Janet and John Can’t Get No SATisfaction

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The other day All Change Please! was drivin’ in its car And that man came on the radio And he’s telling me more and more About some useless information Supposed to fire my imagination about how good regular high-stakes SATs are in schools. Oh, no, no, no!

Back in the present day the 2016 KS2 English Reading Booklet and Test have now finally been published so we can all see what the fuss has been about. They can be downloaded here.

The three short stories are quite extraordinary in their unbelievable inappropriateness to 10 year-olds living in the 21st Century. They paint a vivid picture of a long-gone fantasy world, in which there are no computers, socially-deprived housing estates or even sadly-deluded politicians.

The first story is a Royalist-inspired adventure in which two children, who might just as well have been called Janet and John, sneak off from a posh garden party. They row to an island in the middle of a lake to find a monument to a woman who married a prince and might have become Queen had she not been killed in a row between two families. For obvious reasons the woman’s name is not Diana, though, come to think of it, we’re not actually told it isn’t.

The second is a story set in colonial South Africa and is about white giraffe-riding, obviously a common experience for all children. All Change Please! didn’t believe it was possible to ride a giraffe until, unlike the 10-year-olds taking the test, it was able to check it out on the internet and discovered this article. Apparently giraffe-riding was a Chipperfield’s Circus act of the 1950s, which is probably where the author originally encountered it. Well, at least it wasn’t a black giraffe.

And lastly comes an Attenborough-style Natural History account of the demise of the dodo, complete with a ‘modern reconstruction’ of the bold Truth about what the bird looked like. All we can do is to hope that these tests quickly become as extinct as the dodo did.

Meanwhile the booklet is lavishly illustrated throughout in entirely authentic 1960’s children’s book artwork, which sadly All Change Please! is old enough to clearly recall.

 

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It’s not Rocket Surgery…

All Change Please! has therefore followed the man on the radio’s advice and duly fired up its imagination to anticipate that following the Df-ingE’s highly successful introduction of new high-standard KS2 tests in English and Maths – which most adults (and politicians) would be unable to pass – there are now proposals for one-size-fails-all SATs in other areas of the curriculum.

Just remember that the Df-ingE are convinced that children enjoy taking tests and showing off exactly how much they don’t know. And as is now well known, simply making something more difficult to achieve is guaranteed to raise standards and increase social mobility – something so obvious to anyone who once went to school themselves that it’s surprising that no-one has thought of it before…

As a result of a 6-year-old, already labelled an academic failure, successfully hacking into the Df-ingE’s rubber-keyed ZX Sinclair Spectrum computer, All Change Please! has been able to preview some extracts from the proposals for the new KS2 SATs.

Science: Children will be able to write an essay explaining the principles behind rocket science and the procedures involved in complex brain surgery, and present a convincing argument as to which one is actually the more difficult.

Mathematics: Children will be able to solve Einstein’s unsolved problem.

Geography: Children will be able to explain, using maps and diagrams, how the socio-economic and geo-physical nature of the area in which they live either makes it easier or more difficult for them to answer this question.

History: Children will be able to recite the Magna Carta in full in just a minute, without any hesitation, repetition or deviation.

Languages: Children will be able to translate the recent Education White Paper into Latin, and back again.

Art: Children will be able to use their painting by number skills to create a 100% accurate reproduction of the Constable’s ’The Hay Wain’.

Music: Children will be able to sing and accompany themselves in a performance of all six verses of ‘Rule Britannia’.

Design & Technology: Children will be able to design and make a working time machine that takes them back to the 1950s where they will discover that education was not as good then as the current government likes to think it was.

When asked for confirmation of the proposal, the Df-ingE’s anonymous errant AI computer ‘spokesperson’ app clicked and whirred, and switched itself off and on again a couple of times before automatically and erroneously spewing out the following standardised response:

‘The evidence is clear that every extra day of school missed can affect a pupil’s chance of gaining good GCSEs, which has a lasting effect on their life chances.’

Yes, indeed that’s probably true – every extra day spent outside school in the real world probably does have a lasting, very positive effect on a pupil’s life chances.

Prison Break Time

 

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The curious similarities between prisons and schools have recently been the subject of a number of Blog posts, including Rough Justice by All Change Please! and Learners Voice by Graham Brown-Martin. Indeed it seems almost too much of a co-incidence that Michael Gove has moved from being in charge of schools to being in charge of prisons.

