Lord only knows?

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There was extensive gnashing of teeth when the menacing Lord Gnasher recently spoke in the House of Lords.

The Most Excellent Earl of Clancarty had secured a short debate in the House of Lords to ask what effect the EBacc requirements will have on ensuring that children receive a balanced and rounded education in schools. In his opening speech he said:

“Children will not necessarily be excited by everything. Real social justice is to treat children as individuals who are open to a variety of possibilities. The narrow and, crucially, uniformly set EBacc curriculum…leave very little room, if any, for art, music and drama, or other subjects, including technological courses.

The EBacc is a flawed measure. It should either be radically reformed, or dropped entirely.

In this sense, an EBacc without the arts should be unthinkable; a core curriculum without the arts will not raise standards but lower them. Students being able to make connections between disparate subjects is not only part of the learning process; it will be that innovation that fires the future… Finally, a rounded education treats the main areas of education as being of equal value.”

Other excellent contributions to the debate included:

Baroness Morris of Yardley (Lab): There is nothing to stop schools doing art, drama and all those things… However, the reality is that schools are not doing so and are losing the facilities needed. The teachers are not being recruited. The time is not being made available.

Baroness Pinnock (LD): The business leader said that what business wanted was soft skills in young people entering the world of work. He defined these as the ability to communicate, to collaborate, to co-operate in a team, to be critical and to work on projects—none of which he felt would be developed in young people through the EBacc diet.

Altogether, we are proposing a narrow diet for our young people when they face the world of work which is opening up. I beg the Minister to reconsider what he is offering.

Lord Freyberg (CB): our creative industries account for one in 12 jobs and have been the fastest growing sector in the UK economy, increasing by 15.8% since 2011 to 1.8 million jobs and contributing some £84 billion to the UK economy. …our country is already crying out for a combination of creative—in particular, design—and technical skills.

…a recent report, commissioned by the Creative Industries Federation, highlighted that countries such as China, South Korea and Brazil have learned from our success and are investing heavily in their creative education because they, too, can see the economic value of culture.

Lord Aberdare (CB): I am also struck by the lack of focus on digital skills in the EBacc proposals. The report published last February by the Digital Skills Committee, on which I served, argues that digital literacy should be taught as a core subject alongside numeracy and literacy and be embedded across all subjects and throughout the curriculum, but it seems to appear in the EBacc only in the guise of computing as an optional science subject.

Lord Watson of Invergowrie (Lab): Only 39% of students took the EBacc in the past academic year. Yet already there has been a significant effect on other subjects since 2010—most notably, on what I argue is the key subject of design and technology, for which there has been a 29% drop in take-up. The curriculum should not be driven by the needs of the minority who are going to the most selective universities.

And then it was the turn of the The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State from the Df-ingE to respond:

Lord Nash (Milton Abbey Independent Boarding school and Oxford, Corpus Christi, studying Law, Con.). Yes, that’s the same Lord Nash who in April 3013 was co-chairman of the governors who appointed an unqualified teacher as headmistress at the new Pimlico primary school ahead of its opening in September. Further criticism followed when she resigned after four weeks in the job…:

“I welcome the chance to explain our thinking behind the EBacc and to share what we are doing to ensure that all pupils, regardless of their background, have the right to a balanced and rounded education that opens doors to their future, prepares them for realising their potential in adult life, whatever their ambitions may be, and…responds fully to a child’s natural curiosity, which is so important.”

It’s just a pity Lord Gnasher didn’t instead welcome the chance to listen, consider and respond to the  thinking behind the specific challenges of the EBacc raised by the natural curiosity of the rest of the Lords, which were so important. And there’s a big difference between children ‘having the right to’ and ‘being forced to’ take the ivory tower academic EBacc subjects.

We must realise the appallingly low base that we started from in 2010. In 2010, many pupils, often those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, were being denied a basic education in the core academic subjects.

This is just political rhetoric. The phrase ‘appallingly low base’ is meaningless point-scoring over the previous Labour party administration, and is a gross mis-representation. Meanwhile All Change Please! has yet to see the objective evidence of actual ‘denial’ of a basic education in core subjects (i.e. where a child capable of achieving a good pass in an academic subject has been forced to take a different, less-academic subject instead).

You need to give pupils from a disadvantaged background the core suite of cultural knowledge they need to compete with pupils from a more advantaged background. This has been acknowledged across the board.

This has also been challenged across the board, and most would agree that high levels of problem-solving creative and technical skills are what are now required to be competitive. Cultural knowledge on its own is not enough. It’s worrying that future engineers can arrive at top Russell Group universities with a string of A grade GCEs but no previous experience of problem-solving.

..on average, pupils in state-funded schools enter nine GCSEs and equivalent qualifications, rising to more than 10 for more able pupils.

Everyone else agrees the average is 8 GCSEs. Only the Df-ingE claims it is 9. And that means half the children do less, and they are the ones who will particularly suffer as a result of being denied access to a wider range of subjects. It’s the academically-less able who will be the losers, not the more able.

I certainly do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, that we should abolish accountability measures—all the international evidence is that autonomy and accountability is the right balance.

Lord Young of Norwood Green: I did not say that we should abolish them but that I was in favour of them.

Lord Young is quite correct – indeed he didn’t say that. It was the Earl of Clancarty who said he wanted to abolish them, citing Germany as having a highly successful education system that does not have them. Perhaps in future Lord Gnasher should pay closer attention to what’s actually being said, and by whom?

And where exactly is this autonomy of which you speak? Such as in 90% of children must be entered for exactly the same subjects, for example?

A head teacher said: ‘The EBacc is not appropriate to the modern world. It is not appropriate to modern learning.’ Oh dear. It sounds like the sort of person who would say that you don’t need knowledge because you can look it up on the internet.

Now this isn’t clever political debating, it’s just cheap Daily Mail spin. “You don’t need knowledge because you can look it up on the internet” said no head teacher, ever. As All Change Please! keeps pointing out, we have yet to work out what knowledge we now need to have stored in our long-term memories, but it’s certainly not the unnecessary excesses demanded by the EBacc.

“Modern cognitive and neuroscience makes clear that you need knowledge to develop skills”. 

And you also need skills to develop and understand knowledge. But Lord Gnasher probably doesn’t have any practical skills, so he wouldn’t know that.

I know that the noble Lord, Lord Watson, wants evidence. He mentioned ED Hirsch; if he would care to look at the effect of the Core Knowledge curriculum on the “Massachusetts miracle” in schools there, he would see what an effect such a curriculum can have, particularly on disadvantaged pupils.

Yes, and he would also see the problems that the fact and recall-driven, one-size fits all ‘pub-quiz’ curriculum is causing due to its inflexibility and lack of relevance to most teenagers. And its rigid structure and right or wrong approach that is doing little to prepare today’s children for the reality of the very messy world they will quickly discover when they leave school. Meanwhile the ‘Massachusettes Education Miracle’ to give it its correct title (the Massachusettes Miracle is something quite different), has been dis-credited with suggestions it had been adopted primarily to attract extra funding, and it is one of 15 US states now holding back on further implementation based on the emerging evidence that over four to five years, test scores are declining and students are unprepared for college-level work. Strange that Lord Gnasher didn’t mention that, isn’t it?

I am quite sure we can have 90% of pupils taking EBacc; I have absolutely no doubt.

