Ten Years After

 

For the benefit of the younger reader, Ten Years After were a popular U.K. blues beat band combo of the late 1960s and 70s, who performed regularly in music festivals, including Woodstock. As an ‘album’ band, they were best known for the track ‘I’m Going Home’. Uncertainty remains as to exactly what it was that had happened to them Ten Years Before, but it’s of no great importance because, apart from their name, this post has nothing whatsoever to do with the band.

The only connection is that today is All Change Please!s 10th birthday, which makes it exactly Ten Years After it published its very first post. A lot has happened since then, except of course in education where things have generally gone backwards to the way things were Fifty Years Before.

Anyway, as usual, All Change Please! likes to take this annual opportunity to report and reflect on its posts from the past twelve months in the pathetic hope you might be encouraged to re-read some of them, or, more likely, catch up on ones you didn’t read in the first place.

The three most read posts, presented in reverse order to increase the suspense, have been:

3. Just Williamson

With nothing better to do, All Change Please! likes to amuse itself by trying to be the first satirical educational blog to comment on the announcement of a new education secretary, which isn’t difficult as there aren’t many other satirical blogs out there for it to compete with.

Having likened Gavin Williamson to Richmal Crompton’s ‘William”, All Change Please! was careful not to mention the tarantula he keeps on his desk, and his being sacked for taking a Huawei leak while Defence Secretary, but hey – no-one’s perfect…

2. Michaela the Unconquerable

Now, to be quite clear, this post was not intended to be written as an angry attack on Michaela students, their hard work, politeness and consideration for others, their backgrounds or their success at gaining GCSE results – but it was meant as a considered critique of the school’s narrow conservative academic curriculum and strict behaviour policy.

1. Beyond Our Ken

This special edition of All Change Please! was a tribute to writer, designer and educationalist  who sadly recently passed away. Ken Baynes was one of the very few people who understood the potential of design education, not primarily as a means to produce a future generation of professional designers, but as a powerful and important learning experience for everyone, and one that potentially extended across the curriculum as a whole.

 

But as usual, All Change Please!’s favourite posts do not necessarily reflect the Will Of The People, and it would therefore also like to nominate:

Br’er Exit

“Well now, that rascal Br’er Exit hated Br’er EU on account of he was always cutting capers and bossing everyone around. So Br’er Exit decided to get rid of Br’er EU if it was the last thing he ever did! He thought and he thought until he came up with a plan. First he persuaded Br’er Dave to call a referendum. Then he fix up a contrapshun like a red bus, painted it with slogans he had made up and sat it in the middle de road.”

Also during the past twelve months All Change Please! has launched its audacious ‘Absolutely Absurd Alternative A to Z of Education…’ in which it reports on the different but also similar approaches to education on the nearby distant parallel Planet Urth…

‘A’ is for…

‘B is for…

‘C’ is for…

‘C’ is for… Continued

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beyond Our Ken

 

In memory of Ken Baynes, 1934 – 2019

This special edition of All Change Please! is a tribute to writer, designer and educationalist Ken Baynes who sadly recently passed away. Ken Baynes was one of the very few people who understood the potential of design education, not primarily as a means to produce a future generation of professional designers, but as a powerful and important learning experience for everyone, and one that potentially extended across the curriculum as a whole.

The support and encouragement Ken gave me during the 1980s was critical as I sought to establish one of the few secondary schools that actually attempted to deliver a developmental programme of design education from 11 to 18. In those days there was no National Curriculum, Ofsted inspection or league table regime that dictated what must be taught and as a result it was possible to easily explore new approaches to teaching and learning and curriculum content. The only problem was establishing the validity of what was being done, and to do that one needed convincing external approval, which Ken provided in abundance.

Informed and Inspired during the mid 1970s by his books ‘Industrial Design & the Community’, ‘Attitudes in Design education’ and ‘About Design’ I first met Ken at the Design Education Unit of the Royal College of Art in December of 1979. I recall two things about him. One was his enthusiasm trying to recruit me to undertake an MA there, which sadly I was never able to do. The other was that he was wearing cowboy boots.

Later in the 1980s he invited my school to contribute to an exhibition he was curating called ‘The ART of LEGO’, and we all spent many happy hours diving into two large tubs of assorted LEGO bricks to explore their potential as a modelling material. He visited the school on several occasions to participate in a range of one-day project workshops we ran. It also gave me the opportunity to visit him to discuss the exhibition on the splendid barge he lived in on the now unrecognisable Paddington Basin.

The last time I worked with Ken was in 2017 when he asked me to contribute to a Loughborough Design Press publication ‘Design Epistemology and Curriculum Planning’. As an essentially academic publication with a very academic title I said I wasn’t sure I could manage to write anything with the usual long list of book and journal references, to which he delightfully replied ‘We don’t want to know what you’ve read, we want to know what you think.’ He had the last laugh though: his contribution was a series of wonderful sketch drawings.

For the very first edition of the NSEAD JADE magazine, back in 1982, Ken contributed an article entitled ‘Beyond Design Education’. One paragraph in particular struck me as being of particular importance, and indeed is more relevant than ever today:

“I do not believe that the creation of visual literacy or design awareness is something that will yield to any grand curriculum strategy. It is a matter of footwork. It is a matter of detailed, local development. It is a matter of the ‘small print’ of teaching. It is to do with building up confidence. It is about people meeting to change one another and to create something new. At national level, it means encouraging diversity and unique local initiatives. It means putting people in touch with one another and leaving them to get on with it.“

In our current academic knowledge-obsessed, subject-based national curriculum there appears to be little space or opportunity for Ken’s vision to be realised. But at some point in the future we will perhaps come to accept that there is a need for an education that is more appropriate for today – let alone tomorrow. When we do, we must ensure that its architects and planners have access to Ken’s pioneering work that established the foundations of design education that are there ready, just waiting to be built on.