Perhaps more surprising is Gove’s for once very sensible acceptance of the recommendation that education needs to be an important part of life in prison, and to this end he has endorsed “in-cell technology, such as iPads, so prisoners can learn independently”.  All of which seems at odds with the general approach to the use of IT in schools which is that it is unhelpful to learning. At the same time some prisoners will only be required to spend the weekend in jail.

Rod Clark, chief executive of the Prisoners’ Education Trust, is reported to have said: “For too long, schools in England and Wales have languished in a pre-internet dark age, with children struggling to find a computer to type on, let alone gain internet access.”  However, this was quickly corrected as he continued: “I’m sorry, I’ll read that again –  For too long, jails in England and Wales have languished in a pre-internet dark age, with prisoners struggling to find a computer to type on, let alone gain internet access.”

In further developments All Change Please! can’t help wondering when it will be announced that in future Judges will be able to decide whether to send convicted criminals to prison – or instead for more serious offenders, to schools?

After being sentenced John ’Stick-em-up’ Smith said:

“I knew robbing banks might land me in the Nick one day, but my sentence is well out of order – I’ve got to spend the next ten years in a school where there is no wi-fi access, no Skype and laptops are banned. I just don’t know how I’m going to cope with being completely cut off from the world like that – I was maybe expecting solitary confinement in prison, but at least with fast fibre broadband in my cell. And I have to attend five full days a week, not just at weekends. And then there’s all that homework and the rigorous academic EBacc… It’s just inhumane – my lawyer has advised me to appeal to the court of human rights.”

Meanwhile in the Queen’s Speech it was also announced that semi-autonomous “reform prisons” will result in groups of prisons being run by a single governor in the same way that academies have turned into chains of schools.

All Change Please! imagines this will make it easier for the poor and non-academic to make a smoother direct transition from Primary and Secondary Multi Academy Trusts to Multi Prison Trusts. Indeed, to increase CEO salaries, MATs will doubtless be encouraged to share resources and administration systems by building Reform Prisons on the same sites as Academies.

Image credit: The US Youth Justice Coalition

Talking ’bout Generation Z

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All Change Please! recently came across a number of articles that served to remind it exactly how out of date our schools and the current curriculum is.

First there was this ill-considered reporting of a finding that students do less well in academic examinations if they have used computers while studying. Duh! When will it be finally realised that perhaps it’s the curriculum and the methods of assessment that need to change?

Today’s young people – born and growing up in this Century and known as Generation Z – are just not the same as we were when we were young. They have a substantially different mindset that sees the world in ways we often find it hard to imagine and engage with. This article gives a least some interesting insights, as does this report.

Briefly, and generally speaking, today’s teenagers are:

  • True digital natives, unencumbered by memories of the 20th Century
  • Highly proactive and entrepreneurial
  • Have a sense of unsettlement and insecurity in terms of the future.
  • Globally and environmentally aware
  • Communicating and sharing information in a highly visual way
  • Highly IT literate and able to adapt and personalise products
  • Seeing school as an important social gathering
  • Often experiencing inappropriate and unsuccessful use of new technologies in the classroom
  • Using digital devices to facilitate and control their growing independence.

But what about the children who for one reason or another are not able, or do not wish to access the online world and become self-starting entrepreneurs?  MrArtist, our Generation Baby Boomer guest blogger, observed:

“Interesting the big point seems to be how the walk home with friends has become the social place for face to face interaction. In a no-man’s land, where teachers have been released from their poor attempts at learning how to teach with technology, and pre when parents start attempting to have their own ineffectual influence on the student’s time and on-line activities.

In this digital and ‘social’ world, I wonder and worry about the poor unfortunate lonely kid. You know, the one that doesn’t have friends, or has weird parents and consequently becomes either bullied or an outcast (or maybe that was me/you?!). I’m sure it still happens. I can remember some of them; the teacher’s pet girl who was an unfortunate shade of ginger, freckles and teeth. The odd-looking vicar’s son who walked the perimeter of the playground, alone, clutching a book looking down as he paced, like a priest until break was at last over. The boy that always smelled of urine and would have had friends if anyone could have got close enough. And then there was that poor RE teacher who just didn’t stand a chance from day one.

My thought is, apart from that unfortunate kid (or teacher) maybe not being allowed a phone, what friends would they have to be with on Faceboot, Twatter or What’sAppDoc?

