Don’t confuse me with the facts…*

Those of us who are lucky enough to be able to remember the late 60s and early 70s were saddened last week to learn of the passing of Kevin Ayers. A founder member of the experimental and highly creative jazz rock group Soft Machine, he then went on to find greater success leading his own band, and releasing some 17 albums.

Now All Change Please! was surprised to read in all the obituaries that appeared the next day that Ayers apparently attended the Simon Langton school in Canterbury, where he met the other members of the Soft Machine. Now it so happens that All Change Please! taught at this exact same school during the 1980s, and there is clear documentation and recall evidence from staff who were there at the time that the other two other members of the band were indeed pupils there in the early 1960s. However as far as All Change Please! is aware there is nothing to suggest Ayers ever attended as well. On the cover biography notes of the first Soft Machine album, while it states that the other two were at the school, it does not name of the school that Kevin Ayers’ went to. And indeed checking Ayers’ own account he states he attended a boarding school (which Simon Langton wasn’t) and that he met the others in completely different circumstances, as confirmed in the ‘official’ Soft Machine Biography published in 2005.

But within hours of the publication of the obituary, Ayers’ Wikipedia entry had been updated to state that he attended the Simon Langton school in Canterbury (as evidenced by the Guardian Obituary), where he met the other members of the band. As such this will now doubtless pass into history as a fact, which it seems quite clearly isn’t.

So, Mr Gove, is it right to just teach our children the so-called facts, when the facts are subject to such misrepresentation and inaccuracy? The Kevin Ayers example is in itself of no great importance, but others are. Surely what really matters is that children learn that there are no such things as facts? Sources need to be carefully analysed, cross-referenced, and potentially challenged. And they also need to be taught not to believe everything, or perhaps even anything, that they read in the papers. Or, for that matter, on Wikipedia.

Meanwhile it is the proposed new History curriculum that has been widely reported in the press (diverting attention away from the even more inappropriate proposals for Design & Technology). As discussed here:

Why Too Much History is Bad History: The Proposed History Curriculum

it is clear the authors of the curriculum have a complete lack of understanding of how and when children learn.

The linear chronology only gets underway in KS2, between the ages of 7-11, when kids are expected to grasp a huge swathe of history, beginning with the Greeks and Romans (though I see no mention of the Egyptians, Babylonians, Chinese or Indus Valley peoples), and then bomb emphatically through British history’s trajectory, from Stonehenge to the Glorious Revolution, via all the headline history that a 1950s textbook might include.

By the start of KS3, kids are 11.  When I was that age, I distinctly remember making a project book about mummification and tombs in Ancient Egypt – one which I found creative and thrilling – but our youngsters will instead hurtle headlong into Clive of India and the Age of Revolution. Soon after, they will be grappling with the US Constitution and Enlightenment philosophy…

Teachers will no doubt endeavour to enliven their lessons, but with such a curriculum they will struggle to captivate the imaginations of their young pupils, and that will be a fatal tragedy for the subject of history.

Children do need to acquire a ‘time-line’ of history, but this is just not the way to achieve it. Acquiring so-called facts in the context of a time-line is very different from learning everything only in the order in which it happened. And that’s a fact.

*According to that highly reliable source of all knowledge Wikipedia, ‘Don’t confuse me with the facts. I have a closed mind already’ was said by Earl Landgrebe during the Watergate hearings in 1974.

** But according to the far more reliable source of all quotations “Quote…Unquote’, the phrase dates back to a 1945 article in an advertising periodical, and the saying appeared on a sign on a prominent Democrat’s desk in 1954.

Update 3rd March 2013. All Change Please! is pleased to be able to report that history has now been re-written, and the offending Wikipedia entry has now been more accurately updated!


How does your D&T garden grow?


Mary, Mary quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells and cockle shells
And pretty maids all in a row.

Once upon a time, a young Michael Gove probably enjoyed learning, reciting and being tested on an innocent little nursery rhyme that was all about a pretty little garden. However, its origins are apparently steeped in history. According to some sources, Mary is ‘Bloody’ Mary Tudor, and the ‘garden’ is thought to be a reference to the growing number of graveyards filled with all those who refused to agree with her. Meanwhile the silver bells and cockle shells were actually references to torture by thumbscrews and, well you can guess for yourselves what part of the body cockle shells might be attached to. And ‘pretty maids’ it seems were actually an early form of the guillotine.  (Other interpretations are available from all good websites)

All Change Please! hardly needs to spell it out, does it? Today “Bloody’ Michael Gove is creating an increasing number of graveyards that accommodate all the positive developments that have taken place in education over the past 50 years, and is doing so by inflicting the torture of new EBacc and NC specifications and applying them to various sensitive parts of the profession. And if you still disagree, to mix my nursery rhymes, here comes Ofsted to chop off your head.

