No Minister! No, No, No…

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So, the Great EBacc Consultation is over, and doubtless the Df-ingE are in a whirl having been inundated with a whole digital cement mixer load of responses that they are going to have to sift through very closely if they are to find any particularly helpful solutions as to how they can persuade 90% of children to order the Full All-day English EBacc.

Last week, social media was alive with the sound of distraught teachers and senior managers blogging their responses – such as this one that All Change Please! wrote with Teacher Toolkit – expressing their deepest concerns and fears about the destructive impact of the EBacc-Bomb

Meanwhile, it’s certainly not all over. It’s difficult to see the Df-ingE backing down and admitting their proposal was both undesirable and achievable. To help them on their way though it would be useful if MPs were now made more aware of the implications of the Df-ingE’s aspirations for the schools in their constituencies and be encouraged to start asking some awkward questions in the House. Given the emerging teacher shortages, the key issue is exactly how the Df-ingE proposes to guarantee that there will be enough qualified and experienced academic EBacc subject teachers to provide an adequate standard of teaching for 90% of all children?

With this in mind, All Change Please! has written a letter and left it on the table. It can be downloaded here and viewed below. Feel free to borrow, re-draft, edit, adapt or do whatever you like with it, providing it ends up being emailed to your local MP as soon as possible.  (Do make sure you make it clear that you are one of their constituents). Find the contact details for your MP here.

Of course there is one simple approach that could solve all the problems. Entering children for the EBacc is not a legal requirement, and if all headteachers in a local area got together and agreed not to play the game, the whole thing would simply extinguish itself. League table accountability is all relative, and so each school’s position would remain exactly the same.

But of course that’s unlikely to happen. Somewhat more probable is that in a few years’ time, when a growing number of parents confront the reality that their children are likely to fail all their EBaccs and are being prevented from taking other subjects they might have succeeded in, many schools might decide that the best way forward will be for them to develop a reputation as a successful non-EBacc school that offers a wide range of Arts and vocational courses. In which case it won’t be long before there will be two types of schools: those in which all students take the academic EBacc (previously known as Grammar schools), and those that decide to continue to offer non-Ebacc subjects (previously known a Secondary Moderns). Perhaps that’s been the Government’s intention all along?

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Meanwhile here’s what All Change Please!‘s letter to your local MP says…

Dear…

I would like to bring your attention to a number of matters arising out of the DfE’s recent consultation process on the implementation of the policy that 90% of children should take the full EBacc GCSEs. In the first instance the consultation did not invite views on the desirability of such a policy, but asked a series of limited questions as to how it could be best achieved. It should be noted that this measure did not form part of the manifesto on which the government was elected.

There are many reasons why the policy is both undesirable and undeliverable.

First, to clarify, under the new proposal, pressure is to be placed on schools to enter 90% of children for GCSE courses in English language and literature, maths, two sciences, languages, and history or geography.

The average number of GCSEs taken by children is 8.1 (and not 9 as Nick Gibb has claimed), while those from less affluent backgrounds take less. This leaves most children with just one further subject option, choosing from subjects such as a second foreign language, religious education, art & design, design & technology, engineering, music, drama, business studies, economics, PE and, if not chosen as one of their two sciences, computer science. The result of this will be that many of these subjects will cease to be offered as class-sizes will no longer be viable. Losing courses in design & technology and engineering will restrict the growth of inter-disciplinary STEM subjects nationally. Teaching of the Arts in schools will be seriously diminished at a time when our world-leading Creative Industries make an increasingly significant contribution to the economy. The non-EBacc subjects will also be less likely to be chosen for A level, further increasing their disappearance from schools.

To enforce the policy, the number of entries a school makes for the full EBacc is to be given a more prominent role within the Ofsted framework, and schools that do not follow the requirement will appear lower down in school league tables. Headteachers will therefore be placed in the difficult position of having to decide whether it is better to enter individuals for examinations in subjects in which they are likely to achieve a low EBacc GCSE grade, or for those which they show more interest in and aptitude for.

It has recently been predicted that the number of children achieving good GCSE passes in the ‘more rigorous’ academic EBacc subjects is likely to fall by some 23%, with the result that there is also likely to be a substantial increase in the number of disaffected students who see themselves as being failures when entering the 16-19 phase of education. Furthermore they will not have had an adequate experience of problem-solving creative and technical subjects on which to base appropriate choices of further and higher level courses.

