Pass Notes: What is GCSE Irritative Design?

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Up, down, in, out and all around the country, Design & Technology teachers are attending training meetings and busily checking out the new GCSE specifications for their subject, due to commence in September 2017. The new requirements expect students to follow what’s known as an ‘iterative’ design process. Here’s All Change Please!’s handy cut-out and weep guide…

So what’s with this new requirement for GCSE D&T students to follow an irritative design process?

I think you’ll find it’s called an ‘iterative’ design process.

It may be iterative to you but it’s irritating to me. What was wrong with doing things the way we always did in the past – I thought the Tories were trying to take us back to the 1950s?

So do you want to know what it is or not?

I suppose I better. Go on then.

Ah, well, I was afraid you might say that, because actually no-one really seems clear as to what it means. It might, or might not, prove helpful to see exactly how the various AO’s (Awarding Organisations, previously known as Awarding Bodies, previously known as Examination Boards) are explaining ‘the iterative design process of exploring, creating and evaluating in their recent D&T GCSE specifications..

For example, one awarding organisation describes interrelated iterative processes that ‘explore’ needs, ‘create’ solutions and ‘evaluate’ how well the needs have been met.’ These ‘occur repeatedly as iterations throughout any process of designing prototyped solutionsand that this ensuresconstantly evolving iterations that build clearer needs and better solutions for a concept’.

Meanwhile another requires students to ‘Use an iterative approach – employ a process of planning, experimenting, designing, modelling, testing and reviewing, including use of input from client/end user to inform decision making, make improvements and refine designs at each stage of development.’

And the assessment criteria for a third lists: ‘Investigating, Designing, Making, Analysing and Evaluating‘, while adding: ‘In the spirit of the iterative design process, the above should be awarded holistically where they take place and not in a linear manner.’ It continues ‘…so that students can engage in an iterative process of designing, making, testing, improving and evaluating.’

I’m still feeling somewhat irritated and even more confused now. I think I’m certainly going to need quite a lot of that spirit to cope with this…

Elsewhere Iterative Design has been described as ‘a continuous process of to-ing and fro-ing between cognitive and physical models that move from a hazy notion of a solution towards a working prototype’.

Well, no problem there then – my kids are always going to-ing the stockroom and fro-ing bits of wood around. And they certainly only have a very hazy notion of what they are supposed to be doing.

To be fair, the awarding organisations will be providing teacher support materials that will aim to make the whole thing clearer.

But surely investigating, designing and making are exactly what my students were doing before? And anyway most of the investigating needs to be done at the start of the project, then the designing takes places and finally they make a prototype and evaluate it. So what’s the big change then?

Well… err… students need to be encouraged to continue investigating while they are designing and making, and to be evaluating their own work and the work of others throughout. The activities of exploring, creating and evaluating are all closely linked. It’s difficult to do one without the other. Exploring a situation involves evaluating the quantity and quality of information discovered and leads to new ideas for further enquiries and research methodologies. Generating design ideas involves deciding which to pursue or reject and identifying further information that will be needed. Evaluating designs involves referring back to the identified requirements and coming up with new ideas or refinements in response to unresolved problems. Of course this makes separating them out for purposes of examination assessment of exploring, creating and evaluating next to impossible.

So, what you seem to be saying is, actually it doesn’t really change anything much at all, except it’s going to make assessment a lot more difficult?

Err, yes. Irritating, isn’t it?

That Jony Ive bloke keeps talking about iterative design doesn’t he? I thought he meant that each new iPhone model is a development of the previous one – some features stay the same, others are removed and new ones are added. But that’s just design, isn’t it? Surely all design is iterative by nature?

Yes, I think you may be on to something there. I know, let’s see what Wikipedia has to say:

‘Iterative design is a design methodology based on a cyclic process of prototyping, testing, analyzing, and refining a product or process.’

Ah, so we’re back to the good old Design Cycle then?

No, No, this is quite different… At least I think it is. Wikipedia goes on to say something very interesting:  ‘Iterative design is a way of confronting the reality of unpredictable user needs and behaviors that can lead to sweeping and fundamental changes in a design.’