During the past few days reaction to the proposed Design & Technology National Curriculum has been largely one of disbelief, and focused mainly on the inclusion of gardening and cookery. As far as All Change Please! can discover, a number of conservative Middle England organic gardening concerns launched a full-scale Thatcher-esque ‘Task Force’ to persuade the DfE to include food and gardening as part of the National Curriculum to promote a more healthy future lifestyle for our children. Now of course All Change Please! has no problem with that as such – it’s just a pity, and entirely inappropriate, that D&T should be expected to deliver it.

All Change Please! has also heard ‘on the grapevine’ that references in the new curriculum to sustainability were not permitted, and indeed there is no mention of it anywhere in the whole document, so in the immediate future it seems unlikely to be included. But of course there is absolutely nothing to stop teachers adding it into the mix themselves.

Meanwhile it seems that at a D&T conference on Wednesday 13th there was a growing awareness and acceptance that perhaps the current delivery of the subject in most schools was not working effectively and had failed to sufficiently move forward in recent years. Indeed the strong reaction against the inclusion of horticulture merely reflects the wider community’s refusal to even consider change. These days survival demands rapid evolution to meet new challenges, not standing still and putting up the barricades.

It remains important however for the DfE to receive as many objections as possible to the current proposals, but at the same time simply criticising the inclusion of horticulture and suggesting that it should be simply thrown onto the compost heap are unlikely to achieve anything – food and horticulture are not going to go away. Instead it will be helpful to clearly articulate what the practical issues of implementation are, and as such how they might be potentially detrimental to the future of art, design and technology education and subsequent HE and career progression. The objective needs to be to clarify that the knowledge and skills involved in growing and cooking food are different (but no less worthy) disciplines to creative design-led problem-solving and that as such they need to be staffed and accommodated accordingly.

In All Change Please‘s last post ‘Are Bill and Ben working at the DfE?‘ it promised its consultation re-draft of the D&T proposals, and indeed they are available here D&TNCEdited (pdf download). It is interesting to see how, that with just a few changes of terminology and the removal of the exemplification, the content suddenly sounds a great deal more acceptable, if still far from ideal. While it remains a missed opportunity to actively prompt and inspire the further positive development of D&T, at least now it no longer reads like something written in the 1950s.

And finally, here’s a Christmas Cracker of a joke sent in by Roberta from Manchester:

                ‘Why did Michael Gove include horticulture in Design & Technology?’

                ‘Because he thought it was a STEM subject…’

Followed by the adaption of the saying “You can take a horse to water but you can’t make it drink” by Dorothy Parker, and submitted by a reader from Hereford:

                “You can take a horticulture but you can’t make her think.”

Image Credit: Kira Jones Designs

Are Bill and Ben now working at the DfE?


Was it Bill or was it Ben? And is Little Weed really Michael Gove?

The proposed new design and technology curriculum* is of course, a huge joke. It’s actually hilariously funny, until you realise that it isn’t. DATA have already made it clear that this was not in any way what they had submitted. The unconfirmed, but easy to believe, rumour is that Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men at the DfE drastically pruned the various submissions with a pair of secaturs, and re-potted them along with an old seed packet from the 1950s that they found in the shed at the bottom of the garden, while deciding to add ‘horticulture’ in just for a bit of fun, or perhaps out of some sort of self-interest. As a result it’s incoherent and inappropriately written, obviously by a wooden-headed puppet who has no knowledge of the subject whatsoever, and probably had a really bad experience with a CDT teacher while at public school. Who else could possibly have written:

Through working in fields selected from those listed in the introduction (materials (including textiles), horticulture, electricals and electronics, construction, and mechanics), pupils should be taught to…‘ ?

All Change Please! is surprised Mr Gove approved such a clumsy statement such as this. I wonder what he’s really up to? And perhaps even more worrying is the thought that Andy Pandy, Looby Loo and Big Spotty Dog might currently be in charge of the Departments of Health, the Treasury and Foreign Affairs.