Despite this, the DfE have stated that: “We know that young people benefit from studying a strong academic core of subjects up until the age of 16”. However, there is no evidence to support this statement as being applicable to 90% of children. Meanwhile there are many outside the DfE who would support the statement that there are many children who benefit more from following Arts-based and vocationally-orientated GCSE courses, with the latter providing a better preparation for apprenticeships.

At the same time there are also an increasing number of employers who are removing academic qualifications as an entry barrier, and are seeking those with a greater understanding of the way in which business, industry and commerce works. The DfE have also stated that ‘Our reforms are leaving pupils better prepared for further study and more ready for the world of work’. While the former may be true, the latter is certainly not.

There are also issues regarding the inclusion of Academies in these measures, which do not appear to have been considered. A particular feature of the Academy movement is a school’s freedom to follow its own curriculum to meet local and community needs, which this proposal contradicts.

The DfE have also stated that the 90% entry rate is not a school-based figure, but a national one. There has been no indication as to how head teachers will or can be supplied with the necessary figures that will inform them of the percentage of children that will be required to be entered in their individual school.

While every school should meet the entitlement for all children to take the full range of EBacc subjects if they wish, there should not be external pressure for them to do so. In the longer term this measure is likely to produce a two-tier system, in which there will be two types of schools: those in which all students take academic EBacc subjects (previously known as Grammar schools), and those who decide to continue to offer a wider range of non-EBacc subjects (previously known a Secondary Moderns).

Finally, and most importantly, it is difficult to see how the current policy can actually be practically implemented as presented. Although denied by the DfE, the current teacher shortage in many subjects will soon be exacerbated at secondary level as an increased number of children move into the sector. The key question therefore is exactly how does the DfE propose to guarantee that there will be enough suitably qualified and experienced academic EBacc subject teachers to provide an adequate standard of teaching for 90% of all children? The substantial costs of recruitment, re-training and retention of the necessary work-force does not appear to have been considered or calculated.

Can I therefore strongly urge you to challenge the DfEs proposal to introduce the requirement for 90% of children to take the full EBacc, both in terms of its desirability and practicality.

Yours sincerely

[Name and Name of Constituency]

Image credits: Flickr/Howard Ignatius and Tim Morgan

 

Curriculum Noir III: Lt Wilshaw Sees The Light

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Previously, in Curriculum Noir I and Curriculum Noir II, Philip Marlowe was hired to discover who was stealing the Arts, and then by Lieutenant Wilshaw to track down the missing Big Mickey Gove. However, things have been quieter since, now that justice was being done to Big Mickey Gove and Little Missy Morgan had taken over and was ruthlessly running the Mob with her henchmen. She was on a mission to take control of the whole curriculum, and no-one was going to get in her way. Marlowe takes up the story:

So there I was the other night, sitting quietly in the dimly-lit coffee shop across the road from my office and slowly sipping on my double-strength flat white, when suddenly a shadow fell across its velvety-smooth microfoam surface.

“Ah, found you at last Marlowe.” a familiar voice growled as Lieutenant Wilshaw of the Ofsted Flying Squad sat down opposite me. I couldn’t help notice that for once he was looking scared.

“I need your help.” he whispered, nervously looking around in case anyone was sitting at the back of the cafe with an observation form in their hands.

“Sure.” I said, surprised at the unusual request.

“Well, it’s just that… if I can explain… how can I put this… I know you won’t believe me, but things have changed, and… it may seem strange that I’m saying this, but I’ve recently come to the conclusion that this whole EBacc thing is a one really big dumb-blonde of an idea. This ‘one size fits all’ system is complete nonsense, isn’t it? And then there’s this insane PISA fixation over some narrow-minded tests that don’t reveal anything worth knowing about the quality of education being delivered in our schools.”

“I mean, just think of all these poor kids who are going to fail all their GCSE EBacc exams and end up on the street, with no qualification, nowhere to go and nothing to do. It’s too awful to contemplate. Something’s got to be done to stop the Mob carrying on with its evil plans. Up to now I’ve just been playing along so they’ll leave me alone, but enough’s enough and I just had to speak out about the lack of vocational education and qualifications currently on offer- I expect you’ve read about it in the papers.

“Well, it sure has taken you long enough.” I said. “It’s just a shame you didn’t see the light a bit sooner and not let things get this far in the first place – I mean any teacher could have told you what it was like in reality, years ago. And you’ve know it all along too. But anyway, what I can do for you?”