Indeed, there may be no doubt we can, but that doesn’t mean we should, does it? Taking is not the same as doing well in. So it’s not surprising that he didn’t mention that the majority will achieve very low GCSEs grades, mainly because there is going to be a massive shortage of suitably experienced and qualified EBacc subject teachers. Not to mention the fact the Earl of Clancarty mentioned, that according to the ASCL 87% of secondary school leaders are unhappy with the EBacc proposals. But Lord Gnasher probably had his fingers in his ears at that point. And his eyes wide shut.

Well Lord Gnasher, thanks for the insights into your firm, unwavering grasp of the situation. It’s good to know that there’s an unqualified teacher making an important contribution to the work of the Df-ingE, and we can only hope that you’ll be resigning soon, just like that headmistress from Pimlico did.

And finally, in true tabloid style, All Change Please! says…

It’s not the subject you study that’s important, what matters is how good your teacher is. It’s better to be taught an arts or technical subject well, than to be taught an academic subject poorly.

Image credit: Flickr/Paul Downey / D.C. Thomson&Co Ltd.

No Minister! No, No, No…

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So, the Great EBacc Consultation is over, and doubtless the Df-ingE are in a whirl having been inundated with a whole digital cement mixer load of responses that they are going to have to sift through very closely if they are to find any particularly helpful solutions as to how they can persuade 90% of children to order the Full All-day English EBacc.

Last week, social media was alive with the sound of distraught teachers and senior managers blogging their responses – such as this one that All Change Please! wrote with Teacher Toolkit – expressing their deepest concerns and fears about the destructive impact of the EBacc-Bomb

Meanwhile, it’s certainly not all over. It’s difficult to see the Df-ingE backing down and admitting their proposal was both undesirable and achievable. To help them on their way though it would be useful if MPs were now made more aware of the implications of the Df-ingE’s aspirations for the schools in their constituencies and be encouraged to start asking some awkward questions in the House. Given the emerging teacher shortages, the key issue is exactly how the Df-ingE proposes to guarantee that there will be enough qualified and experienced academic EBacc subject teachers to provide an adequate standard of teaching for 90% of all children?

With this in mind, All Change Please! has written a letter and left it on the table. It can be downloaded here and viewed below. Feel free to borrow, re-draft, edit, adapt or do whatever you like with it, providing it ends up being emailed to your local MP as soon as possible.  (Do make sure you make it clear that you are one of their constituents). Find the contact details for your MP here.

Of course there is one simple approach that could solve all the problems. Entering children for the EBacc is not a legal requirement, and if all headteachers in a local area got together and agreed not to play the game, the whole thing would simply extinguish itself. League table accountability is all relative, and so each school’s position would remain exactly the same.

But of course that’s unlikely to happen. Somewhat more probable is that in a few years’ time, when a growing number of parents confront the reality that their children are likely to fail all their EBaccs and are being prevented from taking other subjects they might have succeeded in, many schools might decide that the best way forward will be for them to develop a reputation as a successful non-EBacc school that offers a wide range of Arts and vocational courses. In which case it won’t be long before there will be two types of schools: those in which all students take the academic EBacc (previously known as Grammar schools), and those that decide to continue to offer non-Ebacc subjects (previously known a Secondary Moderns). Perhaps that’s been the Government’s intention all along?

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Meanwhile here’s what All Change Please!‘s letter to your local MP says…

Dear…

I would like to bring your attention to a number of matters arising out of the DfE’s recent consultation process on the implementation of the policy that 90% of children should take the full EBacc GCSEs. In the first instance the consultation did not invite views on the desirability of such a policy, but asked a series of limited questions as to how it could be best achieved. It should be noted that this measure did not form part of the manifesto on which the government was elected.

There are many reasons why the policy is both undesirable and undeliverable.

First, to clarify, under the new proposal, pressure is to be placed on schools to enter 90% of children for GCSE courses in English language and literature, maths, two sciences, languages, and history or geography.

The average number of GCSEs taken by children is 8.1 (and not 9 as Nick Gibb has claimed), while those from less affluent backgrounds take less. This leaves most children with just one further subject option, choosing from subjects such as a second foreign language, religious education, art & design, design & technology, engineering, music, drama, business studies, economics, PE and, if not chosen as one of their two sciences, computer science. The result of this will be that many of these subjects will cease to be offered as class-sizes will no longer be viable. Losing courses in design & technology and engineering will restrict the growth of inter-disciplinary STEM subjects nationally. Teaching of the Arts in schools will be seriously diminished at a time when our world-leading Creative Industries make an increasingly significant contribution to the economy. The non-EBacc subjects will also be less likely to be chosen for A level, further increasing their disappearance from schools.

To enforce the policy, the number of entries a school makes for the full EBacc is to be given a more prominent role within the Ofsted framework, and schools that do not follow the requirement will appear lower down in school league tables. Headteachers will therefore be placed in the difficult position of having to decide whether it is better to enter individuals for examinations in subjects in which they are likely to achieve a low EBacc GCSE grade, or for those which they show more interest in and aptitude for.

It has recently been predicted that the number of children achieving good GCSE passes in the ‘more rigorous’ academic EBacc subjects is likely to fall by some 23%, with the result that there is also likely to be a substantial increase in the number of disaffected students who see themselves as being failures when entering the 16-19 phase of education. Furthermore they will not have had an adequate experience of problem-solving creative and technical subjects on which to base appropriate choices of further and higher level courses.

Despite this, the DfE have stated that: “We know that young people benefit from studying a strong academic core of subjects up until the age of 16”. However, there is no evidence to support this statement as being applicable to 90% of children. Meanwhile there are many outside the DfE who would support the statement that there are many children who benefit more from following Arts-based and vocationally-orientated GCSE courses, with the latter providing a better preparation for apprenticeships.

At the same time there are also an increasing number of employers who are removing academic qualifications as an entry barrier, and are seeking those with a greater understanding of the way in which business, industry and commerce works. The DfE have also stated that ‘Our reforms are leaving pupils better prepared for further study and more ready for the world of work’. While the former may be true, the latter is certainly not.

There are also issues regarding the inclusion of Academies in these measures, which do not appear to have been considered. A particular feature of the Academy movement is a school’s freedom to follow its own curriculum to meet local and community needs, which this proposal contradicts.

The DfE have also stated that the 90% entry rate is not a school-based figure, but a national one. There has been no indication as to how head teachers will or can be supplied with the necessary figures that will inform them of the percentage of children that will be required to be entered in their individual school.

While every school should meet the entitlement for all children to take the full range of EBacc subjects if they wish, there should not be external pressure for them to do so. In the longer term this measure is likely to produce a two-tier system, in which there will be two types of schools: those in which all students take academic EBacc subjects (previously known as Grammar schools), and those who decide to continue to offer a wider range of non-EBacc subjects (previously known a Secondary Moderns).

Finally, and most importantly, it is difficult to see how the current policy can actually be practically implemented as presented. Although denied by the DfE, the current teacher shortage in many subjects will soon be exacerbated at secondary level as an increased number of children move into the sector. The key question therefore is exactly how does the DfE propose to guarantee that there will be enough suitably qualified and experienced academic EBacc subject teachers to provide an adequate standard of teaching for 90% of all children? The substantial costs of recruitment, re-training and retention of the necessary work-force does not appear to have been considered or calculated.

Can I therefore strongly urge you to challenge the DfEs proposal to introduce the requirement for 90% of children to take the full EBacc, both in terms of its desirability and practicality.