Perhaps the most curious element is the sudden inclusion of ‘horticulture’ as a material to be studied and used. Where on earth has this come from? And then there are the strange references to pupils ‘working in the field’ – presumably the answer must lie in the soil..?  Essentially the proposals appear to signal a return to children being taught how to grow food and cook it, to knit, stitch, patch and mend, and to undertake motorcycle maintenance – albeit with missing Zen – just as they did in the 1950s. There is little emphasis on creativity or open-ended problem-solving, and design is largely relegated to ‘decoration‘ and making ‘things that work‘. Meanwhile: ‘Pupils should be given the opportunity to work in emerging areas of design and technology, such as food design, design for disability, and age-related design‘. That is to say, areas that actually emerged way back in the 1970s. I can’t imagine this is going to exactly impress Sir James and Sir Jonathan?

And does it really refer to the long-ago discredited and largely forgotten about ‘design cycle’. Yes, it does. Meanwhile I also look forward to some interesting conversations about how teachers should approach the challenge of the formal assessment of a pupil’s ‘love of cooking’.

All Change Please! has no problem with the introduction a slimmed-down specification of basic D&T concepts that define the basis of the subject. It’s just that this isn’t it as far as D&T is commonly taught in schools today. The question becomes what to do about it? The DfE are unlikely to admit to their incompetence and agree to re-conceive the whole document, and they currently seem even less likely to respond to the advice of subject associations or teachers.

But wait!  All Change Please! just wouldn’t be All Change Please! if it didn’t take an alternative, disruptive view of the situation. In fact it has come to the conclusion that the new D&T specification is actually a brilliant, forward-looking, post-modern, localised approach to 21st century convivial technology and sustainable self-sufficiency in the forthcoming age of austerity. And let’s be honest, in many schools a single well-taught woodwork or cookery lesson often provides a far better educational experience than a term’s worth of misapplied and misinformed, meaningless 1960s mass-production orientated D&T where all most pupils do is end up with a pile of sawdust and cake crumbs, supported by a dozen or so identical templated A3 development sheets.

Meanwhile, thinking back, some twenty or so years ago All Change Please! had an interesting discussion/argument/fight/bloody battle with some local authority advisors in which it unsuccessfully tried to persuade them that a project involving ‘designing with flowers’ for a large scale festival was every bit as much of a good D&T project as any other, if not more so in that it involved developing colour-coded graphic modelling systems, technical issues concerning how the seasonal flowers would be prepared, securely held in place and sustained, alongside the obvious aesthetic issues of combinations and contrasts of colour, texture and smell. Detailed planning and costing was essential. And back in the 1980s All Change Please! used to run ‘The Backdoor Project’ where students identified a small area of waste or derelict outdoor space and proposed how it should be re-planned, planted and landscaped. And there was the student who once did an excellent project on continuous-flow hydroponics, and the A level candidate who did a landscape architecture-based major project.  On these matters All Change Please! is of course speaking horticulturally, as Miss Prism once said, and therefore actually welcomes it as an area that perhaps should always have been included, particularly in terms of design for sustainability. As All Change Please! always used to say: ‘It’s not so much what you design that matters, it’s the way that you design it..

And in the future, when the oil runs low and gets prohibitively expensive, it’s going to be extremely useful to be able to maintain and repair everyday mechanical devices such as bicycles, sewing machines and wood burning stoves. For most people, tomorrow is not going to be about about innovating more and more sophisticated high-tech gizmos to be made by robots in China, but recycling, reusing and making things at a local level. Creative D&T teachers could really make this approach work, while perhaps the rest will actually be able to deliver the craft-based knowledge and skills they are actually good at.

It is of course important to remember that the proposed requirement is defining only the basics of what must be covered, and not what can’t be developed or included in addition. Does the document actually prevent good D&T teachers in any way from delivering good quality D&T? Perhaps the problem is not so much the intended content, but simply the way it has been written? Maybe the way forward is to confuse the DfE by congratulating it on its impressive vision, and politely offer help to improve the vocabulary and exemplification to make it more understandable to teachers? And that is exactly what All Change Please! is in the process of doing, as it will reveal in a further post in a few days’ time.

* The new proposed curriculum and consultation document can be downloaded here. The D&T section starts on page 156

A wolf in sheep’s clothing?

6716652525_75d5e98afd_bWhich one is the real Mr Gove?

