Horses for courses

This post was written just after Ed Milliband was elected leader of the Labour Party.

All Change Please!

I was recently reading about a highly qualified Oxbridge scientist who was enjoying, and by all accounts succeeding in her first year as a teacher in a secondary school under the ‘Teach First‘ scheme that encourages graduates to spend at least the first two years of their career teaching in ‘difficult’ secondary schools.

Very soon, I thought, and sooner than she probably realises, she will have to make the biggest decision of her life – whether to leave teaching at the end of the two years, or to become a teacher for the rest of her working life. In later years we of course would recognise her as someone with excellent communication and personnel skills, highly organised, methodical, hard-working and socially-minded with excellent communication and personnel skills – ideal for employment in any industry. But sadly industry doesn’t work that way, and before long will simply see her…

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Mr Gove writes a letter

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In a bid to re-kindle the ancient art of letter-writing, it seems that sly old Foxy-govey and nice young Mr Twiggy-wiggy have recently been corresponding with each other. First Mr G sent Mr T a jolly long letter attacking the vagueness of Labour’s Education policies. So clever Mr T replied by accusing Mr G of spending too much time writing letters and not enough actually doing anything. Now that made Mr G very cross indeed, so he picked up his quill pen and in his very best handwriting wrote another lengthy letter listing all the wonderful things the Conservatives, or rather he, had done since they came to power.

Michael Gove kindly warns Stephen Twigg: people think you’re weak
http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/2013/06/michael-gove-kindly-warns-stephen-twigg-people-think-youre-weak/

http://www.politicshome.com/uk/article/80474/michael_goves_response_to_stephen_twigg.html

Now it so happens that All Change Please! has come into possession of a possible copy of Mr G’s original reply before a junior minister wisely took a red pen to it prior to popping down to the Post Office to wait in a long queue for a First class stamp at the tax-payers expense.

So here is the original with the believed deleted text shown in red:

Dear Stephen,

Thank you for your response to my letter. You suggested I should spend more time attending to the government’s education policies. Since the general election we have:

  • Opened 81 free schools and approved 211 more, to provide 130,000 extra places once they are full. In doing so we have allocated a civil servant and twice the normal state budget per school ensuring certain organisations get a disproportionate slice of state-funding and helping to squeeze out those remaining hotbeds of nasty lefty marxist comprehensives.

  • Increased the number of sponsored academies from 203 to 699, making billions of pounds of state funding directly available to various global commercial organisations as I privatise the state system in front of your very eyes.

  • Allowed all schools to convert to Academy status – an option 2,225 schools have taken so far, so that a majority of secondary schools are now academies. Well, when I say allowed, of course I mean forced.

  • Opened 16 Studio Schools and approved 28 more, which is strange really as these appear to completely contradict our overall policy of emphasising academic education. Hmm, perhaps I better look a bit further into this one?

  • Drafted a new National Curriculum that will be taught in schools from September 2014, despite the fact that it has been rejected by employers, teachers, subject associations, teachers unions, and most academics.

  • Given all schools freedom over the length of the school day, because as we all know the longer children spend at school the more their parents can work to earn more money that we can raise taxes on.

  • Given teachers the power to search pupils without consent for banned items, especially those malicious and dangerous mobile phones that not only provide access to the internet and all that seditious free thought but actually allow young people to express their own ideas and communicate with the wider world and worst of all cheat in tests. I mean we wouldn’t want to give them the idea that real life was like that now would we?

  • Given heads the final say on exclusions by removing the rights of appeals panels to overturn their decisions. Even if they are biased or just want to get rid of some of the non-academic kids they’ve given up on as they will lower the school’s position in the league tables.

  • Given teachers the power to enforce same-day detentions. greatly inconveniencing parents waiting at the school gate, or make them anxious that they have not got back yet having possibly been beaten up by a gang of teachers on the way home. We intend to be tough on detentions but not so tough on the causes of detentions, which is usually poor teaching that we have done nothing to improve.

  • Increased fines for truancy. This is of course needed to help meet the extra cost of more thousands more truancy officers that will be needed when the school leaving age is increased to 18.

  • Set out plans for more rigorous GCSEs that will be taught from September 2015. And that will be failed by more pupils from Summer 2017.

  • Introduced the English Baccalaureate which has led to a doubling in the percentage of pupils studying an academic core at GCSE. And subsequently failing to find a job

  • Enlisted the Russell Group to design new ‘deep thought’ A-levels. Which will produce even more people in society with a profound and deep sense of failure

  • Restored marks for spelling, punctuation and grammar in GCSEs, which your government abolished. So it’s SPAG that’s being assessed rather than subject knowledge?

