The Blunders of our Government

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Cleverly disguised as a fly on the wall, last July All Change Please! was able to listen in to a conversation between Sir Humphrey Appleby and the Minister in a State about Education.

 

Ah Sir Humphrey, what can I do for you?

Well Minister, you remember that consultation we did on the EBacc, asking people for suggestions as to how we should best implement it?

Yes, yes, the one I told you to hide the results of somewhere that no-one would ever find them?

Well it’s just that an awful lot of people responded and have been asking when the report is going to be made available, and I’m rather afraid an over-enthusiastic unpaid intern has managed to find and publish it.

Oh well, it can’t be helped I suppose? Can it? Did anyone make any helpful suggestions as to how to make the EBacc work successfully?

Not exactly Minister, no. It rather seems as if most of the responses were more in the form of a suggestion that perhaps the EBacc wasn’t actually a very good idea and would be impossible to implement anyway.

Well that just goes to show how ungrateful the teaching profession is, doesn’t it? We spend our long expenses lunches dreaming up vote-winning policies, and all they do is complain.

Have you read this new book ‘The Wonders of our Government’ Humphrey? It explains that “British politicians meet, discuss, debate, manoeuvre, read submissions, read the newspapers, make speeches, answer questions, visit their constituencies, chair meetings and frequently give interviews.” I mean, what more do people expect us to do?

Err, I think you’ll find the book is actually called The Blunders of our Government‘ Minister, and the suggestion is that politicians don’t “deliberate and take the time to weigh the claims against the evidence, to ask for more information, to reach out and consult other parties who knew more or would also be affected by the action that might be taken. The consequence could be off-the-cuff decisions, made in isolation, in a hurry.”

Well of course I couldn’t be expected know anything about that, could I?

No Minister! It’s just that I think they may have a point… Our hastily implemented EBacc policy has meant that the latest GCSE results show for a fact that the number of secondary school students taking art and design qualifications in the UK has fallen to the lowest level this century.

How many times must I tell you Sir Humphrey, there’s no such thing as facts, just cleverly selected statistics. So for example we simply state that there is no evidence of entries in arts subjects declining as a direct result of the introduction of the EBacc, and that the proportion of state school pupils taking at least one arts subject increased from 45.8% to 48% between 2011 and 2016. There, that sounds rather strong and stable doesn’t it?

Yes, but there’s also the matter of the rise in the number of students failing the EBacc subjects they’ve been forced to take, when they might have taken other subjects they could have passed. I suppose we could use the diversionary response approach and get Nick Glibbly to state: “These reforms represent another step in our drive to raise standards, so that pupils have the knowledge and skills they need to compete in a global workplace.”

By George Osborne, I think you’ve got it!

One final thing Sir Humphrey, I would suggest a further delay in publication of the EBacc report. They’ve waited this long so I’m sure they can wait a bit longer. Make it towards the end of July, just as Parliament breaks up for recess and all the pesky teachers go off for the summer to their villas in the South of France – then it will all be old news by the time they come back in late September and everyone will be more interested who is going to replace the MayBot before the Party Conference, and what will happen in the subsequent cabinet reshuffle…

Indeed yes, Minister….!

Of course, it’s just possible that some of these annoying education blogs will wait until the Autumn term is just underway before writing about it, but we’ll just have to hope that all those ungrateful teachers won’t have time to read them as they will be too busy having to explain the new grading system to parents and coming up with good excuses as to why most of their students failed our new more rigorous A levels and GCSEs…

Ah, yes Minister, that reminds me. Well, it’s just that you perhaps ought to know that in the end the new exams were so difficult that actually no-one managed to get a pass grade, so we, err.., err..,

Well, out with it..

…we had to move the grade thresholds.

You did what? Why did no one tell me?

Well, err., I think it probably happened last month while you were away in your villa in the South of France, Minister.

But my policy was that by making the examinations more difficult, children and teachers would work harder and standards would rise. This makes just a complete nonsense of my reforms.