Punning on his article’s title, I had the idea that one day in the future I should write a follow-up piece entitled ‘Beyond Our Ken’. Sadly, many years later, this has proved to have been it.

If you had the pleasure of meeting or working with Ken, please do add your own memories and tributes below.

 

Photographs of Ken Baynes courtesy of Eileen Adams

‘C’ is for…. Continued

It’s been a long time coming, but here from All Change Please!’s Absolutely Absurd Alternative A to Z of Educashun is the rest of ‘C’ is for…

Just in case you’ve been living in an alternative reality and have missed ‘A’ is for…, ‘B’ is for… and ‘C’ is for… (Part Duh), then this is All Change Please!‘s report on its recent visit to Planet Urth. Being a parallel universe, their world of teaching and learning bears a striking resemblance to our own: many things are exactly the same, but due to their particular fractured timeline, some things are rather different in an interesting way.

Comparative Pears

Comparative Judgement involves comparing series of ‘pairs’ of school work with each other and deciding which is of higher quality. When applied across a range of pieces of work and compared by a team of judges a measurement scale, from best to worst, emerges. It has been found that this process is quicker and more reliable than the traditional method in which each piece of work is assessed separately by one judge.

On Planet Urth, this process was developed centuries ago and is known as ‘Comparative Pears Assessment’ and was derived from the fruit industry where the technique was developed to produce a reliable grading scale for pears.

 

 

 

Creativity and collaboration

On our planet, most people seem to have a very limited understanding of creativity that just involves being able to reproduce pretty pictures in the style of a famous artist, play a classical musical instrument, perform in the school play or be able to think of more than one possible use for a brick. At the same time, teachers who have simply told pupils to ‘work in groups’ quickly, and not surprisingly, decide that it’s an approach that isn’t going to work.

The fact that our current cohort of predominantly privately-educated, academic Russell Group University alumni politicians seem quite incapable of any creative collaborative problem-solving is a powerful indictment of what’s missing in our current education system: these days, knowledge on its own isn’t power.

On Planet Urth everybody understands that creativity and collaboration involve a great deal more. There learning about creativity is seen as acquiring a state of mind that is curious, persistently looking for and open to new ideas, searching for different ways of doing things, taking risks and transforming and combining things in original ways. Teachers have also realised that team work doesn’t just happen, and that learners need to be systematically taught how to analyse and improve the performance of their team. As such both creativity and collaboration are highly valued, planned across the curriculum and each year group, properly monitored and rigorously assessed – and not by writing an essay in the school hall.

Cognitive Load Theory

On Planet Urth ‘Cognitive Truck Overload Theory’ sensibly states that there’s only so much stuff you can pile on to a lorry before it won’t be able to move very far. Thus it becomes necessary to reduce the load – but how do you decide what to take off and what to leave on? The obvious answer for the supplier to simply take all the lightest items off and just deliver all the heaviest components, without realising that whoever is due to receive them needs them all to be able to assemble the product they are manufacturing. Thus a much better approach might be to take some of the lightest items off and some of the heaviest ones as well to achieve a balanced delivery.

Unfortunately in education on our Planet Earth the knowledge merchants don’t see it quite like that, because they are convinced that removing absolutely any of their facts and figures is out of the question. “We can’t do everything” they cry, so off come all what they consider to be the heavier creative problem-solving skills, critical analysis and collaborative work that they believe only adults should be allowed to manage, and on instead goes even more knowledge, all neatly and conveniently packaged into self-contained regular-sized and easily measurable subject boxes. Apparently in extreme cases it can even include removing things like classroom displays, experimental modelling activities, discussion – anything that gets in the way of those pure, unadulterated quickly-testable nuggets of knowledge, delivered from the front of the class.

In real life we face a constant process of deciding how to allocate our time between absorbing, responding to and exploring new material and deciding how and when to best apply it. Loading and off-loading what we are trying to remember according to its importance at a given moment is in itself a high-level skill children need to be learning and developing as they grow up, rather than just having it decided for them by so-called grown-ups.

Commuter Studies

Commuting was first introduced into schools during the 1980s. Commuters in schools are often to be found crowded together in special rooms that contain workstations, and discussing the timetable and which platforms to use. They are staffed by special teachers known as servers, presumably because they spend their time serving tea and coffee to everyone.

The lights in these commuter rooms are always flickering as they are constantly being turned off and on again.

Cross-curricular

Cross-curricular work happens in schools where teachers use an interdisciplinary approach to learning that involves exploring the connections that exist naturally between subjects, just as it does in the real world children will encounter when they leave school. However, as it involves taking considerable risks and teachers need to step outside their specialisms, many of them get very agitated and upset when trying cross-curricular approaches.

Hence their belief that the opposite to a cross curricular approach is a happy curricular approach.

Constantinople

“Constantinople is a very long word. Can you spell it?”
This sums up the level of popular grammar schoolboy humour in the 1960s – the unfortunate victim proceeds to spell ‘C – o – n.., before being informed with mock astonishment that he doesn’t know how to spell the word ‘it’. What a laugh! Even more extraordinary is that at the time Constantinople was still thought of as being the capital of Turkey, even though it had officially become Istanbul in 1923, so the joke probably dates back to to an even earlier time. So much for the non-existent coverage of current affairs at the time. Generally speaking, if it happened after 1900, it wasn’t on the curriculum.

