post-modern mish-mash of historical styles, or ‘returned to its former glory’ as the hotel website likes to describe it.

And so it was that back in 1994 a group of 17 university academics and vice-principals from a long-lost era duly met up to enjoy a really nice cup of tea at The Russell Hotel and decided to create a super-group of universities, and, in the same way certain celebrities do, they named it after its place of conception. Perhaps surprisingly the Russell Group’s objectives were not to work together to impose an academic stranglehold the primary and secondary education system of every school in the country, but to:

  • lead the research efforts of the United Kingdom;
  • maximise the income of its member institutions;
  • attract the best staff and students to its member institutions;
  • create a regulatory environment in which it can achieve these objectives by reducing government interference; and
  • identify ways to co-operate to exploit the universities’ collaborative advantage.

But of course, like all good academics, they entirely failed to grasp and anticipate the potential practical implications of what they set out to do.

So, perhaps the time has come for the Russell Group to do what all good groups do which is to split up and then re-form and re-launch themselves under a new name. Perhaps they could once more take their name from the new owners of the refurbished Russell Hotel and call themselves ‘The Vice-Principal Group of Universities’?

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There are more photos here: https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/LocationPhotoDirectLink-g186338-d193051-i88395875-The_Principal_London-London_England.html

Top image credit: Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0

Lower image credit: Jack1956

Art Failure at the MichaelGova School

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All Change Please! was interested to see that The Michaela ‘KNOWLEDGE IS POWER’ Community School was recently advertising for a new post in its Art Department: http://mcsbrent.co.uk/art-teacher-vacancy

Apparently:

“At KS3, pupils are taught the traditional techniques of drawing and painting and Art history. Lessons are ‘teacher-led’ as we believe it is the only way pupils can learn the appropriate skills to an expert level. Teachers show pupils exactly how to use each media in-depth step-by-step using the visualizer. There is no ‘guess work’ at Michaela. Pupils get to practice using the same media over and over again until the technique is mastered and perfected.”

“If you love art and know how to teach drawing, come and visit us at Michaela.  If you are in two minds, it is worth seeing what can be achieved in art when using our teaching methods.”

And it also states:

“We don’t offer lessons in ICT, DT..”

A full account of the Michaela guide to Mastery in Art and Music education can be found here.

But by yet another All Change Please! (Patent Applied For) Amazing Coincidence it seems that the nearby, and entirely fictitious, MichaelGova Community School is also recruiting further teaching staff for its Art Department. Somehow All Change Please! has exclusively managed to obtain a draft of the forthcoming press advertisement:

“At The MichaelGova ‘ABSOLUTE POWER CORRUPTS’ Community School, Art is about painting nice pictures over and over again until they look just like the work of great artists. We know everything about Art, but we don’t know what we like. An unkind visitor once upset some of our children by telling them that Art was about creating challenging new disruptive ideas, taking risks and being spontaneous and expressing oneself. He then spouted some mumbo-jumbo, snake-oil, neuromyth-nonsense that Art involved exploration, improvisation and messy experimentation in situations where there are no correct answers and that guessing and being intuitive were important in the real world. We asked him to leave the building immediately and never darken our doors again.

Pupils who in any way question what or how they are told to draw or paint are immediately isolated from other children and sent for a series of lunchtime re-progamming sessions in the Visualiser.

Meanwhile we take pride in refusing to teach our pupils anything about technology or problem-solving, knowing that they will be completely unprepared for life in the real, modern world. But as they will all become Oxbridge graduates unsuitable for any type of employment except for being a politician or a teacher in schools like ours, that won’t matter at all.

If you are in two minds about MichaelGova, please don’t apply. We only employ single-minded teachers.”