Yours sincerely

[Name and Name of Constituency]

Image credits: Flickr/Howard Ignatius and Tim Morgan

 

Curriculum Noir III: Lt Wilshaw Sees The Light

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Previously, in Curriculum Noir I and Curriculum Noir II, Philip Marlowe was hired to discover who was stealing the Arts, and then by Lieutenant Wilshaw to track down the missing Big Mickey Gove. However, things have been quieter since, now that justice was being done to Big Mickey Gove and Little Missy Morgan had taken over and was ruthlessly running the Mob with her henchmen. She was on a mission to take control of the whole curriculum, and no-one was going to get in her way. Marlowe takes up the story:

So there I was the other night, sitting quietly in the dimly-lit coffee shop across the road from my office and slowly sipping on my double-strength flat white, when suddenly a shadow fell across its velvety-smooth microfoam surface.

“Ah, found you at last Marlowe.” a familiar voice growled as Lieutenant Wilshaw of the Ofsted Flying Squad sat down opposite me. I couldn’t help notice that for once he was looking scared.

“I need your help.” he whispered, nervously looking around in case anyone was sitting at the back of the cafe with an observation form in their hands.

“Sure.” I said, surprised at the unusual request.

“Well, it’s just that… if I can explain… how can I put this… I know you won’t believe me, but things have changed, and… it may seem strange that I’m saying this, but I’ve recently come to the conclusion that this whole EBacc thing is a one really big dumb-blonde of an idea. This ‘one size fits all’ system is complete nonsense, isn’t it? And then there’s this insane PISA fixation over some narrow-minded tests that don’t reveal anything worth knowing about the quality of education being delivered in our schools.”

“I mean, just think of all these poor kids who are going to fail all their GCSE EBacc exams and end up on the street, with no qualification, nowhere to go and nothing to do. It’s too awful to contemplate. Something’s got to be done to stop the Mob carrying on with its evil plans. Up to now I’ve just been playing along so they’ll leave me alone, but enough’s enough and I just had to speak out about the lack of vocational education and qualifications currently on offer- I expect you’ve read about it in the papers.

“Well, it sure has taken you long enough.” I said. “It’s just a shame you didn’t see the light a bit sooner and not let things get this far in the first place – I mean any teacher could have told you what it was like in reality, years ago. And you’ve know it all along too. But anyway, what I can do for you?”

“You’ve got to hide me, Marlowe. They’re after me. Gentleman Nick ‘The Knife’ Glibb is going to catch up with me pretty soon and he’s going to want to take his revenge. And Ofqual and the Awarding Bodies are hot on my tail after I suggested that the exams shouldn’t be moved to accommodate Ramadan, and then it turned out they hadn’t been anyway.”

I gave him my best ‘I told you so’ look and tried to calm him down. “I really wouldn’t worry. Just go home and forget about it. I expect you’ll be spending more time with your family soon anyway. How’s your garden growing? All this talk about the academic and the vocational having equal status – it’s never going to happen, and the Mob know it. It’s not about children or teaching and learning anymore, it’s all about propaganda and politics. The purpose of education is simply to keep The Party in power for ever and ever.”

“Gee, Marlowe, you really think so?”

“I know so… Just as sure as night follows day and Period 2 follows Period 1.”

I showed him the morning paper and pointed to the official DfE response:

A Department for Education spokesman said: “We know that young people benefit from studying a strong academic core of subjects up until the age of 16 which they can complement with additional arts subjects or vocational qualifications.

“Our reforms are leaving pupils better prepared for further study and more ready for the world of work…”

“But this is ludicrous – it’s just an outrageous premium pack of porky pies.” snarled Wilshire. “Exactly how do they know all young people benefit from studying so many academic subjects? And if they are already doing the seven EBacc subjects, that only leaves them with one option for the ‘additional arts subjects or vocational qualifications’. And then there are all these companies saying they no longer require a degree, and complaining that the teenagers and graduates they employ come to them have no idea what business is like – so they’re certainly not ‘more ready for the world of work.’ I suppose next they’ll be claiming there is no teacher shortage, and that there’s never been a better time to become a teacher…”

With a sad, dejected look on his face Lieutenant Wilshaw wearily made for the door and stumbled out into the blackness. I ordered another double flat white and a dark chocolate croissant and decided there really was no point in responding to the EBacc Consultation, because it only played straight into their hands, and whatever I said wouldn’t be considered anyway. As everyone knows, there are no marks if you don’t answer the question that’s been set.

That’s the way things work now.

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Image credits: Flickr/ Barkbud (top), nyyankee (bottom)

 

The Really Big Issues

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First a reminder that the House of Commons Select Committee on Education Consultation on the Purpose of Education closes on the 24th January. Well it’s great that they’ve finally admitted they have had absolutely no idea what they’ve been messing with for the past 30 or so years, but All Change Please! can’t help but think that education policy in future will be justified by the statement that the government is following the direction established by the full public consultation which has proved they were doing the right thing all along and intend to continue in the same way. ‘We’ve been listening‘ they’ll say, ‘It’s just that you didn’t say what we wanted you to so we completely ignored it‘ they won’t add.

Meanwhile All Change Please!’s completely robust, accurate and reliable poll made of straw is predicting that the responses will fall into one of two camps. The first – the type that will be ignored – runs something like this:

“Everyone is good at something. The purpose of education is to help children find out what they are good at and use the confidence and self-worth they derive from this to confront their weaknesses. Education nourishes the broad natural and individual cognitive, emotional, moral and spiritual development of children and young adults in ways which ultimately gives them a sense of fulfillment and a desire to go on learning, both within work environments and in their personal lives. In doing so they will survive more easily and comfortably and pass on such nourishment to their own children and to society, thus helping ensure the successful continuation of the community, the nation, and ultimately the species.”

And the second – which is what are expected to say:

“The purpose of education is to create a pliant, well-disciplined, hard-working and employable population that doesn’t ask questions and will be led by a small highly-capable elite who will run the country specifically in order to increase their own wealth. However, in the interests of social mobility this involves giving everyone the opportunity to join the elite, whether they want to or not, providing of course they prove themselves to be sufficiently academically able and attend a Russell Group University.”

This will in turn lead to the inevitable conclusion that in order to improve the quality of education good old-fashioned traditional knowledge-based teaching is best, even more testing is needed, and the EBacc is the best thing to come along since the invention of homogenous, completely tasteless sliced-white bread.

All of which is however pretty much beside the point, because there are some much bigger, important and far more disruptive mind-bending educational issues on the horizon that are what we really should be spending our time, effort and money on if we don’t want the country to go the way of dinosaurs, horse-drawn carts and Woolworths – which is the general direction we are currently heading. And they don’t centre around obsessively arguing about whether one style of teaching is better than another, which subjects should or should not be included in the curriculum, how to make it easier to memorise unnecessary information and how many times children need to be tested on their tables.

Indeed All Change Please! isn’t called All Change Please! because it wants Just A Little Bit of Change Now and Again Please! It’s because all things need to change. What we really should be discussing is our ideas about how all schools are going to need to change and evolve rapidly evolve in the very near future, and at the same time how to ensure the quality of the almost inevitable growth on online learning and assessment that will lead the change. To get an idea of the scale of the implications for the world of education, just ask someone in the music, publishing and retail industries if the way things work now are the same as they were in the year 2000, and how much time they spend debating whether or not we should be going back to using traditional methods of selling the same products and services from the 1950s. While everyone else prepares for the Fourth Industrial Revolution – that’s the one after the IT age – education is still way back in the second one.

