Getting IT Wrong

All Change Please! recently came across a fascinating post about an article written by one Samuel Moffat some 50 years ago – in 1968 – that anticipated the future use of computers in education.

At one level, it is extraordinary to see what the author got right:

  • children sitting at a PC with a keyboard and screen, wearing headphones
  • on-screen questions, assessed and scored by the computer
  • one or more IT suites in every school, including primary schools
  • individualised learning, with support for pupils who need more help
    children can work at their own speed
  • a global network of computers (though seemingly limited to the US) facilitating remote access to teachers
  • the prediction that computers will soon play a significant and universal a role in schools as books do today.

And amusing to see what he got wrong:

  • the computing machines mechanically load and control external film and slide projectors, tape recorders and record players
  • a boy being allowed to work all day on a science project.

The predictions are remarkable for the time, given that there were no calculators, photocopiers or video recorders in schools in 1968!

But at another level, it means that we’ve had at least 50 years to work out, agree and implement the most effective ways of using computers in school – something that so far we have pretty much failed to do. Although a few schools have effectively adopted the concept of ‘computer-aided learning’, there are still far too many where the approach is to ask for PCs to be removed from classrooms and the use of mobile phones to be banned.

As with most aspects of our working and domestic hours, IT has proved to be much more than being ‘just another tool’ as it was frequently described in the 1990s. That was a bit like saying that the introduction of the combustion engine driven car of the early 20th century provided ‘just another way to get from A to B’. Or that on-line shopping would never take off, and that people would continue to buy physical music CDs forever… And at the same time, IT was widely seen as a cost-saving method of automisation, rather than something that would begin to fundamentally change the way we live our lives.

Unfortunately, in many schools, the old-fashioned penny still hasn’t dropped. Most teachers still see Information Technology (IT) as ‘just another tool’, and continue to misuse it to attempt to deliver an automated, out-dated curriculum in an out-dated way. Like it not, IT will at some point significantly disrupt the processes of teaching and learning. And the problem is that while many educationalists continue to pretend it will one-day just go away, they are failing to define and demand what is an appropriate new pedagogy. As a result, big business and politics are rapidly moving in to make those decisions for them, and instead of computers being used to effectively support the ways we teach and learn, it is increasingly taking over and replacing our input into the process, if for no other reason that computers are cheaper to run than teachers are to employ.

IT still provides an extraordinary opportunity to discover new and better ways of learners acquiring knowledge, behaviours, skills, values, and making informed decisions about conflicting options. In the palm of our hand we now have the extraordinary potential to access in-depth information and ideas from around the world, to be able to collectively communicate with each other, and to manipulate vast amounts of complex data. Yet our current education system continues to prioritise essay-writing and answering Multiple Choice Questions – sitting isolated in the school hall – as its only method of assessing  achievement and capability.

At the same time, fifty years on, we have still to determine the way in which our children should be most effectively taught about IT and how to use it for themselves. The current, entirely unacceptable, excuse for not doing so appears to be along the lines of not seeing the need to bother because ‘the children understand more about it than we do’. To be fair, there is also a shortage of suitable teachers, and especially those with up-to-date experience of coding. But not everyone will need to be able to write complex computer programs in the future, just as not everyone needs to be able to design and construct an internal combustion engine to be able to drive their car.

However, children do need to learn to become capable and confident users of IT, to know about the way it impacts their lives, and how and when to use it, and perhaps more importantly, when not to use it. Unless we start to address the core issues in our schools we are likely to end up with a future society where individuals might potentially suffer from poorer cognitive function, reduced capacity for deep thought and contemplation, reduced ability to concentrate, increasing levels of pathological narcissistic behaviour, lower levels of empathy, an increase in depression and loneliness, and a whole host of physical problems stemming from the constant release of cortisone from the stress response together with an addiction to dopamine. Banning the use of mobile phones in schools will do nothing to help prevent this.

The world has moved on since 1968. Sadly education in England hasn’t.

Knowing exactly what it would say, All Change Please! didn’t bother to invite comment from the Df-ingE, and as a result, their spokesperson didn’t write…

‘As politicians and civil servants with no experience of the real world, we know all there is to know about education and the processes of teaching and learning and therefore do not intend to waste any time listening to anyone else. Our well established and highly successful educational policy involves continually repeating: ‘Thanks to our reforms, the evidence proves that we are providing the first-class world-beating education system demanded by employers and universities’ – a statement that readers of the Daily Mail appear to actually believe.’