 

Let’s ask the Magic 8 Ball

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Yes, as unbelievable as Brexit sounds, today, the 28th October 2017, is All Change Please!s Magical Eighth birthday. And that means it’s time for All Change Please!’s surprisingly regular annual Review of the Year post…

To begin with, regular readers might have noticed that All Change Please! has been a lot less prolific than in previous years: instead of an average of posting once a fortnight, it’s been more like once a month. Except for February, April and May when seemingly absolutely nothing happened to inspire All Change Please! to take pen to paper, or rather finger to keyboard. However the world of education seemed to come back to life a bit more during September and October…

So what were All Change Please!‘s greatest number of hits of 2016-17?

1. The Blunders of Government

Way out ahead in the prestigious Number One ‘Top of the Posts’ spot was the runaway ‘The Blunders of Government’ which featured a dialogue between Sir Humphrey Appleby and a compendium of Education Secretaries from the past 7 years.

2. Theresa in Wonderland

Some way behind was All Change Please!’s Christmas special which identified the close connection between Mrs May and Alice, with Nigel Farage in the role of the Cheshire Cat, and The Queen of Hearts (deftly played by Angela Merkel) boasting that sometimes she believed as many as six impossible things before Brexit.

3. Problem still unsolved….

In which it was revealed that students place little value on creativity and problem-solving, largely because the schools they go to don’t either.

 

But as always, what appeals most to the bloglovin’ public rarely reflects All Change Please!’s own favourites of the year which included:

4. Fun-filled gender-fluid self curated personas at the Df-ingE 

Cool. No problem. Read again?

5. Pass Notes: What is GCSE Irritative Design.

Your cut-out and weep guide to D&T…

 

Meanwhile, All Change Please! got to wondering about who invented the Magic 8 Ball and when, and how it worked – and not for the first time managed to find everything it wanted to know on Wikipedia.

“The Magic 8-Ball is a toy used for fortune-telling or seeking advice, developed in the 1950s and manufactured by Mattel. It is often used in fiction, often for humor related to its giving accurate, inaccurate, or otherwise statistically improbable answers.

An 8-ball was used as a fortune-telling device in the 1940 Three Stooges short, You Nazty Spy!, and called a “magic ball”. While Magic 8-Ball did not exist in its current form until 1950, the functional component was invented by Albert C. Carter, inspired by a spirit writing device used by his mother, Mary, a Cincinnati clairvoyant.

The Magic 8-Ball is a hollow plastic sphere resembling an oversized, black-and-white 8-ball. Inside a cylindrical reservoir contains a white, plastic, icosahedron floating in alcohol dyed dark blue. Each of the die’s 20 faces has an affirmative, negative, or non-committal statement printed in raised letters. These messages are read through a window on the ball’s bottom.

To use the ball, it must be held with the window initially facing down. After “asking the ball” a yes-no question, the user then turns the ball so that the window faces up, setting in motion the liquid and die inside. When the die floats to the top and one face presses against the window, the raised letters displace the blue liquid to reveal the message as white letters on a blue background.

The 20 answers inside a standard Magic 8-Ball are:

It is certain

It is decidedly so

Without a doubt

Yes definitely

You may rely on it

As I see it, yes

Most likely

Outlook good

Yes

Signs point to yes

Reply hazy try again

Ask again later

Better not tell you now

Cannot predict now

Concentrate and ask again

Don’t count on it

My reply is no

My sources say no

Outlook not so good

Very doubtful

All of which leads All Change Please! to the inevitable conclusion that it’s Mrs May’s Magic 8 Ball which undoubtedly forms the basis of current government policy-making and Brexit negotiations…

If you have been…  keep watching this space!

 

 

Image credit:  Flickr/David Bergin

Fun-filled gender-fluid self-curated personas at the Df-ingE

In yet another of those remarkable coincidences that somehow seem to define All Change Please!’s very existence, at the same time as the BBC is broadcasting a new series of W1A, All Change Please! has received a transcript of a recent Team Df-ingE! meeting.

