50 Shades of Gove

Gangster Little Big Mickey Blue Eyes* Gove’s recent announcement that he is no longer considering the reintroduction of a two-tier examination system represents a major U grade turn on the statements he made in the House of Commons less than a week previously.  Instead he even more ridiculously suggested that  ‘slower learners should take their O levels later in life’. As such it reveals the true extent of the superficiality of his understanding of the education system, and his complete lack of credibility in making decisions that will affect millions of children over the coming years. It has also become clear that his motivation is not so much to improve the education provision for the country as a whole, but more a shady attempt to further his own career ambitions.

Following the Daily Mail leak last week Gove was called the next day to the House of Commons to answer questions, most of which he skilfully avoided (as politicians always do), presumably as he didn’t have any answers. He could have explained that these were just early proposals due for full consultations. He could have immediately quashed the idea that a return two-tier system was not a serious idea, or that it could be realistically put in place by the timescale indicated. He could have been a lot more convincing about providing an innovative new approach to the process of examining learning at 16+ and a proper alternative for those who are unlikely to achieve academic excellence. But he didn’t do any of these things.

Then on Monday there was an announcement of a speech he was about to make in which he was extremely disparaging about vocational courses as a whole, intimating that they were all a waste of time, and emphasising as a fact that employers were more interested in academic performance than real knowledge and experience of the workplace.

And then there have been recent news reports about the lack of appropriate qualifications and experience of, admittedly probably a very small number of Ofsted Inspectors, but nonetheless something that Gove must be held responsible for. It is difficult to tell exactly what is going on, and there are optimistic rumours that he is about to be re-shuffled, and that in terms of his legacy, wants to be seen as the man who introduced the return to so-called Gove levels, whatever shape or form they might eventually take.

However, just in case there are no plans to move Gove on to a different department over the summer, or that any attempts to introduce Gove levels have not now as expected been put off until after the next election, it is time for all those in education to find a way to make it clear to the country the ways in which his reforms will be so destructive, and that they have no confidence whatsoever in his ability to develop a clear and cohesive policy that will be to the future benefit of the nation’s children.

Finally it’s good to know that there is at least one MP who not only gets it, but has done her homework as well. Pat Glass, Labout MP for North West Durham spoke in the House during the subsequent debate on the GCSE reforms, and revealed Gove’s statements on PISA scores and Singapore for the nonsense they are. Her speech is contained in the comments section below. Now here is someone who really should be the minister for education.

*The title of the film Mickey Blue Eyes comes from Michael being forced to impersonate a gangster, who Frank names “Kansas City Little Big Mickey Blue Eyes”.

A return to O levels: what really happened.

A meeting over coffee between Sir Humphrey Appleby and Malcolm Tucker.

Wednesday 20th June.

Sir HumphreyYou know, I’m getting rather worried by this chap Gove. He seems to think he’s about to become the next Prime Minister and is starting to act like he is already.

Tucker:  I don’t give a ****** **** about your ******* minister. I’ve got to come up with some way of deflecting media interest in tomorrow’s ****** doctors’ strike, and there’s a rumour that everyone is about to find out about our nice little K2 tax-free investments.

SHAh, yes, I see what you mean. We certainly don’t want either of those to be the top story. Hmm. I wonder if there’s a way we can kill two birds with one stone?

Tucker:  Go, on then, *********, tell me something I haven’t ******* thought of already

SHWell, you know how Gove has always wanted to reintroduce O levels to increase our international credibility, even if it does mean more children failing their exams? It so happens that a copy of some rough notes he made a while ago in his jotter ended up on my desk the other day. The ramblings of a lunatic, and it would never get through cabinet of course, but we might be able to, say, if you know what I mean, arrange a leak to a well-known tabloid? They’ll have a field day with it.

Tucker:  Yes, and of course, with both Cameron and Clegg safely out of the country, they’ll be out of the loop. They’ll be ******* furious when they find out.

SH And to keep the story running through the day we can call Gove to the House to answer questions. I’m sure we can rely on him to make it sound like a definite policy, rather than just a proposal.

Tucker:  Right, that’s ******** decided then. I’d give anything to see the look on Govey’s **** face when he’s summoned to the Headmaster’s office on Monday morning to ******* explain himself, and he realises he’s been well and truly set up…. He’ll be in detention for the next six months!