  • Scrapped excessive modules, coursework and controlled assessment. Which enabled many children to actually gain a qualification that bore some resemblance to real-life

  • Commissioned the Wolf Report into vocational education and implemented its findings in full. The Wolf report… a sheep in wolf’s clothing…?

  • Ensured only high quality vocational qualifications that lead to employment and further study count in performance tables. Thus ensuring that there are now far fewer courses that relate to sort of jobs that most people actually end up doing

  • Ensured all young people who fail to get a C in English or Maths GCSE carry on studying those subjects to 18. If they ever actually turn up to school

  • Introduced a £2.5 billion pupil premium to target funding at those most in need. That will be spent inappropriately by most schools.

  • Scrapped eight education quangos. And failed to replace them with any other advisory bodies. leaving teachers to fend for themselves.

  • Cut bureaucratic guidance to schools by three quarters. And issued bureaucratic orders instead.

  • Announced that, from this September, rigid pay-scales, which led to automatic pay rises regardless of performance and prevented heads from rewarding great teachers, will be abolished. With the result that unsatisfactory teachers in shortage subject areas will get paid a great deal more than outstanding teachers in the Arts and Humanities

  • Introduced £20,000 bursaries to attract top graduates in maths and science to teaching. Until that is they realise that they can still earn far more in industry.

  • Encouraged a record number of top graduates to apply to become teachers, despite the fact that good graduates do not necessarily make good teachers.

    Expanded Teach First, with quadruple the number of places on the scheme by 2015-16. Until of course participants realise that if they’ve been a teacher for more than a couple of years, they’ll never be able to get a job in industry due to lack of recent and relevant experience.

  • Moved teacher training out of lecture halls and into classrooms through the introduction of Teaching Schools and School Direct. With the result that teachers have no knowledge or critical awareness of the various different approaches to the processes of education.

  • More than doubled funding for extra school places to £5 billion to deal with the shortage of primary places that is the direct result of the last government’s failures to control immigration and plan for a rising school population. While failing to realise or provide for a predicted bulge in the Primary School population over the next few years.

  • Scrapped the wasteful Building Schools for the Future programme which you have admitted squandered billions of pounds. And completely failed to understand how narrow corridors and soulless square-box schools leads to impoverished learning.

  • Published more data on school performance than ever before, including data on how many children from each school get to a top university – data kept hidden by the last government. Spent more time and money producing worthless data that schools ignore, while failing to fund proper and effective Continuing Professional Development for all teachers.

Of course there is plenty more to do to raise standards, but I hope this reassures you about the progress this government has made on education policy.

Perhaps you could now set out the progress the Labour party has made on education policy since the general election by answering the questions I put to you earlier?

Yours sincerely,

MICHAEL ‘The Fox’ GOVE

Image credit: Will, Flickr. http://www.flickr.com/photos/ajourneyroundmyskull/4480056969

Michael Gove kindly warns Stephen Twigg: people think you’re weak
http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/2013/06/michael-gove-kindly-warns-stephen-twigg-people-think-youre-weak/

Every Tom, Dick, Harry, and Sally too

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Mr and Mrs Smith were blessed with four children, all of whom are now grown up.  Although they love them all, they are particularly proud of Tom, who works in the local care home. He helps people in their old age, making their final days as easy and pleasant as he can, and he’s a highly valued member of the local community. Meanwhile Dick has set up his own successful business and supplies and advises on the latest energy-saving gadgets and fittings for the home, saving the planet, and saving people money on their electricity bills too. Sally is very different – she’s an entertainer, and sings and dances, bringing joy and laughter to her audiences. Using her self-taught IT skills she’s set up her own very creative website and social media network to promote her band.

And then there’s Harry. To be honest, he’s a bit of a disappointment. He’s no good at making or mending things, has no business sense and often finds it difficult to communicate with others or working as part of a team. At school, all he was interested in was reading books and regurgitating odd bits of trivial knowledge. As a last resort it was suggested that he might be best suited to doing an academic degree at a Russell Group university. He seemed to quite enjoy it there, but it was a complete waste of time – he now has a large debt to pay off and he’s still not able to find a job as, despite Sir Michael Wilshaw’s hopes and expectations, he wasn’t interested in becoming a lawyer, solicitor, politician, judge or surgeon, and there are few opportunities for university staff these days as everything is now online. His parents can’t help feeling that the education system has failed him.

The sad thing is that there are a lot of other people, just like Harry, who have become over-dependent on high-level qualifications and have drifted into a life of pointless academia. They deserve a better future, and desperately need our help and understanding. Please give generously to the ‘Save The Children From Gove’ campaign.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Dick_and_Harry

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom,_Dick_and_Sally

Image Credit: 123RF

The forgotten majority

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“Eng-ger-land! Eng-ger-land! Eng-ger-land!”