Justine Greening invited Siobhan Sharpe of ‘Perfect Curve’ – now incorporated into a Dutch conglomeration known as ‘Fun Media’ – back in to talk to the team. New and regular readers might like to remind themselves of what happened last time this happened

Justine Greening (AKA Mss Piggy): “Well hello everyone and thanks for attending this meeting in the new Nicky Morgove Office Suite. In our last ‘Going Backwards to Move Forwards’ session you’ll remember that we discussed the idea of using teachers as Trained Trainers in our schools, reading from pre-written scripts, and all agreed it would save a great deal of money, even if it was a bit daft. Today we’re fortunate to welcome back Siobhan Sharpe who is going to present Fun Media’s visionary Futurability review of the future of our schools.”

Nick Glibb: “Can I just point out…

JG: “No, you can’t Nick

NG: “It’s just that…

JG: “Look I know you’re male and all the problems that involves, but how many more times do I have to remind you that I’m in charge here? Over to you Siobhan – I have to say your name is a lot easier to pronounce than it is to remember how its spelt, isn’t it?

Siobhan Sharpe: “Thanks Justine. Long live the Sisterhood! Hi everyone! So like the big news is that teachers are so over. Nobody wants teachers anymore.”

Ensemble:Yes, very strong.”

Ens: “I’m totally good with that.”

Ens: “Way cool. That’s mental.”

JG: “I’m sorry you’ll need to run that over me again.

SS:  “Ten years. That’s all teachers have got. Then they’ll be gone. Extinct. Fossilised. Like, ancient relics of a bygone age. Do-dos. Get over it and move on.”

JG: “Says who?

SS: “Well, duh, Sir Antony Seldon for a start. Like the former head of Eton. You know – where the posh boys and future PMs go. He’s just written a book about it: The Fourth Education Revolution: how Artificial Intelligence is Changing the Face of Learning, and that’s what he predicts. No more teachers. Just computers. And kids sitting at rows of PC screens doing easy assessable multiple-choice questions. This is the 21st Century – the Information Age, in case you hadn’t noticed: Pearsonalised Learning, Artificial Inattention. Machine Leering. Fragmented Reality.”

JG: “But computers are nowhere near clever enough yet to be as good as a real teacher. I mean it’s not like we’re exactly talking HAL and ‘2001′ yet are we? This Artificial Intelligence stuff isn’t really as bright as it’s made out to be is it – at least not if the ‘Recommended for you’ emails I keep getting are anything to go by? It’s not exactly on the same level as a conscious, sentient being yet. Mind you, I suppose that goes for some of our current teachers too. 

Anyway there’s a lot more to learning than just answering questions that test your knowledge, which you know can be a bit de-motivating if you’re not very good at remembering things.  Surely learning is about providing young people with the capabilities to develop their dreams and aspirations, and exploring and experimenting with others to make them happen? The problem is that these current computer systems decide what children need to know and are designed to adapt them to fit a simplistic, elitist, academic view of the world as a random predetermined set of right answers. 

And let’s face it we’ve heard all this before – educationalists have been going on about it since the 1980s – but the problem is that the content is all written by New Media company programmers who don’t know the first thing about pedagogy. Anyone remember ‘Success Maker’? That wasn’t exactly much of a success was it?”

SS:  “Yeah. Right. You still don’t get it do you? Let me spell it out for you as easily as I can. Six words. Watch my lips: Teachers Expensive. Computers Cheap. Profits Greater. There, is that simple enough for you? Deal with it. Wake up and smell the Pumpkin Spice Latte for heaven’s sake.”

Ens: “Ah yes, no, good. Very good.”

Ens: “I so love it”

JG: “OK. So what else is there to look forward to in the future?

SS: “Well there’s all these stressful tests and solitary confinement examinations we keep making children take. I mean there are some serious mental health, mindlessness, human-rights issues here that need addressing. And everyone’s had enough of experts, and particularly educational experts, so anyway, no problem, because exams are finished too. We’ve done a re-branding exercise and have come up with a completely new concept in which the kids set and assess their own exams – it’s called ‘GCSE Me!‘. And of course as children learn most from each other, they will create and share their own user-generated on-line content resources too, which let’s face it, couldn’t be much worse than the current textbooks they currently get.