Yes indeed, minister.  Oh, and could I just warn you that your consultative-sounding ‘Putting our policies before the people‘ slogan could be taken more than one way?

 

Problem still unsolved

19295893399_3ee40fd48c_o.jpgProblem-solving: the process of finding solutions to difficult or complex issues

The recent news that ‘Just 3 per cent of teenagers believe problem solving skills and creativity are essential attributes to have on their CVs’ is of course no more than a reflection of the lack of emphasis and importance placed on them in our education system. And it goes a long way to explaining why so few politicians and administrators seem quite unable to develop policies and procedures that manage to improve the life of the population. Too many students undertake academic degrees, including subjects like science and engineering, having had next to no experience of the processes and approaches involved in coming up with successful new practical and appropriate ways of doing things.

Where children are exposed to problem-solving and creativity in schools, the experience is usually limited to solving closed problems, where there is a single correct right or wrong answer. Such problems are usually technical in nature, rarely focusing on solving individual or social human problems.

Even in design and technology, where a rapidly diminishing number of students are asked to solve design problems, the understanding of problem-solving skills is given disproportionate emphasis to increasingly acquiring knowledge about materials and production technologies. Few children rise to the challenge of resolving multiple conflicting requirements and coming up with truly creative solutions. And while there is good imaginative work in evidence in many departments of art, drama and music, its value and application is restricted to those lessons and defined studio spaces.

Developing students’ problem-solving and creative abilities is not achieved through a series of disparate activities experienced largely out of context. It involves an extended course of study in which increasingly complex, open-ended and challenging problems are tackled in such a way that the learner starts to identify their own strategies and preferred methodologies for tackling different sorts of problems. This includes being able to deal with problems that require:

• a mixture of creative and logical thinking

• dealing with subjective and objective criteria

• testing and evaluating possible solutions using a variety of modelling techniques

• identifying and understanding human needs and desires

• information finding

• planning over multiple time-scales, collaboration and self-management

• effective communication.

Underlying these skills at a more basic level, successful problem-solving requires a desire to improve the way things are, a sense of curiosity, the drive to explore and develop a multiplicity of possible solutions and willingness to learn from failure.

Until our children start to acquire these skills and they come to be acknowledged in schools and universities as being valuable in life and the workplace it is difficult to be optimistic about our future. We no longer require a steady flow of people to administer and oversee the far-flung corners of our long-lost Empire, but instead a stream of creative problem-solvers to construct our brave new post-Brexit world.

 

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Image credits: Flickr Sacha Chua

 

 

 

 

 

Theresa In Wonderland

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Thankfully, the Festive Season comes but once a year and, as surely as Christmas means Christmas, it’s time for All Change Please! to delve into the world of literature and present its own special pull-out double issue, long-read, twisted, fractured and satirical updated version of a well known classic, such as it has done in years gone by with Twenty Fifty One and The Gove of Christmas Present. So without further ado – look out behind you!  Here’s All Change Please!’s annual political pantomime…

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, it was a warm and sunny July afternoon and Theresa was sitting lazily in the beautiful back garden of the house in her Maidenhead constituency, contentedly admiring her new pair of very expensive summer sandals.

All of a sudden, and much to her surprise, a white rabbit with pink eyes ran by exclaiming ‘Oh my ears and whiskers, how late it’s getting. I’ll never get to be PM’. That’s curious, Theresa thought – That rabbit looks just like Michael Gove. She strode purposefully across the garden just in time to see it pop down a large rabbit hole. Just in front of the hole there was a small sign that read ‘BREXIT’, and pointed towards the hole. In another moment down she went after the rabbit, never once considering how in the world she would ever get out of it again. Suddenly she found herself descending at great speed. As she fell she began to worry that when she reached the bottom she was probably in for a very hard Brexit indeed.