Cursive writing

A lot of people are concerned that children are no longer being taught cursive writing. However, on Planet Urth more progressive teachers are now discouraging children from learning how to write curses as it is generally considered to be anti-social, there’s quite enough of it on TV already, and anyway these days it’s difficult to find regular employment as a witch.

Along with learning how to write spells (known as ‘Spelling’), it’s seen as yet another example of children being taught things that are out-of-date ‘just in case’ they ever need them at some point in the future.

 

 

So that’s it for the letter C, but watch out there’s a letter D on its way soon…

 

Photo credits:  Carol Mitchell/Flickr , Pixabay.

Michaela The Unconquerable

William Ernest Henley (23 August 1849 – 11 July 1903) was an influential English poet, critic and editor of the late Victorian era in England.

Back in July, just before the very end of the Summer Term when outdoor manoeuvres (AKA school trips) are in full swing, the Twittersphere exploded over a short video showing a group of young teenagers from THAT school in North East London – the one that seems to believe ‘All You Need Is Knowledge’ – standing on an above-ground underground platform vociferously and enthusiastically chanting their school poem: W. E. Henley’s ‘Invictus’. Some of those who saw the video online apparently responded with a salvo of abusive tweets, and consequently the teacher in charge felt the need to delete the video and make her account private. But the real flack came from the assembled ranks of shell-shocked traditional teachers expressing their undying support for the teacher, that teachers should be free to celebrate the pupils’ achievements, and that performing poetry in public was a fine and worthy thing to do. Which, of course, in itself is fair enough. Up to a point.

Now, to be quite clear, this post is not intended to be written as an angry attack on Michaela students, their hard work, politeness and consideration for others, their backgrounds or their success at gaining GCSE results – but it is meant as a considered critique of the school’s narrow conservative academic curriculum and strict behaviour policy.

At the same time, All Change Please! wishes to make it quite clear that it does not in any way support abusive tweets, although surely anyone who publishes anything on the internet should perhaps not be too surprised that they become liable to receiving such responses and then find themselves having to deal with the fall-out. And if the Headmistress wants other people to ‘LEAVE MY KIDS ALONE’, as she often Tweets, she should not be exposing them on social media in the first place.

Meanwhile in the Trads’ responses on Twitter it was apparent that none of them seemed in any way interested in discussing or even thinking about why some people might not have been as impressed and delighted by the public performance as they were. They seemed unwilling to accept that others might have a different viewpoint, or that there are complex politically motivated and culturally-infused issues involved.

 

However, All Change Please! did actually manage to catch the video before it was deleted, and has to confess it did find it somewhat sinister, and has since been wondering exactly why it felt so bothered by it?

Let’s change the scene slightly. In this version a group of similar aged school-children are huddled together in a group singing a popular song. A few more are standing apart from the group chatting, not wishing to join in. They are dressed, like the majority of school children today, in slightly subverted versions of their school uniform – formal blazers and ties are not terribly fashionable at present, even in the workplace where smart casual is now more the expected order of the day. All Change Please! can’t imagine anyone being in any way particularly offended by this scene, whatever school they came from.

But the actual video showed the children in the semblance of a straight line along the platform, facing the front, all very smartly turned out in their extremely neat and tidy uniforms. Their teacher was visibly conducting them, making sure they were chanting the poem to the beat.

And then there is the poem itself: ‘Invictus’ was written by Henley in the early 1870s as he was recovering from a tubercular infection that resulted in the loss of one of his legs. As such it’s typically full of dark and disturbing Victorian style and sentimentality and in particular is about the prospect of death and having the courage to gloriously fight on regardless.

The last two lines are the most frequently quoted as they potently remind us that we need to take responsibility for making sure we make the most of things whatever the circumstances. However the rest of the poem is not generally well known. It’s along the lines of Kipling’s ‘If’ or Tennyson’s ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ – verses best suited to being learned by heart and taking a moral message from, as opposed to the study of more challenging poetry that explores more conflicting and ambiguous impressions and themes. Of course that’s not to entirely object to children studying it in the classroom and understanding it in the context of the time and religious culture it was written in – but to promote it as a celebratory ‘school poem’ with its dark, disturbing imagery of the darkness of hell and bloody bludgeonings that will be deeply embedded in their minds for the rest of their lives, seems somehow rather inappropriate.

Now perhaps All Change Please! has a rather over-active and vivid imagination, but the video clip it saw was somehow a scene from the turn of the early 20th Century, and these weren’t schoolchildren of Today, but regularly and neatly-uniformed, subservient foot soldiers lined up about to board a train for the front, keeping their spirits up under the stern leadership of their Sergeant Major, in preparation for the grim adversities that lie ahead, and the courage and fighting spirit that will be needed to conquer them. Is this the image of the future we want to project of what life is going to be like for these children in the 21st century?

Colourised photo of soldiers leaving Letchworth, 1914

While it’s not a scene that deserves social media abuse, it is one that deserves discussion as to whether it is an appropriate approach to education in this day and age, and to the imposition of supposedly ‘lost’ British values from Victorian times, that many would prefer to see remain lost. Do we really want to recreate and reinforce 150 year old Victorian values and behaviours in our children? Surely our children need to learn from the past to understand the present and prepare for the future – not to just blindly repeat it, line by line.

The worry is that Michaela’s children – and indeed all those from the growing number of similar schools that aim to follow their lead – will not be well prepared to deal with the values, behaviours and ambiguities of the real, complex, inconsistent, unstructured modern technological world that they will discover when they find themselves on their own, far outside the comfort zone of their safe, friendly and nostalgic school environment. Perhaps it might help if the school included some technology-related subjects in its curriculum (children do not study IT/Computing, or D&T) and aimed to teach their pupils when and how to use smart phones and iPads for appropriate and effective learning and communication, instead of just banning them outright?