Ens: “Brilliant. No brainer…

Ens: “This is all going terribly well.”

JG: “I rather think Michael Gove would be turning in his grave if he were here now, although of course unfortunately he’s not actually in one yet.”

NG: “What I want to know is are the strict school uniform policies here to stay?

SS: “Hello? Have you heard from your brain lately? Or are you from a different planet or a Whovian time-warp or something? The school uniformity of the future is one that is always changing, different, divergent, inconsistent and varied. Our market research shows that Generation Z...”

NG: “Generation what?

SS: “Generation Z – children who are roughly between 12 and 19 – you know, duh, the ones currently in our secondary schools and colleges of FE that it’s your job to reach out to and engage. Gen Zs, as we call them – are a sophisticated self-confident creative force. Unlike their teachers and examiners they’ve moved on from the last century having been weaned on the internet, mobile phones and social media. They’re entrepreneurs and influencers, creating their own culture. They’re into dubbing soundscapes and performing word poetry and communicating using gifs and emojis. They’re defining themselves as their own brands. They see themselves as a gender-fluid generation in which there are no rules, no uniform, just their own self-curated persona.”

Ens: “Yeah, no worries, yeah, cool. Say again?

JG: “But hold on, you can’t exactly just go out and buy an affordable gender-fluid curated persona at Asda, can you? Anyway, let me get this straight. What you’re saying is that instead of rigidly imposing our own out-dated interests, aspirations and values on today’s children, what we should actually be doing is taking into account the way they see the world, and change our schools, the curriculum and the way we deliver it accordingly?

NG: “Well, I’ll tell you one thing for sure about the future. That’s never going to happen.

JG: “So that’s all good then…

Narrator: “And so we leave the Df-ingE in deep, earnest, concerned discussion, digging themselves further and further into a hole of their own making about the future issues that will one day face a completely different future team of ministers and parliamentary secretaries, long after they hope they have all personally in person moved on to better jobs in journalism and the City.

One thing looks certain though. Siobhan Sharpe’s future vision for fun-filled, gender-fluid, self-curated personas for our schools of the future doesn’t look like it’s going to be much fun trying to implement.

Who’s minding the train?

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One of the oldest riddles All Change Please! can remember from its dim and distant childhood was: ‘What’s the difference between a train driver and a teacher?’ The answer of course is that one minds the train and the other trains the mind.

The idea of a teacher ‘training the mind’ always quite appealed to All Change Please! in that it suggested something more than just the endless diet of recall and repeat in the essays that blighted its childhood. But of course the word ‘training’ also carries with it a negative connotation of the acquisition of just a single specific skill that can be repeated without much further thought or consideration.

So All Change Please! was intrigued the other day to hear someone proclaim that they had just been on a one-day ‘Train the Trainer’ course and were a now a fully certified ‘Trained Trainer’. Following an exhaustive search, the first Google link it found revealed that the somewhat unsurprising information that the idea is that staff are trained how to train other members of staff. This is achieved through following a pre-structured and scripted session that anyone can deliver, supported by an endless procession of badly-designed PowerPointless Slides. Such courses are all the rage in industry, mainly because they save loadsamoney.

However, it seems that now some schools are controversially getting in the act and expecting teachers to deliver pre-written lesson plans and scripts. Your roving reporter felt it needed to investigate further and made an appointment the very next day to meet with no lesser person that Sir Trevor Traynor, CEO of the highly successful Bash Street Academy Chain.

On being shown into the CEO’s office, All Change Please! was slightly surprised to find Sir Trevor not actually there, and rather more surprised when a pre-recorded voice asked it to sit in his very expensive rather comfy-looking leather swivel chair. To its even greater surprise it found there were six other reporters all sitting facing the desk, on which there was an A4 file on with the words READ ME printed in large type on the cover.