1sw-Alice_drink_me.jpgDown, down, down Theresa fell until she could go no further, when suddenly there was a thump and she found herself in a long, low hall which she recognised as the corridor of Number 10 Downing Street. There she came across a small three-legged table on which there was a bottle marked Blue and Yellow Brexit. I’m certainly not drinking that, she thought, but perhaps if I give it a good shake and mix it up it will turn in to a nice Red, White and Blue Brexit? Or even better, an Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat Brexit that one day will become a successful West-end musical. What a shame I didn’t study more art in school then I would understand how colour theory works.

***

In the distance Theresa caught a glimpse of what she first assumed to be Larry, the Downing Street cat, sitting at the top of the stairs. As she approached him however, she realised she had been mistaken. This cat had very long claws and a great many teeth.

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‘What’s your name?’ Theresa asked politely.

‘Why, I’m Nigel, the UKIP cat.’

‘Ah!’ said Theresa. ‘Would you tell me please, which way I ought to go from here? What sort of people live about here?

‘In that direction,’ the cat said, ‘lives a Hatter, and in that direction lives a March Hare. Visit either you like: they’re both mad. But at least they are not immigrants.’

‘But I don’t want to go among mad people,’ Theresa remarked.

‘Oh you can’t help that,’ said the cat: ‘We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.’

‘How do you know I’m mad?’ said Theresa.

‘You must be,’ said the cat, ‘or you wouldn’t have come here.’

Suddenly the cat vanished and then re-appeared as UKIP Leader several times, finally beginning with the end of the tail and ending with just the grin, which remained some time after the rest of it had gone off in search of America.

***

1s--De_Alice's_Abenteuer_im_Wunderland_Carroll_pic_26.jpgAt the top of the stairs Theresa found herself in front of a door marked ‘Cabinet Room’ How curious she thought, to have a room specifically to keep a cabinet in. She opened the door and entered. At the end of a very large table, the March 31st Hare and the Mad Hatter were having tea: a Dormouse was sitting between them, fast asleep. Theresa couldn’t help noticing the uncanny resemblance that the Mad Hatter had to Boris Johnson, that the March 31st Hare had to David Davies, and that the dormouse had to Philip Hammond.

‘No room! No room!’ they cried out when they saw her coming.

‘There’s plenty of room!’ said Theresa indignantly, and she sat down in the large, important looking chair in the middle, reflecting that this was now indeed a post-truth world. Theresa lifted the pot to pour herself some tea, but the tea dripped out from the bottom onto the cabinet table. Ah!, she thought, at least now I know where all the leaks are coming from.

‘Well,’ said the March 31st Hare. ‘What do you have to say? Say what you mean.’

‘I do,’ Theresa replied hastily. ‘At least I mean what I say – that’s the same thing you know.’

‘It’s not the same thing a bit!’ said the Hare. ‘You just announce policies that come into your head, and a few days later say you never meant them.’

‘So,’ said Theresa, ‘you mean that if I say ‘Brexit means Brexit’ I don’t mean what I say?’

‘Exactly!’ replied the Hare, ‘What you really mean to say is that Brexit means whatever the EU decides it means.

‘That’s curious’, interrupted Boris the Mad Hatter. ‘Whenever I say what I mean, No 10 always says I didn’t mean to say it. Which is a very mean thing of them to say. But enough of this nonsense. Let me ask you a riddle instead. Why is a Grammar School like a White Elephant? Can you guess?’

‘No I give it up,’ Theresa replied. ‘What’s the answer? ‘

‘I haven’t the slightest idea,’ said the Hatter. ‘Well, except that perhaps a white elephant is also something that isn’t worth having but still costs a lot to maintain?’

***

1sJohn.jpgTheresa left the cabinet room, declaring she would never go there again and that it was the stupidest meeting she ever was at in all her life! Just as she said this she noticed a tree with a door leading into it. That’s very curious, she thought, but everything’s curious these days. I think I may as well go in at once. She found herself at the entrance to a garden, and noticed that there were 27 EU leaders all in a bit of a state, dressed as playing cards. She introduced herself to the Queen of Hearts:

 ‘My name is Theresa, so please your Majesty,’ she said very politely, but added, to herself, ‘Why, they’re only a pack of cards, after all. I needn’t be afraid of them!’

