Dr No No: a thoroughly modern post?

BcXInM9CIAEZsokThe Christmas Dr Who has met with very mixed critical reaction

Dr No was, of course, the first James Bond film, released in the autumn of 1962. As such it has almost nothing to do with this post, except that All Change Please! can’t help wondering if that during the following 12 months it influenced the writers at the BBC to name their new children’s Sci-fi series Dr Who?

Now in true alien monster fashion, All Change Please! has already vented its spleen on the subject of Dr Who, but the latest Christmas Day Special left it foaming at the mouth. It’s immediate reaction was to dismiss it as one of the worst loads of old rubbish ever broadcast, and to wonder who allows programmes of this quality to be screened at all, and how Steven Moffat, author of such brilliant TV series as Chalk and Coupling, can allow himself to be associated with it, let alone admit to writing it in the first place?

But having calmed down a bit, All Change Please! has developed an alternative theory. And that is that Dr Who is actually pure genius. Pure postmodern genius that is. Perhaps Steven Moffat has even succeeded in creating the first populist postmodern TV show?

The largely impenetrable academic concept of what is termed Postmodernism developed throughout the 20th Century. It challenges our social and cultural values and expectations and demands new ways of thinking about the world we live in, questioning the everyday forms and structures we are most familiar with. Applied to literature, art, design and music it freely plunders and transforms existing structures, styles and genres to produce something new that cannot readily be identified as belonging to a particular age or culture. Thus conventional, so called ‘mid-century modern’ stories, music and buildings take on new, uncategorisable, sometimes absurd forms, lacking in any sense of the logical, organised and easily recognisable. As such they can, for those brought up on the constrained, carefully co-ordinated, minimilistic approach of modernism, be difficult to accept. Up to now the consumer has largely ignored the postmodern, and behaved as if it didn’t exist. But even if they have remained unaware of it, there is an increasing overlap between the modern and postmodern world.

Applying this approach to Dr Who, this is exactly what we get. This is no hierarchical administration-led, science and logic-driven Star Trek. There is no coherent plot, because a structural narrative is no longer of central importance. Instead it is an extended fast and frantic assemblage of short scenes, each one freely drawn from a wide variety of familiar and established genres – such as romance, conflict, loss, thriller, transformation, nostalgia, festive, comedy, religious, etc. Thus the audience receives a jumbled, ‘wibbly-wobbly’ series of brief but emotionally intense experiences, not unlike jumping from one webink to the next without any idea of the time or place in which it was created. Meanwhile TV programmes have become increasingly less about the content and more with the engagement with the media-hyped, attractive, good-looking male and female ‘eye candy’ celebrities, and indeed the writer, or creator, himself. We are simultaneously watching The Doctor and Matt Smith, Clara Oswald and Jemma Coleman. We are watching Dr Who and at the same time analysing what Stephen Moffat is up to and where he might be going next. And a growing number of us are taking this a step further and tweeting as we watch: our former ‘water-cooler’ moments are rapidly becoming live, as we watch, social interactions.

By rights, the viewing public should be completely baffled and bemused – as indeed some are – and viewing figures should be tumbling. But instead, while us rapidly ageing modernists struggle with the shock of the new, the evidence is that the good doctor is delivering exactly what the majority of the audience wants. This seems to suggests the emergence of a significant cultural shift away from a demand for conventional narratives, while at the same time clearly providing maximum provocation for use of the new ratings holy grail of social media interaction – indeed the episode was identified as the most tweeted about Christmas TV show.

As a result of all this though, it’s no longer scary – no-one watches Dr Who from behind the sofa anymore. Indeed in terms of terrifying monsters, perhaps it is The Silents, created by Moffat in 2011, who most personify the postmodern Dr Who.  Their existence is a secret because anyone who sees them immediately forgets about them after looking away, but retains suggestions made to them by the Silence. This allows them to have a pervasive influence across human history while being difficult to locate or resist. Likewise anyone who sees a scene from the current Dr Who programmes immediately forgets about it after watching the next one, but retains the suggestions made to them.

In the postmodern age we are finally entering there is therefore no longer any sustained or developmental narrative, little understanding of the past or anticipation of the future, but merely a series of immediate, intensely-flavoured and largely forgettable fast-food like experiences instead of a carefully balanced five course menu eaten at leisure and consumed in the context of interesting social conversation and an attractive setting.

And of course, despite Dr Gove’s best attempts, the world of teaching and learning is inevitably moving towards a postmodern approach to education, seemingly based on isolated, anytime, anywhere exposure to video clips and quick answer multiple-choice questions. And what we need now is a curriculum and pedagogy that accepts and builds on the new realities, rather than delivering a solution to a sabre-toothed monster problem that no longer exists. There are surely more things in postmodernism than are dreamt of in Gove’s philosophy?