Is Nick Glibbly Having A Laugh?

Following recent reports in the TES, Nick Glibbly appears to be preparing for a new role as a stand-up comedian for Comic Relief.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, please give a warm round of applause for a former politician and newcomer to the Comedy Club – I give you Knickers Glibbly

Polite applause, and a titter or two at Glibbly’s Red Nose

“I say, I say, I say… Did you hear the one about PISA? Yes missus, that’s the Programme for International Student Assessment. I don’t believe it – they are trying to politically influence the international rankings! Of course, here in England we would never dream of letting politics determine our educational policies, would we?!”

Mild laughter as the audience absorb the irony

A funny thing happened on my way here this evening. As usual I was licking the boots of Andreas Schleicher – the head of the The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that runs the PISA tests, and whom Michael Gove once described as ‘the most important man in English education‘ – wrong again Michael, you know that’s really me, don’t you? – when all of a sudden he tells me about his latest plans for the tests.

Now in the past, the PISA tests were just about regurgitating facts and figures. Therefore in order to improve our world rankings we changed the entire curriculum to ensure our children would receive teacher and knowledge-led instruction and thus achieve better marks and climb higher up the league table, because after all that’s what educational achievement is all about, isn’t it? Boom! Boom!

Some polite applause

But now it seems PISA are introducing a more progressive approach to education, called ‘the 21st-century incompetence-based curriculum’, and so they are introducing new tests in things like creativity and collaborative problem-solving, which of course we’ve been completely ignoring in our schools! And so, ladies and gentleman, here comes the punch-line – yes that’s right – we’ll be back down the bottom of the league table again! What a joke!”

Laughing out loud and occasional whooping – or is it weeping?

“Of course, because I don’t understand anything about these 21st century incompetencies, what I’ve not realised is that the OECD doesn’t either and their tests are extremely limited and ineffective, so it’s really not going to make much difference at all!”

Increasing laughter and applause as the audience begin to realise the true extent of the incompetence of the 21st Century Df-ingE

“What’s really strange though is that when I challenge the the OECD about it, it seems I’m the only one who disagrees, so obviously that means I must be right!” Am I bovvered? In future that stupid boy Andreas Schleicher can lick his own boots!

Hysterical laughter brings the house down.

“My name’s Nick Glibbly. And I’m the Most Important Man in Education! Thanks for learning, and it’s Good Night from me!”

This Christmas Nick Glibbly is appearing in Pantomime at the Df-ingE, where he will play the comedy role of Michael Gove. He has also been nominated for a Derrière Comedy Award at next year’s Edinburgh Festival in the ‘Least Likely Politician To Succeed In A New Career As A Comedian’ category.

You couldn’t make it up, could you?

Playing The GCSE Numbers Racket

The numbers racket is a form of illegal gambling or lottery played mostly in poor and working class neighbourhoods. The punter attempts to pick three digits to match those that will be randomly drawn the following day from sources such as horse races, the stock market, or perhaps even… the new GCSE numbered grading system that now goes from 9 to 1 instead of 1 to 9?

Senior citizen Joe Blogs today celebrated his grandson’s success with his GCSE grades. “He achieved eight grade 1’s!” he boasted to disbelieving friends at the local pub.

“We never expected him to do that well, especially as his teachers kept saying how unsatisfactory his work was, and that he wouldn’t get his E back. Mind you I wasn’t surprised they had confiscated it – I kept telling him not to take drugs into school – but I expect his teachers needed it themselves.”

When I took my exams back in the 1960s I only managed a couple of grade 3’s and a bunch of 5’s. I expect next he’ll be applying to Oxbridge, wherever that is – I’ve never been able to find it on any map. I can’t see him joining this Russell Pop Group thing though because he’s got no musical ability whatsoever.

Apparently he also won’t now need to bother with these daft new Tea-levels. I mean, I know we’re a nation of tea drinkers, but I can’t see why we need a qualification in it. Instead I’ve been told he’ll become a ‘neat’ – whatever that means – but we’ve always insisted he must be smart and tidy at all times, so I would have thought he would be one already.

It’s all thanks to that nice Mr Gove and that Glibbering idiot assistant of his. Without them I’m sure my grandson would have failed all his GCSEs. It’s just a shame he didn’t get to take any practical arts or technical subjects though. At least they might have helped him get a job.”

