Mark My Words… Please!

Screenshot 2015-07-27 20.05.47Spot the difference: marks will be awarded for reference to differences in age, gender, class and ethnicity.

All Change Please! was, in its own strange way, amused by this recent article about the latest unthought-through consequence of Michael Gove’s new tougher GCSEs. It seems that as a result of the move away from coursework to formal written examinations, more examiners are going to be needed to mark them – now who could have possibly anticipated that happening? And for some even stranger, inexplicable reason there does not appear to be a ready army of suitably qualified people available and willing to do the work.

What the article doesn’t mention though is that one of the many reasons for teachers not wanting to spend their spare time marking exam scripts (beyond the fact that they don’t actually have any spare time), is that the rates of pay – about £2 a candidate before tax – are derisory.

Now in the good old days, and when the last half of the summer term was a great deal more relaxed, Awarding Bodies, or Exam Boards as they were known in those days, were a very different animal. To begin with, there were many more of them, and often more regionally-based, e.g., SE Region, London, Midlands, Oxford Local, Cambridge, Oxford and Cambridge, JMB, etc. They tended to be university-based and their primary function was to produce high-quality examinations and assessment, and so, apart from the insights into the examination process and the fact that it looked good on one’s CV, the reason for becoming an examiner was to be associated with a respected academic body, and because it was a worthy educational thing to do. The pay wasn’t marvellous, but that wasn’t the point.

Things are different today, All Change Please! hears every teacher say, because two of the three main awarding bodies that are left are strictly commercial corporate global companies whose primary function is to make loadsamoney for their shareholders and senior executives (OCR being the exception in this respect). And one of the ways they do this best is by exploiting examiners by paying them peanuts rather than pounds.

So perhaps the solution to this problem lies in a generous pay increase for examiners? And with a little creative thinking, given that apparently –  according to the article – many teachers enjoying taking cruises during their summer break, perhaps the offer of cruise vouchers might tempt them to take pen to paper (or these days mouse to screen) to earn a little extra pocket-money to pay for that cabin upgrade and drinks package?

Meanwhile, in other news, it seems Schools Minister Glibly has got his Nickers in a twist having been disappointed by the standards of sample GCSE history examination questions, with the newspapers gleefully doing their usual trick of highlighting one of the first questions on the paper – deliberately easier than the later ones – and thus suggesting that all questions involve a ‘Spot the difference’ picture quiz. Of course, what he, and the journos, doesn’t seem to realise is that questions like these are probably the only ones that the majority of candidates, forced to take the subject as part of the EBacc, will be able to answer.

Or is there a plan as cunning as a fox that used to be Professor of Cunning at Oxford University* at work here? After all, if the scripts of the majority of candidates only take a few seconds to mark, then the examiners will be able to complete their marking that much more quickly, and be paid even less?

Meanwhile, did you manage to spot the difference between Gove and Glibb? There was a clue in the question. Yes, Gove is wearing a tie with spots on. An unused History GCSE if you got it right!

*Courtesy Baldrick

Alas Schools & Journos: Beginners Please!

alas-smith-and-jones2Once more, All Change Please! is privileged to eavesdrop on Mel Smith, as the man who thinks he knows everything, and Griff Rhys Jones, as the man who knows he knows nothing, as they discuss the latest developments in education.

As the scene opens, Mel Smith is reading his newspaper – the Evening Standard – and speaks in a posh voice:

Smith: “Ah have you seen, there’s a new Stoppard opening at the National, I must book”.

Jones: “A new what at the where?”

Smith:“It’s a new play by Tom Stoppard – you know he did ‘Jumpers’ and ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead’.”

Jones: “No, I can’t say I do.”

Smith: Well there you go then, that proves Nick Glibly’s point, you haven’t had a proper education unless you can appreciate the sort of plays they put on at the National Theatre.

Jones: Oh, the National Theatre, I thought you meant the Grand National and there was a horse called Stoppard who was a good jumper, and there were two other horses they’d had to put down.

Smith: No No No! What old Nick Glibly said the other day was that studying English at GCSE was crucial to enable people to enjoy the theatre as adults.

“I think it’s hard to really appreciate a play at the Donmar [Warehouse] or the National Theatre if you haven’t studied English to GCSE…Studying English literature to the age of 16 helps you to understand a demanding play by David Mamet”.

And he also said that schools must teach pupils the “fundamental principles” of core subjects in a way that will enable them to read around the subject for leisure as adults.

“That’s the purpose of education in my judgement, in every subject. Can you read a geography book after you leave school, can you read further history books by famous historians after you leave school?

“The purpose of school is to provide that grounding to indulge and read around those subjects as you go through adult life.”

Jones: But I always thought the purpose of education was to learn useful things, get some qualifications and then a job serving coffee somewhere?

Smith: Well, not according to him. Apparently the core EBacc subjects are ‘the primary colours of an educated person’s palette’, which makes it a bit strange that they’re not including Art as one of the subjects.

Jones: He doesn’t know what he’s talking about does he?

Smith (losing the posh voice): No, you’re absolutely right, he’s obviously got no idea at all. In fact he’s stark, raving bonkers. The whole education policy is a complete farce, and he’s just an understudy behaving like a prima donna, trying to upstage Nicky Morgove to put himself into the limelight by making a scene. I wonder who prompted him to do it?