Clearly there are a number of politicians, teachers and parents determined to live in the past and ignore the fact that we now live in a global, technological age. While there is choice in the system for those teachers, parents and children who do or do not wish to belong to such a school, then perhaps it doesn’t matter. That is as long as there is still such a choice in the system…

Meanwhile, the members of the Michaela Community Free School Fan-base seem to believe that their successful GCSE results are a worthy vindication of Michael Gove’s policies that will provide more than enough ammunition to silence the guns of their more ‘progressive’ critics: they are likely to be disappointed. Indeed just the other day this highly apposite cartoon appeared as a comment on the Df-ingE’s widespread use of the Michaela school’s GCSE results to promote its highly controversial Free School Movement:

Unsurprisingly it drew a ballistic response from Michaela’s Headmistress who continues to see any criticism as an attack on ‘her’ children rather than the values and methodologies of the institution itself and of the Df-ingE – and to fail to accept that there’s more than one way to change the world for the better.

 

‘If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow’
John Dewey, 1915

 

 

With thanks to Stan Dunn for his cartoon, currently appearing on Twitter, and AJ.

Image of WE Henley: Wikipedia

Image of soldiers at Letchworth: DanHillHistory on Twitter

 

 

It’s Just Williamson at the Df-ingE

Having nothing better to do, All Change Please! likes to amuse itself by trying to be the first satirical educational blog to comment on the announcement of a new education secretary as it successfully did with Miss Piggy and Damian Hindsight, – who it seems had the foresight to resign just before he was given the push. For All Change Please! to achieve this remarkable accolade is not actually particularly difficult, given that there don’t seem to be any other satirical educational blogs around.

In preparation for the exciting revelation – during the current episode of ‘Number 10 Island’ – of the next Secretary in a State about Education, All Change Please! did a little preliminary research into the runners and riders and discovered that the bookies favourites were Jo Johnson, Gavin Williamson and Andrea Loathsome.

BoJo’s younger and probably smarter brother JoJo, aside from being a man who thought he was a loner, appeared to have no previous interest in or experience of education, so initially seemed the most likely choice.

The least said about Andrea Loathsome the better, except she apparently has a particular interest in Primary Education – having once attended one herself and subsequently having children of her own who also went to one. And of course not forgetting her extensive experience of being Leader of the House of Commons, which indeed was very similar to being a Primary School teacher: “No, Andrea, Don’t do that dear…

But it was Gavin ‘Just William’ son, who surprisingly enough emerged as potentially the best candidate. Unlike many current politicians who never went to school (unless of course you count Eton), Just Williamson knows everything about education because he attended state primary and comprehensive schools before going to a non-Russell Group University in somewhere called the North of England and actually worked as a managing director of a Staffordshire-based pottery firm. And as well as his wife being a former Primary School teacher, Just Williamson has also been a school governor. But even more encouragingly, in his maiden speech on 8 June 2010, he said:

“We do not sing enough the praises of our designers, engineers and manufacturers…We will have a truly vibrant economy only when we recreate the Victorian spirit of ingenuity and inventiveness that made Britain such a vibrant country, as I am sure it will be again.”

So perhaps we’ll see D&T back on the curriculum?

Meanwhile All Change Please! won’t mention the tarantula he keeps on his desk, and his being sacked for taking a Huawei leak while Defence Secretary, but hey – no-one’s perfect…

And shortly before 8:30 pm it was announced that the winner is…

…Just Williamson!

 

Well just thank goodness it wasn’t Nick Gibb.

 

 

All The Latest D&T Spiel

High noise, low output and sticking with the normal position won’t save D&T in its present format.

Regular readers might, but probably haven’t, realised that it’s been a long time since All Change Please!’s last post. There have been two main reasons for this: the first is that it has been very busy with other projects – one of which involves irritating things like failing to meet impossible deadlines and earning breadcrumbs in return – and the second reason is that there just has not been much happening in education to write about recently – somewhat inexplicably, the affairs of a certain bumbling Boris de Pif Paf Pfeffel Wiffle Waffle Johnson seem to be dominating everything at present.

Until the other day that is when Little Ms Spiel, Head of F-OFSTED broke cover and spoke forth at some length about the substantial drop in the number of children taking Design & Technology to GCSE over the past twenty years. She identified a number of contributing reasons, such as:

  • Lack of status
  • End of compulsory D&T at KS4
  • Parity of BTTECs
  • Lack of teacher expertise and training
  • School Budget restrictions
  • Teaching to the test
  • Teacher retention

All of which had apparently seemed to have been happening before 2011, so the decline couldn’t possibly be blamed on the current government, the EBacc or Progress 8 measures, could it?

Although Little Ms Spiel seems to realise that there is more to D&T than is dreamt of in most D&T lessons, she sill insists on perciving it as to do with the training of future designers rather than for its more general educational content in terms of teaching open-ended problem-solving and its appeal and value to the less academic amongst us. And, like so many who have never worked in a creative field, she perpetuates the currently popular ill-informed nonsense that ‘Creativity is rooted in learning a craft or skill and in having knowledge’. Perhaps if our future politicians and leaders understood more about design and creativity they might find themselves better equipped to solve some of our nation’s seemingly unsolvable problems?

Little Ms Spiel’s comments have at least been helpful in identifying and raising the profile of the issues but her understanding of what to do about it appears limited, and so we seem set for yet another patch and mend approach. Sadly she has not really got to the heart of the matter, which is that D&T, like most of its teachers and the form in which it is currently examined, has become hopelessly out of date. Design and Technology in the real world has moved forward a lot in the past 30 years. D&T in schools hasn’t, and as a result children are voting with their, err., smart phones.