“You’ve got to hide me, Marlowe. They’re after me. Gentleman Nick ‘The Knife’ Glibb is going to catch up with me pretty soon and he’s going to want to take his revenge. And Ofqual and the Awarding Bodies are hot on my tail after I suggested that the exams shouldn’t be moved to accommodate Ramadan, and then it turned out they hadn’t been anyway.”

I gave him my best ‘I told you so’ look and tried to calm him down. “I really wouldn’t worry. Just go home and forget about it. I expect you’ll be spending more time with your family soon anyway. How’s your garden growing? All this talk about the academic and the vocational having equal status – it’s never going to happen, and the Mob know it. It’s not about children or teaching and learning anymore, it’s all about propaganda and politics. The purpose of education is simply to keep The Party in power for ever and ever.”

“Gee, Marlowe, you really think so?”

“I know so… Just as sure as night follows day and Period 2 follows Period 1.”

I showed him the morning paper and pointed to the official DfE response:

A Department for Education spokesman said: “We know that young people benefit from studying a strong academic core of subjects up until the age of 16 which they can complement with additional arts subjects or vocational qualifications.

“Our reforms are leaving pupils better prepared for further study and more ready for the world of work…”

“But this is ludicrous – it’s just an outrageous premium pack of porky pies.” snarled Wilshire. “Exactly how do they know all young people benefit from studying so many academic subjects? And if they are already doing the seven EBacc subjects, that only leaves them with one option for the ‘additional arts subjects or vocational qualifications’. And then there are all these companies saying they no longer require a degree, and complaining that the teenagers and graduates they employ come to them have no idea what business is like – so they’re certainly not ‘more ready for the world of work.’ I suppose next they’ll be claiming there is no teacher shortage, and that there’s never been a better time to become a teacher…”

With a sad, dejected look on his face Lieutenant Wilshaw wearily made for the door and stumbled out into the blackness. I ordered another double flat white and a dark chocolate croissant and decided there really was no point in responding to the EBacc Consultation, because it only played straight into their hands, and whatever I said wouldn’t be considered anyway. As everyone knows, there are no marks if you don’t answer the question that’s been set.

That’s the way things work now.

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Image credits: Flickr/ Barkbud (top), nyyankee (bottom)

 

The Really Big Issues

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First a reminder that the House of Commons Select Committee on Education Consultation on the Purpose of Education closes on the 24th January. Well it’s great that they’ve finally admitted they have had absolutely no idea what they’ve been messing with for the past 30 or so years, but All Change Please! can’t help but think that education policy in future will be justified by the statement that the government is following the direction established by the full public consultation which has proved they were doing the right thing all along and intend to continue in the same way. ‘We’ve been listening‘ they’ll say, ‘It’s just that you didn’t say what we wanted you to so we completely ignored it‘ they won’t add.

Meanwhile All Change Please!’s completely robust, accurate and reliable poll made of straw is predicting that the responses will fall into one of two camps. The first – the type that will be ignored – runs something like this:

“Everyone is good at something. The purpose of education is to help children find out what they are good at and use the confidence and self-worth they derive from this to confront their weaknesses. Education nourishes the broad natural and individual cognitive, emotional, moral and spiritual development of children and young adults in ways which ultimately gives them a sense of fulfillment and a desire to go on learning, both within work environments and in their personal lives. In doing so they will survive more easily and comfortably and pass on such nourishment to their own children and to society, thus helping ensure the successful continuation of the community, the nation, and ultimately the species.”

And the second – which is what are expected to say:

“The purpose of education is to create a pliant, well-disciplined, hard-working and employable population that doesn’t ask questions and will be led by a small highly-capable elite who will run the country specifically in order to increase their own wealth. However, in the interests of social mobility this involves giving everyone the opportunity to join the elite, whether they want to or not, providing of course they prove themselves to be sufficiently academically able and attend a Russell Group University.”

This will in turn lead to the inevitable conclusion that in order to improve the quality of education good old-fashioned traditional knowledge-based teaching is best, even more testing is needed, and the EBacc is the best thing to come along since the invention of homogenous, completely tasteless sliced-white bread.

All of which is however pretty much beside the point, because there are some much bigger, important and far more disruptive mind-bending educational issues on the horizon that are what we really should be spending our time, effort and money on if we don’t want the country to go the way of dinosaurs, horse-drawn carts and Woolworths – which is the general direction we are currently heading. And they don’t centre around obsessively arguing about whether one style of teaching is better than another, which subjects should or should not be included in the curriculum, how to make it easier to memorise unnecessary information and how many times children need to be tested on their tables.