After a game of croquet, the Queen of Hearts, whom Theresa couldn’t help but notice bore more than a passing resemblance to Angela Merkel, offered her some bread and jam and a piece of cake. Theresa declined the JAM, saying she could just about manage to afford her new leather trousers perfectly well without it, even though she knew very well that there were many others who couldn’t.

‘You couldn’t have it if you did want it anyway,’ the Queen said. ‘The rule is JAM tomorrow and JAM yesterday but never JAM to-day.’

The Queen then demanded that she played a game with her. Theresa studied the cards in her hand and saw she held the Joker – I’ll have to play my Trump card very carefully, she thought.

Suddenly the Queen shouted out: ‘Now show me your cards!’

‘But if I show you my cards,’ Theresa explained, ‘then you will have a considerable advantage and will easily win the game.’

‘Hmm! I suppose you believe you’re in charge around here?’ said the Queen sarcastically.

‘Well I am the Prime Minister of Wonderland.’ said Theresa, which quite surprised her because up to that moment it hadn’t really occurred to her that indeed she now was. At this the Queen got very annoyed and muttered something about making sure that Teresa might still have her piece of cake, but she certainly wasn’t going to eat it too.

1s-John_Tenniel_-_Illustration_from_The_Nursery_Alice_(1890)_-_c06543_05.jpg‘I’ll tell you something to believe,’ the Queen continued: ‘I have twice been named the world’s second most powerful person, the highest ranking ever achieved by a woman, and the most powerful woman in the world for a record tenth time. I am the longest-serving incumbent head of government in the EU, the senior G7 leader and I’m seeking re-election for a fourth-term.’

‘I can’t believe all that!’ said Theresa.

‘Can’t you?’ the Queen said in a pitying tone. ‘Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.’

Theresa laughed. ‘There’s no use trying,’ she said: ‘one can’t believe impossible things.’

‘I daresay you haven’t had much practice,’ said the Queen. ‘When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before Brexit.

Then the Queen asked Theresa: ‘Have you seen the Mock-exam Turtle yet?’

‘No,’ said Theresa. ‘I don’t even know what a Mock-exam Turtle is.’

‘Come on, then,’ said the Queen, ‘and he shall tell you his history,’

The Mock-exam Turtle duly told his story and spoke of his education: ‘When we were little we went to school in the sea. The master was an old Turtle—we used to call him Tortoise—’

‘Why did you call him Tortoise, if he wasn’t one?’ Theresa asked.

‘We called him Tortoise because he taught us,’ said the Mock Turtle angrily: ‘really you are very dull!’

‘And how many hours a day did you do lessons?’ said Theresa, in a hurry to change the subject.

‘Ten hours the first day,’ said the Mock Turtle: ‘nine the next, and so on.’

‘What a curious plan!’ exclaimed Theresa.

‘That’s the reason they’re called lessons – because they lessen from day to day.’

***

1s-John_Tenniel_-_Illustration_from_The_Nursery_Alice_(1890)_-_c06544_02.jpgPresently, Theresa found herself attending the trial of the scurrilous Knave of Hearts who was accused of stealing the Arts from schools one summer day and taking them quite away, and who looked suspiciously like Nick Glibbly. Glibbly read out various items of fake-news press-releases claiming that the Arts were still flourishing and GCSE entries had increased, except of course he carefully neglected to mention that the figures he was quoting included AS levels. After Glibbly had presented his evidence the King announced that the jury should consider their verdict.

‘No, no!’ exclaimed the Queen. ‘Let’s write the front page headline of the Daily Mail first – verdict afterwards.’

‘Stuff and nonsense,’ said Theresa loudly. ‘The very idea of it. You can’t have the sentence before the verdict.’

‘Hold your tongue,’ said the Queen turning a shade of UKIP purple.

‘I won’t!’ said Theresa defiantly. But at this the Queen completely lost her temper.

‘Off with her shoes!’ she shouted furiously at the top of her voice.