I can only think the loneliness of the long distance sufferer is only amplified by modern technology and social connectivity? But then again, maybe there’s a Faceboot group for that? A special place for Nerds, Dweebs and Loners? Isn’t the internet wonderful? A place for anyone and everyone. Anything goes these days, even socks with sandals and cardigans is cool these days (except my kids tell me “cool” is not cool to say these days!). In any case, no one needs to be an outcast any more… assuming they’re allowed a phone and access to the internet, any website is free for them to revengefully troll away to their heart’s content within any freely available comments section!”


So how are we taking Generation Z’s learning and social needs and wants into account in our efforts to prepare them for their futures?  Kenneth Baker’s latest report has the answer – we’re completely failing to prepare students for the digital revolution of course:

“The government’s White Paper has a firm commitment for students to focus on seven academic subjects at GCSE – English language, English literature, maths, two sciences, a modern or ancient language, geography or history, plus probably a third science. This is word-for-word the curriculum laid down by the Education Act of 1904, though it added three subjects – drawing, cooking for girls, and carpentry or metalwork for boys.”

Baker identifies the key skills and attributes for work-ready students:

  • Good reasoning skills
  • The ability to examine and solve problems.
  • Experience of working in teams.
  • An ability to make data-based decisions – they are “data savvy”.
  • Social skills – particularly the confidence to talk to and work with adults from outside school.
  • The skills of critical-thinking, active listening, presentation and persuasion.
  • Practical skills: the ability to make and do things for real.
  • Basic business knowledge.

None of which are even dreamt of in Nick Glibb’s philosophy.

And Baker goes on to provide an eight-point plan for the Digital Revolution:

  1. Primary schools should bring in outside experts to teach coding.
  2. All primaries should have 3D printers and design software.
  3. Secondary schools should be able to teach computer science, design and technology or another technical/practical subject in place of a foreign language GCSE.
  4. The computer science GCSE should be taken by at least half of all 16-year-olds.
  5. Young Apprenticeships should be reintroduced at 14, blending a core academic curriculum with hands-on learning.
  6. All students should learn how businesses work, with schools linked to local employers.
  7. Schools should be encouraged to develop a technical stream from 14 to 18 for some students, covering enterprise, health, design and hands-on skills.
  8. Universities should provide part-time courses for apprentices to get Foundation and Honours degrees.

It’s just a shame Mr Baker did not have the same insights when he drafted the subjects of the National Curriculum nearly 30 years ago – if he had, we really would have a world-beating education system by now.

More Glibbledygook: The Impotence of Curriculum

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All Change Please! recently discovered that there was a new intern working at the Df-ingE who was asked to produce the first draft of the speech that Nick Glibb gave last week to Association of School and College Leaders. After many hours re-assembling thousands of shredded strips of paper it has been able to restore sections of the original draft along with Nick Gibb’s comments and amendments…

The Impotence of Curriculum

Would you believe it – there’s an ‘r’ and an ‘a’ in Importance. This just proves my point that more spelling tests are needed in schools. Of course I suppose it might be some sort of joke about my lack of power and the fact that, despite what some people seem to think, everything I do or say has to stand up for approval by a woman? No, surely not. And let’s be clear – there’s nothing dysfunctional about my curriculum. So let’s make it:

“The Importance of Curriculum”

Right, that feels much more satisfying. OK, let’s read the first paragraph.

Thank you for inviting me to join the ASCL curriculum summit today. Developing a well-thought-through, challenging school curriculum is central to the running of any school, and this is a topic I am always keen to impose my narrow, ill-informed views on.

No – that needs to read:

“Developing a well-thought-through, challenging school curriculum is central to the running of any school, and this is a topic I am always keen to discuss.”

We all want our children to grow up to be happy, independent, economicaly literate, employable, caring and confident citizens.

Oh no we don’t! We want them to be as obedient, pliable and silent to make it as easy as possible to keep them in order and make as much money out of them as possible when they become adults. But perhaps best not to include that.

So why does our curriculum quite unnecessarily prepare, examine and fail them as if they were all going to become university professors and masters of a wide range of academic subjects that do not exist in the real world?

You cannot be serious! Delete and change to:

“There was a widespread feeling that qualifications, in particular GCSEs, did not represent the mastery of a sufficiently challenging body of subject knowledge.”

Since 2010, pupils’ future life chances have been sacrificed for an illusion of DfE success, which served short-term political expediency.

