Alas! Schools and Journos

Mel Smith, as the man who thinks he knows everything, and Griff Rhys Jones, as the man who knows he knows nothing, discuss new TV technologies in the 1980s.

Meanwhile, some 30 years later, they are discussing education…

Smith: You know something?

Jones: No, I can’t say that I do really.

Well you know what a terrible mess all our schools are in and how apparently Mr Gove is sorting them out and making them better again.

Oh, is he then?

Yes. I mean ever since the 1960s kids have been just running round doing exactly as they please in the classroom, and no-one ever tells them off or gets them to learn anything. And apparently it’s all been the fault of this ass Neil chap who opened this school called Summerfield.

Oh, was it one of these schools sponsored by a supermarket then?

Yes, that’s it. Anyway apparently at this school all the children went around naked, smoking and drinking, taking drugs and having sex with their teachers. And of course the teachers all realised they were on to a jolly good thing, and so that’s what our schools have been like ever since.

That’s a bit odd. I mean I attended a comprehensive school in the 1970s and it wasn’t at all like that. The teachers were pretty strict and pushed us hard to pass our O levels and CSEs. And my children were at similar schools in the 1990s, and they all wore a school uniform and were expected to do what they were told.

Well I expect you were at a special school of some sort. Well, anyway that’s what it says in the Daily Mail, and they wouldn’t print it if it wasn’t true would they?


No, I suppose not.

Anyway this Gove chap is trying to make sure that in the future all children have an e-Back

What’s that then?

Well, it’s obvious isn’t it. It’s a clever electronic device that you wear and it straightens your back and stops you from slouching around.

Oh. Right.

Look if you don’t believe me, here’s an article in the Guardian, now they certainly wouldn’t print anything that’s not true would they? According to this Nick Glib, it’s not so much the teacher’s fault, it’s all to do with this secret organisation called The Blob. They believe they come from outer space and are devout followers of this ass Neil. And what they’ve done is secretly taken over all the teacher-training colleges where they just tell new teachers to let the kids do whatever they want.

Is that so? Again that all sounds a bit strange because my daughter has just finished her teacher training course and she says it was all about things like your subject knowledge, how to plan and prepare lessons, manage classes, and use IT.

Well, perhaps she was a bit confused, because that’s not what is says here, is it? Look, here’s some more in the Telegraph. Apparently teachers don’t bother teaching children from poor backgrounds because they are going to be failures anyway. And the proof is that while there are more poor children in places like China and South Korea they still do better than us in the Pizza tests.

Are these tests something they do in their Home Economics lessons, then?

Don’t be daft. No-one does Home Economics anymore.  No, they do them in their Food Technology lessons.

But I thought the reason the Chinese and South Koreans did better than us was because they only put their cleverest children in for the test?

Exactly. That just goes to show how much smarter they are than us, doesn’t it?

You don’t think that all this stuff the journalists write in the papers isn’t really news at all but just right-wing capitalist political propaganda, do you?

Good lord, no. I mean no-one would buy them if it was, would they?




What Ho! Gove


Hugh Laurie as Bertie Wooster and Stephen Fry as Jeeves in the 1990s Granada TV series

Wooster: I say Jeeves, this Aberdeen Angus Gove chappie certainly seems to be sorting the nation’s education out with a bit of a whizz and a bang! According to his latest speech there’s going to be more exciting experiments to do in school science. Sounds like we’ll soon all be jolly clever again and take up our rightful place as best in the world in everything! Of course, speaking personally, I couldn’t do with any more education. I was full up years ago!

Jeeves: If you say so, sir.

Do I detect a note of incredulity in your voice Jeeves? I mean these lucky young blighters will be doing more practical work and learning more about British History, and really having to knuckle down to it if they are going to get to University. Tally Ho! I say. In my day it was all reading stuff from textbooks and writing long and boring essays.

Indeed, sir.

Come on then Jeeves, out with it. I’m all agog to know what’s going on in that inscrutable mind of yours?

Well sir, it’s just that I can’t help noticing that although science lessons will as you say include more experiments, what will really count is an ability to write an essay about them sitting alone in the school hall. So actually being good at collaborative, practical work in the way that real scientists have to be won’t matter very much. Oh, and perhaps you ought to know that Elizabeth Truss recently made a speech in which she advocated a return to the use of proper traditional textbooks instead of worksheets.

Ah, well yes, I suppose I hadn’t thought about it that way. As for this loony Truss woman, she’ll get no support from me.

I should think not, sir. And it’s not just in science either. I mean, asking A level Art students to write an essay seems to be a tad inappropriate, to say the least.

You mean essays in Art are where you’d really draw the line, eh?

Oh, very droll, sir.