But Theresa found the thought of losing her shoes so traumatic that it bought her to her senses with a jolt, and she suddenly found herself back in the garden, where her strange adventure had begun. She immediately looked down and to her great relief found her shoes were still firmly attached to her feet.

‘Ah! there you are Theresa dear!’ said her husband. ‘Why, what a long time you’ve been away!’

‘Oh, I’ve had such a curious dream!’ said Theresa. ‘I had begun to think that very few things indeed were really impossible. Would you believe I dreamt I was Prime Minister of Wonderland?’

‘But my dear!’, said Philip kindly. ‘Don’t you remember? You are the Prime Minister of Wonderland…’

***

Christmas Day Quiz Question. How well do you know your Lewis Caroll? All the quotations and references above were based on text taken from ‘Alice in Wonderland’, except for two which were from ‘Through The Looking Glass’. But which were they?

***

With thanks to Lewis Caroll. Illustrations by Tenniel/Wikimedia

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7-Up + 300

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“Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man”

It’s astonishing to think that back in the Autumn of 2009 – around the time that All Change Please!’s first post was published – a child starting secondary school in Year 7 will now have completed their A levels and be either commencing a degree course – or of course, more like All Change Please!, becoming another Not in Employment, Education or Training statistic.

Yes, it’s exactly seven years since All Change Please! published its very first post, and as usual it decides to nostalgically wallow in its archives from the past twelve months to visit some of its most read and best loved words of so-called wisdom.

But before it does so, there is another cause for celebration, because by delightful coincidence this is also All Change Please!’s 300th post.

This year’s Top 3 most read posts were:

1. Pass Notes: Art Attack! 

In which it is revealed that both less and fewer pupils are now taking GCSE subjects in The Arts, despite Nick Glibb claiming otherwise before being finally proved wrong by the 2016 entry figures.

2. Little Miss Morgan

In which it is suggested that Nicky Morgan didn’t really care what she was saying at the NASUWT Party Conference because she knew she’s be in a proper cabinet job by September, except that now we know it didn’t work out quite like that.

3. No Minister! No, No, No.

In which a passionate appeal is made by means of the Df-ingE consultation for it to abandon its intentions that 90% of pupils should take the EBacc to GCSE, even though the results of the consultation have never been made public.

Meanwhile All Change Please!‘s personal favourite Top 3 were:

1. Curriculum Noir 3 

In which Wilshaw asks Marlowe for help after he realises he’s made an enormous mistake backing the EBacc, despite the fact that there’s not a shred of evidence to back up the Df-ingE’s ideology.

2. What a Wonderful World

In which we learn all about the brave new world of Fantasy Politics in which politicians make up any old stuff that comes to mind – something that All Change Please! has been successfully getting away with for years.

3. Twenty Fifty One

In which we revisit George Orwell’s classic story 1984, and realise it’s just that we haven’t got there yet – despite the fact that we’ve since taken back control and given it all to just one person who thinks she can run the country on her own. Big Sister Is Watching You…

“Give me a blog until it is seven and I will give you the Pulitzer Prize for Journalism (or not)”

Let’s try a different kind of 7up instead…

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 7up image credit: Flickr/Kevin Dooley

Pass Notes: A History of Art Attacks

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L.H.O.O.Q.,  Marcel Duchamp (1919)

What? Look, someone has attacked a work of art – they’ve drawn a moustache and beard on the Mona Lisa. Quick! Call Security…

Calm down dear! It’s only a postcard. That’s one of the artist Duchamp’s found object  ‘readymades‘, created in 1919.

Oh well you would know that wouldn’t you – you took Art History at A level. So, clever clogs, what do the initials in the title stand for?

I couldn’t possibly tell you that here – this is family tea-time blog post, but you could look it up here.

As an artist I know you’re probably can’t read, but I expect you’ve heard that the History of Art A level is to be axed and become a museum exhibition piece of the future, along with Archaeology and Classical Civilisation?

Ah yes. I blame that cheeky Michael Gove chappie.