With a small number of notable exceptions, D&T is still mainly the domain of woodwork and metalwork teachers, determined to prolong the active life of bird-boxes, key fobs, and pizza cutters at KS3. The new GCSE D&T specification has come as somewhat as a shock to them as students are now expected to identify their own design opportunities, which of course they have been completely unprepared for. And as consequence traditional CDT teachers have been forced into complaining about the resulting lack of quality in the final ‘making’ instead of an increasing quality of their students’ designing.

Not that the new GCSE is by any means well-matched to good D&T practice, given that the so-called ‘non-examined’ project work is still micro-marked, and that 50% of the marks are earned from an academic, knowledge-based written paper that reveals nothing about teenagers actual Design and technological capability.

The reality is that Design & Technology in the majority of schools is long past its sell-by date. Originally introduced in the 1970s as a then much needed development of traditional craftwork lessons, if it had been a product in the shops it would have been sold off at half-price before being discontinued years ago, and be replaced by a completely re-conceived, brand new digital version: think the difference between a tethered dial-up phone and a smart phone of today, or of a pre-Walkman cassette player and a streamed mp3 file. Indeed the newly revised course is still largely modelled on the 1960s notion of an Industrial designer – except with a bit of CAD and 3D printing thrown in for good measure – a job that as such hardly exists anymore.

D&T needs to be reconfigured as an entirely new learning experience, led and delivered by a completely new breed of teachers who are not primarily driven by a desire to revive traditional craft DIY skills, but to embrace design and systems thinking and the digital maker movement through collaborative open-ended research, modelling and communication, critical analysis and creative problem solving that ultimately produces satisfying user experiences that explore the brave new interfaces between the digital and the real world. These teachers will need to come from a variety of vocational and academic disciplines, including the Sciences, Humanities and the Arts.

But this is not, of course, to say that All Change Please! wants to see the traditional crafts disappear from the curriculum. Indeed it’s essential they are retained. Our children need to continue to learn through the direct manipulation of real materials such as woods, metals, plastics, ceramics, fibre and glass with the intention of producing quality items of beauty, functionality and great accuracy, and to be taught to do so by highly skilled, experienced and passionate makers. But let’s call, appreciate and assess the crafts for what they actually are, and not some muddled mash-up of so-called design, making and sometimes using a computer to help do it.

Until then, All Change Please’s A to Z of Educashun will return soon after its short commercial break.

‘C’ is for…

Next up in ‘All Change Please!’s Absolutely Absurd Alternative A to Z of Educashun’ is the letter ‘C’. For some curious reason schools are full of things that begin with the letter ‘C’. Here are just a few – with more to come later.

If you somehow managed to miss them, here are links to ‘A’ is for… and ‘B’ is for…

Careers

On Planet Urth Careers Education is taken very seriously in schools, and children are positively encouraged to consider a wide range of possibilities, including working in Business, the Arts and the IT industry. For many, technical and vocational courses in Further Education are seen as being more appropriate and interesting than academic University courses, which can always be taken up at a later date as part of a well-established programme of life-long learning. There are well-established links with local, regional, national and international employers.

Back here on Earth, the only thing that seems to matter in schools is for students to get into a prestigious Russell Group University, and anyway, why does a car need ears anyway?

Carry On Teacher

One of the annoying little problems in education these days is the fact that no-one wants to be a teacher anymore, and those that already are tend to leave and starting writing regular blog posts that are highly critical of government policies and politicians. On Planet Urth the Df-ingE has therefore commissioned a new film intended to promote the profession. It’s called ‘Carry on Teacher’, and is set during a school inspection in 1958. If that doesn’t bring them back, what will?

Classrooms

The first schools on Planet Urth were built on three floors, and the rooms were allocated to children based on their social class, hence the name ‘class-rooms’. The rooms in the dark and damp basements were for lower class children, while the ground floor class-rooms were for children whose middle class parents could just about afford to pay the fees if they scrimped and saved. The uppermost floor class-rooms, which were airy and bright, were for the extremely wealthy upper classes who didn’t have to worry about money at all. They often featured ivory towers from which the gleaming spires of Oxford could be clearly seen from the windows.

Some of these schools had separate buildings to one side known as ‘workshops’. Badly-behaved, less academic children would be sent to these rooms to work at making useful items that were then sold on at a profit to the school, hence their name ‘work-shops’.

Chemistry

Chemistry teachers frequently claim theirs is the best subject on the curriculum because of all the unpleasant smells and explosions that occur in various experiments, as they believe that this is something that all children enjoy. This is strange because in later life we go to a lot of trouble to avoid unpleasant smells, or being anywhere near anything that is likely to explode. It’s also a puzzle as to why they’re called ‘experiments’ as the teacher knows exactly what the results are going to be, unless of course the lab technician has put the wrong chemicals out.

Chemistry teaches us that if we look at the things around us through powerful microscopes we are able to see that the world is made up out of a series of tiny colourful billiard balls, all connected together with plastic drinking straws.

More inquisitive students have questioned the point of having a periodic table without periodic chairs to go around it.

Children

It’s often forgotten, especially by politicians, that children play an important part in education – indeed without them there would not be any schools in the first place. Despite this most conferences, seminars and discussions about education take place without any children in the building.

Teachers seem to hold one of two distinct views about children. The first is that they are empty vessels to be unquestioningly filled up with knowledge by vastly superior adults, and the second is that they actually have their own thoughts about what and how they need to learn, and it can be well worthwhile entering into some form of dialogue with them. In the real world the supplier of any product or service who does not in some way consult and try to understand the needs and wants of their potential users is destined to be a failure.