Indeed All Change Please! isn’t called All Change Please! because it wants Just A Little Bit of Change Now and Again Please! It’s because all things need to change. What we really should be discussing is our ideas about how all schools are going to need to change and evolve rapidly evolve in the very near future, and at the same time how to ensure the quality of the almost inevitable growth on online learning and assessment that will lead the change. To get an idea of the scale of the implications for the world of education, just ask someone in the music, publishing and retail industries if the way things work now are the same as they were in the year 2000, and how much time they spend debating whether or not we should be going back to using traditional methods of selling the same products and services from the 1950s. While everyone else prepares for the Fourth Industrial Revolution – that’s the one after the IT age – education is still way back in the second one.

Thus the first Really Big Issue, which the Df-ingE seems intent on denying and publishing misleading figures about, is the consequences of the forthcoming teacher shortage, due at least in part to their highly successful ‘Let’s Blame the Teacher’ campaign they have been running (together with the recently launched parallel ‘Let’s Also Blame the Parents’ campaign). That’s because there’s an easy solution to the shortage that the Df-ingE have doubtless had in mind all along, following the worrying lead of Brazil and Australia, which is to simply plug children into ‘Sit down, switch on and shut up’ computer-based teaching systems for several hours each day. This has the extra advantage of giving the large corporate preferred suppliers massive contracts to make loads of money while spending as little as possible on the actual teaching and learning content, which will be created by programmers rather than educationalists. The companies that create these teaching systems don’t really care what the purpose of education is – beyond making them a healthy profit – let alone how to achieve it, and so just churn out an endless stream of personalised big data generated knowledge-recall multiple choice questions and test scores. This isn’t education. It’s factory farming.

And the other Really Big Issue is the ingrained belief that we still live in a world of the individual expert who knows a lot about very little, and that by the time a child leaves school and university they have been told and remembered everything there is to know. We appear to be obsessed with the ability to remember things at the expense of problem-solving and management skills. Just saying “Because we don’t know exactly what knowledge will be needed in the future we will go on teaching them the same old stuff in the same old way” and implementing the EBacc isn’t an acceptable answer. And it’s starting to look like the only way to achieve this is going to be for headteachers to unilaterally agree not to play the numbers game anymore.

Meanwhile what we do know is that our children will need to be creative and collaborative team workers and communicators, have excellent personnel management and communication skills and be able and willing to learn new knowledge and skills throughout their lives on an almost daily basis – all with no teacher there to inform and test them. More than ever before they will need to identify and maximise their particular individual capabilities and passions and be able to apply them alongside a sound, fundamental grasp of digital technologies, business, economics and psychology. And if we are to remain competitive as a nation and as a culture, these aren’t things that can be just bolted-on in the occasional off-timetable after-school club, but need to underpin the whole curriculum experience from Year 1 to Year 13 and on into further and life-long education. Make no mistake – if we don’t, then China will – or rather, already is.

It will also become increasingly important that today’s children realise that learning is not just something boring and tedious that happens under duress at school sitting at a computer answering endless multiple choice questions, but is something that is pleasurable, enriching and fulfilling and happens throughout life, and through the whole community. Importantly, as adults, they will then need to pass on the same positive values and aspirations to their own children.

The purpose of education is to prepare our children for the future. Not the past. 

Or perhaps it’s just really as All Change Please!’s Smith and Jones previously observed:

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

With thanks to Tony’s Mum and Alan.

Image credit: Flickr ozz13x

Big Issue Seller

Up, up and away…?

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If 1967 was the Summer of Love, then 1976 was the Summer of Hot. Forty years ago, the 1976 UK summer produced the warmest and longest-lasting average temperatures since records began: the sky was always blue and the sun shone brightly for months on end, resulting in drought conditions that prompted the provocative slogan ‘Save Water, Bath With A Friend‘. There’s never been a summer quite like it since.

1976 was also the same year Concorde took to the skies with supersonic speed, the space shuttle Enterprise was unveiled in California and the new Intercity 125 trains took to the tracks. James Hunt won the World Motor Racing Championship, and Jobs and Wozniak founded Apple, though no-one paid much attention at the time. The futuristic Pompidou Centre was nearing completion in Paris. Star Wars was coming. James Callaghan became Prime Minister. Brotherhood of Man won the Eurovision Song Contest while Jonny Rotten quietly muttered a rude word on live TV. Things were definitely on the up. And OFSTED was just a twinkle in some aspiring Tory politician’s eye. Yes, those were the days. We thought they’d never end.