Reading much of today’s press, put to bed last night before nice Mr Gove’s appearance at the House of Commons today, one might easily jump to the conclusions that yesterday’s All Change Please!‘s post was now well past its sell-by date and suggest that the 7th February should become National Arts Day in which we all take to the streets singing, dancing and painting in celebration of the day the EBacc was laid to rest and the Arts lived to fight another day. And you might further want to celebrate the day that Mr Gove had to admit he had got the whole thing wrong and that he had finally come to his senses and did the right thing.

But nice, innocent looking Mr Gove is of course a lot sneakier than that. First he managed to shift the blame for his so-called U turn on GCSEs on the fact that he had been advised that setting up single, ie non-competitive, exam boards would fall foul of European legislation. Quite how those two things are connected All Change Please! has yet to establish. And in fact, all that Mr Gove actually announced was that his idea to re-name GCSEs as EBaccs had turned out to be a ‘bridge too far’. In other words the more so-called rigorous, end of course, 3 hour, no-conferring, academic written papers are still with us, but just now called GCSEs again. He then announced an end to the two-tier higher and lower system of papers, meaning that all pupils will have to answer exactly the same questions. However, he added, extension papers will be offered to more able candidates hoping to achieve the higher grades. So, no suggestion of a two tier approach there then?

But the most significant change announced was is in the introduction of a complicated eight subject performance measure, which extends the new EBacc, or rather GCSE, subjects by including a further three non EBacc GCSE subjects, ie that can potentially include Arts subjects, PE, RE, etc. So, as it stands, to come top of the league tables, schools will now have to encourage students to take English language, maths, two sciences, geography or history and a modern foreign language. Plus another three that are not EBacc GCSE subjects, up to a maximum of ten subjects. Now, add in English literature, and it will make it very difficult for a student to take all three sciences, or geography and history, or French and German (or whatever). Confused? You will be…, especially on Year 9 options evening. Hmm – All Change Please! is starting to get the distinct feeling that this is yet another hastily scribbled on the back of an envelope, quick-fix bit of spin written by an unpaid intern that the DfE hope they might get away with.

And then there’s the revelation that the EBCertificate has not actually gone away, as students who complete the core six academic EBacc GCSE subjects  will still gain the so-called prestigious award, and the measure will still be included in league tables. Now this does mean that while the 8 subject measure will at least give parents a better guidance as to the quality of breadth offered by a school, they will still want to see a good EBacc performance as well. So while the perceived value and uptake of Arts and other non-academic EBacc subjects has been raised, they still come second to the mighty EBC.

Meanwhile of course there’s also been the introduction of the proposed new National Curriculum. Strange that both things should be announced at exactly the same time? Why the urgency to tell everyone that EBaccs were going to be still called GCSEs, even though they weren’t? All Change Please! has no objection to a slimmed down NC defining the really fundamental knowledge that clearly everyone needs to acquire and understand, but there is little evidence here that what has been defined has been very carefully thought through in terms of the ease of the access to certain types of knowledge made possible by the information age, or indeed even agreed with teachers and subject associations. Much of it is as clear as mud.

And speaking of mud, watch out for tomorrow’s post on the new proposals for design and technology….

Spinning dangerously out of control


“When you’re alone and life is making you lonely
You can always go, Downton”

On the evidence of his recent outspoken address to the Social Market Foundation (Tuesday 5th February), Michael Gove seems to be showing signs of getting desperate. It’s been a difficult couple of months for him, with plenty of criticism of his proposed EBaccs and EBC coming at him from all sides – indeed it’s hard to think of anyone who has recently come out in support of his plans. He does not seem to realise that in order to establish any meaningful reform in education (or any other complex system), you really do need to have the workforce on your side.

In his cheap and unconvincing accusation of Labour denying working-class children the opportunity to study academic subjects, Gove seems to be descending into doing little more than delivering a jumbled tirade of bite-sized quotes that he hopes will spin a good headline in the Daily Mail. These are not the words of a confident commander-in-chief, but the ramblings of someone so firmly fixed in his own ideology that he simply cannot conceive that he just might be wrong, and that he will be victorious simply because he has some sort of divine right. When a crisis occurs and the going gets tough, a leader who is in control remains calm: while still defending his position he carefully leaves room for manoevure and compromise, should it be needed. Simply digging a deeper and deeper hole and providing even more ammunition for the opposition is not the way forward.