Meanwhile Emily Posh’s grandmother was in tears:

“We paid all that money to send her to an exclusive private school, and all she got was a string of 9’s. What use is that? In my day, with results like those we’d be lucky to end up as a washroom assistant cleaning toilets.”

However Joe Blog’s grandson and Emily Posh join an increasing list of youngsters now successfully applying to join companies where the human resource managers don’t yet understand how the new GCSE grading system works. Fred Post of ACP Recruitment Ltd commented:

“It’s all a bit confusing, but to be honest we’re not particularly bothered what grades applicants get at GCSE – I mean the last thing we want is someone with academic qualifications coming in and lecturing us on the theory of business management. Not spilling my tea as they bring it to my desk is probably the most important thing I look for in a school-leaver. So, as you can imagine, these new Tea-level qualifications are going to be really helpful.”

A spokesperson for Ofqual stated that changing the GCSE letter grades for numbers in the reverse order “confusing be not would”, and that the easy way to understand them was “734829 549 3355”.

Joe Blog’s grandson’s school was contacted for comment but it was explained that the Multi Academy Trust’s Senior Management Team were currently unavailable as they were all on holiday high as kites on the school’s luxury yacht in the Med.

Now that’s what All Change Please! calls successfully running the numbers racket…

Stripping down STEM

All Change Please! is getting all STEAMed up about the latest government announcement…

Most of us would agree that for the U.K. to survive in an apocalyptic Hard Brexitland future we are going to need considerable expertise in technology and engineering in order to create innovative new products and services to sell to the world. That is, of course, everyone except for the D well and truly f-ing E.

STEM, as all All Change Please! readers will be familiar with, is an acronym for the study of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Meanwhile All Change Please! has also long been a supporter of the campaign for the acronym to become STEAM, with the A representing The Arts which are required to enable students to develop skills of creativity and to acquire an understanding of human psychological and emotional needs.

While the US seems to grasp the concept that STEM, or STEAM, involves the necessary study of the relationships between the component subjects involved, here in the U.K. we have consistently mis-understood it simply as the isolated study of the separate academic subjects involved. And, given that Design & Technology typically plays no part in STEM, many of us have often wondered where the missing Technology and Engineering subjects are?

Well at least now we know. According to yesterday’s D no f-ing clue whatsoever about Education announcement:


So if there is no Technology or Engineering in STEM, that leaves us with just Science and Mathematics. Thus, to ensure the government cannot be accused of misleading the country, can we now look forward to the STEM initiative being more accurately renamed as S&M?

All Change Please! can’t wait for the newspaper headlines:

 

School Island

All Change Please! has somehow recently managed to obtain a recording of one of Alan Partridge’s audio memos – intended for his assistant Lynn to type up – which he regularly used to record ideas for possible new TV shows to pitch. Here’s the transcript:

“Another TV idea: ‘School Island’. A group of children who don’t know each other are isolated in a secondary school for five years. In this unreal situation they are not allowed access to mobile phones or gain any other information about what is currently happening in the outside world.

As they compete to see who can gain the highest grades and most qualifications they are required to undertake a series of ridiculous meaningless and often humiliating challenges, such as seeing who can sit still and stay awake the longest, remember and then write down the most facts, wear exactly the correct school uniform, etc. These will be determined and set by the programme directors – to be known as senior management teams and politicians.

The children will be continually monitored by the hosts – let’s call them teachers – and TV cameras who will watch their every movement, manipulating the participants to cause maximum distress and mental illness to help increase viewing figures. The audience will vote to decide which children should be excluded for bad behaviour.

The winning children will be offered lucrative deals (at their own expense) to attend Russell Group Universities.

Lynn – please check if anything similar has already been done before.”

And finally, do make sure you watch this clip that provides worrying evidence of the devastating impact of the knowledge rich curriculum on the limited working memory.

The Game of Life Skills

Do you have what it takes to win The Game of Life? Choose the life you want! Go to college, have kids, or see what happens when unexpected twists change the game. At the end of the game everyone pays their debts and adds up their wealth. The game of life is a classic game of chance.’

Or is it?

But first, All Change Please! asks the question of the moment: “What is a ‘fad’?” A ‘fad’ it seems is ‘an intense and widely shared enthusiasm for something, especially one that is short-lived; a craze’. However in education the term has a special usage, where it tends to mean: ‘A new idea, delivered by inadequately trained teachers, misunderstood and misapplied by SMTs and then rejected as not working and a waste of time as it does not show an immediate improvement in academic GCSE grades and League Table positions.’ It is a word extensively used by traditional teachers whom, it seems, live in perpetual fear of a fad actually becoming successful with the result that they might have to change the tired and detested methods and content they have been using for the past 150 or so years.