Always willing to do exactly what it was told, inside the file All Change Please! found a paper booklet, and duly followed the instruction to read its contents out loud to everyone else in the room:

Session 1

Read the following text out loud to everyone else (10 mins) and then ask them to complete the MCQ test at the end.

“Good morning/afternoon/evening everyone.

The Bash Street Academy Trust has recently announced that, based on proven industrial application, it is implementing a new training scheme in which trained teachers will be replaced by trained trainers fully capable of training other trainers. A trained trainer is essentially someone able to read a pre-prepared text out loud and telling learners to take a test at the end.

The course materials have been prepared by an expert teacher. Well, by myself actually. And as I attended school while I was growing up, you can rest assured I know what I’m talking about. Of course I’m terribly busy so most of it was really written for me by my secretary, but I’m sure she probably went to school at some point.

It all makes great sense for a trained teacher to become a trained trainer who can train other trainers to train trainers and then become trained trainers who can train our children. Ideally we will aim to recruit teachers who can demonstrate their potential in a number of diverse skills such as being able to read out loud in a nice, clear voice, tell the time and occasionally turn the page when instructed to do so. It’s so easy that a child could do it. In fact that’s an interesting idea that we’re currently working on to reduce the wages bill even further. Meanwhile existing teachers will be invited to re-apply to re-train as trained trainers, providing they pay the training fees and agree to a National Wage zero-hours contract. Of course all this greatly increases my salary, so everyone’s a winner – well, I am anyway and that’s all that really matters.

Now, having listened to the above,  evaluate your potential success as a trained trainer, by answering the following questions.

1. When you have completed this training session, which of the following will you become (tick all that apply):

  • A train driver
  • A pair of trendy trainers
  • A Tory minister
  • Tony the Tiger
  • A trained trainer
  • A Jean Genie

2. Which one of the following statements best describes Trevor Traynor, the CEO of Bash Street Academy Chain?

  • A figment of All Change Please!’s weird imagination
  • A public servant working hard to deliver high standards of education and childcare for the local community
  • Someone laughing all the way to the bank?

Now assess your own performance using the following levels:

Alpha:  Standard Pass

B:  Good Pass

1:  Distinction

Congratulations! You have passed Session One and are now a fully trained trainer, capable of teaching anyone anything anywhere. Except my children of course, who each have a private tutor.”

 

All of which left All Change Please! rather wondering:

  • How many trained trainers does it take to change a lightbulb?
  • How much does a trained train driver earn these days?
  • How much worse can things get in the future for the teaching profession?

All these answers and more will be answered in the next exciting All Change Please! post. Be sure to reserve your copy today!

 

Image credit: Flickr/Angie Muldowney

The Blunders of our Government

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Cleverly disguised as a fly on the wall, last July All Change Please! was able to listen in to a conversation between Sir Humphrey Appleby and the Minister in a State about Education.

 

Ah Sir Humphrey, what can I do for you?

Well Minister, you remember that consultation we did on the EBacc, asking people for suggestions as to how we should best implement it?

Yes, yes, the one I told you to hide the results of somewhere that no-one would ever find them?

Well it’s just that an awful lot of people responded and have been asking when the report is going to be made available, and I’m rather afraid an over-enthusiastic unpaid intern has managed to find and publish it.

Oh well, it can’t be helped I suppose? Can it? Did anyone make any helpful suggestions as to how to make the EBacc work successfully?

Not exactly Minister, no. It rather seems as if most of the responses were more in the form of a suggestion that perhaps the EBacc wasn’t actually a very good idea and would be impossible to implement anyway.

Well that just goes to show how ungrateful the teaching profession is, doesn’t it? We spend our long expenses lunches dreaming up vote-winning policies, and all they do is complain.

Have you read this new book ‘The Wonders of our Government’ Humphrey? It explains that “British politicians meet, discuss, debate, manoeuvre, read submissions, read the newspapers, make speeches, answer questions, visit their constituencies, chair meetings and frequently give interviews.” I mean, what more do people expect us to do?