So is Steven Moffat an evil postmodern genius, or a sad old modernist failure? Which is it? You choose… Vote now!

Meanwhile, all this has understandably left All Change Please! somewhat shaken, not stirred…

Image freely drawn from: https://twitter.com/tomscott/status/415959116595470336/photo/1

The Gove Who Stole Arts Education


Following last year’s highly acclaimed (and well worth another read if only to discover that sadly very little has changed in the past twelve months)  The Gove of Christmas Present adaptation of a well known story , All Change Please! is proud to present a brand new freely adapted fractured fairy tale, this time based on The Grinch Who Stole Christmas by Dr Seuss. Don’t worry if you are not familiar with the original – the plot is not difficult to follow!

Every Pupil and Teacher
Liked learning and teaching a lot…
But the Gove,
Did NOT!

The Gove hated schools! The whole learning process!
Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason.
It could be that his head wasn’t screwed on quite right.
It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight.
But I think that the most likely reason of all
May have been that his heart was two sizes too small.

Whatever the reason,
His heart or his shoes,
He stood there in Parliament, hating the schools.

Then he growled, with his Gove fingers nervously drumming,
“I MUST find a way to keep Arts Education from coming!”

Then he got an idea!
An awful idea!
“I know just what to do!” The Gove laughed in his throat.

“This is school number one,” The old Gove hissed
Then he slithered and slunk, with a smile most unpleasant,
Around the whole room, and he took all the Arts!
The Painting and Drawing! The Drama and Music! The Singing and Dancing!

Then the Gove heard a sound like the coo of a dove.
He turned around fast, and he saw a small child!
She stared at the Gove and said,
“Why are you taking our Arts Education? WHY?”
But, you know, that old Gove was so smart and so slick
He thought up a lie, and he thought it up quick!
“Why, my sweet little tot,” he lied,
“The curriculum is broken, so I’m taking it home.
“I’ll fix it up there. Then I’ll bring it back here.”
And his fib fooled the child. Then he patted her head and sent her to bed.

He did the same thing
To the other schools

“Pooh-pooh to the Schools!” he was Gove-ish-ly humming.
“They’re finding out now that no Arts are included!
“They’re just waking up! I know just what they’ll do!
“Their mouths will hang open a minute or two
“Then all the schools will all cry BOO-HOO!”

“That’s a noise,” grinned the Gove,
“That I simply must hear!”
So he paused. And the Gove put a hand to his ear.
But the sound wasn’t sad!
Why, this sound sounded merry!
It couldn’t be so!
But it WAS merry! VERY!

He stared down at the schools!
The Grinch popped his eyes!
Then he shook!
What he saw was a shocking surprise!

Every child was singing! Without any Arts Education at all!
He HADN’T stopped the Arts from coming!

Somehow or other, it came just the same!
And the Gove, stood puzzling and puzzling: “How could it be so?
Then the Gove thought of something he hadn’t before!
“Maybe the Arts” he thought, “doesn’t come from my political whim.
“Maybe the Arts…perhaps…means a little bit more!”

And what happened then…?
Well…in schools they say
That the Gove’s small heart
Grew three sizes that day!
And he brought back the Arts!

But do remember children, this is a fairy story in which an education in the Arts lived happily ever after. Real life is not always like that…

PISA Takeaways

P1050498-1Does Pisa lean too far to the left or right?

Well, the question of whether the leaning tower of Pisa leans more to the left or right very much depends, of course, on which side of it you are standing. At the same time, if you happen yourself to be leaning either left or right, then it appears to be perfectly upright and proper.

What’s that you say? Oh. Not that sort of Pisa?

(At this point All Change Please! does a quick double-take in the hope that no-one will notice its mistake and think it as stupid as a child from, say, Peru – the country that came at the bottom of the table and was consequently relegated from existence – a position that doubtless England will occupy in three years time after the 2016 PISA World Cup?)

Ah, you mean the PISA that’s been widely reported in the media over the past week in which the right-leaning Gove blamed the left-leaning Labour for the poor results and they then both blamed schools, teachers and pupils in such a way that it didn’t really make a jot of difference to anybody, anywhere?  Yes, well, All Change Please! was just coming to that sort of PISA.