SH:  Good, I’m glad that’s sorted. Now we can move on to the really important issue – it’s starting to look like we are going to need to come up with a new tax avoidance scheme…

Horses for courses

It’s Royal Ascot…


Ignoring for a moment the rather convenient fact that today’s controversial ‘Back to O levels’ proposal was leaked to the Daily Mail the day before the doctors’ strike, All Change Please! readers may, or may not, be surprised to learn that it thinks bringing back O levels is in fact a jolly good idea. But that’s as far as it goes regarding the details of the proposals.

So here are All Change Pleases very own proposals, exclusively leaked to its own blog.

Announced today are a series of what will be known as R levels. The R stands for ‘Relevant’. Subject content will be related to potential everyday situations and circumstances that 15 and 16 year-olds might actually find themselves in later in life. These will comprise important areas (previously and quite erroneously known as Mickey Mouse subjects) such as the creative and performing arts, design and technology, IT, engineering, business, management, sports studies, engineering, etc. The new R levels will be welcomed by employers, parents and teenagers, and seen as an essential requirement for entry into lifelong education and ultimately well-paid practical work leading to a prosperous future where creativity, collaboration and sustainability are recognised as the way forward into the 21st century.

While the new R levels will be taken by the majority of students, the 15% or so who are unable to cope with the rigour of such practical subjects will be labelled as ‘academic’. These ‘special needs’ children will be taught separately, with the hope that after taking their O levels (the O stands for Ordinary), they will eventually manage to gain entry into a University where they can quietly contemplate their existence without doing anyone any harm. They will then go on to become lecturers and professors and pass on their thoughts to other unfortunate children, while the rest of the world gets on with real life.

If Gove’s proposals go ahead, large numbers of non-academically orientated children will end up failing their ‘rigorous’ O levels. They will be joined by those with CSEs who are seen as second-class. Truancy rates will rise dramatically as pupils vote with their feet. Just as horses are only entered for races in which they stand a chance of winning, it’s about time we started entering students for valued and relevant courses and examinations that they stand a chance of passing. Change is needed. But not that sort of change.

The Unbearable Obsolescence of Learning

It may be a sad fact of life, but when something has ceased to be of any practical use or value, it needs to be disposed of. Dismantled. Torn apart. Recycled and re-purposed where possible, and the rest sent unceremoniously to the dump, before being replaced and updated by a brand new model that works a whole lot better – even if it maybe doesn’t last quite as long. And that’s exactly what needs to be happening to our current education system right now.

All Change Please! has recently come across three very different posts that are essentially about the same thing – the need for completely new approaches to teaching and learning, fit more for the remaining seven-eighths of the 21st century than the 19th. (Yes, this month we’re exactly 12 years and 6 months through the 21st century! Well, depending where you start counting from, anyway.)

The first: Unwilling to learn?

This post endorses something that All Change Please! expressed a while back, that children do actually want to learn – it is after a basic survival skill – but that the problem is that we are not currently teaching them things they don’t see the relevance or need of, and don’t care about.

“Let’s put down the burden. Just set it down and walk away. Make schools places where the first job of adults is to discover who these kids are, and provide support, time and resources to help them become the people they want to be.”

Meanwhile in the (much needed) haste to reform the ICT curriculum, all those BBC Micro enthusiasts from the 1980s have taken the opportunity to get back to the good old days and promote the idea that everyone should take a course in Computer Science. Now I agree that all children should experience the basics of programming to discover if it’s something that appeals to them, but the thought that everyone should become coders is nonsense. So it’s good to read this post:

Let’s Not Call It “Computer Science” If We Really Mean “Computer Programming”

“Of all the mathematical sciences, computer science is unquestionably the dullest. If I had my time again, despite discovering just how much I love writing software, I still wouldn’t study computer science. I’d program, for sure. And I’d buy books on CS and learn what I need to make me a better programmer. Which is exactly what I did. It’s my deepest concern that we don’t put off a new potential generation of software developers by teaching them stuff that a. they probably won’t need to know, and b. will be taught at the expense of things they might actually find useful.

“The graduate would be able to write a program, but write a program to do what? … It’s no good being about to program if you don’t know anything of how to solve problems.”