Thus the first Really Big Issue, which the Df-ingE seems intent on denying and publishing misleading figures about, is the consequences of the forthcoming teacher shortage, due at least in part to their highly successful ‘Let’s Blame the Teacher’ campaign they have been running (together with the recently launched parallel ‘Let’s Also Blame the Parents’ campaign). That’s because there’s an easy solution to the shortage that the Df-ingE have doubtless had in mind all along, following the worrying lead of Brazil and Australia, which is to simply plug children into ‘Sit down, switch on and shut up’ computer-based teaching systems for several hours each day. This has the extra advantage of giving the large corporate preferred suppliers massive contracts to make loads of money while spending as little as possible on the actual teaching and learning content, which will be created by programmers rather than educationalists. The companies that create these teaching systems don’t really care what the purpose of education is – beyond making them a healthy profit – let alone how to achieve it, and so just churn out an endless stream of personalised big data generated knowledge-recall multiple choice questions and test scores. This isn’t education. It’s factory farming.

And the other Really Big Issue is the ingrained belief that we still live in a world of the individual expert who knows a lot about very little, and that by the time a child leaves school and university they have been told and remembered everything there is to know. We appear to be obsessed with the ability to remember things at the expense of problem-solving and management skills. Just saying “Because we don’t know exactly what knowledge will be needed in the future we will go on teaching them the same old stuff in the same old way” and implementing the EBacc isn’t an acceptable answer. And it’s starting to look like the only way to achieve this is going to be for headteachers to unilaterally agree not to play the numbers game anymore.

Meanwhile what we do know is that our children will need to be creative and collaborative team workers and communicators, have excellent personnel management and communication skills and be able and willing to learn new knowledge and skills throughout their lives on an almost daily basis – all with no teacher there to inform and test them. More than ever before they will need to identify and maximise their particular individual capabilities and passions and be able to apply them alongside a sound, fundamental grasp of digital technologies, business, economics and psychology. And if we are to remain competitive as a nation and as a culture, these aren’t things that can be just bolted-on in the occasional off-timetable after-school club, but need to underpin the whole curriculum experience from Year 1 to Year 13 and on into further and life-long education. Make no mistake – if we don’t, then China will – or rather, already is.

It will also become increasingly important that today’s children realise that learning is not just something boring and tedious that happens under duress at school sitting at a computer answering endless multiple choice questions, but is something that is pleasurable, enriching and fulfilling and happens throughout life, and through the whole community. Importantly, as adults, they will then need to pass on the same positive values and aspirations to their own children.

The purpose of education is to prepare our children for the future. Not the past. 

Or perhaps it’s just really as All Change Please!’s Smith and Jones previously observed:

Jones: But I always thought the purpose of education was to learn useful things, get some qualifications and then a job serving coffee somewhere?

With thanks to Tony’s Mum and Alan.

Image credit: Flickr ozz13x

https://www.flickr.com/photos/24931020@N02/14890067137/

Up, up and away…?

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If 1967 was the Summer of Love, then 1976 was the Summer of Hot. Forty years ago, the 1976 UK summer produced the warmest and longest-lasting average temperatures since records began: the sky was always blue and the sun shone brightly for months on end, resulting in drought conditions that prompted the provocative slogan ‘Save Water, Bath With A Friend‘. There’s never been a summer quite like it since.

1976 was also the same year Concorde took to the skies with supersonic speed, the space shuttle Enterprise was unveiled in California and the new Intercity 125 trains took to the tracks. James Hunt won the World Motor Racing Championship, and Jobs and Wozniak founded Apple, though no-one paid much attention at the time. The futuristic Pompidou Centre was nearing completion in Paris. Star Wars was coming. James Callaghan became Prime Minister. Brotherhood of Man won the Eurovision Song Contest while Jonny Rotten quietly muttered a rude word on live TV. Things were definitely on the up. And OFSTED was just a twinkle in some aspiring Tory politician’s eye. Yes, those were the days. We thought they’d never end.

And it just so happens that it was in September 1976 when a young, keen and eager All Change Please! spent a week observing in a typical comprehensive school as part of its far from left-wing Marxist PGCE course. Initially it was surprised that what was going on hadn’t changed much since it had been at school itself, as much as five years before. It noted down in its special file that while there were still some disaffected students being pushed through inappropriate O level subjects that ended with written examinations in the school gym, there were some promising and enterprising Mode 3 CSE courses that had been set up by some of the teachers, often responding to local needs. There was a growing awareness that traditional teaching wasn’t working well enough for all, and project-based learning and problem-solving were the new kids on the block that seemed to hold much promise for the future. The one obvious thing really holding a few of the children behind was a problem with basic literacy and numeracy, but surely that would get sorted out soon enough and things could really start to move ahead at supersonic speed?

Fast forward, or so it seemed, to the late 1970s and All Change Please!’s first teaching post and the first computers were arriving in schools – Commodore PETs and RM 380Zs, and the slightly geekier kids and their teachers were getting excited. There was talk about the day not so far away when it would be possible to read a book on a computer screen, create electronic artwork and perform complex calculations in the blink of an eye. And what was it going to be like when you could link these computers into a network? And just think of the potential these machines might have for helping children learn. The future was surely just around the corner…

At the time it’s probably a good job that no-one told All Change Please! that it was never going to happen, or it might just have given up and gone home. It never guessed that by the time it retired there would still be children who found reading, writing and arithmetic difficult, that there would still be a knowledge-based curriculum with problem-solving, child-centred, project-based learning being viewed with great suspicion and distrust, and that most computer-aided learning programs would be largely a waste of time, simply replicating tired and detested traditional approaches to teaching and being given the silly name of MOOCs. And worst of all that the curriculum and examinations would be dictated not be educationalists any more, but by The Party.

Sadly, as time wore on the optimistic Summer of ’76 dissipated and by late ’78 had somehow transformed into the Winter of Discontent and the subsequent inauguration of Thatcherism and the riots and inner-city ghost towns of the early 1980s, leading inevitably to the situation and circumstances we find ourselves in today. Even Concorde eventually ran out of steam.

The Information Age that was so clearly on the horizon in the 1970s is only just now getting under way. It’s finally beginning to disrupt the way we think, act and live our lives, and to fundamentally start to change the way we do things, and to have a much greater impact than the industrial revolution ever had on the agricultural age. It’s something our education system could and should have been preparing for since the late 1970s, but it hasn’t. Instead our top-down administrative-led organisations and political systems stuck their heads in the ground in the belief that IT and globalisation wouldn’t actually change anything in the future – or perhaps with the fear that it might. After all IT was believed to be ‘just another tool’ that helped automate existing processes, but wouldn’t actually change them. As a result things are now evolving so quickly that our 20th Century systems and infrastructure just can’t cope with them. And Education seems intent on refusing to accept that the world is not the same as it once was, and continues to fail to develop its thinking about what needs to be learnt when, how and by whom. The time for debate about whether teaching should be traditional or progressive has long since passed. What really needs discussing is how our schools are going to completely re-invent themselves to meet the very different needs of future generations.

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Meanwhile, gazing through doubtless rose-tinted sunglasses, back in daily life in the summer of 1976 shops were shut on Sundays which gave everyone a welcome day of rest and family life. Working hours were more reasonable and there were no such things as performance targets. Houses didn’t cost the earth, especially for first-time buyers, enabling those in their early 20s to become home-owners. Public transport was cheap and plentiful, even if like now, it didn’t always run on time. There was less to choose from in the shops, but goods were made in Britain, and there were no complex calculations needed every year to work out which were the best and cheapest energy, tele-communications and insurance providers. And most of all and there wasn’t the pervasive atmosphere of fear, hate and conspicuous greed being thickly spread by politicians and the media. But neither were there flat-screen, multi-channel colour TVs, digital cameras, instant access to the world via mobile smart phones and tablets, online shopping or other ‘modern conveniences’ that somehow for some reason we can’t seem to live without today. 

