Five Star!

Education secretaries may come and go, but All Change Please! goes on forever. Yes, exactly five years ago today, as All Change Please! hit the Publish button for the very first time, it was someone called Ed who was making a Balls up of education. And today, in our distopian post-Govian nightmare, it’s Teacher’s Friend Nicky Morgove and opposition spokesperson Tristram (no relation) Hunt who are carrying on the long tradition of knowing so much more about how to improve standards in schools than anyone else who has actually ever done any real teaching.

As is usual for this date each year, All Change Please! takes the opportunity to look back and wallow in the success of some of its most popular posts.

Top of the Posts for the last 12 months has to be One Small Step in which it dared to suggest that perhaps traditionalists and progressives should put away their differences and focus on communicating a more coherent and united message to its Daily Mail-reading armchair critics. ‘One Small Step’ was of course a follow-on to All Change Please!’s second most read (or at least most clicked-on) post: Daisy, Daisy.. in which it attempted to counter the myths regularly being de-bunked by traditional teachers by identifying some myths of its own.

Meanwhile on the comedy circuit, What Ho! Gove was a hit, a very palpable hit, along with PISA Takeaways and the Chandler-inspired Curriculum Noir: Who stole the Arts, not to mention There’s No Supporting Truss. And speaking of Ms Truss, did you see her hilarious stand-up routine at the Tory Party Conference? And to think, just a few months ago she was an education minister.

 

Along the way, All Change Please! managed to come up with a few good one-liners too, such as:

“Meanwhile outside on the school field someone was quietly stringing together a Daisy chain of academies”.

And while discussing the need for urgent debate on the future of On-line Computer Learning Systems:

“…or, as Timothy Leary didn’t put it in the 1960s: ‘Sit down, switch on and shut up!’

Or on the current debate about traditional and progressive teaching methods:

“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.”

Then following the proposal that retired politicians, lawyers and bankers should be recruited as teachers:

 “Meanwhile All Change Please! would like to propose a parallel scheme in which recently retired teachers would be retrained as politicians, lawyers and bankers in attempt to sort out the complete mess the country is currently in.”

Or on the need for some magic to return to our classroom:

“As I drove, I found myself recalling the words of that great crime writer Raymond Chandler that somehow seemed to sum it all up:

Without magic, there is no art. Without art, there is no idealism. Without idealism, there is no integrity. Without integrity, there is nothing but production.”

Because that’s exactly what our schools have become – factories of mass produced memorisation of out-dated facts. What’s needed right now in education is a little bit of real magic and a lot less political sleight of hand.”

This is what Alas Schools and Journos! had to say about PISA statistics:

“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?”

And here’s Bertie Wooster:

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

What Ms Truss didn’t say out loud in her Policy exchange speech:

“This is just so much fun isn’t it? All I have to do is to speak these words out loud and it will all just happen as if by magic. Won’t it?

And a quiet moment of self-reflection:

“When it was young, all All Change Please! wanted to do was to change the world. And as it grew into middle age it still wanted to change the world, although it had decided that changing education would probably be enough to be getting on with for now. And now, as it eases into retirement and becomes ever closer to being no more than a long forgotten series of ones and zeros drifting blissfully unaware in The Cloud, it still has vague hopes that someone, somewhere is still reading its rants and raves.”

 

And finally, in response to The Gove Legacy… it seems there has been a reported sighting of Michael Gove. He obviously needs help, urgently…

 

Image credit: Flickr/Itdemaartinet

LearnFirst – TeachLater

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OperateFirst: a new six week course for aspiring brain surgeons?

You may have read or heard somewhere that to really master a skill you need to practise it for 10,000 hours. The source of this story goes back to an article published over 20 years ago and has been the inspiration for a number of books and further studies.

With the current obsession with Myth-busting, it’s perhaps not surprising that this is one of the myths that’s being challenged: The 10,000 Hour Rule Is Wrong and Perpetuates a Cruel Myth

At one level, the message of the original study – that anyone can master any skill given 10,000 hours – is of course inaccurate and misleading. But what is important to grasp that even if you have the interest and ability it will still take an awful lot of practise to become a master of your trade or profession. And we’re not just talking about in music or painting or sport, but in just about every area of life.