Err, just a slight alteration here:

“Before 2010, pupils’ future life chances were being sacrificed for an illusion of success, which served short-term political expediency.”

Of course, planning for these new examinations is placing a significant workload on teachers for the next 2 years. This will be made even more demanding because instead of engaging and inspiring children with the subject they love – the subject that they went into teaching to communicate – it will mean a lot more teaching to the test of irrelevant factual knowledge to completely disinterested children who will see the content as completely meaningless to their lives.

Ah, well, with a little bit of editing…

“Of course, planning for these new examinations is placing a significant workload on teachers for the next 2 years. But as workload burdens go, I hope that secondary school teachers will see this as a chance to re-engage with the subject they love, the subject that they went into teaching to communicate.”

On the topic of performance measures, there have been concerns amongst ASCL members about our aspiration that, in time, 90% of pupils will be entered for the EBacc. The key concern appears to be the challenge of teaching all academic subjects to all pupils, in terms of both recruitment of teachers and achieving success for lower attaining pupils, and in the significant reduction of access to courses in the Arts and other non-academic subjects.

A bit of damage limitation is obviously required here so let’s just tweak that slightly to read:

“On the topic of performance measures, there have been concerns amongst ASCL members about our aspiration that, in time, 90% of pupils will be entered for the EBacc. The key concern appears to be the challenge of teaching modern foreign languages to a much larger proportion of pupils, in terms of both recruitment of teachers and achieving success for lower attaining pupils.”

A well-rounded, broad education is the entitlement of every child, irrespective of birth or background. It will enable them to discover their individual interests and abilities and nourish the desire to continue learning throughout their lives.

You might think that. I couldn’t possibly say so. Change to: 

“An academic education is the entitlement of every child, irrespective of birth or background.”

In today’s highly competitive global employment market it is increasingly essential that our children learn the skills of the workplace that will last them a lifetime – such as collaboration, communication and problem-solving – as early as possible. It is the luxury of living in today’s world that there is no rush to start developing the ability to come up with pretentious academic twaddle such as ‘the great conversations of humankind’ and  ‘intellectual hinterland’.

No, it’s the other way round, stupid! 

“It is the luxury of living in today’s world that there is no rush to start studying for the workplace. 

All pupils can be afforded the time and opportunity to be initiated into the great conversations of humankind, and develop an intellectual hinterland which will last them a lifetime.”

The Social Market Foundation have recently published a report establishing that:

“We find stark inequalities in access to the highest quality teachers resulting in poorer pupils being taught by poorer quality teachers. This provides an explanation as to why educational inequality in England persists.”

This will of course come as no surprise to teachers, who, had we listened to them in the first place, would have provided the basis for a series of policy initiatives that might actually have made a real difference to under-performing children instead of all the EBacc, Academy and KS2 English SAT nonsense we have wasted tax-payers’ money on.

Look, let’s be honest – you’re not really cut out for this sort of work, are you? Change to:

“The structural reforms undertaken by this government have created extraordinary school success stories, which force all of us to revise our expectations about what children, particularly those from deprived backgrounds, can achieve.”

Sadly All Change Please! believes the intern is no longer with the Df-ingE.

Happily All Change Please! was meanwhile amused to learn that Glibb got one of the English Test questions incorrect:

“The BBC’s Martha Kearney asked him whether the word “after” in the sentence “I went to the cinema after I’d eaten my dinner” served as a subordinating conjunction or a preposition. Gibb incorrectly identified it as a preposition.”

Poor Mr Glibby – he obviously feels inadequate because he wasn’t forced to learn unnecessary rules of grammar at school. He went on to explain:

“This isn’t about me. This is about ensuring that future generations of children – unlike me incidentally, who was not taught grammar at primary school – we need to make sure that future generations are taught grammar properly…so that when they are asked to write at secondary school, when they go to university and are asked to write an essay, it isn’t a struggle to construct a properly grafted and grammatically correct sentence.”

There’s nothing wrong with children learning the basics of grammar and being tested on it – it’s the ridiculous extreme of the current tests that’s the problem, and the sense of failure it gives them. And all because the DfE loves PISA…

And finally, the other day Little Miss Morgove had another of those difficult speeches to make at the NAHT conference, in which she successfully convinced everyone of the full extent of her considerable ignorance about the reality of schools, teaching and learning, and which prompted the following meme to circulate worldy widely on the interwebly.

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Top image credit: Flickr/thedailyenglishshow