So was daily life better in 1976 than it is today? It’s impossible to say – some things have got better, and some things have got worse, and it very much depends on one’s particular individual circumstances at the time. It’s just that we did things differently then.

In Education however, it seems that most things have not only stayed the same but have got worse. And that goes for everybody, no matter what their circumstances.

So All Change Please! is just going to go to the beach instead, and stick its head in the sand…

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Image credits: Flickr Commons/ Roger W, Derek Gavey, LetsGoOut

 

Twenty Fifty One

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‘Tis the season to be merry, but that’s not so easy given all the current financial cuts to public services and the DfE’s educational policies. Accordingly this year’s All Change Please! Longread Festive Post is an extract from Chancellor George ‘Ozzy’ Oswell’s little known dystopian novel Twenty Fifty One, which he wrote some 36 years ago in 2015 as an exploration of the impact of what he anticipated would be a never-ending period of austerity, hate and terror. In this fragment, recently recovered from a partly vapourised copy found near a memory hole, we learn about the work of MiniFed – the Ministry of Education – and its continuing attempts to obliterate the idea of progressive education from history.

Some have suggested that there might have been a deliberate connection with George Orwell’s classic novel Nineteen Eighty Four, by co-incidence also written 36 years earlier in 1948. In case there are those (like All Change Please!) who have not re-read 1984 since they were at school, here’s a very brief re-cap…

The plot of 1984 involves Winston Smith, who while carefully maintaining a facade as a loyal outer party member, suspects that his true allegiance lies with the discredited Brotherhood who used to meet at the Chestnut Tree Cafe. O’Brien, an Inner Party member, lends him a copy of the supposedly destroyed writings of the Brotherhood, but he is secretly a member of the Thought Police. Eventually Winston is sent for treatment in a correction centre, where he learns to fully appreciate the care of Big Brother.

Along the way we learn that:

  • Room 101 is a torture chamber in which prisoners are made to confront their worst fears.
  • The telescreen is a two-way TV screen in every room that includes a surveillance camera that watches what everyone is doing, hence the phrase ‘Big Brother Is Watching You’.
  • The speakwrite is an automatic dictation device.
  • There is a state of permanent war with Eurasia.
  • The Party has three main slogans, which exemplify the idea of Doublethink:  WAR IS PEACE,  FREEDOM IS SLAVERY,  IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH
  • The developing minimalistic language Newspeak uses contracted forms of old english intended to remove all shades of meaning to make thinking more automatic and controllable.

Essentially, Winston lives in a world of perpetual war, omnipresent government surveillance and public manipulation of information, overseen by a small, privileged elite that persecutes individualism and independent thinking as thought crime. 1984 is not just a commentary on the emerging communist states, but of any totalitaritarian system in which a single party has excessive, unchallenged power.

But now, here’s the recovered extract from Oswell’s 2051:

Wisdom Smith paused, sitting back from his desk piled high with ink pencil-splattered exercise books and well-worn, brown paper covered, traditionally printed textbooks. Often he wondered why he bothered – just 2% of the children in his class would obtain the necessary grades to get in to a RussUni and become top ranking inner-party members, and only 13% would end up doing well enough in their EBacc exams to become middle party members like himself. The rest would have to make do with the worthless, low-status Pass-Level EBaccs (commonly known as PLEBs). Of course the officially- announced MiniFed figures stated that 90% of children were awarded the full High-level EBacc, and that each year the percentage rose as a result of an increase in Party control, but he knew that just couldn’t be true. In reality all MiniFed were doing was ensuring that the majority of the population remained uneducated, and that power would remain in the hands of the academic elite.

Wisdom decided he’d done enough marking for one evening. Somewhere in the back of his mind he still felt it hadn’t always been like this – once he had found teaching rewarding. Furthermore he had this notion that once long ago in the dark ages there used to be devices with the letters of the alphabet laid out in neat rows that you tapped on and the words somehow appeared on a screen in front of you and could be easily sent to someone else. He’d spent hours in the school library trying to find a reference to such magic, but without success and he had presumed it must just have been something he dreamt, along with the images of countless Unteachers, long since vaporised out of the profession. But if he squeezed his mind hard enough he thought he could vaguely remember some miraculous devices called – what were they? – smart-phones and iPads – long ago denounced as the disruptive work of The Blob and written out of history. Now there was just the Siri Speakwrite machine. 

And then surely around this time of winter there had been a festive holiday called Christmas which he dimly recalled as having been a jolly celebration but was now universally called Black Friday, followed immediately after by Cyber Monday when the tradition was that everyone went madly shopping and spent all their savings on worthless junk, though no-one seemed to know quite why or how it had started.

Suddenly the telescreen blared out, reminding everyone it was nearly time for the daily Two Minute Hate. As usual it began with a short video sequence from one of The Party’s most reviled conspirators and leader of the Robinsonhood who had once published a wicked, blasphemous book called Creative Schools: Revolutionizing Education from the Ground Up’, all copies of which had long since been vaporised. Just in case anyone was watching him, Wisdom dutifully shouted out the required number of Hates.

After the Two Minute Hate there was news item announcing the wonderful news that provision of ArtsEd in schools was to be doubled from one whole school former assembly time a week, to two (even though Wisdom knew that not so long ago it had been three sessions a week). This was followed by news about the great success of the latest bombing raids in Middle Eastonia. Finally, to calm the cheering masses down, a short nostalgic documentary followed, celebrating the very first Michaela School – now of course there were thousands of them spread all over the country.

Wisdom reflected again how the identical neat blue uniforms had obviously been the inspiration for the regulation blue overalls all party members now wore. And for perhaps the first time, Wisdom noticed the phrase KNOWLEDGE IS POWER on their school sign, which had become the first of the MiniFed’s own slogans, followed by BEHAVIOUR IS STRICT and EVERYTHING IS ACADEMIC.

As he gazed at the enormous poster on the classroom wall reminding everyone of the slogans, some alternative versions began to occur to him. He wondered if he dared write them down in his secret diary in case Big Ofsted was watching, as another large poster on the wall continually reminded him it was. The last thing he wanted was a visit from the Thought Police. Sometimes he wondered if Big Ofsted did actually exist, or if it was just another propaganda invention created by MiniFed and just there to perpetuate the culture of fear, obedience and hate. 

Nervously, as a spy-drone hovered near the window, he wrote down his alternative versions:

ACTION IS POWER

LEARNING IS MESSY

EVERYTHING IS AWESOME

As well as teaching, Wisdom worked part-time re-writing education history, closely following the instructions he was given from above. It was indeed he who had drafted the now universally accepted text blaming the Robinsonhood for the disastrous and rapid decline in standards that children were exposed to in the late 20th and early 21st century as the result of widespread progressive education, and that as a result Robinsonism must be completely and finally eliminated. Indeed the history books and journals now recorded the successful rise and victory of Govism which was gratefully welcomed by the entire teaching profession who had been clamouring for such reforms for decades. Of course, few people realised that Gove himself had never actually existed, having been a clever invention of the MiniFed propaganda department. 

Wisdom left the building to attend his compulsory weekly Hour of Code session. Everyone was required to spend this time in the attempt to try and learn trying to learn how to code in two different out-dated programming languages. There seemed no sensible reason for this as the vast majority did not possess the necessary aptitude, and there was hardly anyone able to teach it. However it had become an established tradition introduced in the Govian era even though no-one knew why or saw any purpose in it.