One of the so-called fads that seems to upset traditionalists the most is known as ‘Life Skills’. Essentially the argument goes: ‘There are so many life-skills they can’t possibly all be taught and learnt at school, so we should completely ignore them and just concentrate on teaching nice reliable, easily testable knowledge instead.’ And as the comments to this post reveal:

“How to prepare them for life outside school? Not with life skills as mentioned. Make sure they can read really well and have committed to their very being as much as possible of that knowledge society deems useful and important e.g. Shakespeare, a factual grounding in history of their own country and some history of other places, a wide range of reading of classic texts, knowledge of mythology, legends of their own and other countries (notably ancient Greece), knowledge of the religion that has formed their society and how the politics of their society works. Scientific knowledge (not just how to do an experiment and write it up). Understand maths and be able to do some of it. Sorry if it all sounds a bit ‘dead, white males’ but if you want your students to get anywhere and be able to critique any of that knowledge then they have to have that knowledge.”

Well, yes to the ‘reading well’ and ‘be able to do some’ maths, but as to the rest… All Change Please! is sure it will all be very handy for unemployed graduates to discuss with each other as they serve flat, white coffees on zero hour contracts at Starbucks (or similar such outlets).

Of course not all educational fads / new initiatives are necessarily a good thing, and some are inappropriately promoted by Tech companies. However others do have valid pedagogic credentials and deserve to be seriously considered and implemented properly before being dismissed.

One of All Change Please!s favourite so-called fads / new initiatives was the now much-maligned and now safely archived Personal Learning and Thinking Skills Framework (PLTS), developed by the much-missed QCA around a decade ago. The original list of PL&T Skills involved developing the ability for everyone to become:

* independent enquirers
* creative thinkers
* reflective learners
* team workers
* self-managers
* effective participants

It may not be the definitive, all-inclusive list, but at least it’s a start.

Meanwhile let’s put this another way round and imagine it as a Daily May Tabloid News Scandal Story:

And just for once this would not be false news fantasy journalism, because the reality is that at present our children receive no co-ordinated or increasingly assessed education in these skills in our schools whatsoever.

These skills are probably best not acquired through separate ‘Life Skills’ lessons – although that would at least be a start – instead they need to become embedded in the teaching of all school subjects. Not an easy task, admittedly, but something needs to happen if we are to avoid becoming a ‘Knowledge Rich / Skills Poor’ nation of academics who know everything but can do nothing.

But wait… the other day there was a surprising item of encouraging news reported in, of all the places, the Mail Online: ‘Britain doesn’t need to be nation of Oxbridge graduates, says social mobility expert’.

It seems that no lesser person than Dame Martina Milburn – Chief Executive of The Prince’s Trust, and, with Secretary in A State About Education Damian Hindsight’s personal support, recently appointed as the Chair of the Social Mobility Commission – actually understands something about education, which is surprising given that once while still a child she attended school herself.

‘I think there are a lot of kids at the moment being forced down an academic route that doesn’t suit them and actually doesn’t play to their strengths. ‘I actually don’t think, as a country – and this is my very personal opinion – [that] we kind of need everyone to have a degree from Oxford. I don’t get it. ‘If I’m using a carpenter to build me a new cupboard, I want someone who loves wood and loves what they do and can do it. I don’t really care whether they’ve got a degree or not.

I would like to really look at vocational education. That, for me, is a huge key to making a real difference in social mobility.’

All Change Please! saysGo for it Dame Martina!

Perhaps ‘Education’s Coming Home…’?

The only remaining problem now is who’s going to tell Govey and Glibbly?

 

Mr Glibbly’s Extremely Tall Tales

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, Mr Glibbly decided to ask some people what it was that made a really excellent teacher. Of course he already knew the answer because he was jolly clever – he’d been to school once himself and it had all worked out very well for him. However he thought that if there was an official ‘consultation’, all the teachers might feel as if they were in control, even though they weren’t in the slightest.

So those teachers who had any time, i.e. mostly those who had retired early, submitted some very wise words, drawing on their many years of real experience in the classroom.