On Planet Urth, things are much less binary. Teachers and politicians listen to children and respond to their learning needs by building a flexible framework for them to move more freely through. This combines a rich mixture of teacher-led knowledge input and exploratory learning.

Clever clogs

No-one likes an irritating, know-it-all clever-clogs, so it’s a bit odd that that’s exactly what the government seems to want everybody to be. Mind you most politicians often like to pretend they are clever-clogs, which probably explains why they generally don’t have many friends.

Back in around the 18th Century the first ‘clever-clogs’ were actually called ‘clever-boots’. They were always at logger-heads with rival gangs of ‘bossy-boots’ and used to go to Margate on Bank holidays for a good kick-about. However, back in those days most forms of footware were highly alliterate so they decided to change their name to ‘clever-clogs’.

Of course some clogs are cleverer than others, and manage to decorate themselves with intricate designs so that everyone knows they’ve been to a really good university. Less clever clogs end up working much harder having to actually make stuff and so wear plainer, more functional clogs.

A new generation of wi-fi, internet-enabled ‘Clever Clogs 2.0’ are expected to launch soon, and will be called ‘Smart Shoes’. They will doubtless be immediately banned in schools.

Constructivism

On Planet Urth schools and politicians understand and apply the Constructivist approach in which children learn best when they are allowed to construct a personal understanding based on experiencing things and reflecting on those experiences.

Meanwhile here on our most wonderful Planet Earth, schools and politicians understand and apply the term Constructivism as children learning through constructing wooden boxes in their D&T lessons, which, because it doesn’t teach them any academic facts, is seen as being a complete waste of time, not to mention wood.

 

Continued (To be…)

Tune in again soon to learn all about some more things beginning with the letter ‘C‘, such as: Creativity and Collaboration, Cognitive Lorry Overload Theory, Commuter Studies, Constantinople, Cross-curricular and Cursive Writing.

‘B’ is for….

Yes, it’s the second exciting volume of ‘All Change Please!’s Absolutely Absurd Alternative A to Z of Educashun’ in which it reports back on its recent visit to Planet Urth. Being a parallel universe, their world of teaching and learning bears a striking resemblance to our own: many things are exactly the same, but due to their particular fractured timeline, some things are rather different in an interesting way.

If somehow you managed to miss ‘A’ is for…, then you can  catch up here.

 

Bash Street Kids (from the 1954 Beano Report into Education)

On Planet Urth The Bash Street Kids were created in the early 1950s as a model for schools in the second half of the 20th Century. The kids were highly subversive and learnt quickly how to take charge of an oppressive situation and turn it to their own advantage, thus acquiring essential skills for the future. Unfortunately as a result of cuts to public services, today’s schools are still exactly the same as they were before. Perhaps when Smiffy, Danny and Plug grow up and all become successful politicians in charge of education, things will finally start to change. Let’s face it – they couldn’t do a worse job than the current ones.

Billy Bunter

Billy Bunter is a fictional schoolboy. According to Wikipedia he features in stories set at Greyfriars School, where he is in the Lower Fourth Form (Year 9 in New Money). Bunter’s defining characteristic is his greediness and dramatically overweight appearance. His character is, in many respects, a highly obnoxious anti-hero. As well as his gluttony, he is also obtuse, lazy, racist, inquisitive, deceitful, slothful, self-important and conceited, although he does not realise any of this. In his own mind he is an exemplary character: handsome, talented and aristocratic. All these, combined with Bunter’s cheery optimism, his comically transparent untruthfulness and inept attempts to conceal his antics from his schoolmasters and schoolfellows, combine to make a character that succeeds in being highly entertaining but which rarely attracts the reader’s lasting sympathy.

But that’s all on Planet Urth. Of course, no politician in public life on this planet whose name begins with B could possibly resemble this monstrous character in any way… or could they?

Blackboard

The blackboard was invented in the mid 19th century in America, but, quite unlike the introduction of change in schools today, many teachers refused to use them at first and demanded they be removed as it needed them to alter the way they taught: they were now required to stand at the front of the class with everyone staring up at them, which understandably they found somewhat off-putting.

On Planet Urth during the latter half for the 20th century as part of the move towards political correctness blackboards were renamed as whiteboards. Today they are known as ‘interactive’ whiteboards, although the first interactive whiteboard was invented by one of All Change Please!’s very own teachers in the 1960s (Geography, natch) who instructed his class to ‘Watch the board while I go through it‘. He was also famous for telling one boy ‘If you need to use a rubber, use the boy’s behind‘, and instructing another to ‘Go and see if you can squeeze some more milk out of the dinner ladies‘. But that’s another story…

Blended learning

Blended learning is an approach to education that combines a mixture of a variety of digital online and printed educational materials and opportunities for traditional face-to-face teaching and distance learning techniques.

These are then all crammed into an industrial-sized blender and emerge as a strange looking, tasteless, mushy dark green pulp which is then drip-fed to all students to regurgitate as and when required.

 

 

Board rubber

On Planet Urth the board rubber was invented on in the mid 1880s expressly for the purpose of throwing at children who were not paying attention in class. It was only many years later that some of the more progressive teachers realised that it provided an effective means of creating chalk-dust clouds in the classroom and they could pick on some poor unfortunate child to be ‘board monitor’ to save them the job of having to clean the board before each lesson.

Boarding School

Most children find schoolwork boring and their subsequent employment tedious. Boarding schools on Planet Urth are where wealthy parents send unwanted children to learn how to be the best at being bored. Instead of expending all that energy doing interesting stuff and exploring their world, taking responsibility for themselves and having fun, they are taught how to sit still and keep quiet, and to do exactly as they are told by highly experienced boring adults who are largely well past their best-before date.

