Now this is what I call a Textbook


In days of old, when teachers were bold, this is what a school textbook used to be like.

Before the not-missed-at-all Miss Truss was given her marching orders she made a number of speeches in which she advocated a return to the regular use of the  textbook. As such she was simply providing yet another example of the DfE policy-making process as being ‘Come up with a vote-winning bit of spin and don’t actually bother to think about the implications of implementing it’.

The problem is that the production of textbooks is now very different from the way it was back then in the days when everything was apparently wonderful. In those days school budgets were more bountiful and publishers could afford to employ armies of reviewers, editors, proof-readers, picture researchers and designers, and authors were carefully chosen as being recognised experts in their field. Their royalty rates, although never more than 10%, meant that reasonably good sales over an extended period of time would provide an adequate return on their considerable efforts. And there was a wide variety of small, independent publishers looking to specialise in a range of subject areas and age-ranges and to take risks on books that might or might not be particularly successful, providing something of quality and value had been produced.

But of course, like everything else outside the DfE, things have changed over the past fifteen or so years. For a start there are now just a couple of really big educational publishers, considerably reducing choice. Authors are now usually relatively inexperienced, foolishly hoping that being published will look good on their CVs and as a result prepared to work for next to nothing – often just a share of 5% on a work that will probably be out-dated by a curriculum change before its first reprint. Content is now all about delivering the narrow requirements of the specification with an emphasis on teaching to the test, rather than providing a broader, more pedagogically sound coverage.

Meanwhile manuscripts go through largely unchecked by subject specialists and desk editors. Picture research budgets have been slashed, and page-by-page design is a thing of the past. Titles are focused on the main subjects that have the biggest GCSE entries and the most extensive book-buying habits, such as science, maths and geography. And as prices have risen, classroom sets have become increasingly expensive and unaffordable. No wonder so many teachers have chosen to produce their own content more suited to the needs of their own learners and their preferred teaching styles.

There are, however, some things that Ms Textbook Truss might have suggested that would have been more worthwhile. The knowledge-base of most subjects has now become so extensive that it has become increasingly difficult for teachers to cram everything in to the limited number of periods a week they have with each class. As such, high quality independent study support resources of the electronic kind would be a valuable development. Unfortunately at present these are usually produced by new-media companies with little or no pedagogic experience, and more with the intention of winning an award for the cleverness of largely superficial so-called ‘interactive’ animation than with actually assisting learning. So something to improve the standards of electronic resources would have been something really worth speaking about. At the same time, there are teachers in many non-core subjects who could usefully be guided towards the more effective use of support resources within their lesson planning.

But wait, wasn’t Truss missing a trick here? Just think about it: ‘Text’ and ‘Book’, ie a Book of Texts. Not the ‘No need to think or plan, ready-made just pop-in-the-microwave, everything blended into in one easy-to-open package NC/GCSE/A level course of study’ that they all are these days, but surely if we are heading back to the golden age of the 1950’s, what’s really needed are books that contain a series of learned academic discourses on the subject in question? No engaging photos or artwork or course, except maybe four pages of black and white ‘plates’ placed on their own in the very centre of the book. And if these were produced as e-books they could be distributed very cheaply to all children to read on their smart phones on the bus on the way home…

If that doesn’t raise academic standards, All Change Please! doesn’t know what will…

On and on and on. That’s Life?



So, this summer more children have gained higher grades at GCSE and A level, and at the other end of the scale, more have failed. Sounds like Gove’s initiatives have paid off and academic standards are rising. That’s great, until you want to get your boiler fixed. Which is exactly what Carla, one of All Change Please!’s regular readers, recently discovered.

Friday 25th
Today I contacted Ariston as my electric boiler had stopped working. As it was just one month later than the warranty expiration date, they gave me the name of their repair company. I called them and explained the problem and that I needed an engineer. They booked him for the following Wednesday between 7am-1pm. They asked me to pay £85 +VAT there and then and £25 for any further 30 minute periods after the first hour.

Wednesday 30th
I stayed at home to wait for the engineer. By 1pm, as nobody had arrived, I contacted the company. They said that the engineer had come, rang the bell at 9:45 and left a message on my mobile to say that they will call to rearrange appointment. This seemed strange as I had not heard any bell and there was no card on the doormat.