Well apparently lip-smacking, cool-talking, brexit-lying Mr Gove has denied that it was anything to do with him, and said that he’s always supported such subjects, even though as Education Secretary he did absolutely nothing to help save them. And by introducing the EBacc he has caused a reduction in the number of students taking Art&Design at GCSE.

So whose fault is it then?

Most writers are blaming AQA – the last Awarding Body offering the subject – who have claimed that, unlike other leading brands of History, accurate and reliable marking of such a wide-ranging subject is impossible. And anyway they can’t recruit enough examiners with appropriate teaching experience. Or to put it another way, there are not enough entries to make it commercially viable and increase their overall market share.

Just a minute, you’re making it sound like examining is a business. I thought it was something run by the universities, and that their role was to support and promote the accreditation of the widest possible range of academic courses?

That’s what it used to be like in the good old days, but not any more I’m afraid. And anyway, it’s not strictly speaking entirely the exam board’s fault.

Proceed, I prithee. I’m listening…

Well the real question is, why has demand for these subjects fallen so low?

Forsooth!  I trust the answer will be shortly be forthcoming, my Lord.

Give me chance, and drop the fake historical Ye Olde-English One Foot in the Past act will you?  Back in the 1970s and 80s schools with expanding sixth forms were able to run courses such as The History of Art with relatively small numbers of students, but now, unless a certain number opt to take an A level subject to make it ‘viable’ in terms of the cost of employing a member of staff, the course just doesn’t run and then isn’t offered in subsequent years.

And with regards to the History of Art there’s another factor that most writers have failed to mention, and that is that GCSE and A level courses in Art&Design already contain a significant coverage of study of the historic and contemporary artists and art movements. So most students who have opted for an Art&Design A level are encouraged to choose other more ‘facilitating’ subjects that don’t contain the word Art in their title in order to increase their chances of getting into a good university. And of course at the same time improving the school’s qualifying position in the Df-ingE Champions League Table.

But what about the Sixth-formers who know they want to become artists or designers, and don’t want to go to an academic university?

Sorry, I don’t quite understand the question. What do you mean ‘don’t want to go to an academic university’? What other purpose is there for going to school?

Well, it’s just that if you know you want to be an artist or designer it’s actually quite difficult choosing A level subjects that you might be interested in doing, and taking an A level in History of Art as well would help prepare you for the history and cultural study elements of your college courses, as well as looking good on your applications and in interviews as you discuss the influences that have informed your portfolio of work.

As an Oxbridge PPE scholar I have absolutely no idea what you are going on about. Surely if you want to be an artist or designer you need a string of A* grades, just as you do in any other subjects?

Not really. There’s a lot more to Art & Design than just being able to write essays. Actually many colleges of art are cautious about applicants with high examination grades as they tend not to be very creative, self-motivated, risk-taking students.

Well, if you say so. You’re not one of these Bremoaners are you by any chance? Whatever next?

Just one other thing. While dropping Art History as an academic A level subject is bad enough, I can’t help wondering why it is getting so much media coverage when there are a lot more serious concerns about the curriculum. How often do we see concerned articles reporting the emerging crisis in the lack of our children’s experience in the skills they will need to survive in a highly automated post-Brexit economy where things like experience of open-ended project-based problem-solving, collaboration, business and marketing will be urgently needed?

Hmm.  Have you seen the latest Tate Britain exhibition? It’s awfully good, the paintings are so realistic – artists had real skills in those days. And I’m glad to say there’s none of this 20th Century Modern Abstract Art nonsense on show.

Do say:  Wait, I hear there’s a possibility a different exam board might start to offer A level Art History again.

Don’t say:  I wonder if it will be a readymade specification?

A State of Atrophy

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On the basis that good design is so simples that children can do it and so there’s no need to employ experienced professionals, the Queen has launched a competition for teenagers to design a trophy for a valuable engineering prize.