It’s worth applying this thought to teaching. Clearly there are many people who are quite unsuited to the classroom and even if they spent a lifetime, let alone 10,000 hours in a school, they would never become proficient at it. Fortunately however there are also many people who can teach. For the sake of argument, let’s suppose a teacher spends 42 weeks a year working for 50 hours a week – that’s 2,100 hours a year, which, if we follow the 1000 hours guidance suggests that for most teachers it’s going to take around five years before they are really on top of their game in the classroom. There will be exceptions of course, at both extremes, but generally that sounds about right.

So the notion that someone can undertake a six-week summer holiday course and then be successfully let loose on a class-full of children is highly suspect. We clearly need to see the process of becoming a professional teacher as a five-year experience, and that’s not including the years spent at university gaining a first-degree in an academic subject.

Knowing stuff is not the same as being able to teach it. Amongst many other things successful teaching requires adept classroom management and the acquired ability to engage and inspire children, plan effective lessons, set achievable targets for all and assess individual progress and achievement – and those are things that can easily take five years to master. A few newcomers might achieve quick results, but in most cases for a whole academic year their pupils are going to be deprived of the quality of teaching and learning they need and that parents rightfully expect.

There are many other professions where a similar ‘fast-track’ approach would be deemed totally unacceptable. And with that in mind, here are some suggestions to that effect from who else but Tony Wheeler:

“I suggest we urgently press for similar rapid entry courses for all Upper Second graduates in the following areas:
OperateFirst for brain surgeons
GlowFirst for nuclear power station managers
CrashFirst for pilots (with a 3 week short course for those flying helicopters military jets and all air traffic controllers)
BetFirst for bankers and financial advisers (with a subsidiary StealFirst short course for senior bankers and hedge find managers)
LieFirst for politicians (with a BullyFirst short course for cabinet ministers and CEOs)”

Meanwhile back in school, during those first five years new teachers need to be monitored and supported far more closely than they are at present. Over that time they also need to be regularly attending further professional development courses, reading widely on approaches to pedagogy and moving around between a number of schools, and perhaps undertaking some practical school-based research. At the end of the five years they should be rigorously assessed by an external agency and, if they have reached the required standard, achieve some form of Master Teacher status coupled with extra pay. Until then they should not be let loose on our children.

None of the above will ever happen of course, but All Change Please! just thought it should mention it, along with the following:

“The problem with teaching as a profession is that every single adult citizen of this country thinks that they know what teachers do. And they don’t. So they prescribe solutions, and they develop public policy, and they editorialize, and they politicize. And they don’t listen to those who do know. Those who could teach. The teacher.”  Sarah Blaine

And just to prove her point, if you’d like to swear at Tristram (no relation) Hunt, here’s your chance:

BBC News – Labour’s Hunt urges ‘Hippocratic oath’ for teachers

And if more proof is needed that ministers have absolutely no idea what they are talking about, this will really make you Nash your teeth!

Save money by using standardized lesson plans, says schools minister.

Image credit: Flickr/slimjim

Curriculum Noir II: The Gove Legacy

Screen Shot 2014-09-23 at 15.10.23In his All Change Please! Guest Post Curriculum Noir last May, Philip Marlowe recounted the story of how he had searched in vain for the Arts in schools, discovered they were now only available in the local PaintEasy, and pleaded for the Blob to somehow find a way to overcome the Mob, led by the notorious Big Mickey Gove. So what’s happened since? Marlowe picks up the story…

I remember the day it happened – who doesn’t? There we all were outside Number 10 expecting maybe one or two of Gove’s henchmen to be taken out, when all of a sudden a big black van marked ‘Toxic Waste – Please Dispose Of Carefully‘ drove up and suddenly Mickey Gove was gone. Most teachers just stood there in silence, not believing the news. But as the day wore on, incredulity gave way to singing and dancing and lots of other things that Gove would not have approved of. No-one knew where he’d gone, and even fewer cared.

Then just a few days ago there was a knock on my office door and a tall, elderly gentleman entered. I recognised him immediately. It was the notorious, well past his retire-by-date, Lieutenant Wilshaw of the Flying Ofsted Squad.

“Marlowe”, he said, “My apologies for this no-notice visit, but I’ll come straight to the point. I’m worried about Mickey Gove. It’s been two months now and no-one’s seen him since the day he was taken. He seems to have just disappeared off the face of the earth.”

