Thinking the Unthinkable

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On All Change Please!’s list of set texts this week was an article by Lucy Mangan in The Guardian, reminding us that the real point of studying English Literature at school was to develop a love of reading. And for the majority of children that’s unlikely to involve umpteen Shakespeare plays and 19th Century British novels. She even dares to suggest that perhaps there should not be any examinations in the subject. Quite unthinkable, of course…!  Lucy Mangan: Don’t stop with Steinbeck – let’s can all of Eng Lit

But what’s emerging in the new GCSEs is an increasing emphasis on academic subject content – even in the more practical subjects – as a preparation for study at university, with the doubtless result that an equally increasing number of children will, after 11 long years of formal education, be quite incorrectly tagged as being failures in life. And then there are the new A levels to consider. Their narrow, academic-led requirements are entirely inappropriate for most 16-18 year olds. With Gove’s new specifications sounding more and more like old-fashioned A and O levels it seems increasingly likely that BTECs will become the new second-class equivalents of the old CSE, so there’s some major long-term re-thinking that needs to go on here too if we are going to create a credible more technical or vocationally-orientated alternative that will have the necessary status in life and future employment.

Somehow we seem to have lost touch with the underlying essentials of learning. Also on All Change Please!‘s reading list was this worthy article in which the basis for GCSE assessment in Design & Technology is earnestly discussed:  Devising a learning journey for D&T

While it provides an enlightened exploration of the way in which potential 3D product designers of the future need to be educated, it fails to account for the fact that the vast majority of children who sit the examination are unlikely to end up working in this particular and highly specialised field.

The inherent value in D&T lies in the way in which it can help children learn how to develop the creative and analytic ability to propose worthwhile solutions to complex, open-ended problems, and to successfully communicate those ideas to others. At the heart of this is the highly transferable concept of modelling – representing ideas in different formats, materials and at different scales that make it easier, quicker and cheaper to explore and try ideas out. It also helps provide a rationale for a critical appraisal of the technological products, places and communications children will go on to encounter throughout life as consumers, citizens or specifiers.

The processes and products of professional design merely serve as a contextual reference point: D&T in schools shouldn’t be about overtly preparing children to become 3D professional product designers, which is what only a very small minority might become. Yet at GCSE the D&T debate seems to be centred around the assessment of a high level of knowledge of the application of mechanical and electronic control systems, the properties and working characteristics of a specified rage of materials, and associated tools and manufacturing processes, all based on an out-dated 1960s version of industrial design with a bit of added CAD-CAM. And it’s the same with the other GCSE subjects: they are far too specialised and wrapped up in their own inefficient, discrete, non-transferable academic bodies of knowledge.

Meanwhile All Change Please! recently heard of a school where a KS3 group were successfully undertaking extended cross-curricular project work. When challenged as to how this would meet the requirements of the various subject-based Programmes of Study, the response was that they were ignoring them and relying on their ability to demonstrate that they were effectively delivering the Importance Statements that come at the very start of each National Curriculum subject specification. In the rush to cross the t’s and dot the i’s of the PoS, the Importance Statements provide the rationale for what should really be happening in schools, yet in practice they are usually ignored and rendered impotent rather than important. Again, surely it’s time to start thinking different?

Finally, another article on All Change Please!‘s entirely global 21st century reading list, again from The Guardian, somewhat shatters the notion that undertaking an academic degree at a leading university will in itself provide a passport to a lifetime of well-paid work:  The ten skills students really need when they graduate

According to the author, there are some other things graduates looking for employment will need to be able to demonstrate as well their academic ability, such as a good business sense, a global mindset, a sound digital footprint, office etiquette, computer literacy, teamwork and people skills. Instead of more and more specialist academic subject knowledge, we should surely be paying more attention to these requirements in our school curriculum?

If we are going to develop a curriculum and delivery system fit for the 21st Century, then perhaps it’s time we started to think the unthinkable?

 

Image credit: Flickr gforsythe

 

 

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