Strangely, half an hour later the engineer arrives, but he was told that it was a gas job hence he has no parts! He has to come back again with the part. I told him that I had already paid for an hour’s work and I had clearly told Ariston what the problem was and I was not going to pay any extra, He said he will tell the company he had only spent 10 minutes. So, still no hot water tonight as well and another day to wait for them to come.

Thursday 31st
Having heard nothing further I call the engineers to check what’s happening. Apparently the engineer will come on Monday if I pay £186 now for the part, which I reluctantly agree to.

Monday 4th
Waited in. The engineer arrives, but has brought the wrong part, despite the fact that it is clearly numbered, so goes away again.

Tuesday 5th
Waited in. A different engineer arrives with the correct part. Unfortunately he is unable to remove the heating element. Why they had not done this the first time, I do not know. We would have realised that the boiler needed replacing and I could have saved £189 of parts. All at an added £25 per half-hour. For the third time, I call Ariston to complain. I am now leaving it to the landlord to sort it out

Wednesday 6th
Waited in. My landlord’s plumber arrives and is able to quickly remove the heating element, but he does not have any spare parts.

Thursday 7th
Waited in. Some new parts arrive, but the plumber informs me they are not the correct ones.

Friday 8th
Waited in. The correct parts arrive, the plumber fits them and departs. Looking forward to bath tonight! Unfortunately the water runs cold.

Saturday 9th
Waited in. We are still battling with the water heater. After three botched up attempts, one just to diagnose the problem, one with the wrong part, one with the right part but unable to remove the heating element, one with the landlord’s plumber that removed the element in just a few minutes but had to wait for the parts, one with the wrong part to be redelivered, one with right part in hand but not plumber, this morning the landlord’s plumber and an electrician come to check the boiler. After spending an hour checking the system they discover that the newly-fitted thermostat is faulty.

Monday 10th
Waited in. A plumber arrives from Ariston and replaces the Thermostat. Finally, seventeen days after reporting the fault I have hot water again!

Back in the 1990s Ariston used to have a clever advert that kept repeating: ‘Ariston And-on-and-on-and-on-and-on’ . I always thought that was meant to refer to the length of time their white goods lasted, not how long it would take to get them repaired…


There’s a catalogue of failures going on here. First are the workforce themselves who don’t seem to know what they are supposed to be doing and have not been trained well enough to identify and sort the problems out. As well as the boiler, the management and communication processes seem to have completely broken down as well. Then there is the manufacturer who doesn’t seem to care very much at all about customer-care.

There’s clearly something wrong in a world in which we can transmit video signals across the world in an instant, but still can’t get a boiler fixed without a great deal of hassle. What we clearly don’t need right now are more students studying academic degrees at university, while anybody who does something that involves anything useful or practical is deemed to be a second-class citizen.  As Natasha Porter writes here

“Unfortunately, “better with their hands” all too often suggests “not very bright”, or “poorly behaved”. We need to stop seeing vocational education as the option for non-academic students. The modern plumber, for example, needs to have strong arithmetic skills in order to understand complex pricing and measurements, as well as having excellent communication skills and scientific reasoning.”

And finally in true ”That’s Life’ style All Change Please! is indebted to Jenny, another regular reader, who recently posted about her recent unfortunate experiences trying to get a repeat prescription from her doctor.




The Importance Of Being Ignorant



Lady Bracknell. …I have always been of opinion that a man who desires to get married should know either everything or nothing.  Which do you know?

Jack.  [After some hesitation.]  I know nothing, Lady Bracknell.

Lady Bracknell.  I am pleased to hear it.  I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance.  Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone.  The whole theory of modern education is radically unsound.  Fortunately in England, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever.  If it did, it would prove a serious danger to the upper classes, and probably lead to acts of violence in Grosvenor Square.

From The Importance of Being Earnest, A Trivial Comedy for Serious People by Oscar Wilde. First performed on 14 February 1895 at the St James’s Theatre in London.


I know one thing, that I know nothing.”  Socrates, 5th Century BC


“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”  Albert Einstein, 1929


“There are a lot of facts to be known in order to be a professional anything — lawyer, doctor, engineer, accountant, teacher. But with science there is one important difference. The facts serve mainly to access the ignorance… Scientists don’t concentrate on what they know, which is considerable but minuscule, but rather on what they don’t know…. Science traffics in ignorance, cultivates it, and is driven by it. Mucking about in the unknown is an adventure; doing it for a living is something most scientists consider a privilege.