And finally, designer John McWade on The Vanishing Master:

“You spend a career mastering a craft, over decades becoming so deep, so knowing, so capable, that you are now the wise old man or woman to whom even teachers of teachers come for guidance. And then the craft vanishes, leaving what?  “That’s what’s going missing! We’re not making masters. The changes are coming so fast that everyone is always beginning.” ”…Skills, entire professions, especially in tech, now run a 100-year life cycle in a decade or less. No one gains the wisdom of years.”

Our education system has yet to really consider that impact on teaching and learning of the rate of change we are now experiencing. In the 1950s, you left school feeling you knew just about everything there was to know. These days you leave knowing virtually nothing in terms of the amount of global knowledge there is. And whereas before you spent a lifetime gaining experience and wisdom, now, if you are lucky, that experience lasts just six months before the world has moved on, long before any wisdom has begun to emerge. If it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill, then it is important to discover early on in life what that skill might be.

At present, the majority of children moving from Year 1 to Year 11 spend more than than discovering that they are not cut out to spend the rest of their lives as an academic. And we need to ensure that the skills we need to master are as transferable as possible. Somehow we need to find a way of teaching essential and desirable skills and knowledge that will still ultimately lead to some sort of wisdom, while at the same time preparing children for a world in which the skills and knowledge they will actually need are, to a large extent, currently unimaginable.

The world of education is still tinkering with the past at a time when its approach is obsolete, and the time has come when it needs to be disposed of. Dismantled. Torn apart. Recycled and re-purposed where possible, and the rest sent unceremoniously to the dump – and, unlike the last three sentences, not just be repeated again sometime later when everyone has forgotten how inadequate it was the first time round.  Just as we need completely new processes of collaborative thought and action to deal with things like the global economy, future sources of more sustainable energy, the potential use of new and emerging electronic and bio-technologies, etc., so we need completely new processes of thought and action to deal with the requirements for a future education system that is flexible, appropriate, effective, and fit for purpose – well for the next six months into the future, anyway.

Image credit: Mattias Olsson  http://www.flickr.com/photos/maol/254171944

So what does it all add up to?

Could this be a new, bright red iPad?

The news over the weekend of the proposed revision to the Primary National Curriculum probably hasn’t escaped your notice. But just in case it has…

To begin with, All Change Please! openly admits it knows very little about primary education, but long, long ago it did actually attend a primary school, which of course makes it an expert on the matter.

Now this may come as a surprise – even a shock – to regular readers, but All Change Please! actually thinks that some of the content of the proposals are a good idea: every child does needs to acquire a certain level of basic skills in English and Maths, and that certainly includes things like punctuation and times-tables. Well, it’s never done me any harm, anyway. At least not as far as I’m aware.

But sadly, that’s where the good news ends, and the proposals start to fail to add up. These days basic skills in English, maths and scientific knowledge together with some historical names and dates and exposure to a foreign language are not nearly enough on their own as a preparation for life. But start assessing and publishing the results of easily-assessable basic knowledge tests, and schools will quite naturally place an excessive amount of emphasis on them at the expensive of a wider understanding and range of experiences. Somehow we still need to find a way to have a balance of factual recall, and learning to learn through contextualised and personalised first-hand experiences. And then there is the problem of defining an age by which children need to have acquired these skills and knowledge, and what to do about those who become ‘left behind’?

Proposed primary curriculum: what about the pupils?

Letters: The trouble with Michael Gove’s primary school proposals


But surely the biggest problem of all, and the one so often neglected by new government curriculum policies through the ages, is the need for high quality in-service training for teachers, which, in the current economic climate just isn’t going to happen. Or, as the Daily Mail subtly puts it:

Thousands of teachers go back to school to learn basic maths and grammar so they can deliver tough new lessons

Ah well – perhaps it’s all not a problem after all. Because these proposals don’t apply to Academies, and the intention is that before long all schools will become Academies (i.e., two negatives become a positive?). So what all it really adds up to is another bout of political/media spin in nice Mr Gove’s campaign to become the next Prime Number?

And finally – it seems that aliens have landed… well this writer seems to be living on a different planet, anyway:
Proper education will do much more for the poor

Image credit: Fotolia  http://en.fotolia.com/id/5948017