I wasn’t really listening to what he was telling me. While I waited for him to engage my interest I tipped back on my chair and texted a message to my secretary whilst gazing out of the window, but my attempt at low-level disruptive behaviour didn’t seem to put him off. Even lighting a cigarette didn’t get a reaction. I got the distinct feeling he wanted me to call him Sir all the time, but I had no intention of doing so.

“I’m concerned he’s been brainwashed in some way and is just walking the streets trying to work out who he is, or rather was. I was wondering if you could maybe find him for me?”

I remained silent, wondering why I should agree to take on such a task.

“I’ll pay you of course” he said, anticipating my thoughts, “or even better I could speak to someone who would make you chairman of a large academy chain. Or perhaps you could open a free school, if that’s what you’d like?”

That sounded a lot more tempting, but I still wasn’t convinced.

“It’s just that ever since the start of the new term the teachers have become very confused.” he continued. “Without Gove dictating what should be taught and when and how, they don’t seem to know what to do next. And now there is nothing to fight for anymore they are just aimlessly walking around the school corridors like zombies.

“OK”, I said, reluctantly. “In that case I’ll see what I an do”.

“Thank you Mr Marlowe. That’s a satisfactory response. Good of you to help. Very good – in fact, outstanding. Use any special measures you need to. You must excuse my limited vocabulary – it comes with the job. Err – you will keep me fully updated, won’t you?”

I thought I’d begin by checking up on Delores Anass and find out how she was settling into the new term, and whether or not she’d turned into a zombie. Arriving at the school I walked passed the dance studio where Edward (AKA Sir Ken) Robinson was in full flow, giving another of his motivational lectures. Then I came to the IT suite where the ICT co-ordinator was desperately trying to learn two coding languages just in order to keep up with the kids. Meanwhile outside on the school field someone was quietly stringing together a Daisy chain of academies.

Delores was looking as stunning as ever – like she’d just stepped off the cover of a glossy school prospectus.  She could sure keep me in detention anytime she liked. But I could tell she wasn’t happy.

“I don’t know what to do about the new KS3 curriculum.” she said. “I’m trying to deliver it as required but the children don’t seem to have any idea what I’m talking about. It’s almost as if they just haven’t yet covered the much higher demands and expectations of KS2 in their Primary schools, so that makes it quite impossible. And as for these new GCSE grades, well they’re so much nonsense, aren’t they? It’s just replacing letters with numbers and adding a 9 to fool people into thinking somehow that makes it louder. Perhaps next time they’ll use colours instead – for example, you could have Green for ‘Pass’, Yellow for ‘Get Ready To Pass’ and Red for ‘Stop and Repeat’. That would be much better, wouldn’t it?”

I looked around and checked out the notorious art room sinks, but in this case they were gleaming white: this was clearly a clean sink school. On her desk I noticed a cracked, not-so-young Toby jug crammed full of bald paintbrushes. I wandered towards the art storeroom door, but noticed Delores suddenly seemed uneasy, as if she was trying to hide something.

“No, Marlowe, No.” she pleaded. “Please don’t go in there. It’s not safe. You might not like what you find. It’s – where I keep my whips, if you get my meaning.”

I wondered if this was a side of Dolores I didn’t know about, or whether she perhaps just had a penchant for Walnut Whips, but then I made the connection. I had my hunches about what, or rather who, might be in there, but I decided to let sleeping dogs lie. If that’s where Gove was, he couldn’t do any further harm.

Back at the office I rang Lt. Wilshaw. I told him I thought I’d found Gove and he was well out of harm’s way, but I was afraid I couldn’t reveal his whereabouts. Wilshaw sounded relieved, but still not happy – I guessed perhaps he’d really wanted to get to Gove himself so he could finish the job off properly. It could only happen in education.

The bell to signal the end of school for the day rang somewhere in my head and I decided it was time to head for home. Gove may be gone – for now at least – but there’s no doubt his legacy will live on for some time. It’s going to be a while before the Blob manage to take control of education again, and Big Mickey’s Mob are never going to be far behind. I wasn’t feeling human tonight, but at least I hadn’t turned into a zombie. Not yet, anyway.

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Lower image credit: Flickr/emiliano-iko