Little Miss Morgan

Screenshot 2016-03-30 15.19.00.jpgIn which Nicky Morgan addresses the NASUWT conference and tells a joke, and All Change Please! wonders what she might have been actually thinking as she spoke…

“OK. Deep breath. Positive visualisation. Just remember that Margaret Thatcher was the Minister for Education before she became PM. Focus. Relax. And we’re back in the room…

“…thank you for inviting me here today. I know there are those who have expressed surprise – astonishment even – that I would ‘brave’ coming to this conference.

Well, I’m a bit surprised and astonished too, but then the people at Head Office made it clear that if I didn’t attend there’d be no chance of becoming PM. So here I am.

Well, let me be absolutely clear I will engage with any audience, with anyone who wants to participate in the conversation on how we make England’s education system the best system it possibly can be. That’s why I regularly hold Teacher Direct sessions across the country so that teachers can ask me questions and I can hear their views.

And pretend I’m doing something in response when all I’m really doing is coming up with a few spin-worthy platitudes that won’t make any real difference at all.

That’s my job as Education Secretary. It’s about listening to teachers, parents, anyone who has a role in our educations system and – based on those judgements – making decisions about what is best for young people.

And best for my wealthy Tory party colleagues I should add, but perhaps better not.

Our reforms: Academisation

Let me turn to the wider reforms in the white paper, because every single one of those reforms are about what we can do to create better environments for teaching and for teachers. And yes, I’m talking about every school becoming an academy.

Surely no-one actually believes this is a good idea do they? It’s obvious to anyone it will never work. It was just dreamt up the other day as an attempt to divert attention from Ossie Osborne’s Tax cuts. But on the plus side, at least it’s stopped people at the Teacher conferences complaining about our EBacc plans hasn’t it? But I’ve been told I have to keep promoting the stupid idea anyway, so let’s get on with it…

I know NASUWT has voiced concerns about the academies programme right from the outset but let’s be clear that this is about creating a system that is school-led; one that puts trust in you – the professionals inside the system, giving you the freedom from government to do your jobs as you see fit, based on the evidence of what you know works.

As if…! Look I know you don’t believe a word I’m saying so I might as well be honest with you. Despite what I’m saying this Academies for All policy is non-starter.  It may be big news now but it’ll soon get forgotten about in the run up to this daft Euro-vote fiasco, and after that there will be a major cabinet reshuffle with different people in charge and if anyone asks they’ll just put on their best Sir Humphrey voice and explain that the white paper was “not included in the manifesto and was only really intended as a discussion document to explore the possibility and gather feedback and with hind-sight and due diligence it has become clear that the time is not yet right and that perhaps the finances would be better spent in other areas of greater need.” So with a bit of luck by the Autumn I’ll be out of here and running a department which actually has some purpose in terms of securing future votes on the doorsteps, which after all is what us cabinet ministers are really here for, isn’t it?

It isn’t for me, or officials in Whitehall, or Ofsted to decide how best to teach or run schools – it’s for you: the teachers who know better than anyone what works in the classroom and what your pupils need.

This really is all complete bollocks is it? Everyone knows that the Academy Trusts would simply dismiss anyone who doesn’t do exactly what they are told to do by an army of administrators and bonus-seekers who know nothing at all about education. Oh well, let’s press on…

Because as we make clear in the white paper, autonomy is not the same as abdication, for that school-led system to succeed we need to make sure you have access to the best training, the broadest support and a fair share of resources that will allow you to do your jobs to the best of your abilities.

Of course what the silly Tory spin doctors haven’t realised is that what this Academy nonsense is doing is uniting all teachers against us during their conference season. I mean beforehand they were too busy squabbling about whether traditional or progressive teaching methods were best to notice what we were doing.

Representatives of the profession

I visited the NASUWT website recently and found that of the last 20 press releases NASUWT has issued only 3 said anything positive.

Did I just hear someone laugh? Who was that?

Wouldn’t it be helpful if more of your press releases were actually positive about the teaching profession?

Yes I definitely heard laughter. I don’t remember telling a joke. Have I unintentionally said something funny? Or is my underwear showing or something?

Because If I were a young person making decisions about my future career, and I saw some of the language coming out of NASUWT as well as some of the other unions, would I want to become a teacher? If I read about a profession standing on the precipice of crisis would I consider a life in teaching?

Well come on, if it’s that amusing, share the joke with me then.

No I wouldn’t and it’s no surprise that TES research this week found that a third of teachers think that talk of a recruitment crisis was more likely to make them leave the profession.

Right, that’s quite enough laughter. You’re all staying behind after the conference until you can prove to me that you’re taking this seriously.

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You are the best people to sell this as a profession.

And politicians are the best profession to mess it up.