Jones: He’s really not thought this through, has he? I mean let’s face it, if everyone in the country wanted to go to see plays at the National or this Doner Kebab Warehouse place, they’d get booked up so far in advance it would be donkey’s years before anyone could possibly get a ticket. And anyway, as Drama isn’t included in the EBacc there won’t be any actors around to play the parts will there?

Smith: Still you can’t blame him for jockeying for position, even if he has fallen at every hurdle.

Jones: No I suppose not. Anyway, can’t hang round here chatting all day.

Smith: Where are you off to then?

Jones: I’ve got a ticket to see Warhorse run in the 19:45 at the National…

 

Blackout

Curtain

 

What, do you mean you’ve never been to the Donmar Warehouse in Covent Garden? Or never seen a play by David Mamet?

Fixated by Design

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So as the academic year desperately drags to its inevitable conclusion and teachers’ thoughts turn to escaping for a long, hot summer somewhere nice, it’s kind of the DfE and Ofqual to set everyone some holiday homework. Yes, with typical impeccable timing, the latest draft GCSE D&T specifications have just been published for consultation, due for return by the 26th August.

Along with the consultation forms, the specifications can be downloaded from here and here.

Generally, for Product Design-fixated teachers everywhere, the draft looks very encouraging. There is a clear approach to the use of explore/create/evaluate iterative design processes and of multi-materials and technologies. And the slightly odd jumble of proposed contexts from the previous drafts has been replaced by a list of suggestions for ‘contextual challenges’ that essentially read as ‘anything that does not prompt the use of a specific material, technology or discipline’. As expected though, coursework, or NEA (Non Exam Assessment) as it is curiously now known, is reduced to 50%, with a 50% completely inappropriate written paper: if Art and Design can be 100% NEA, why can’t D&T?

All that really remains is for one or two important details to be sorted out and clarified, and for the Awarding Bodies to get busy over the summer starting to develop user-friendly final specifications and examinations. Oh, and of course over the next couple of years, an awful lot of CPD to help the more traditional single-material specialist teachers who will have to develop a somewhat broader approach to delivering coursework, and to work out what the word ‘iterative’ actually means.

Obviously it’s up to each individual to decide for themselves how they wish to respond to the consultation, but here is All Change Please!‘s list of things it thinks would be worth mentioning, which you may or may not agree with, but you are welcome to include in your response if you wish – though do make sure you suitably personalise your comments!

1. It’s important to send a positive message supporting the multi-material, iterative design approach, and the specification as a whole.

2. On page 3 the explanation of the word ‘prototype’ is generally helpful, but the understanding of ‘product’ less so. A prototype might not need further design development as such, but simply require the use of manufacturing technologies not available in a school workshop. The final ‘outcome’ of design practice is likely to be a ‘proposal‘ rather than an actual finished, saleable object, except perhaps where the item is a ‘one-off’.

3. On page 5, point 7, there is a requirement for ‘at least one prototype and at least one product… based on a brief they develop..’. This lacks clarity, and possibly confused thinking on the part of Ofqual. It needs to be replaced with ‘at least one prototype or one product’ (which is how it is expressed in 2. in the Introduction).

4. In the Technical knowledge and understanding section the content seems a bit muddled. Ideally there would be a clearer distinction between the general, broad core of knowledge of materials and tools and a more in-depth knowledge of certain areas or aspects, chosen by the student.

5. In Designing and making principles (9) again some clarification is required. Ideally it should read:… ‘one design brief and at least one design specification‘ (as distinct from a manufacturing specification). It would also be useful to add.. ‘even though the design requirements might change during the development of the design’.  And presumably they mean ‘from their own consideration of…, supported by those identified by others‘, rather than a separate brief and specification for a problem they have identified and a separate brief and specification for a problem someone else has identified? Are students expected to undertake one or two pieces of coursework?

6. On page 7, re. ‘use different design strategies’, the term ‘design fixation‘ is not currently in common usage in D&T. It does of course mean fixated by a single design idea, rather than with design and designing itself!

7. Then, still on page 7, ‘design and develop at least one product…’ Again this needs to read one prototype or product. The explanation of innovation, provided at the bottom of the page, needs improvement. It would be more appropriate to use the word ‘creative’ to cover something new or novel, and perhaps unusual or unique. The word ‘innovation‘ indicates a design that will potentially lead to the widespread adoption a new type or class of product as a solution to a problem.

8. And re. ‘appropriate materials and components…‘, again there is the confusion between ‘one prototype and one product.’

9. While it is good to see the links with Science and Maths at the end, thus helping establish the contribution of D&T to STEM, it’s a shame there are no links with Art & Design (the clue is in the name!). This would help identify the important aesthetic dimensions of design, which are not otherwise directly mentioned.

And last, but by no means least, while the specification potentially succeeds in encouraging a high quality, rigorous, intellectual and academic learning experience in design & technology, it does little for students who have traditionally sought the D&T department as a refuge where they can make potentially useful artefacts and develop valuable workshop skills. What’s also urgently needed are alternative specifications to meet their needs and wants.

Please forward this post to any D&T teachers you know!

 

Image credit: Flickr/ ji young Yoon