Err, I think you’ll find the book is actually called The Blunders of our Government‘ Minister, and the suggestion is that politicians don’t “deliberate and take the time to weigh the claims against the evidence, to ask for more information, to reach out and consult other parties who knew more or would also be affected by the action that might be taken. The consequence could be off-the-cuff decisions, made in isolation, in a hurry.”

Well of course I couldn’t be expected know anything about that, could I?

No Minister! It’s just that I think they may have a point… Our hastily implemented EBacc policy has meant that the latest GCSE results show for a fact that the number of secondary school students taking art and design qualifications in the UK has fallen to the lowest level this century.

How many times must I tell you Sir Humphrey, there’s no such thing as facts, just cleverly selected statistics. So for example we simply state that there is no evidence of entries in arts subjects declining as a direct result of the introduction of the EBacc, and that the proportion of state school pupils taking at least one arts subject increased from 45.8% to 48% between 2011 and 2016. There, that sounds rather strong and stable doesn’t it?

Yes, but there’s also the matter of the rise in the number of students failing the EBacc subjects they’ve been forced to take, when they might have taken other subjects they could have passed. I suppose we could use the diversionary response approach and get Nick Glibbly to state: “These reforms represent another step in our drive to raise standards, so that pupils have the knowledge and skills they need to compete in a global workplace.”

By George Osborne, I think you’ve got it!

One final thing Sir Humphrey, I would suggest a further delay in publication of the EBacc report. They’ve waited this long so I’m sure they can wait a bit longer. Make it towards the end of July, just as Parliament breaks up for recess and all the pesky teachers go off for the summer to their villas in the South of France – then it will all be old news by the time they come back in late September and everyone will be more interested who is going to replace the MayBot before the Party Conference, and what will happen in the subsequent cabinet reshuffle…

Indeed yes, Minister….!

Of course, it’s just possible that some of these annoying education blogs will wait until the Autumn term is just underway before writing about it, but we’ll just have to hope that all those ungrateful teachers won’t have time to read them as they will be too busy having to explain the new grading system to parents and coming up with good excuses as to why most of their students failed our new more rigorous A levels and GCSEs…

Ah, yes Minister, that reminds me. Well, it’s just that you perhaps ought to know that in the end the new exams were so difficult that actually no-one managed to get a pass grade, so we, err.., err..,

Well, out with it..

…we had to move the grade thresholds.

You did what? Why did no one tell me?

Well, err., I think it probably happened last month while you were away in your villa in the South of France, Minister.

But my policy was that by making the examinations more difficult, children and teachers would work harder and standards would rise. This makes just a complete nonsense of my reforms.

Yes indeed, minister.  Oh, and could I just warn you that your consultative-sounding ‘Putting our policies before the people‘ slogan could be taken more than one way?

 

Problem still unsolved

19295893399_3ee40fd48c_o.jpgProblem-solving: the process of finding solutions to difficult or complex issues

The recent news that ‘Just 3 per cent of teenagers believe problem solving skills and creativity are essential attributes to have on their CVs’ is of course no more than a reflection of the lack of emphasis and importance placed on them in our education system. And it goes a long way to explaining why so few politicians and administrators seem quite unable to develop policies and procedures that manage to improve the life of the population. Too many students undertake academic degrees, including subjects like science and engineering, having had next to no experience of the processes and approaches involved in coming up with successful new practical and appropriate ways of doing things.

Where children are exposed to problem-solving and creativity in schools, the experience is usually limited to solving closed problems, where there is a single correct right or wrong answer. Such problems are usually technical in nature, rarely focusing on solving individual or social human problems.

Even in design and technology, where a rapidly diminishing number of students are asked to solve design problems, the understanding of problem-solving skills is given disproportionate emphasis to increasingly acquiring knowledge about materials and production technologies. Few children rise to the challenge of resolving multiple conflicting requirements and coming up with truly creative solutions. And while there is good imaginative work in evidence in many departments of art, drama and music, its value and application is restricted to those lessons and defined studio spaces.