Brexit

So far, Brexit has had very little to do with the improvement of education, which is probably why there has been very little improvement in education in recent years. Which is pretty daft, because we’re going to need some major improvements in schools to produce the young people we are going to need to get us out of the current Brexitmess we are creating for them.

Meanwhile Theresa May’s assertion that ‘Brexit means Brexit’ has caused some problems for the Awarding Bodies. For example, when students have been asked in an exam what the meaning of the word ‘Equivocation’ is, they have answered: ‘Equivocation means Equivocation’, which is factually correct and therefore has to be given full marks.

Of course some examiners have argued that Mrs May never means what she says, and thus have not given such an answer any credit. In this situation many candidates have demanded endless meaningless indicative re-marks until they finally get the result they want.

Bullying Policy

Thankfully these days all schools on Planet Urth have carefully worded Bullying Policies. These lay out the correct procedures for teachers to follow when bullying children, including how to most effectively demean them in front of their friends, the frequency of telling them how worthless they are and when to threaten them with perpetual detention if they do not do exactly as they are told. There are special sections on picking on and shouting aggressively at children in the face for relatively minor incidents using a policy somewhat strangely called ‘flattening the grass’, apparently intended to get rid of bad behaviour and ‘create a level playing field’.

Such so-called teachers would surely be better employed flattening some real grass outside on the school playing field, ideally in the pouring rain.

 

So that’s it for ‘B’ – watch out for ‘C is for...’ coming your way soon.

 

‘A’ is for…

The universe an absurdly weird place. And, when you start to think about it, one of the weirdest things in our universe are the schools where we prepare our children for their adult lives. And now they are about to get a whole lot more absurd as All Change Please! slips down a handy quantum-encrusted wormhole to discover an alternative, sometimes more enlightened but often just as weird parallel universe called Planet Urth.

This is the first in a series of posts entitled ‘All Change Please!’s Absolutely Absurd Alternative A to Z of Educashun’ in which it reports back on its recent visit to Planet Urth. Being a parallel universe, their world of teaching and learning bears a striking resemblance to our own: many things are exactly the same, but due to their particular fractured timeline, some things are rather different in an interesting way.

Be warned: you may never think of Education in the same way again….

ABC

On Planet Urth learning the ABC is one of the basic 2×4 red and white LEGO building bricks of education. In earlier times only the very wealthy who went to private schools could afford to learn the alphabet. It was eventually the introduction of mass-produced, widely available and affordable Alphabetti Spaghetti there in the 1930s that revolutionised teaching methods, although it was rejected by many teachers who preferred standing at the front of the class endlessly shouting it out while the children made notes.

Some children still find the order of the ABC difficult to learn and often ask their teacher why the letters are in that particular order. They mainly do this because they know the teacher doesn’t know the answer, which is that no-one really knows. The latest theory is that the letters were drawn at random in that order one day during an extended episode of Countdown.

The secret to the success of the alphabet is that because the letters are in a particular order it makes them easier to be taught to much larger classes through chanting. This avoids children claiming they knew all the letters but were just reciting them in the wrong order.

Academics

Academics cleverly called themselves a name beginning with an A in order to emphasise their importance by appearing early in the dictionary. An earlier suggestion on Planet Urth was that they should be called Aardvarks was narrowly rejected, which, when you think about it, was a bit of a shame.

For some inexplicable reason, everyone thinks they want to be an academic when they grow up, with little or no practical ability in the real world, other than to end up teaching the next generation of academics. A bit like the ‘product life cycle’, this is known as the ‘academic life-cycle’, which probably explains why so many academics ride around on bicycles.

Aesthetics

One of the weirdest ideas on Planet Urth is that some children are given a colourful cocktail of pleasurable aesthetic experiences so they won’t be conscious during an unpleasant practical procedure. General aesthetics are sometimes administered to help difficult students get through complex sessions so that they fall into an alternative state of consciousness and don’t disturb other learners. In shorter lessons a milder, more musical local aesthetic will often be sufficient.

Some schools run academic courses in the theory of aesthetics, but students in these classes tend to fall asleep very quickly of their own accord.

An Apple for Teacher

Some people, and especially those that are Daily Wail readers on Planet Urth, believe that the idea of giving your teacher an apple as a present originated when an apple dropped on the young Sir Issac Newton’s head and he took it into his teacher to explain what this thing called gravity was that he’d just invented. Today, in the more enlightened 21st Century, teachers often tell children that the fruit is not the sort of apple that is appropriate anymore and that they should be giving them an Apple iPhone instead. It is not known how successful this approach has been.

Out there on the internet there are, however, other much less believable theories as to the derivation of the idea: for example, the apple represents the ‘fruit of knowledge’ – the forbidden fruit unwittingly plucked by Eve and for which God put her in perpetual Detention.

Or perhaps it originated in the 19th Century American mid-west where families whose children attended schools were often responsible for housing and feeding their teachers, and who supplied them with apples as a token of appreciation? The Df-ingE has denied it has been considering a similar arrangement for funding education in post-Brexit Britain, but a spokesperson did remark that it seemed like ‘an interesting idea worth looking into’.

Art

Another of the more startlingly different ideas on Planet Urth is that having attended Art School is a pre-requisite for becoming a politician, so they really do have a real understanding of creativity and problem-solving and that Art involves a lot more than colouring things in, learning the names of famous artists and being able to produce skillful reproductions of well known paintings and then writing an essay about them. There everyone understands that Art isn’t just for thick kids who are good with their hands and who might benefit from a more relaxing therapeutic re-creational subject, instead of dragging down the results of a much more important academic subject.