Meanwhile it is believed that to save money the Government are also considering launching various competitions for teenagers with big boxes of LEGO prizes for the winners, including unpaid cabinet internships (except for winners from Scotland). Design Challenges include:

  • A Powerpoint presentation of a completely new economic model for post-Brexit Britain.
  • A poster featuring a highly memorable slogan that will fully persuade Remoaners that the future is going to be wonderful.
  • A new education system that will prepare children for mass unemployment from 2020 onwards.
  • Innovative NHS resources made from old cereal packets and sticky-backed plastic
  • An attractive and environmentally sensitive 3 metre high barrier to separate Britain from Scotland, to be known as Sturgeons Wall.
  • Portable survival shelters for all foreigners currently living in the UK.
  • A cheaper alternative to Marmite.

In reality of course, All Change Please! has no doubt that a group of teenagers – the ones that will inherit the current mess – would probably come up with far better solutions to these latter challenges than the so-called adults in charge at present.

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Meanwhile in other news, Wikipedia politely describes the advent of ‘F*ck Me‘ Shoes as “a derisive slang term for women’s high-heeled shoes that exaggerate a sexual image. The term can be applied to any women’s shoes that are worn with the intention of arousing others.”

At the recent Tory Party Conference however, Maggie May – well known for her enthusiasm for new shoes – kicked off her speech by walking on stage wearing a new exaggerated style of footwear. These were an aggressive pair of extremely hard steel-capped boots, to be known in the future as ‘F*ck You’ shoes and worn with the sole intention of intimidating others.

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And finally, in some Breaking News, former accountant and All Change Please! favourite Nick Glibbly is in the running for a Nobel Trophy for mathematics after today announcing the results of his years of research at the Df-ingE that have let him to the startling and unexpected conclusion that “We need to recruit sufficient numbers of teachers to match the increasing number of pupils.

Forever Changes

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Everything you always wanted to know about Curriculum Development but were afraid to ask…

If there is one current issue that would probably unite most teachers it’s that there’s too much change happening in education. There should, of course, be change in education, and it should be rapid and discontinuous, just as it is in the rest of the world: the problem is that at present it’s the wrong sort of change, and one that looks backwards to the distant past rather than forwards to the future.

Now All Change Please! has never featured a book review before, but, always keen to make changes, it is about to do so. And it just so happens that the book is about change in education, or at least about change as it used to be in the 1970s and 80s. If the government is determined to go backwards, perhaps this is where it should be looking and starting from?

All Change Please! first encountered Eileen Adams in 1980, and having kept in touch over the millennia was delighted when it was asked to write something about her work. Although her text primarily covers work Art, Design and Environmental Education the underlying theme is about how once upon a time positive change and progress was and can be achieved, and all without government interference. Here’s the review…

Change in education is notoriously difficult to achieve. The administrative structures, the numbers of teachers and managers, the range of agencies and political and economic pressures involved, not to mention the need to please Ofsted and achieve a high rank in different aspects of school league tables, means it’s usually easiest and wisest to leave things much as they are. Instead the focus is on the only thing that seems to matter these days, which is achieving the maximum number of children getting the highest possible grades in formal, and very traditional, academic public examinations that succeed only in revealing the true abilities of a minority of children.

But things were different in the 1970s and early 1980s, when teachers were encouraged to become involved in curriculum development in order to explore new and more effective ways of teaching and learning. Back then, ask almost any teacher of Art & Design or Geography what the leading curriculum development work in their subject was and they would have referred you to the Art and the Built Environment Project, run initially by the much-missed Schools Council and then by the Design Education Unit of the Royal College of Art, and powered by the inexhaustible Eileen Adams who toured the country – and indeed the world – running workshops and speaking at conferences. The premise was that architects and town-planners would work alongside teachers and children, but with the unspoken and delightfully subversive intention that it was not so much the professionals informing the educationalists, but the children informing the professionals by revealing to them the way they saw and experienced their world. The project also provided the basis for a successful model of curriculum development based on a ‘ground-up’ network that, with the advent of the ‘top-down’ National Curriculum, has yet to be explored further.