The MiniFed were of course experts in Doublethink propaganda. They continually repeated completely misleading statements that simply reversed the truth, such as:

  • Thanks to the education reforms of the past 5 years, significant progress has been made in raising standards in England’s schools.
  • Poor quality qualifications have been removed from performance tables so pupils are leaving school with those most valued by employers and universities
  • New, gold-standard GCSEs and A Levels will equip young people with the knowledge and skills to succeed in the modern world
  • The introduction of the EBacc has had no effect on Arts education
  • There is no recruitment crisis
  • There has never been a better time to be a teacher

Over the years Wisdom had come to understand that there was no point sitting around waiting for the Robinsonhood to rise up again – the Party was just too strong and clever to ever allow that to happen. The only thing he could do was to quietly break the rules as often as possible when no-one was looking. He now realised that while the Nationally-imposed Party Curriculum defined what must be taught and tested, it did not include a list of things that must not be taught and need not be tested.

Unfortunately the fragment of recovered text ends here, but there a few people still alive who remember reading Oswell’s novel, and have provided the following account of how it ended:

O’Glibbly was a smooth-talking member of the Inner Party who Wisdom believed was, like himself, an undercover member of the Robinsonhood. One day Wisdom foolishly decided to show him his forbidden diary with his alternative slogans, but O’Glibbly then revealed himself as a secret agent of the Thought Police. As a result Wisdom ended up in the OFSTED Re-education Centre Classroom 101, where he was forced to confront his greatest fears – supervising hours and hours of cover lessons with no work set, week-long mindless exam supervision sessions, writing endless lesson plans that would never be used, and compiling copious irrelevant data about his pupils. After being suitably brainwashed he was allowed to return to a compliant existence in the spreading Michaela Chestnut Tree Academy, for which he is now grateful.

So how well did Orwell and Oswell’s novels foresee the world as it is today, in 2051? As inventions and innovations of the 20th century showed, it’s relatively easy to predict the future – it’s working out the timescales involved that’s difficult. Although the projected dates of both Orwell and Oswell’s novel titles were intended to be notional rather than precise, it’s interesting to consider that while Orwell’s future took some 70 years to materialise, Oswell’s had become a reality by 2020.

In many ways their predictions were worryingly accurate, but there were several things Oswell missed, or perhaps chose to miss. First that it was not so much Big Ofsted that would be watching, but Big Data that came to define the learning experiences of most children, with each telescreen question delivered by the Pearsonalised Quick Smart Total Teach And Test system (known as TOTAT), finely adjusted to match the global levels of knowledge recall expected of a child born on that particular date.

And secondly that Ofsted had of course realised that informing teachers that they were being watched made them too careful about giving away any secret association with the Robinsonhood. Instead they decided to permit teachers to have access to networked computers (though smart phones and tablets are still considered to be far too disruptive for children to use), and promoted the Doublethink message that teachers would no longer be observed in the classroom – while in reality, every email they sent or received, every internet search they made and every blog post they read was closely and secretly monitored. As a result, many more teachers suddenly and inexplicably ‘left’ the profession, mysteriously to never be seen or heard of again, leading to the severe teacher shortages that dominated the latter half of the second decade of the century.

Which means of course that if you’ve read this far, you can probably expect a visit from the Thought Police in the very near future….

Until then, Merrymas and Hapyear one and all!

Image credit: Flickr: Tim Rich  / Shepard Fairey / Tristram Shepard

Austerity Free Zones Unveiled

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George ‘Ozzy’ Osborne, as he’s not known to his friends, has today inaugurated Two Pancras Square and nearby Granary Square as the first UK Austerity Free Zone, with more to be established in central London and other wealthy suburbs of large cities in the near future. The zones will sub-divided into various Conspicuous Consumption Areas, where the stupidly rich are encouraged to display the full extent of their very extensive spending-power.

A UKAFZ spokesperson said:

“The aim is to give poor people something to aspire to and work harder for, even though they are currently no jobs available for them. Residents of AFZs will of course enjoy extensive tax-breaks and businesses within them will be able to trade VAT-free. We are however slightly concerned that other sectors of the population who have similar lifestyles, ie those who are on benefits and sit round all day enjoying themselves without paying any taxes, will try to move in.”

Meanwhile highly successful local businesses in AFZs will be able to apply to set up what will be highly profitable ‘Excessively Expensive Schools’, as opposed to the current ‘Free Schools’. A nearby hovering Df-ingE drone told All Change Please!:

“The EESchools will help give the extremely wealthy something to spend their money on, while at the same time it will free up places in the public schools for the merely ordinary wealthy. Teaching group sizes will be no larger than 1. Individual teachers will each be supported by a team of teaching assistants and a full-time secretary and a dedicated classroom cleaner.

Like the Free Schools the EESchools will be able to set their own curriculum, which we expect to include subjects such as ‘Wealth Management for the Idle Rich’, ‘How to spend a massive inheritance’ and ‘Tax-havens for beginners’. Compulsory specially-designed school uniforms will be available from Versace, shoes by Louis Vuitton with Dolce & Gabbanna trainers, while matching designer schoolbags can be obtained from Gucci. Catering will be provided by Harrods in conjunction with Dorchester Hotel Services Ltd.

This is all the result of the Government’s fully transparent Austerity Free Zone Consultation Process – which was so transparent that you could see straight through it – which the public fully endorsed by responding to questions about the best way to implement the policy, such as the relative importance they placed on various factors such as public space water features, unaffordable housing, access to expensive restaurants serving a global cuisine and exclusive designer shops, nearby heli-pad, etc.

If you want to know the location of your nearest AFZ, or think you might already be living in one, just leave a comment below and ACP will tell you exactly where to go…

Image © Tristram Shepard

D&T: Design & Transparency?

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Your country needs you to do D&T

Last week the Df-ingE issued one of their spin-ridden press releases about the new D&T GCSE. Let’s take it apart and see what, if anything, is holding it all together.

‘A new, gold-standard design and technology (D&T) GCSE to help produce the next generation of James Dysons and Tim Berners-Lees has been unveiled by Schools Minister Nick Gibb.

So, gold-standard, eh? All Change Please! always assumed that accolade was reserved for real, hard, academic subjects of no practical benefit? And while a couple of Dysons and Berners-Lees might be useful in the future, the thought of an entire cloned generation of them is actually a bit alarming.

‘The new design and technology GCSE will give students the chance to develop their own design briefs and projects and could lead them to producing anything from furniture for disabled people to computer-controlled robots.

‘The chance to develop their own briefs and projects maybe, but in reality most teachers will find a way of narrowing things down somewhat in order to make things more manageable. Meanwhile given the breadth of the design industry, the distance between furniture and robots is not actually that great, and pupils will quickly come up with a much wider range of possibilities that may prove difficult to shoe-horn into the assessment criteria. Oh, and could someone kindly let the Df-ngE know that Tim Berners Lee is not and has never been an industrial designer.

‘Industry experts, including those from the James Dyson Foundation, have been closely involved in developing the new GCSE content, ensuring it meets the future needs of employers.

All Change Please! isn’t entirely convinced that the James Dyson Foundation – or indeed many industry experts – was exactly ‘closely involved’. It knows for a fact that most of the content came from a small working party who put a great deal of effort into challenging the Df-ingE’s original horticulturalist nonsense. It might help meet some of the needs of some employers, but the high percentage of academic content will put most students off, and anyway it’s not part of the EBaccwards, so that will put the rest off too.