Developing students’ problem-solving and creative abilities is not achieved through a series of disparate activities experienced largely out of context. It involves an extended course of study in which increasingly complex, open-ended and challenging problems are tackled in such a way that the learner starts to identify their own strategies and preferred methodologies for tackling different sorts of problems. This includes being able to deal with problems that require:

• a mixture of creative and logical thinking

• dealing with subjective and objective criteria

• testing and evaluating possible solutions using a variety of modelling techniques

• identifying and understanding human needs and desires

• information finding

• planning over multiple time-scales, collaboration and self-management

• effective communication.

Underlying these skills at a more basic level, successful problem-solving requires a desire to improve the way things are, a sense of curiosity, the drive to explore and develop a multiplicity of possible solutions and willingness to learn from failure.

Until our children start to acquire these skills and they come to be acknowledged in schools and universities as being valuable in life and the workplace it is difficult to be optimistic about our future. We no longer require a steady flow of people to administer and oversee the far-flung corners of our long-lost Empire, but instead a stream of creative problem-solvers to construct our brave new post-Brexit world.

 

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Image credits: Flickr Sacha Chua

 

 

 

 

 

Open-ended Complex Policy Solving

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“Mr Glibbly: Please just get rid of this stupid, unworkable EBacc policy – we don’t want anything in exchange for it”

You may, or may well have not, noticed that All Change Please! has been strangely quiet recently. That’s mainly because there has been Very Little Change Please! about in terms of education over the past few months, and also, as several commentators have noticed, the world of politics is now far more self-satirical than your actual satire can ever be.

Anyway, All Change Please! has recently been thinking about all these proposed Governmental Policies that have recently issued forth and then been sent back in again because they weren’t working or indeed wanted, and started wondering who actually writes them and whether they have the faintest idea what they are actually proposing?

In most organisations, institutions and businesses, everything starts and ends with policy. A policy is a positive principle to guide decisions and achieve required outcomes. Policies tend to be determined by those ‘at the top’, to be put into practice by Senior Managers and passed down through middle managers to the worker-ants below. Policy determines what should and shouldn’t be done, what is and isn’t acceptable, and most importantly, if funding will be provided for it. If something contradicts policy, it just can’t be done – it’s as simple as that. Policy says No! This often makes innovation within management structures difficult, because any significant change is likely to involve reviewing and rewriting policy.

Good policy statements are crucial to success, and it would therefore seem to make sense to invest time, resources and expertise into ensuring they are going to be effective, appropriate, and above all, deliverable. Yet in practice, that’s rarely what happens. Most policy statements, while perhaps laudable in their intent, are prepared with little reference to the practicalities of their implementation or the effect they might have. They are often written by academics, administrators and civil servants with little experience of reality or how to actually set about successfully solving complex, open-ended problems. Too many high-flying academic students leave school and Russell Group Universities for senior positions in management or politics with next-to-no understanding or experience of real-world problem-solving and communication.

Indeed the policy-writing process seems to be: identify the problem, consider options, make decisions, publish and implement. This bears a certain resemblance to what is known more widely as the problem-solving process – but with one major difference, in that there is no attempt to model, test, evaluate and iterate possible solutions before and while they are being implemented. Further difficulties often occur when a policy is then briefed and specified because those charged with doing so are insufficiently trained or experienced in defining and effectively communicating the parameters of what can and can’t be done to achieve the desired outcome.

Here’s an insider account account of the policy writing process: The Mysteries of Government Policy. To summarise the author’s account of the way it works:

1. Ignore all past documents on the subject to give yourself a fresh perspective.

2. To upset stakeholders, send the draft out for comment but delay consultation until after the draft has been finalised and too late to change.

3. To ensure it is already out-dated, delay publication by taking as long as possible to respond to comments to the consultation in full.