Meanwhile in his reference to Rutherford, Dawkins, and a number of great intellectuals of the past (most of whom few have ever heard of), his speech simply confirms his complete lack of understanding of what creativity is and actually involves. Of course there is no mention of any contemporary artists, designers and performers, as this might spoil his argument, but at the same time it suggests that Gove really does not live in this world, but the last one, as exemplified by his populist-seeking references to Downton Abbey (not to mention Jade Goody, which I won’t). Perhaps it is just him alone who does not seem to have noticed that we no longer live in the Edwardian era, but a whole century later? Gove appears intent on simply replacing station in life due to social class with station in life due to academic ability, whilst somehow failing to recognise that not everyone’s goal in life is political power via an Oxbridge education.

And there is his long-ago retired reference defining non-academics as being ‘good with their hands’ – as if somehow their hands are in someway disconnected from their ears, eyes and brain – surely revealing more about his own limited understanding of the way the world works today.

As regards the revised National Curriculum, despite his assertions, no-one to the knowledge of All Change Please! has ever seriously suggested that children should never, ever be taught any facts. Indeed there is perhaps little to argue about in the new basic requirements, providing teachers remember they do not define any facts that can’t be taught.  Except for the fact that we are heading towards a society in which we know everything, but can do nothing.

The sensible thing for Mr Cameron to do now would be to relieve Gove of his post, and let someone else sort out the mess in a more conciliatory manner. “Congratulate him for his effort and dedication in raising important issues”, as Sir Humphrey might say. “As a reward, move him to another department where he can make a crucial impact in the run-up to the next election”, and where “he can do less omni-f****** damage”, as Malcolm Tucker might put it. Unfortunately though I’m not sure that Mr Cameron is that sensible.

Image credit:  Glen Whisk


Michael Gove forced into humiliating U-turn over exam reform

Michael. You’re not listening are you?

If you are not familiar with Joyce Grenfell’s monologues, then do spend a few minutes listening to this one.  And even if you are, this classic called ‘Free Activity Period’ is well worth hearing again.

“Right class, now pay attention.  Yes, that includes you Michael.

There’s a lovely surprise this morning – it’s been announced that you can now take Computer Science as part of the EBacc Certificate., even though we don’t have anyone who can actually teach it.  Yes, I knew you’d all be pleased.  Of course this won’t mean you can all go on to earn lots of money in later life writing computer programs, because IT companies now prioritise things such as creativity, flexibility, evidence of being able to work collaboratively and having a good awareness of how business works.  Which I’m afraid will count you all out, but never mind.

Michael, you’re not listening are you?

Now of course as you know, here at the Russell Group Academy it’s extremely important that you all manage to achieve the EBacc Certificate, partly because we want you to go on and get a good education at a prestigious university, but mainly because our Academy needs to maintain its reputation.  Why’s that, you ask?  Because if we didn’t all those nice mummys and daddys might not want to continue send their darling children here, and I would lose my job, and we wouldn’t want that to happen now would we?  No, we certainly wouldn’t.  And also of course because if you do all get the EBacc certificate it will mean a jolly nice performance related pay-rise for me.

Michael, I won’t tell you again. What’s that Michael? No, you can’t be excused.

What was I saying?  Oh yes, who has heard of the phrase ‘Hobson’s Choice’?  No-one?  I would have thought you might know, Michael?  Well I’ll explain – it basically means having no choice at all.  Now, the reason I’m telling you this is because last week all of your teachers got together – well at least the ones that are left: we were so sorry that Miss Art, Ms Drama, Mr Design and Mr Technology all had to leave, weren’t we? – and we all talked about the fact that if any of you failed just one of your six EBacc subjects it would mean that you wouldn’t get your EBacc Certificate, and our Academy would fall even lower in the league tables.

Michael, I think you had better put that in the bin, hadn’t you? No, not later, now.

Anyway, as a result we thought it important that, just in case you don’t pass some of them, it would be best if you just concentrated on the subjects that are part of the EBacc.  So that means that next year you’ll be studying English Language, English Literature, Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Computer Science, History, Geography, French and German. Let’s see, that makes 11 subjects.  Hmm.  Oh well, it’s better to be safe than sorry isn’t it?  So, that’s all jolly super as it means that next week when you hand in your EBacc subject option choices it won’t take you any time at all to fill in the pre-completed form.

What’s that Michael?  You wanted to do an Arts subject, RE and PE but now there won’t be any time?  Well, you should have thought about that before shouldn’t you?

No Michael.  Don’t do that.”