For somewhere around 20% of the population of under 12 year-olds – the 20% that are potentially academically able and motivated – the news that GCSEs (England) are to become a great deal more demanding is good news. But for the remaining 80% it’s decidedly bad news. The prospect of perhaps achieving a 1 or a 2, or even perhaps a 0 (to replace a U?) is unlikely to encourage them to even bother turning up on the day of the exam. Unless of course they are crafty enough to realise that they could then claim on their CVs that they have ten 0 levels?

http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2013/jun/11/gcse-pupils-compete-asia-gove

“In maths and science, questions and content will be more demanding, so that state school students can compete with their contemporaries in Singapore and Shanghai, acquiring the skills that the rich pay handsomely to pass on to their children and that are the guarantee of future opportunity,” Gove wrote.

“Exams will test higher-level skills, such as more essay writing, problem solving and mathematical modelling, that universities and businesses desperately need.’ DfE

The whole misguided premise seems to be that simply by asking more demanding questions, academic standards in state schools will rise and children from poor backgrounds will all go to Oxbridge. And All Change Please! still remains to be convinced that businesses need higher-order skills in essay-writing and advanced ‘there’s just one-correct-answer’ problem-solving.

Meanwhile for the long tail of the forgotten 80% we can perhaps expect to see a substantial growth in non-academic subjects that do continue to include coursework, such as art & design, design & technology, engineering, drama, P.E., etc. What’s really needed now is a means of more formal recognition of success in these so-called ‘soft’ skills – surely what most employers are actually looking for these days, alongside some sort of certification that identifies an ability to read and write, do basic maths, follow instructions and be able to deal with the public – as opposed to being able to write essays about a Shakespeare play or solve quadratic equations? Someone is going to have to pick up the pieces – maybe there is some hope for a Better Future here?

But perhaps the best news of all is that ‘iGoves’ will go down in history as one of the shortest living ideas in education. And instead, in an attempt to revive our world rankings back to their heady 1966 levels and to differentiate them from the easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy, my mum did my coursework for me in her lunch break Welsh GCSEs and Scotland  where of course they sensibly don’t actually have GCSEs, the new GCSEs will actually be known as GCSE (Eng-ger-land! Eng-ger-land! Eng-ger-land!*). Perhaps the intention is that the prospect of achieving better results than their Welsh and Scottish counterparts will drive our children upwards to even higher academic achievements?

Or perhaps there will be an outcry when it is realised that in order to mark that many essays they will have to be out-sourced to places like India and China in addition to Australia, as is already the case? Or that perhaps the number of marks needed to get a 5 (the so-called pass-mark) will be mysteriously adjusted so that an acceptable percentage of children appear to pass?

Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps…

*Eng-ger-land is apparently what the English sometimes chant at football matches because it’s easier to say (it just rolls off the tongue).

Image credit: Flickr: crabchick

What’s good for the goose?

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All Change Please! recently posted ‘Gove to abolish ABC‘ after the announcement that he was about to improve educational standards across the country by substituting numbers for letters. Is there no limit to his genius? Apparently not, as further details have recently been published about the new lucky number system, and the return to ‘iGove’ level non-coursework examinations for all.

Now All Change Please! has pointed out before that there are not many jobs in life that require expertise in sitting isolated in a hall, hand-writing a regurgitated load of fact-filled academic essays, but obviously this message has failed to reach the higher echelons of Whitehall. Therefore it is now proposing an alternative strategy in which we create employment opportunities that actually make use of this incredibly valuable skill-set that all our children are being equipped with.

So, for example, take government ministers. All Change Please! suggests that ministers should be prevented for making public speeches for two years (a truly excellent idea in itself?). At the end of this period, on a specified morning or afternoon, they will open a sealed envelope that will contain the name a Government Department. Then without any further preparation, they will immediately be required to deliver a three hour speech setting out proposed reform and justifying policy. No conferring with speech-writers, government officials or spin doctors will be allowed, or any access to external sources of information, or the use of a computer. A single member of the public will then judge their performance and award them a ‘number’. Those who achieve a 5, 6, 7 or 8 will be allowed to remain in Parliament and prepare for making another higher-level single speech in a further two years’ time. Those scoring a 4 or under will be required to stand down as an MP. What’s good for the goose…?

Talking of which, you really should have a gander at this from, of all places, the Daily Mirror…

Maconie on Michael Gove: Education Secretary not qualified to tell us how kids should be educated: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/stuart-maconie-michael-gove-education-1934791#.

And finally, news from an All Change Please! reader that a local primary school has gone from ‘good’ to ‘special measures’ within three years and must now convert to being an Academy.  When will the general public start to realise that the state education infrastructure is being rapidly dismantled and privatised, and our schools will soon be all run and resourced for purely commercial gain?