‘This is a rigorous qualification which will require students to have a sound grasp of maths and science, and which will undoubtedly stretch them to further develop the kind of knowledge and skills so sought after by employers and universities.

Ah yes, the maths and science content. Design is neither an Arts or a Science subject but a subtle mixture of the two, which just goes to show how much the Df-ingE understand about what they’re messing with. In reality designers get on with the designing and consult specialist mathematicians and scientists, and indeed a wide range of other specialists, as and when appropriate to the requirements of the work they are doing.

‘Internationally-renowned designer James Dyson said: Design and technology is a subject of fundamental importance. Logical, creative and practical – it’s the only opportunity that school students have to apply what they learn in maths and science – directly preparing them for a career in engineering. But until now, this subject’s tremendous potential has not been met.

Ah, so let’s admit it then, this isn’t really a course in design and technology at all – it’s really just a fancy new name for Engineering. And it’s also the only opportunity that school students have to apply what they learn in all their school subjects, not just Maths and Science.

‘The James Dyson Foundation has spent 4 years advising the Department for Education on every level of D&T education – and today we can finally unveil a GCSE qualification to be proud of.

That’s just four mentions of James Dyson so far. And it’s just a pity that the Dyson Foundation didn’t spend those 4 years suggesting creative ways of making the 1960s maths and science content more interesting, relevant and accessible to a wider range of children, or perhaps advising that 21st century digital making now ought to be at the centre of the content.

‘One that will inspire invention from students and teachers alike. That will nurture a creative mind-set and passion for problem solving. That will appeal to more youngsters than ever before.

Oh no it won’t, because the written paper will serve to exclude more youngsters (‘youngsters’???  N.B. All Change Please! strongly advises not calling them that in class) than ever before. Hmm. Just one other problem here, and that’s the teachers. Forgetting the current severe shortage of D&T teachers at present, most of the rest are well past their make-by date CDT teachers, formerly known as woodworkers and metalworkers, usually recognisable by their particular lack of inspirational invention, let alone creative mind-set and passion for problem-solving.

So in the interests of transparency, let’s just do a bit of re-wording, and what we end up with is this rather more honest press-release:

‘Design and Technology is a terribly important subject because in about 20 years’ time a successful designer or engineer might emerge as a result of having taken the subject at school, even though most successful designers and engineers tend to study completely different subjects, or leave school at 16 and do something practical instead. And when we say terribly important, of course we mean not as important as academic subjects, which is why we’re not including it in the EBacc.

Because the specification we have developed is terribly, er., quite important and will effect the lives of hundreds of thousands of children over the next five to ten years, we first asked a junior minister to write it up over the weekend, based on her own experience of CDT in the 1970s. We then got James Dyson – yes that James Dyson – and Tim Berners Lee to agree to say we had consulted them, but despite this, the D&T subject association insisted on trying to improve it, so we let them alter one or two bits to keep them happy. Oh and did I mention James Dyson? We did try to get Isambard Brunel to contribute, but he wasn’t available.

A lot of people in the consultation said that they thought the written paper was a bad idea, but we couldn’t understand what the fuss was all about, probably because we don’t really understand what design is all about in the first place. As a result we’re still insisting on making half the exam based on a written paper even though it’s a highly unreliable indicator of design and technological capability. Of course a written paper in Art & Design might not be so appropriate, because that’s a different sort of design which is just about making things look nice, isn’t it? I mean you wouldn’t want to end up being someone non-PC like Jonny Ive of Apple and going to Art School now would you? Apple’s motto is ‘Think Different’, and we certainly don’t want that.

Meanwhile the reality of course is that not a lot has changed in D&T. Pupils can choose their own problems to solve which, between you and me, I think will be a bit of a disaster, because many of them will not involve a great deal of the maths and science they have to somehow include.  Then we’ve removed the requirement to specialise in one material, except of course that most D&T teachers are still specialists in one material. Then there’s the addition of the word ‘iterative’ which sounds rather trendy and up-to-date, and the phrase ‘exploring, creating and evaluating’. Most teachers never understood the design process anyway, so this will really confuse them. So the chances are we’ll still end up with a load of projects in which children make furniture for their bedroom, a new outfit for themselves or an automatic goldfish feeder.

Which is a good thing, because of course the last thing we want to do is to really change anything – our motto is ‘Moving forwards by going backwards and all thinking exactly the same’.

Nick ‘Dyson’ Glibbly

And here is Teacher Toolkit’s ‘It’s So Rigorous; We Don’t Want You To Do It! response… http://teachertoolkit.me/2015/11/17/designtechnology/

Image credit: Flickr / Eva Renaldi

 

 

Any Answers?

6965869588_89580abd74_o-1“I need to come in to school to take my EFuccing what exams?”

Last week the DfE published its consultation document outlining its latest intentions to make 90% children take the full EBaccteria subjects to GCSE, and Little Missy Morgan made a speech confirming the government’s goals. Well it could have been worse – back in June, Nick Glibbly announced it would be all children…

Meanwhile, the newly-formed, entirely non-profit making All Change Please! Awarding Body has just released a sample examination paper for its new, rigorous specification for courses in GCSE Abject Failure.

Section A
These questions are only to be answered by Nicky Morgan or Nick Glibb.

Q1. “It must be right that every child studies a strong academic core up until the age of 16.”  Justify this statement, with extensive reference to the supporting evidence base. In your answer, clarify exactly why people all have slightly differently shaped and sized arms, legs and other body parts that make them potentially more or less successful in achieving different physical activities, but that all children’s brains are absolutely identical and therefore they have an exactly equal potential academic learning ability.

Q2. Successfully increasing children’s academic performance relies on high-quality academic teaching, yet while many teachers with good academic degrees are highly knowledgeable they are often poor communicators and motivators. Given the current teacher shortages, outline the forward plans for extensive CPD and long-term recruitment of new entrants to the profession who will be able to effectively deliver the curriculum. Spend more than five seconds answering this question.

Q3. ‘O’ levels were originally intended for the most academically-able 20%, and currently around 50% of children still fail to achieve 5 or more good GCSE grades. Demonstrate mathematically, showing your working, how the new more rigorous and demanding EBacc GCSEs that are more similar to O levels will be appropriate for 90% of children.

Q4. Using your best handwriting on the attached Df-ingE headed notepaper, compose a reply to Mr and Mrs Smith of No Fixed Address in response to their letter requesting an explanation as to why their son has just failed all his academic EBacc GCSEs, and that surely his time would have been much better spent taking courses in Business Studies, ICT, the Arts and PE, which are all subjects he excels at? Use robust evidence to convince them that it is better to take and fail an academic subject than to achieve an A* in a non-academic subject. Suggesting that their son is simply lazy and did not try hard enough will not be acceptable as an answer.

Q5. ‘So once again we find adults writing off children, deciding what they can and can’t do, and worse, what they can and can’t go on to do, before they’ve even turned 15′.

a) Discuss the inherent irony in your statement, given that you yourself are an adult who has just decided what children can and can’t do before they’ve even turned 15.

b) Using a spreadsheet and vector-based charts and diagrams, calculate and present the impact of your decision to cancel the popular ICT GCSE, which was taken by 110,000 students, compared to the 35,000 who took the Computing GCSE this summer.