And what’s this I read in the old Daily Twittergraph? Seems this Hoover chappie Dyson is really sucking up to Gove – He says he’s ‘looking forward to helping shape the new Design and Technology GCSEs’. I jolly well think there will be quite a bally lot of hot air expelled when he realises that all that will involve is deciding what our budding young entrepreneurial designers will have to write an essay or two about.

Quite so, sir. And the problem is that simply making something harder to achieve doesn’t actually mean that everyone will get better at doing it, does it? All it means in practice is that more children will fail to achieve the necessary standard.

Point jolly well taken. Still I suppose there’s always work for the unfortunate outcasts down the mines. What?

If you say so, sir.

Well there’s only one thing to do about it Jeeves. If we’re going to put an end to all this rot I shall have to send this blithering imbecile Gove a strongly worded note. Have you got your telegraph pad handy?  Take a message:  @MichaelGove  Emplore you rethink current policies STOP Stop talking through your hat STOP Just stop everything you are doing at once STOP Advise immediate resignation STOP   There, if that doesn’t do it, nothing will.

Indeed, sir. I’m very much afraid probably nothing will. However, I’ll attend to the matter at once sir.

Well I’ll be dashed! Would you believe it? I’ve just been reading this short story called ‘The Custody of the Pumpkin’ by this PG Wodehouse novelist writer chappie, and there’s a line here that reads ‘It has never been difficult to distinguish between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine…’ That seems to rather well describe this pompous rotter Gove down to a tee doesn’t it? And it would make a jolly good line to end a post about his policies with, wouldn’t it?

Indubitably it would, sir.

Remember, remember…


Now what was it I was supposed to remember?

 When All Change Please! were nowt but a young schoolboy it was regularly asked to learn poetry for homework, or to read Chapter Whichever for a geography test the following morning, neither of which it found in any way easy. Initially it spent long hours doing what it could, but before long thought better of it and found something more interesting to do as it never really saw the point of trying to remember some incomprehensible 18th century verse or the number of cabbages grown in some distant country it had never heard of.

Of course it was all too easy for those who seemed to have some sort of amazing, just-read-it-once verbal photographic memory, but the trouble is that if you are good at doing something, it is difficult to understand and appreciate how others can find it almost impossible. And that’s one of the problems with traditional academic learning, in that it’s largely taught by people who find remembering large volumes of words on pages easy-peasy. Meanwhile they also seem to believe it’s just a matter of endless hours of practice, or some strange, never properly explained concept called ‘trying harder’, or ‘doing your best’ whatever they might involve. It’s as if that if you don’t happen to share their god-given super-powers, they don’t want or see the need to give you any techniques to help you develop them for yourself.

Indeed for some time All Change Please! has wondered why no-one ever suggested any methods of helping make the recall of verbal information a bit more achievable, and indeed why we still don’t now. For example, the other day it came across this article which suggests a whole range of techniques:

How to never forget the name of someone you just met: The science of memory

Remembering stuff is all about making strong connections between sequences of synapses. And one way of doing this (and which apparently dates back to the Greeks and Romans) is to construct a ‘Memory Palace’ which essentially associates vivid visual and spatial cues with whatever it is you want to remember. Another is to use the Peg or Link system. To recall a passage of text there is the ‘First letter text method’. Of course it’s a matter of choosing the appropriate method, and the ones that work best for the individual.

As well as understanding more about our short-term ‘working’ memory it would also seem a good idea if we learnt a bit more about the different types of memories.

The science of memory (and 4 uncommon ways to enhance it)

For example:

Declarative memory: Facts and knowledge, like the capital city or your birth date.
Episodic memory: Memories about life events, like your last birthday party or your first day of school.
Procedural memory: Your own how-to manual, essentially. Memories about how to ride a bike or cook your favorite meal.
Semantic memory: Meanings and concepts that you’ve learned, especially useful for reading.
Spatial memory: Your map of the world, inside your head. These cover your environment, landmarks and objects.”

You’d think teachers would know about and apply all this sort of stuff, wouldn’t you? But if they do, they don’t. Instead traditional teachers persist in clinging on to the idea that every child learns in exactly the same way, and it’s that some are just lazy and all they need to do to succeed is to try harder. Perhaps instead, as the article above suggests, the Classroom of Tomorrow will have a coffee machine, fresh rosemary, portions of blueberries for every child and an area in which to sleep or meditate?  And schools will become places where you go to learn how to learn.

Of course all this doesn’t only apply to how to remember things. Think back – were you ever given any practical suggestions as to how to run faster or jump higher? Or how to actually ‘be more creative’? No, just keep trying, and one day you may, or may not, somehow get it.

Meanwhile the important question now is whether All Change Please! will manage to actually remember to get round to publishing this post?


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