4. Maximise publicity for the policy release, but try to ensure no-one knows it was written by you.

5. Sit back and watch as people discover that the policy is almost impossible to implement and creates more problems than before it was decided that a new policy was needed.

Meanwhile back in school, let’s take the familiar example of a Behaviour Policy. Often carefully and clearly worded by the SMT it’s published in the handbook and staff and students are expected to abide by it. Except of course in many cases they don’t. That’s because in the reality of the classroom, corridor and playground it’s not as simple as that. To be successful, a good policy needs to be supported on a daily basis by SMT who will need to spend time evaluating how well it is working and what the problems are, and then developing and continually evolving the policy as circumstances change. There also needs to be opportunity for staff and student participation in the process. It may well be that both staff and students need assistance or training in understanding how to apply the policy and how it only works if everyone follows it. If only creating Government Policy worked this way…

Similarly, a manufacturing company would never proceed to invest in the production of a million or so newly designed widgets unless it was absolutely sure they worked properly, that there was a popular market for them, that they could be effectively distributed, and made and sold profitably. And future models would be continually updated to increase sales or encourage repeat purchases. But for some reason this rational approach just doesn’t seem to apply to Government Policy-making.

And here’s OFSTED’s Amanda Spielman announcing that perhaps their policies over the past 25 years have not been successful as they should have been, and in future a bit more participation with teachers and researchers might just be a good idea.  But as Michelle Hanson points out, the damage has already been well and truly done.

Until a way is found to improve the way the Df-ingE formulates future government policy through stakeholder participation, extensive trials, rigorous evaluation and a commitment to support long-term support and review, desirable change in what goes on in our schools is unlikely to happen. And in the meanwhile it seems crazy that at present there is no structured or coordinated programme of teaching and learning problem-identification and problem-solving for all children in our schools. A little bit of creativity wouldn’t go amiss either. But of course that can’t happen until it becomes policy…

 

Image credit: Flickr/Policy Exchange

Test Your Academic Strength!

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‘Strong’ it seems, is the new ‘good’.

The Df-ingE’s latest whizz-bang ‘let’s see if we can get away with just changing the name’ idea is to differentiate between ‘standard’ and ‘strong’ GCSE ‘passes’ at levels 4 and 5. All Change Please! would like to propose that this is taken further by installing a suitably diagnostic ‘Test Your Academic Level Strengthometer’ in every school, similar to the one above.

Meanwhile many thanks to Tom Sherrington for publishing his suggested new level descriptors on Twitter.

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The reality is that the main impact of this new scale will be to provide greater differentiation amongst the most academically-able students, enabling Russell Group Universities to select the very, very, very best instead of just the ordinary best. But of course at this level the reliability of the assessment of potential based on a two-hour final written paper subjectively marked by a single examiner is extremely low. It’s a bit like choosing a car solely on the basis that it can accelerate from 0 to 60 in 5.8 seconds over a different make that takes 5.9 seconds, and on the understanding that it’s not actually possible to calculate such a measurement accurately due to such a wide range of variables.

In fact assessment of academic potential at this level is so unreliable that instead of a ‘Test Your Academic Level Strengthometer’ machine, a fruit machine would probably be a better bet, so let’s install some of those in schools instead of the current complex, expensive and unreliable examination system. Students could just pull a handle and get an immediate result – three 9s and you’re in to Oxbridge. Three raspberries and you’re on income support for the rest of your life…

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Meanwhile All Change Please! continues to find it distressing that, beyond the 25% of the population who will go through life have being stamped as ‘standard’, almost no-one seems to be concerned about the roughly 32% of students who will emerge from 11 years of attending school with absolutely nothing…not even a ‘No-levels‘ qualification.

At least there’s someone out there who has written about the issue: Is everyone OK with the fact that our school system forces 30% of children to fail their GCSEs?

And of course there’s also comparative judgement

Image credits:  Top  Flickr/jimjarmo   Middle  Wikimedia Antoine Taveneaux