For example:

‘Teaching is a craft profession. Teachers need to; understand their subject, manage their learning environment, enable self-determined learning and broker their learners interests with educational accreditation. Teaching Excellence, or the social responsibility of educators, consists of mastering their profession in order to enable learners to learn.’

‘Teachers need to create flexible scaffolding that supports children as they explore their own learning. They need to respect and seek to build on children’s own intelligence, creativity and aspirations, but at the same time be inspirational and drive motivation through a mixture of positive criticism and encouragement.’

‘Excellent teaching is “watchful neglect”. It’s about kindling fires of interest and fanning flames of participation (observing at a distance with suitable accelerants and extinguishers). Excellent teachers help learners discover for themselves what they are good at and use the confidence this builds to confront weaknesses and new opportunities.’

‘Excellent teachers teach ironically: well-informed and passionate about their specialism, they nevertheless put teaching the individual student above teaching their subject; they structure and lead learning, whilst celebrating the autonomy of their students from the start. This comes to some teachers naturally; some have to work hard to achieve it.’

Unfortunately, these were not at all the sort of answers Mr Glibbly was looking for, so he didn’t give them any marks and decided to write his own description of the most important things a teacher needed to know in order to become excellent. Can you guess what he wrote? It’s not difficult…! It went:

Where to stand, so as to see all the pupils;
How to use and vary tone of voice throughout the lesson;
Who to question, what to ask, and how to ask it;
How to sequence examples and explanations;
How to use humour;
Where to sit particular pupils;
How to build on prior knowledge; and
How to build a class culture over the course of an academic year.

If only teaching and learning was that simple!

Poor Mr Glibbly. He didn’t realise he was making a complete fool of himself by revealing how long it must have been since he had been in a classroom trying to teach a Shakespeare play to 32 disaffected 15 year-olds, if indeed he ever had? He just doesn’t understand that there was no such thing as good and bad teaching methods – just good or bad teachers.

Of course it’s different for Mr Glibbly, because there are good and bad policies and good and bad politicians. And we all know which category he and his policies fall into, don’t we?

Silly Mr Glibbly. We’d really like to help him become an excellent politician, so here’s our list of what we think he needs to do:

Tune In;
Turn On;
Resign Now.

 

With thanks to Fred, Alan and Tony for their wise words, and Other T for his type.

Jumping On The Bannedwagon

That’s the ‘I don’t understand it, so let’s ban it…’ bannedwagon

Right now, everyone accessing the news on their mobile phones is reading how various countries around the world, including of course the UK, are considering banning children from having mobile phones while in school. As usual with the way the media – and even the Guardian – represents the situation it’s easy to imagine that every classroom and lesson in the country is being continually disrupted by the use of mobile phones: this may indeed be the case in a few schools, but it’s certainly not for the vast majority of children who will become the losers if denied access to the digital world to support their learning in a positive way. Meanwhile, as might be expected, traditional, authoritarian teachers who need to feel in control of everything have been excitedly supporting the ban, while others have been giving a far more thoughtful and realistic perspective on the situation.

For some reason All Change Please! always feels uneasy when it’s announced that someone wants to ban something. There are some occasions when it might be desirable and sensible, but it’s usually a simplistic, seemingly easy ‘quick-fix’ solution to a far more complex problem that needs to be properly understood and resolved sensibly and sensitively. Banning something rarely makes the problem go away, and often builds up resentment. Indeed All Change Please! has never forgiven the politicians and the establishment for banning Pirate Radio back in 1967.

With a little help from the media, it’s easy to imagine the scene – a teacher is facing a class of 12-year olds struggling to teach the finer points of writing an essay about the characters in a Shakespearian play while having to deal with children using social media and taking and sharing pornographic photos at the same time. But perhaps they wouldn’t be doing so in the first place if the curriculum and method of delivery was more appropriate to their more immediate needs, interests and aspirations? Meanwhile if a teacher is not able to control the proper use of mobiles in the classroom, then maybe they shouldn’t be there in the first place?

And of course banning mobiles in schools isn’t going to instantly put a stop to cyber-bullying – it will just happen on the bus on the way home from school instead.

At this point, All Change Please! need do little more than refer the reader to two authors whose wise words appeared as if by magic on its mobile phone as it was drafting this post.