So teaching unions have a choice – spend the next 4 years doing battle with us and doing down the profession they represent in the process, or stepping up, seizing the opportunities and promise offered by the white paper and helping us to shape the future of the education system.

Ah, yes, bold words and fighting talk at last. ‘This lady’s not for turning’ as someone once said. And now I’ve challenged you to a fight, of course you’re not going to back down and certainly will spend the next four years doing battle with us because that’s the way confrontational government works. But as I was saying earlier, it won’t be my problem anyway come the autumn.

So I stand before you today to ask you to step up, decide to be a part of the exciting changes happening in the education system and seize all the opportunities that come with it.

And ideally to seize the opportunities to leave the profession because then we won’t have to pay you redundancy money when we replace you all with a computer learning system in a few years’ time.

Thank you.

And goodnight.

So do you think I got away with it then? Can I still get to be the PM one day?

 

Hey! Tories! Leave Them Schools Alone!

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Another Brick in the Academy Wall

The main news in the world of education at present is of course Mr Cameron’s announcement that all schools are to be Academised and sold to private companies with offshore tax accounts. However there was a slight misprint in several daily newspapers. Instead of:

The prime minister said his “vision for our schooling system” was to place education into the hands of headteachers and teachers rather than “bureaucrats”.

The correct version should have read:

The prime minister said his “vision for our politically-directed centres of obedience” was to place education into the hands of over-paid CEOs of profitable Multi Academy Trusts, rather than “bureaucrats”.

Of course what the PM also failed to mention was that in order to run the schools, the MAT’s will be re-employing the same bureaucrats that will lose their jobs in the Local Authority. No Change Please! there then. Nor did he mention that in future the 3R’s will stand for ‘Reading, Writing and Raking it in’.

A recent petition to scrap the academies plan has already achieved over the necessary 100,000 signatures, but it’s still worth adding your name if you have not done so already.

If somehow you’ve not yet managed to find the time to download, read and fully digest the new Off-White Paper, there’s a ‘great’ post about it here by the great Professor Michael Bassey, which includes a great link to the great document.

Meanwhile the most extraordinary event of the week must be this piece in The Daily Mail which just for once gets it right when it informs its readers that the:

‘UK has the fifth highest level of skills mismatch out of countries studied’, and that ‘Thousands of graduates and other well-educated people are stuck in jobs for which they are over-qualified, official statistics have revealed.’

Though of course The Mail can’t help but blame Labour’s 1999 pledge:

‘to send half of all school-leavers to university, which critics at the time said was a mistake.’

while failing to add that it was a policy that the Tories have only sought to make worse through the EBacc, which aims to send 90% of all school-leavers to university and increase the skills mis-match even further. Well if we can’t do well in PISA tests, then at least this is one test we’re going to come top of?

But the All Change Please! award for the most AARRRGGGHHHH! inducing speech of the month goes to Lieutenant Wilshaw who made the following contribution to the drive to recruit more teachers: ‘We need battlers, we need bruisers, we need battle-axes who are going to fight the good fight..in our classrooms’, which duly led our special shouty education correspondent who can always be trusted to tell it like it is, to observe:

If you are having to force kids into Orwelesque compliance to make them behave there is indeed something really rotten going on. The message you are sending to children is:

• we don’t trust you to dress yourself, so we make you all wear identical prison uniforms,

• we don’t trust you to express yourself, so shut up and sit very still or we’ll drug you with ritalin or kick you out permanently,

• we don’t trust you to move round the school, so walk in goose step with hands tied behind your back,

• we don’t trust you to use your time outside school productively, so you must do masses of pointless homework and stay in school for an hour longer every day,

• we don’t trust your teachers either so Big Brother Gibb will decide exactly what you need to learn and how they should teach you,

• and we definitely don’t trust your locally-elected representatives so we will steal all the state schools and give them over to our unelected friends to sell off the playing fields.

Well Mr F-ing Ofsted. Do you know what? I don’t trust you as far as I could throw a piece of chalk at you to shut you up….

Image credit: Flickr/Srivathsan Raghavan

Glibbipedia Hacked!

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In which Mr Glibbly searches for the internet but fails to find it.

This is the story of Mr Glibbly. As you are probably already aware, Glibblys are well-known for the often thoughtless and superficial things they say in a smooth and slippery sort of way.

Mr Glibbly is a politician, which is an ideal profession for a Glibbly. Mr Glibbly is a very important man, because he decides what millions of our children will have to learn in our schools for many years to come. The country can’t afford for Mr Glibbly to get it wrong. But the problem is, although Mr Glibbly knows a great deal about a lot of things, he doesn’t know anything at all about teaching and learning or how to use the internet. And that’s quite a problem.