Since then Eileen Adams has worked on an extraordinary variety of major initiatives and commissions, most notably Learning Through Landscapes, which focused on the use and design of school grounds to promote learning outside the classroom, and more recently The Campaign for Drawing with its Big Draw – the month long nationwide festival, which is the world’s largest drawing festival.

Eileen’s book provides a detailed account of the wide variety of strategies she has adopted in her attempt to persuade teachers, lecturers and organisations and institutions to think and act differently, primarily through action research. At the same time the text documents the various financial and bureaucratic difficulties and frustrations she encountered. While essentially autobiographical it draws on her direct experiences of the successes and failures of initiating change in both a visionary and down-to-earth manner.

From a purely historical perspective ‘Agent of Change’ is a fascinating account of the way in which curriculum development was starting to work before the politicians decided in the late 1980s that they should be the ones who decided what should be taught in our schools. It also contradicts the current propaganda that the ideas of so-called ‘progressive’ educationalists of the time simply advocated a ‘do what you like’ approach, revealing the detailed and careful orchestration that scaffolded the learning experience.

This is a ‘must-read’ book for all those involved in art, design and environmental education, and particularly, and indeed ideally, those responsible for determining national educational policy.

There is further information about Eileen Adams: Agent of Change here, and it can be purchased here and here, and of course from all good bookshops…

All that glisters…

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After many years of hard slog, a group of students celebrate winning A level Gold, before coming down with a bump when they discover how much taking a degree is going to cost and deciding not to bother.

As the UK basks in its outstanding performance in the GCSE and A level Examination Games, in which 27 of its heroic students won top academic Gold medals and are given a golden bus-top parade through the golden streets of London, politicians have been quick to point out that all we need to do is show the same approach to Brexit and everything will be wonderful again, just as it wasn’t in the 1950s.

As a result, the Df-ingE are planning to introduce a new socially inclusive policy initiative in which a small number of young students with exactly the right academic capabilities will be painstakingly selected, and millions of pounds – cleverly extracted from the poor through lottery funding – will be allocated to their education to ensure that they achieve full marks in each of the subjects they take at GCSE and A level, before proceeding to a top private school and Oxbridge and receiving an OBE or Knighthood. As a result we will gain a handful of highly educated individuals who might just possibly be clever enough to sort the whole EuroMess out for us, while the rest of the population make do with a quick jog round the block before breakfast in a half-hearted attempt to pass a few GCSEs.

Meanwhile the running, jumping and standing-still Olympic Games Committee were recently sitting down discussing the problem that some countries were gaming the system to improve their medal table position by focusing on easier-to-win Bronze medals. They are therefore introducing a new method called Progress 8 and Attainment 8 in which athletes will be awarded medals on the progress they have made in 8 events since the last Olympic Games, four years previously. The various events will be placed in a number of so-called buckets, with the main Running events bucket worth double, the Jumping bucket, and the three best standards achieved in the Standing-still bucket. The results will be converted to points and then for some reason divided by ten, and that average is an athlete’s final Attainment 8 score. Officials will run regular tests to ensure there are no holes in any of the buckets, especially the Russian’s.

A competitor’s Progress 8 score is derived by comparing their forecast Attainment 8 score – based on the results achieved by athletes with the same prior attainment at the previous Olympics – to their Attainment 8 score. Countries will be expected to achieve the minimum running track standard of -0.5 which indicates the athlete’s average achievement is a half a medal below the average of other countries with the same expected progress. Confused? You will be…

A spokesrunner for the Olympic Committee explained: “Apparently this will make it a lot easier to identity which countries are performing well at the Games, although it might be a little while before the general public manages to understand how the new system works. To be honest I’m not quite sure I grasp it myself.  Oh, and we’re now calling them baskets instead of buckets, because that sounds more friendly and makes you think of summer picnics, doesn’t it? Meanwhile I can also announce that in a further bid to increase standards, it has also been decided in future the 100, 200 and 400 meters will be extended to a more rigorous 110, 220 and 440 metres.

Unbelievable… You couldn’t make it up – or could you?

Image credit: Flickr/Vlad

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.

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.