The first is a Tweet by Neil Gilbride:


And the second is a recent post on the excellent Mike Cameron’s Blog where he begins by pointing out the difficult logistics of actually enforcing a ban on bringing mobiles to school, and the alternative time-consuming task of counting them in at the start of each day and counting them out at the end while ensuring each child ends up with their own phone. He then goes on to remind us that when they first came out, calculators were hastily banned from school, but now they are seen as being essential. Somehow we’ve managed to teach children how to use them properly.

Some years ago, All Change Please! was involved in ‘e-scape’ – a University research project into ways of recording and assessing problem-solving coursework. The successful solution involved students using mobile devices to take photos of their on-going ideas as they developed, and recording revealing audio and video accounts of their own progress and intentions. The data files were invisibly uploaded into ‘the cloud’ and automatically organised and presented on a larger desktop screen which could be accessed anywhere, anytime. More recently All Change Please! has been working on an on-line ‘chat-bot’ style mobile-phone tutoring support system in which students are asked relevant questions about their projects that stimulate their own thinking. But not of course in schools where there is an outright ban on having a mobile phone.

In terms of a change in the way we live our lives the mobile smart phone represents a major shift and is making a potential impact as, if not even more, significant as the widespread introduction of the motor car over a hundred years ago. We need to be preparing children for their mobile digital futures, not by banning and ignoring it, but by ensuring they understand and can evaluate and control the content on offer. The reason they want to use their phones uncritically and all the time is that so far we have failed to do so.

And things are being made worse as a result of the move to an academic and high-level programming-based Computer Science GCSE instead of the more widely-based ICT, denying the majority of children (and girls in particular) access to a educational experience that they urgently need. Or as the ever-tenacious Tony from somewhere near Tenterden recently wrote:

“When it was first mandated in the curriculum, ICT was described as a ‘capability’ and was included as a component of design and technology. The over-riding purpose was to harness technological knowledge and skills to make meaningful change. It was about ‘agency’ in the modern world. Helping young people to understand how they could be in control and providing them with mediated, real world project experiences to explore this.

The critical aspect of all of this was ‘value’, why are you doing this, what is the purpose and most importantly consequences of the change you are exploring? The Establishment have no understanding, skill or experience of this themselves. Their refusal to imagine education beyond drill and kill fact-recall is why they allowed the computer science brigade to high-jack the area and take us back 40 years to testosterone-driven coded pointlessness. Makes me weep…

The real problem is that state schools are in meltdown, school senior managers are a disgrace, teachers are little more than worksheet delivery agents rather than learning choreographers, and everyone at the DF-ingE needs to be transferred permanently to Love Island.”

Meanwhile as well as making a proper investment in the classroom workforce, a great deal more time, effort and money needs to be put into the design of digital content that genuinely enhances the education process. The latest games and commercial digital products are highly sophisticated in the way they engage, stimulate and reward the user, but these techniques have yet to be properly applied to the pedagogy of curriculum-based teaching and learning.

Meanwhile a recent survey from @TeacherTapp has suggested that around a quarter of schools already spend time collecting in mobile phones each day, and in more than two-thirds of schools children do not have access to mobiles during the school day, even under the guidance of a teacher. Use of phones are allowed at break and lunchtimes and/or under teacher direction in only around quarter of schools. If the survey is correct, it seems like the media-storm is a bit late, as most schools have banned mobiles already.

Some children may well be misusing mobile phones in their lives, but banning them from our schools is not going to make them go away: as educationalists we need to help them learn how to use them sensibly and appropriately.

So All Change Please! says… Let’s ban schools instead

 

And finally…
Always one to support a knowledge-rich blog post and having not been taught it at school, All Change Please! was curious to discover the origin of the phrase ‘Jumping on the bandwagon’, and reaching for its mobile phone it was rapidly able to discover that the original bandwagons were a popular and attention-grabbing part of circus parades in the US in the mid-1800s. Towards the end of the century politicians saw their potential and began using them for launching political campaigns, where they were joined by supporters who wished to be associated with them. And they often warned their audience against jumping on the opponent’s bandwagon in haste.

The photo above shows a typical circus bandwagon in use in the 2009 Great Circus parade in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Image credit: Wikimedia commons)

 

Much Ado About D&T

We may be living in more modern times, but at present all is not well in the world of Design & Technology – it seems there is a spanner in the coursework….

