Making maths and English a more funky shade of pinker

What do you mean, you don’t know who this is?

Now for what is All Change Please’s 100th post, here are a few things that irritated me during the week.

First was the headline: Young unemployed ‘need maths and English at GCSE’

“The report raises concerns that over the last few years, schools have been encouraging pupils to study for qualifications that are seen as easier to achieve to boost their position in league tables.

A government source said: “Under Labour millions of children were pushed into non-academic qualifications that were of little value”.

“The government is raising standards by allowing only the best qualifications to count in the league tables and increasing the number of children doing the academic subjects that businesses, parents and universities value most.”

This is, of course, complete nonsense. Virtually all pupils study maths and English to GCSE, so the issue of studying so-called ‘soft-subjects’ instead is irrelevant. And, while universities value academic subjects, the majority of businesses and parents don’t.

Employers are looking for a range of basic skills – such as how to write clearly and concisely using reasonably correct grammar and spelling, to work as part of a team, how to add up, take away, multiply and divide, and calculate percentages, be punctual, polite and reliable and have a good work ethic, etc. But this is a very small part of what the current ‘academic’ GCSEs in maths and English are essentially measuring. For those learners not destined for academia – and that’s at least 50% – far too much time is being spent trying to teach them high-level theoretical concepts at the expense of ensuring they are proficient at a basic level.

Meanwhile I’ve always been amused by the title ‘Functional skills’ (better known as ‘Funky skills’), which are defined as:

‘those core elements of English, mathematics and ICT that provide individuals with the skills and abilities they need to operate confidently, effectively and independently in life, their communities and work’. (QCDA, deceased)

I always want to ask what ‘non-functional’ skills are? My answer is of course ‘academic skills’, i.e. those that are of no practical use whatsoever…

What we really need is a qualification that is accepted and valued by potential employers as a recognition that a school-leaver has achieved basic standards in real-life applications of maths, English and IT. It could be taken at any time, during, say Key Stage 3 or 4, whenever the learner is ready, and sat more than once if necessary.

Not of course that it will make much difference, as there will still not be any jobs available for them, however well qualified they are.

Moving on, the Quote of the Week award goes to that nice elite Mr Gove, last seen on some yet-to-be-discovered, far, far away galaxy (if only…):

‘We can all marvel at the genius of Pythagoras, or Wagner, share in the brilliance of Shakespeare or Newton, delve deeper into the mysteries of human nature through Balzac or Pinker,’ he said.

‘I believe that denying any child access to that amazing legacy, that treasure-house of wonder, delight, stimulation and enchantment by failing to educate them to the utmost of their abilities is as great a crime as raiding their parents’ bank accounts – you are stealing from their rightful inheritance, condemning them to a future poorer than they deserve.

‘And I am unapologetic in arguing that all children have a right to the best. Yes, I am romantic in one sense, I suppose. I believe man is born with a thirst for free inquiry and is nearly everywhere held back by chains of low expectation.’

Read more, if you dare:

All Change Please! can just imagine the following conversation:

Human Resources Officer: So, we’re an innovative global  software engineering company. We need creative staff with a passion for emerging infrastructure nano-technologies and who are confident working with Perl, C++ and Python in an agile inter-disciplinary environment. So what have you got to offer us?

Job seeker: Well, err, to be honest I’ve not the faintest what you’re talking about, but if you like we could have a jolly interesting discussion about the brilliance of Shakespeare or Newton, or perhaps delve deeper into the mysteries of human nature through Balzac or Pinker*…

HR: Hmm. Have you considered working in a call centre?

* Just in case you’re wonder who Pinker is, according to Wikipedia:

Pinker is known within psychology for his theory of language acquisition, his research on the syntax, morphology, and meaning of verbs, and his criticism of connectionist (neural network) models of language. In The Language Instinct (1994) he popularized Noam Chomsky’s work on language as an innate faculty of mind, with the twist that this faculty evolved by natural selection as a Darwinian adaptation for communication, although both ideas remain controversial (see below). He also defends the idea of a complex human nature which comprises many mental faculties that are adaptive (and is an ally of Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins in many evolutionary disputes). Another major theme in Pinker’s theories is that human cognition works, in part, by combinatorial symbol-manipulation, not just associations among sensory features, as in many connectionist models.

Try telling that to Year 11 on a Friday afternoon.

And if you don’t know what this great man Pinker looks like, just go back to the top of this post.

Wait! There’s more…   O.M.G!

2 comments on “Making maths and English a more funky shade of pinker

  1. Tony from Kent writes….
    grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr (there aren’t enough r’s to do this grr justice)

    And what will we do with all these elitist intellectuals I wonder? Will they be any better equipped or more prepared to stack shelves in Tescos or wipe old people’s bums in care homes? Will their enhanced ability to read, write, remember and regurgitate in tight 60 minute slots help us confront and meet the unparalleled social, economic, and environmental uncertainties and challenges we are facing in the next two decades? Will reading 40 books on Milton, Shakespeare and Newton create a single extra job (other than at Amazon’s distribution centre) or improve our GDP, or lower the inflation rate, or reduce CO2 levels?

    And how does any of this sit with the fact that the sum of all human knowledge is now available online? Why do you need to be tested to see if you can remember a random collection of stuff selected to reflect and reproduce weird people like Gove? For goodness sake you need to demonstrate that you can use knowledge appropriately to do something worthwhile and add to the sum of human experience rather than just reflect it…

    And what about collaboration and connection and creativity…? I suppose when you can read about the Punic wars in Latin and conjugate amat, none of this matters.

    And has it not occurred to Gove that one reason there are so many NEETS is that thanks to his (and his Westimister and city buddies) so called elitist intellectualism there are no effing jobs for them to do…

    If it wasn’t so alarming it would be funny… how is this pathetic man allowed to spout such nonsense unchallenged?

    We urgently need a new tv programme based on setting real world challenges to “bog standard comprehensive” Bash street type of kids (including Denise the Menaces, Roger the Dodgers, Mini the Minxes and Beryl the Perils) and pitch them against public/grammar school, classically educated Lord Snooty and his palls types (including Walter and his softy mates) The challenges need to be life threatening and require the ability to confront the unexpected and take action as a collective….

    With rising blood pressure

  2. So with all that theoretical knowledge what careers are open to you? An MP perhaps? They don’t really need any useful skills – do they Mr Gove!

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