Update*  According to this report, it seems that some examination papers are being electronically marked in places such as Australia.  Therefore the above proposal is amended to read: ‘A single member of the public located in Australia will then judge their performance.’

Image credit: Flickr: Bertuz

Infotragic?

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In All Change Please!‘s Campaign For Real 21st Century Education post it discussed the skills and learning involved in so-called 21st Century Education. Then in Memorable Open Online Coffee it looked at how online learning was shaping up. It’s easy to get the impression that schools as we know them are about to go the way of the dinosaur. In this post it wonders how far away we are from the moment of meteoric impact.

To begin with though, many thanks to Alison Morris, who kindly suggested that All Change Please! might like to feature the impressive infographic above that she had recently created. As with all good Infographics it’s creatively visualised to make a series of fascinating facts more accessible, interesting and informative, and this one is no exception. But the problem with most Infographics is not the graphics, it’s the info. Facts From Figures. Lies, damned lies, and statistics. It all depends on who you ask, what you ask them and which data you choose to present. Doesn’t it Minister?

Even taking into account the figures in the Infographic above are from USA schools, All Change Please! finds them a bit unlikely. Indeed the figures quoted in the first listed source were obtained from a survey that ‘spanned 503 web-based interviews with US pre-K-12 teachers’, i.e. 503 teachers who were already internet users. And it needs to be noted that the Infographic was commissioned by an organisation called Online Universities, who provide a promotional online resource for students interested in going to college online.

Now, of course All Change Please! belongs to a bygone era when the only educational technologies it had available when it first started teaching were paper, pens, pencil and ink, some well-worn textbooks, and occasional access to a slide and film-strip projector and OHP (Overhead Projector for the uninitiated). It happily relied on Banda machines and Gestetner stencils at a time when photocopiers and VCRs (Video Cassette Recorders) were still something yet to be. My, how times have changed. Or have they?

In the UK the figures in schools are thought to be more like a twenty to thirty percent positive uptake of new and emerging educational information technologies. Meanwhile many schools still ban the use of mobile devices, while a good number of teachers still reluctantly only use computers for their own admin work. It’s true that some teachers love technology and use it effectively, but most of the ones All Change Please! meet use it poorly, or not at all, and have yet to understand how to adjust their pedagogy accordingly. That’s not to say that students don’t potentially benefit from educational technologies, more that they are often discouraged or prevented from doing so. Few schools have good wi-fi access in every classroom.

In reality too many UK schools still rely on computer suites inherited from the 1990s, where IT is isolated in a single space. There is of course the BYOD movement. What does BYOD stand for you probably aren’t particularly wondering?  Why, ‘Bring Your Own Device of course’. One day, maybe, today’s smart phones will be as cheap and disposable as a pocket calculator, but until then the problem with BYOD is that children from poorer households – and those not willing to risk their child accidentally losing their device on the way to and from school – will be excluded.  And, as previously mentioned, in many schools it’s still a case of LYODAH (Leave Your Own Device At Home), which, in case you are wondering, is an acronym All Change Please! just made up. One day the uptake may indeed be this high, but it’s not yet.

And then there is the need for an e-portfolio system that is a great deal more sophisticated than children uploading Word files or answers to endless Multiple Choice Questions. While the lessons learnt from the e-scape project are being embraced in a range of developments taking place in various countries across the world, no further development work is currently being done in British Schools.

As the Music Industry and the High Street retailers have already discovered, the Information Technology revolution goes beyond the simple automation of existing practice. It turns it on its head and drives fundamental change, and at present there’s very little sign of that happening in education, where it’s still very much a case of new technology but old learning.

So to summarise, the tragic reality is that at present there is considerable confusion about what children should be taught, how they should learn, how their work can be monitored and assessed, the role of the teacher in relationship to online learning and the sort of electronic devices that should be used. Hardly a recipe for the dawn of an exciting new era of educational provision in an advanced technological age is it? Perhaps the future is a little further away than some of us would like to imagine?

Perhaps the first real sign of a tipping point will only come when we manage to tip Govosaurus* and its off-spring into the nearest landfill site ready for their fossilised remains to be dug up by archaeologists in the millennia to come.

* according to Wikipedia (who else?) a Gorgosaurus http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gorgosaurus  was, like many other dinosaurs, essentially a ‘terrifying lizard’ from the distant past. Thus All Change Please! feels perfectly entitled to apply the term ‘Govosaurus’ to a terrifying lizard-like education secretary from a bygone age.

Image credit:  OnlineUniversities.com “http://www.onlineuniversities.com/teachers-love-technology