Asking Questions

People on Planet Urth place much more importance on developing curiosity and enquiring mind. As a result schools place a great deal of emphasis on teaching children how to ask interesting questions that are often difficult to answer. In fact they all take a GCSE in which instead of writing answers to questions set by examiners, they have to write the questions themselves. They then need to outline how they would set about finding the answers, e.g., who would they ask and what sources they might refer to. Top marks are awarded for questions that are deemed to be of great significance and importance, and to which it is unlikely will ever be fully answered.

Meanwhile on Planet Earth the inhabitants are of course quick to point out that you can’t make any money just asking interesting questions all the time. Except you can if you become a member of the Quora Partner Program. The more people who view your question thread, the more you earn…

Assembly

In Roman times citizens used to gather round in the forum to listen to the great and the good make speeches. Today, while the rest of us receive the wisdom of our leaders though TV, Facebook and Twitter, sadly schools on both planets still attempt to keep the old ways alive by making children assemble in silence in regimented rows in the school hall once a day to hear the deputy head make a speech that no-one bothers to listen to because they know there isn’t going to be a test on it afterwards.

A funny thing happened on All Change Please!‘s way to a school assembly once, but that’s another story.

Assessment

Many people in education say that assessment is ‘the tail that wags the dog’. This might make sense if you attend the Barbara Woodhouse Academy for Young Puppies, but for everyone else it’s a load of bollocks. Dogs wag their tails when they are pleased or excited, not when they are sitting their GCSEs.

On Planet Urth dogs are only assessed when they are ready, and on what new tricks they have actually learned, rather than what academic knowledge some barking-mad, sly-dog politician thinks they should have learned.

Awe and wonder

At the turn of the 21st century, Ofsted expected schools to demonstrate that pupils were experiencing ‘awe and wonder’ during their lessons, or as one nameless maverick inspector on Planet Urth once wrote on his Evidence Form: ‘There was plenty of ore in the metalwork lessons, but the children’s attention soon began to wander…’

Tune in again soon for the next exciting installment of All Change Please!‘s Alternative A to Z of Education, which not unsurprisingly features the letter B

 

Image credits:  Image credits: Pixabay (all), except School Assembly:

Roman Forum (Wikimedia Commons)

Saint John’s School (Flickr Commons)

Mr Glibbly Does Mastermind

Mr Glibbly seems to have been very busy recently. First there was the statement he made about Music Education, in which he revealed how little he actually knew and understood about the subject. Then there were his remarks on the need to ban mobile phones in school, in which he revealed how little he actually knew and understood about the subject. And this week he spoke forth his words of wisdom about getting more girls to study STEM subjects, which, not really surprisingly, revealed how little he actually knew and understood about STEM.

So after last week’s wasted attempt to sit Mr Glibbly down with a nice cup of tea and explain the facts of life as about mobile phones to him, this week All Change Please! thought it would challenge him to a session of Mastermind. Here’s what happened…

Your name is:

Mr Glibbly

Your occupation is:

Secretary in a State about Education

And your chosen specialist subject this week is:

STEM.

Time starts now…

1. What is STEM?

Glibbly: That’s easy – it’s the knowedge-rich study of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics subjects.

Incorrect. STEM is the practical study of the inter-relationship between Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics subjects. There’s not really any such thing as a STEM subject, just subjects that make a contribution to STEM.

2. What is STEAM?

Err. The stuff that comes out of kettles when the water gets hot?

No. The correct answer is the practical study of the inter-relationship between Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics subjects.

3. Has it ever occurred to you that including the Arts in STEM would help make it more attractive to many girls and provide a more balanced approach to future innovations in which human needs would be better matched to our technological capabilties?

Good Lord, No…

Yes, correct! It obviously hasn’t ever occurred to you.

4. What exactly are the ‘STEM skills’ to which you refer?

Learning more and more easily assessable knowledge and facts about Physics, Maths and Coding of course.

No. STEM skills are about things such as planning and organising, creative problem solving, working collaboratively in an inter-disciplinary way, and communicating information effectively.

5. Recent research published by the Df-ingE apparently shows that:

“15-year-old boys are more likely than girls to see STEM subjects as being useful when it comes to getting a job and that girls are less likely to consider a STEM subject as their favourite.”

Is it now government policy that in future boys should only be encouraged to choose useful subjects that will lead to a job, while girls should be free to choose whichever subjects they like doing best?

Well, err, no of course not.

Incorrect. Because that’s exactly what you just suggested it was.

6. You also said you were:

“funding programmes to increase the take up of maths, computing and physics”.

What are you going to do about Engineering, Technology and the other Sciences? In particular why is Design and Technology, which in many respects embodies the underlying inter-disciplinary nature of STEM, being completely ignored?

Err. Let me see. Wait, I know the answer to this one. Oh yes, that’s it: ‘We have reformed the school curriculum to make sure it meets the needs of employers.’

Are you having a laugh?

7. How do you justify calling on “teachers, parents and society in general to challenge and dispel misconceptions some girls have about Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects”, when you don’t even understand what it is yourself?

Well, as I said a moment ago – ‘We have reformed the school curriculum to make sure it meets the needs of employers.’ And what’s more I’ve started, so I’m going to finish…

No. The correct answer is that you obviously are not able to justify doing so.

8. How well do you think you have done as Secretary in a State?

Err. Pass?

Incorrect. You scored just one mark, and therefore you’ve not passed, you’ve failed.

If you’d like to be a candidate on a future edition of Mastermind… don’t become a politician.

 

PS. Mr Glibbly – perhaps some of these downloadable STEM Role Model Posters that celebrate Women Innovators as illustrated by Women Artists might help?