And it just so happens that it was in September 1976 when a young, keen and eager All Change Please! spent a week observing in a typical comprehensive school as part of its far from left-wing Marxist PGCE course. Initially it was surprised that what was going on hadn’t changed much since it had been at school itself, as much as five years before. It noted down in its special file that while there were still some disaffected students being pushed through inappropriate O level subjects that ended with written examinations in the school gym, there were some promising and enterprising Mode 3 CSE courses that had been set up by some of the teachers, often responding to local needs. There was a growing awareness that traditional teaching wasn’t working well enough for all, and project-based learning and problem-solving were the new kids on the block that seemed to hold much promise for the future. The one obvious thing really holding a few of the children behind was a problem with basic literacy and numeracy, but surely that would get sorted out soon enough and things could really start to move ahead at supersonic speed?

Fast forward, or so it seemed, to the late 1970s and All Change Please!’s first teaching post and the first computers were arriving in schools – Commodore PETs and RM 380Zs, and the slightly geekier kids and their teachers were getting excited. There was talk about the day not so far away when it would be possible to read a book on a computer screen, create electronic artwork and perform complex calculations in the blink of an eye. And what was it going to be like when you could link these computers into a network? And just think of the potential these machines might have for helping children learn. The future was surely just around the corner…

At the time it’s probably a good job that no-one told All Change Please! that it was never going to happen, or it might just have given up and gone home. It never guessed that by the time it retired there would still be children who found reading, writing and arithmetic difficult, that there would still be a knowledge-based curriculum with problem-solving, child-centred, project-based learning being viewed with great suspicion and distrust, and that most computer-aided learning programs would be largely a waste of time, simply replicating tired and detested traditional approaches to teaching and being given the silly name of MOOCs. And worst of all that the curriculum and examinations would be dictated not be educationalists any more, but by The Party.

Sadly, as time wore on the optimistic Summer of ’76 dissipated and by late ’78 had somehow transformed into the Winter of Discontent and the subsequent inauguration of Thatcherism and the riots and inner-city ghost towns of the early 1980s, leading inevitably to the situation and circumstances we find ourselves in today. Even Concorde eventually ran out of steam.

The Information Age that was so clearly on the horizon in the 1970s is only just now getting under way. It’s finally beginning to disrupt the way we think, act and live our lives, and to fundamentally start to change the way we do things, and to have a much greater impact than the industrial revolution ever had on the agricultural age. It’s something our education system could and should have been preparing for since the late 1970s, but it hasn’t. Instead our top-down administrative-led organisations and political systems stuck their heads in the ground in the belief that IT and globalisation wouldn’t actually change anything in the future – or perhaps with the fear that it might. After all IT was believed to be ‘just another tool’ that helped automate existing processes, but wouldn’t actually change them. As a result things are now evolving so quickly that our 20th Century systems and infrastructure just can’t cope with them. And Education seems intent on refusing to accept that the world is not the same as it once was, and continues to fail to develop its thinking about what needs to be learnt when, how and by whom. The time for debate about whether teaching should be traditional or progressive has long since passed. What really needs discussing is how our schools are going to completely re-invent themselves to meet the very different needs of future generations.

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Meanwhile, gazing through doubtless rose-tinted sunglasses, back in daily life in the summer of 1976 shops were shut on Sundays which gave everyone a welcome day of rest and family life. Working hours were more reasonable and there were no such things as performance targets. Houses didn’t cost the earth, especially for first-time buyers, enabling those in their early 20s to become home-owners. Public transport was cheap and plentiful, even if like now, it didn’t always run on time. There was less to choose from in the shops, but goods were made in Britain, and there were no complex calculations needed every year to work out which were the best and cheapest energy, tele-communications and insurance providers. And most of all and there wasn’t the pervasive atmosphere of fear, hate and conspicuous greed being thickly spread by politicians and the media. But neither were there flat-screen, multi-channel colour TVs, digital cameras, instant access to the world via mobile smart phones and tablets, online shopping or other ‘modern conveniences’ that somehow for some reason we can’t seem to live without today. 

So was daily life better in 1976 than it is today? It’s impossible to say – some things have got better, and some things have got worse, and it very much depends on one’s particular individual circumstances at the time. It’s just that we did things differently then.

In Education however, it seems that most things have not only stayed the same but have got worse. And that goes for everybody, no matter what their circumstances.

So All Change Please! is just going to go to the beach instead, and stick its head in the sand…

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Image credits: Flickr Commons/ Roger W, Derek Gavey, LetsGoOut