Working scientists don’t get bogged down in the factual swamp because they don’t care all that much for facts. It’s not that they discount or ignore them, but rather that they don’t see them as an end in themselves. They don’t stop at the facts; they begin there, right beyond the facts, where the facts run out. Facts are selected, by a process that is a kind of controlled neglect, for the questions they create, for the ignorance they point to.”  Stuart Firestein, 2012


Where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise.”   Thomas Gray’s ‘Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College’ (1742)

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This post is dedicated to all those A level students who got low grades in their results today: you will discover there is more to life than going to University.


Photo credit: Flickr  adesigna

You Say Right and I Say Left, Oh No…

1s-3214197147_9752dd52df_oThe left side of the brain is often said to work in an organised, verbal, convergent and analytic way, while the right side works in a more intuitive, imaginative, emotional and holistic way. Or does it?

As anticipated, All Change Please!’s recent Daisy, Daisy… post prompted a digital sack full of comments from a Mrs Trellis of North Wales and a Mr J Peasmold Gruntfuttock of Peasemoldia. The issue was to do with the use of the terms right wing and left wing being applied in an educational context. Which, like so many things these days, got All Change Please! thinking.

And what it thought was that the phrases right-wing and left-wing are commonly used amongst today’s twittering classes without any real understanding of what they mean, or rather represent. To help unravel them, it is helpful to consider the views/politics of the so-called right and left wings. For example, the far ‘right’ are usually thought to favour the ‘survival of the fittest’ and look to the past. They are nationalistic, authoritarian, respecters of established hierarchies and military solutions. Meanwhile the far ‘left’ are more associated with equality for all, freedom from oppression, inclusivity, multi-culturalism, diplomacy and pacifism.

But these days, the politics of the nation are far less opposed, with the vast majority of people occupying the centre in which the distinction between left and right is much less visible, and an individual’s beliefs and values largely consist of a series of moderate left and right-wing approaches.

At the same time it is hard to observe many schools where extreme left or right-wing ideologies are prevalent. Except perhaps at the Colditz Academy. Most have a healthy mixture of the two. So in education the main debate at present is not so much about right and left-wing approaches but between those who champion so-called traditional education, and those who promote so-called progressive education. Confusion arises, because of course in practice ‘centrist’ left-wing teachers can be just as traditional in the classroom as ‘centrist’ right-wing teachers. And at the same time the idea promoted by the traditionalists that our schools are full of far-left anarchistic progressive educationalists is just complete nonsense.

All teachers want children from ‘deprived’ backgrounds to have the opportunity to access and benefit from education. Traditional teachers seek to achieve this by improving their academic performance, thus gaining them higher formal qualifications and potentially attending a Russell Group University, even though only relatively few will achieve this. More progressive teachers follow the idea that many children have other abilities and skills that are unrecognised by formal academic learning, and that they stand a better chance of success in life if these abilities are identified and developed while at school.

But as All Change Please! has observed before, most teachers are not driven by political ideological fervor, but more directly by their own personality which leads them to either need to feel they are in complete control of a situation, or that they find it more challenging to allow their students to take a greater degree of control for their own learning.

Meanwhile perhaps it’s more to do with left brain or right brain thinking, with (somewhat confusingly), left brain dominated teachers demanding a more logical, ordered approach in the classroom while right brain teachers are willing to take more risks?

But wait, what’s that I hear a traditional teacher saying?  “No, the left-right brain divide is yet another one of those many left-wing myths, which is why I just go on feeding kids facts from the front of the class…”

Well it seems it almost certainly is a myth, but that’s not really the point, because it has served a very useful purpose in getting teachers to be aware that the logical and the creative are equal partners that both need to be developed. What we really need to do is to teach all children to use all parts of their brain, wherever they may be, and get those parts to collaborate as much as possible

At the end of the day/lesson, the debate should not really be focused on whether traditional teaching is any better or worse that so-called progressive teaching, but simply whether traditional and more progressive methods are being applied well or badly in the classroom.

I don’t know why you say Hello, I say Goodbye.


Image credit: Flickr tza