The question about these PISA tests that no-one seems to be bothering to ask, let alone answer, is what exactly is it about them that English children find so difficult? Looking at these examples of test questions:


they actually appear to be quite easy-PISA? And while All Change Please! doesn’t know the answer to the problem of why England does so badly, it just might have a theory…

Which is that at secondary level, a teacher is usually appointed to a school because of their subject expertise and academic ability (acquired at University), and they are then labelled, for example, as a History Teacher. They will be largely judged on the success of their pupils obtaining History GCSE and A level results and the number who then go on to University to study History or a related subject. So they then stand in front of their Year 7 (and upwards) class and think that, as the chances are that one or two of their future high-flyers might be sitting in front of them, they had better start preparing them now, just in case. And as a result they approach their lessons through the delivery of a deep, conceptual academic / theoretical understanding as if all the pupils were going to end up become life-long historians. And it’s the same for English and Maths. Instead of concentrating on reinforcing basic literacy and numeracy first, children are being prepared to be (failed) creative writers, literary critics and mathematical geniuses.

So perhaps the problem is that the PISA questions all come with a friendly photo and are placed in a recognisable everyday practical problem-solving context, something our children are ill-prepared for. But ask them instead to:

‘…generate theoretical sample spaces for single and combined events with equally likely, mutually exclusive outcomes; use these to calculate theoretical probabilities; and know that the probabilities of an exhaustive set of mutually exclusive outcomes sum to one.’  (New National Curriculum KS3)

and presumably they’d be well away?

Of course there are other theories too, such as the fact that our exam-fixated students doubtless ask if the PISA test will count towards their GCSE grade, and on learning that it won’t, then treat it with the utter contempt such a waste of their time deserves. Or perhaps they have read PISA-topping Singapore’s Minister of Education, Heng Swee Keat, recent speech in which he sets out the need for a new push towards ‘a more multi-dimensional education that goes beyond academics.’ before going on to say:

‘…time spent doing more drill-and-test means less time for play and rest, for exploring new ideas, for developing social skills. A balance is necessary, but there is no magic formula as to what the right balance is because every child is different.’

and then announcing that he is looking for ways to transform learning so that students are independent thinkers and resourceful learners with a can-do attitude, and ‘to make learning a more joyful journey‘!

Which all sounds exactly like the sort of namby-pamby nonsense the UK Government and the media will do its best to undermine in order to ensure that the exclusive all-inclusive English education system will continue to support the natural right of the social elite to dominate the higher levels of educational attainment.

And then there is of course another point of view entirely:


Which at least manages to see the situation from an alternative perspective, as opposed to the unquestioned assumption that improving our performance in PISA tests is the best way forward for our education system: OECD education report: UK needs new ‘gold standard’ to compete with world’s best

And with that in mind, it remains to be seen whether in three years time Gove will come to be acclaimed as the rightful PISA delivery man…

With thanks to Rob B.

By Gove I think they’ve lost it!


Now by rights All Change Please! should probably should be commentating on today’s PISA results, but all it intends to say is that it is regrettable that the main purpose of children’s education now seems to be more about political point-scoring and increasing our global standing amongst those who know nothing about teaching and learning. So in a change from today’s news we are pleased to report on a different matter.

Pygmalion, or My Fair Lady for those of you who failed, or perhaps never took, your English Literature O level, is a play written in 1912 by George Bernard Shaw in which a under privileged, uneducated woman is given a rare opportunity to be tutored in how to behave, look and most memorably speak like a high-society lady oughta.

Now All Change Please! is all in favour of encouraging school children to learn how to speak proper in a way which will enable them to communicate effectively according to their purpose and audience. There’s an appropriate language for the street, for the classroom, and for the workplace.

So it is good to discover that the Harris Hacademy (which is sadly not from Hertford, Herefordshire or Hampshire), is clearly trying  to do something about it. The question is though whether they are going about it in the right way. And while the poster above may indeed be just a small part of a thoroughly researched, trialled and evidence-based comprehensive whole school policy initiative, All Change Please! must admit to having some doubts.

The first problem is the word ‘banned’. Red rag and Bull are other words that spring to mind. To tell a school child something is banned – especially if it is an aspect of their personal and communal culture – immediately causes resentment, and promotes a thousand ways to ridicule and break what is essentially an unenforceable rule.

Then there are the actual words that have been chosen. ‘Like’, ‘extra’ and ‘bare’ are perfectly acceptable English words, so there’s a good game to be had trying to get your teacher to say one of them and then pointing out he or she has just spoken a banned word.

And there’s nothing wrong with starting the occasional sentence with basically. Basically it’s starting every sentence that way that needs to be avoided. And what’s so wrong with ‘She Loves You, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah?’

So below is All Change Please!’s suggested revised version of the notice which it would like to offer to the Harris Hackademy as a more workable alternative. In return it would welcome an appropriate donation, relative to the amount of time the well paid senior management team should have spent thinking the whole thing through properly in the first place.

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And here for a change is someone who seems to agree!

Followed by more recent news of another school that wants to ban the local dialect

Black Country dialect: no more waggin’ for Halesowen pupils

And finally, Hmmm. The All Change Please! Academy? Now there’s a thought…