Teachers are working through the new GCSEs in D&T and the ‘contexts’ for the so-called non examination coursework have just been announced by the Awarding Bodies. This part of the course is worth 50% of the final marks. Students are expected to make a study of the given broadly-defined, usually somewhat middle-class context  – eg ‘Going to the Seaside’ (Perhaps a title such as ‘Going to the Food Bank’ might be more familiar to some children and promote more designing for need than designing for consumerism?), and in doing so identify a suitable opportunity for design that they then proceed to resolve between now and the end of next March. Previously a number of more specific design tasks had been supplied by the Awarding Body, from which teachers often selected the one they considered most appropriate for their own students and their own expertise.

The other major change in the new exam specifications has been the welcome shift from the provision of material-specific courses (e.g., Textiles, Electronics) to a multi-material approach in which students are able to select the most appropriate to realise their designs.

So what’s the problem then?

Well in many schools there isn’t one, and everything is going according to plan. However, rather like the recent introduction of the new Northern rail timetables, a lot of the drivers, or rather teachers, have not been sufficiently trained to run the new courses. And at the same time the arrangements for the way in which teachers operate during the nearly year-long coursework Is the same as the way in which much shorter projects in more academic subjects are expected to be run.

As far as the student’s identification of a suitable problem is concerned, this is a process that they need to be well prepared for during the early stages of the course. While they might spot a suitable opportunity for design, what they are more likely to lack is the knowledge and awareness of their own capability needed to solve it within the time available. If they choose something too simple, too complicated and/or involves skills they do not have, and/or resources that are not easily available to them, then they are unlikely to achieve good marks on the subsequent aspects of their work throughout the rest of the course. Previously, choosing their own extended project was an expectation of A level students, supported by the advice of their teacher drawing on their previous experience in guiding others through similar tasks and their personal knowledge of the student’s capabilities.

Unfortunately some teachers are only just discovering that their students are relatively unprepared for this exercise, and have only experienced working on short-term projects with a prescribed and limited range of materials and components. There are also reports that in some schools, SMT’s have instructed D&T teachers to set a single identical task for all their students, even though they will lose marks as a result.

But it is the delivery of the coursework project that appears to be causing the most concern at this particular moment. The official rules indicate that from now until the end of the course next March, teachers are not allowed to teach, at least in terms of offering any specific personal guidance to candidates on their on-going work. Any such advice must be recorded on their work, and must be taken into account in the final assessment. While this might be appropriate for a much shorter project that carries less overall marks, it is absurd for an eleven-month project. It also puts teachers in a difficult position in deciding whether to offer and record advice, or indeed to invent ways of offering guidance non-specifically, and/or indeed not recording it.

At the same time, of course, there is nothing to stop candidates discussing their work with each other, or with other adults – just not their own teacher. And, while in school children may only work on their projects under strict supervision, they are then allowed to take them home to continue to develop their paper-work freely – although again there does appear to be some confusion over this.

There have also been suggestions that teachers are not allowed to share or discuss their pupils’ work or progress, or to share any ideas with each other. Thus while teachers may not produce or guide students towards specific resources to help guide them, there is nothing to stop non-teachers providing such resources for the students to discover for themselves as part of their investigation. And it hasn’t helped that the Awarding Bodies have each published slightly different rules, although teachers are encouraged to contact them for clarification.

To put it another way, students are being denied some 40 hours of teaching over the year, a substantial proportion of the whole two year course. Coursework should be a learning opportunity and experience – not just an extended assessment session.

So why isn’t everyone complaining about all this? Because at the same time teachers are being warned that if they do so it might be officially decided that the coursework project will be cancelled, which has already been the case with Information Technology. This would turn the assessment of an essentially practical subject into just another final written theoretical examination.

In many respects the new D&T GCSE is a great improvement on the previous one, but the problem of reliably assessing project work remains. It’s too late to resolve the situation regarding candidates entering the examination next summer, but clearly the situation regarding the coursework project needs urgent review.

D&T is currently the only established subject that teaches children creative open-ended problem-solving skills, and as such makes a major contribution to STEM. It is exactly these skills that are needed to help reinvigorate our ability to produce innovative manufactured products and systems that we can sell to the rest of the world. Yet entries to the examination of this once popular and thriving subject are currently in serious decline and an increasing number of schools are not even offering it at all to GCSE or A level. In some schools students are instead being entered for graphic or 3D options in GCSE in Art & Design, or for purely vocational courses.