Q6. A recent Df-ingE consultation document stated:

In time, the government wants to see at least 90% of pupils in mainstream secondary schools entered for the EBacc subjects at GCSE… Given the need to take highly variable circumstances into account, we propose that schools should be able to determine which pupils make up the small minority for whom taking the whole EBacc is not appropriate…to achieve the national expectation that at least 90% of pupils are entered for the EBacc.

a) Discuss the impact on the reader of the use of the vague and aspirational phrases ‘In time’, ‘wants to see’, ‘small’ and ‘national expectation’ in the context of the current government’s political propaganda strategy. How does this conflict with the mis-leading and inaccurate messages being given out by the mass-media that 90% of children in each school will shortly be forced to take all the EBacc subject GCSE examinations? Evaluate the extent to which this will annoy and frustrate teachers even further, and explain why, or why not, this was the desired intention.

The consultation document continued:

The government will continue to review this approach to ensure that social justice is being delivered and that all pupils, for whom it is appropriate, take the EBacc.

b) Assuming that social justice has been assured and is being effectively delivered for all children, draw up extensive development plans for Russell Group Universities to admit the 90% of children who will have therefore achieved the required entry standards.

Q7. Produce an extended series of lesson plans on the subject of the 1642 English civil war for a class of 32 highly-disruptive and disaffected 15 year-olds who have little chance of future employment or housing. Include details of your differentiated strategies for dealing with knives, mobile phones, drug abuse and long-term absence from the classroom (i.e., of the students, not yourself).

Q8. Compose an imaginative essay that begins: ‘It was the first day of the new school year and all the headteachers got together and refused to comply with the government’s aspirations to force significant numbers of their pupils to take GCSE examinations that were entirely inappropriate for their learning needs….’

Q9. Write a critical appraisal of your career so far, and in particular the advice you were given at school at the time as to which subjects to choose. Carefully consider to what extent it would have been better if you had studied STEM subjects at university instead of an Arts or Humanities-based subject such as the academic and philosophical study of law, as you did.

Q10. Using the plain paper provided, produce a series of colourful and expressive drawings that accurately convey your feelings of utter dismay and sense of failure when confronted by an examination paper that contains a series of questions which you realise you will be quite unable to answer and you will have spend the next three hours sitting in silence staring out of the school gym window.

The Df-ingE’s consultation document can be downloaded from here. Please note however that the consultation is not about whether the Government’s goals should be achieved, but how they can be best achieved.

Dream on…?

Image credit: Flickr/NeilMoralee

 

D&T: No More Logos Any More?

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In a recent speech, Diana Choulerton, the new D&T subject lead at Ofsted, is reported to have made a number of observations made about the current delivery of D&T in schools that make good sense in terms of the challenges that lie ahead for the subject. For example:
• Design [in D&T] isn’t really DESIGN’. There isn’t much TECHNOLOGY.
• D&T lacks challenge. Is there real problem-solving happening?
• The issues five years on remain the same.
• There is an over-focus on making [and] ‘taking something home’.

Well all good sense, except for just one or two things, that is. For example, apparently Ms Choulerton suggests there is too much ‘soft’ D&T, e.g., designing a logo, adding decoration or suggesting a colour. Now in a sense she may well be correct in that there is too much, but the real problem is that many teachers tend to deliver these activites at too low a level of challenge and content. But in highlighting the matter, she’s giving the impression that these things are of less importance – you can almost hear all those HoDs busily tappity-tap-tapping ‘Ofsted says that we mustn’t do the logo project anymore‘.

In reality these so-called ‘soft’ activities (which are by no means soft in their practice) provide excellent contexts in which to teach children about creativity, rapid iterative modelling, the nature and use of symbolic representation and the psychological aspects of design, and as such the very language of the subject – which is of fundamental importance to learners being able to progress. Effectively expressing the quality of a product or service in a simple, distinctive and memorable symbol of logo presents a considerable challenge, as does producing a final detailed specification that enables it to be accurately reproduced and applied – and these days this usually involves producing an animated version for use on digital platforms. Meanwhile such work provides an opportunity to start to discuss the impact and reality of the global impact of branding and marketing, without which design as we know it today would not exist in the market place. So-called ‘hard’ D&T (which for some reason presumably only occurs when ‘hard’ materials are used?) tends to ignore, or at best minimise, these important, highly transferable areas of knowledge and skill.

All Change Please! wonders just how extensive Ms Choulerton’s current awareness is of the level of technical skills are needed with programs such as Photoshop and Illustrator to create images? No, not very. Thought not. Meanwhile finalising the design of a logo is really just the start. Anyone who has ever prepared artwork or a digital file for a professional printer (which All Change Please! rather doubts Ms Choulerton ever has) will tell you that there are then a whole long list of things you never dreamt of that have to precisely specified if you want want your design to look anything like the way you intended – there’s just as much high-level knowledge of traditional and modern reprographic print technologies needed as for 3D manufacture. And if you’re still not convinced, then it’s perhaps worth mentioning that a good logo designer can earn a very decent wage, and there’s a much greater demand for graphic designers than there is for 3D product designers.

So surely what Ms Choulterton should have said was that too many so-called ‘soft’ D&T tasks provide excellent opportunities to learn valuable D&T skills, but are poorly taught?

Screenshot 2015-11-01 12.25.07Milton Glaser’s original, now iconic 1977 ‘I Heart New York’ logo is known and copied the world over. Each year it earns New York State millions of dollars in licensing fees.

Meanwhile Ms Choulterton is also reported to have provided a list of projects that shouldn’t be included as part of a 21st Century curriculum, such as ‘storage, clocks, 2D logos and moisture sensors‘ (for some reason 3D logos appear to be OK then?). Ah, there those HoDs go again – ‘Ofsted says we’re not allowed to do these popular and successful projects anymore‘. But as All Change Please! has always maintained: ‘It’s not what you design it’s the way you design it’. There is absolutely nothing wrong with any of the projects she highlights, provided they are delivered in the right way – storage, telling the time, creating 2D logo identities and using sensors are just as much 21st century problems as any other, and indeed new technologies provide plenty of opportunity for them to be solved in new and exciting ways – though again the real problem is that teachers are delivering them that way.

Indeed it’s a shame that she then seems to have missed the opportunity to promote the approach of the digital maker movement, which is the one thing that could really save the subject and provide it with an exciting way forward into the 20th century. With the current severe shortage of teachers in the subject, somehow D&T needs a fresh start with a new breed of teachers who have not come from a 3D-obsessed, ‘handicraft’ background, but a wide range of more broadly-based design, marketing and service-related areas, including architecture and the environment, communication, IT and business.

And finally, while we’re D&T talking, the community is busy trying to convince the government that the subject is important because it will produce future generations of designers who will in turn produce higher-quality products for export. While that may indeed be the best strategy for helping ensure the subject survives in the current climate of El-Bãcco and forecasts of severe teacher shortage storms, it’s important to remember that D&T is primarily there for the majority who won’t ever become designers and technologists. What these children will gain by taking the subject is to become better and more creative problem-solvers with an increased understanding of and sense of empathy for the human needs and wants of others, and the ability to communicate their ideas and suggestions for the future – just the sort of so-called ’soft’ skills most employers are looking for it seems.

 

BREAKING NEWS…

The Df-ingE has just announced the final specification and assessment structure for new GCSE Design & Technology courses. They can be downloaded here:

Assessment arrangements unveiled for GCSE design and technology

D&T Subject Content November 2015

There are no obvious major changes, but some minor ones, particularly in the weightings of the assessment structure. Whatever, it’s too late to complain now and it’s up to the exam boards to make some sense out of them. At least there’s no more horticulture any more…

 

6526559341_0d29281c4b_oAh – doesn’t that feel better now…?

Image credits:

Flickr/Alexander Edward

Milton Glaser/Tristram Shepard

Flickr/Cokestories