A little while ago, Mr Glibbly was due to give a speech. It was going to be a very important speech, and he thought he would show how clever he was to everyone who was listening. So Mr Glibbly decided to explain why you couldn’t learn anything from the internet. Here’s what he said, in his usual Glibbly sort of way:

“Say, for example, you are reading an article about nuclear energy, and come across an unfamiliar term: radiation. So you Google it. But the first paragraph on the Wikipedia article mentions another unfamiliar term: particles. So you look it up, but the definition for ‘particles’ uses another unfamiliar term: ‘subatomic’. The definition of which in turn contains the unfamiliar terms ‘electrons’, ‘photons’ and ‘neutrons’, and so on and so forth in an infinite series of google searches which take the reader further and further away from the original term ‘radiation’.“

Silly Mr Glibbly. He didn’t realise that what he said would reveal his entire lack of understanding about how to search the internet and how good teachers teach. Would you believe it – Mr Glibbly thinks that a good education for the 21st century is exactly the same as the one they had back in the 19th Century?

Now, as everyone (except it seems Mr Glibbly) knows, if you ‘Google’ something, you don’t just only click on the link to Wikipedia. It can be a useful starting point, but you are almost certainly going to need to check out some of the other links. If you search for ‘Radiation’, all you have to do is look a little way down towards the bottom of the first page of results and there is a link to a site called ‘Radiation for Kids‘.

And there, had Mr Glibbly had any digital skills and understanding at all, he would have found the following ever-so simple explanation that even All Change Please! can understand:

‘Radiation. All objects radiate energy and heat, even your own body. However, the radiation coming from hotter objects is more intense than that coming from cooler objects. Radiation leaves an object in the form of waves. The hotter an object, the shorter the wavelength of this radiation.’

And there are plenty of other similar sites that perfectly adequately explain all the other terms Mr Glibbly referenced, and each without the need to search for the meaning of other words.

Now sadly it is true to say that in some schools children are not properly taught the skills of using search engines, appropriate search terms or to be able to critically assess the value of the information they find. That’s a pity, because that’s one of the really basic skills everyone needs in the 21st Century. But fortunately there are plenty of other capable and confident children who know how to find pretty much anything they want to learn about on the internet. Quite unlike Mr Glibbly.

But meanwhile let’s re-write what Mr Glibbly said and substitute the word ‘encyclopedia’ (you remember – those big books we used to use when we were at school) for ‘Wikipedia’…

“Say, for example, you are reading an article about nuclear energy, and come across an unfamiliar term: radiation. So you look it up in an encyclopedia. But the first paragraph mentions another unfamiliar term: particles. So you look it up, but the definition for ‘particles’ uses another unfamiliar term: ‘subatomic’. The definition of which in turn contains the unfamiliar terms ‘electrons’, ‘photons’ and ‘neutrons’, and so on and so forth in an infinite series of encyclopedia articles which take the reader further and further away from the original term ‘radiation’. “

So it seems the problem Mr Glibbly described is not specific to the internet, but to the transmission of knowledge in general. But of course what Mr Glibbly doesn’t understand is that teaching involves rather more than just standing at the front of rows of obedient children reeling out lots of old-fashioned facts for them to memorise. Indeed, let’s re-write his paragraph yet again…

“Say, for example, your teacher is telling you about nuclear energy, and uses an unfamiliar term: radiation. As you, unlike many others in your class, are not afraid to look stupid by admitting you don’t know what radiation is, so you put your hand up and ask. The teacher explains what it is, but in doing so uses another unfamiliar term: ‘particles’, so up goes your hand again, and so on with all the other terms until the teacher can’t stand it any more and just tells you to be quiet and in future pay more attention to what he’s saying.”

In each example – the internet, the encylopedia, the teacher – it’s exactly the same problem. It’s not the technology or having the knowledge that makes the difference, it’s how well the writer or presenter can explain the specialist terms in ways that can easily be understood by the non-specialist. Mr Glibbly can’t be so clever if he hasn’t realised that yet, can he?

Meanwhile Mr Df-ingE continues to try to attract high-flying academic graduates into the classroom at the expense of people who actually know how to effectively communicate the underlying concepts of their subject and to engage children in the classroom. Perhaps what Mr Glibbly should be doing is to try and somehow help break the cycle of large numbers of children pursuing academic subjects through to university only to discover that the only job they can get is teaching children academic subjects through to university only to discover, and so on… If there was less emphasis on theoretical academic subjects for all it might help a bit with the teacher recruitment crisis too.

Meanwhile it might be a good idea for Mr Glibbly to discover how to use a search engine to learn a thing or two about what education is really all about. And to listen more attentively to what the teaching profession is telling him.

Many people say that Mr Glibbly isn’t really the most suitable person to be in charge of determining the school curriculum. What do you think?

Image © Tristram Shepard