As with all the new ‘more rigorous’ GCSEs, academically able D&T students will thrive, while the rest become even more alienated from an educational system that has little to offer them. That’s living in modern times for you…

 

 

Glibbly’s All Fool’s Gold Signature Collection

The other day Mr Glibbly was in fine form, cleverly avoiding questions about teachers’ pay and announcing what a wonderful thing the new GCSE’s ‘designed with employers in mind’ were (providing that is that they can understand the new numbering system):

“These more rigorous, gold-standard GCSEs are helping to nurture the next generation of scientists, linguists and historians. Whatever pupils want to do with their lives, these qualifications will prepare them for future success and help deliver the skills Britain needs to be fit for the future.”

All of which is indeed wonderful, assuming of course you are a student who wants to become a scientist, linguist or historian when you grow up, which quite a few don’t.

At the same time someone you’ve never heard of from the CBI, endorsed ‘today’s important focus on knowledge’, before helpfully adding ‘this partnership must also ensure we are prioritising teaching that encourages critical thinking, creativity, and teamwork’ – doubtless without realising that all of these things are completely ignored in Glibbly’s glistening All-Gold signature selection box of limited edition, academic-only GCSE subjects guaranteed to be completely free from Arts, and containing no soft-centred skills whatsoever.

Meanwhile All Change Please! can’t help but notice that many of today’s job specifications seem to require a rather different background skill-set to those acquired through a ‘knowledge-rich’ formative experience in our schools and leading universities.

For example, in one such recent and genuine job specification, for a one-year, fixed term contract, part-time position, paying around a pro-rata average London wage, only one of the desirable (as opposed to essential) criteria was knowledge-based, and that was a knowledge of HTML.

“You will be responsible for:

  • Further developing and leading our communications strategy in line with the organisation’s strategic aims, identifying audiences, messages, channels and methods of evaluation.
  • Planning and delivering effective and timely communications activity based on this strategy, building and maintaining a consistent brand.
  • Writing creative communications materials and content including: brochures and leaflets; blogs; learning materials; communications with key supporters, e.g. e-newsletters; innovative/creative materials e.g. animations/videos; media/press releases.
  • Designing and developing engaging online content that can be re-purposed across multiple channels.
  • Working with multiple stakeholders/partners to coordinate communications activities
  • Leading on media relations, proactively identifying news stories and ensuring that a consistent message is delivered.
  • Collaborating with and managing input from design and other agencies
  • Planning and implementing appropriate methods for evaluation of the communications strategy, and monitor and analyse the results.
  • Briefing or commissioning volunteers, freelancers and contractors when needed.
  • Managing part of the communications budget (and delivering value for money).

You should have experience in the following:

Essential

  • Proven ability to conceive, implement and evaluate successful and cost-effective communication strategies and activities (including an understanding of how to identify audiences, create appropriately differentiated content and use relevant channels).
  • Track record of writing and editing, preferably different types of writing for different publications and platforms (e.g. web, social media, e-newsletters, learning materials).
  • Ability to communicate clearly and effectively with a wide range of stakeholders, in person, online and in print.
  • Experience of assimilating complex information quickly, identifying the pertinent points and making them accessible for a wide range of audiences.
  • Well-developed interpersonal, advocacy and diplomacy skills.
    Experience of pitching stories to the media and responding to media enquiries.
  • Experience of commissioning freelancers (e.g. designers, web developers)/external agencies to carry out specific projects as part of a wider communications strategy, and managing those relationships.
  • Experience of managing social media accounts (twitter, facebook etc) and commissioning video.
  • Experience of sourcing images and print buying.
  • Capacity to work independently, problem-solve, handle multiple projects, and exercise good judgment in an organised and professional manner.
  • Experience in communications to support resource development/fundraising.

Desirable

  • Background in or demonstrable understanding of and passion for our mission.
  • Experience of managing/coordinating communications across partnerships
  • Experience of budget management.
  • Experience of Google Analytics
  • Knowledge of HTML (for when the CMS doesn’t quite do what you intend)
  • Experience of brand management
  • Understanding of web legislation and best practice.

Blimey! So where’s the bit about knowing everything there is to know about science, languages and history and being able to write essays? Surely at least part of the school curriculum urgently needs to start to prepare our children to become fluent in the workplace of the present, let alone the future?

Meanwhile Glibbly’s glistening All Gold EBacc curriculum collection needs some urgent re-branding. Perhaps re-naming it rather more accurately as Glibbly’s All Fool’s Gold Assortment – known for its superficial resemblance to qualifications that are actually worthwhile  – would be a good start?

 

Image credit: It’s not Terry’s, it’s Tristram’s…