In other words it’s not just enough to make a final prototype to test out with a potential user and other stakeholders – what’s important are the refinements that are made as a result of the testing of a series of models.

What’s all this about holding steaks? I thought Food wasn’t part of D&T any more?

That’s stakeholders – other people who might have a interest in the design – other users or maybe managers or retailers or clients.

Wikipedia continues:

‘There is a parallel between iterative and the theory of Natural Selection. Both involve a trial and error process in which the most suitable design advances to the next generation, while less suitable designs perish by the wayside. Subsequent versions of a product should also get progressively better as its producers learn what works and what doesn’t in a process of refinement and continuous improvement.’

So design iteration involves coming up with and developing more than just one idea and a single development of it. If a student only came up with one solution and made that without being willing to consider changing and improving it – so-called ‘design fixation’- then it wouldn’t be iterative.

Ah! As well as the continuous interaction between exploring, creating and evaluating, iterative design also means continuous improvement? How clear and easy do the awarding bodies make that to identify in their mark schemes? Or do I just continue to naturally select which portfolios I think are the best ones?

Probably. But between you and me, the secret is that iterative design is essentially a mind-set in which students are encouraged to be continually dis-satisfied and always exploring new information and creating new ideas, and always evaluating what they are doing – from an early quick sketch to making a final presentation model – and even what they would change if they had more time. It’s the sense that a sense that a design is never really perfect of finished, and can always be improved.

So that’s Iterative Design then? Just go through it again for me will you and see if you can improve your explanation a bit more?

You mean you’d like me to reiterate what I’ve just said?

Now you’re talking…

Do say: When will the next iteration of the D&T GCSE be written?

Don’t say: I blame Sir James Dyson

Image adapted from: Flickr/Dave Gray and Fotolia

 

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…

Mr Vaguely Squeezed to Death On TV…

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In which Mr Vaguely writes a colourful report on the Arts,
which everyone completely ignores.

With the focus on the unwelcome forced academisation of schools it’s important not to forget that there is still the problem of the impact of the EBacc on the Arts and many other subjects.

Ed Vaisey, government secretary in a state about Culture, Media & Sport recently launched a multi-coloured white paper that painted a glorious pictorial vision of arts ‘at the heart of everyday life’ and that ensured that everyone would be able to access culture ‘no matter what their background’.

Apparently, according to the White Paper:

“All state-funded schools must provide a broad and balanced curriculum that promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils. Experiencing and understanding culture is integral to education. Knowledge of great works of art, great music, great literature and great plays, and of their creators, is an important part of every child’s education. So too is being taught to play a musical instrument, to draw, paint and make things, to dance and to act. These can all lead to lifelong passions and can open doors to careers in the cultural and creative sectors and elsewhere. Without this knowledge and these skills, many children from disadvantaged backgrounds are excluded from meaningful engagement with their culture and heritage. The national curriculum sets the expectation that pupils will study art and design, music, drama, dance and design and technology. New, gold-standard GCSEs and A levels have been introduced in these subjects.”

Well that’s all fine and dandy then, isn’t it? What’s all the fuss about? Everything is wonderful! Except that we all know that in reality it just doesn’t work like this, and that in order to increase a school’s league table position an increasing number of children are being persuaded to take EBacc subjects instead of those in the Arts. And at the same time provision at KS2 and 3 is being cut back drastically. It doesn’t sound like he read the NSEAD’s recent survey does it?

One has to feel a bit sorry for Ed Vaguely, the longest serving Minister for Culture, Media & Sport. He’s obviously passionate about the provision and promotion of the Arts, but somehow the Df-ingE keeps getting in his way. And of course he’s under contract to keep repeating the same old tired nonsense that the Df-ingE keep spinning in the belief that if they keep saying it loud enough and long enough it will actually become true, or at least people might start to believe it. Actually one doesn’t have to feel sorry for Ed Vaguely – he should be willing to stand up for himself and the Arts and challenge the bullies at the Df-ingE, which isn’t exactly difficult to do given their current record of ‘U’ Turns. After all it’s a White Paper, not a White Flag.

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Anyway, the other night there was Mr Vaguely on Channel 4 News, telling the artist known as Bob & Roberta Smith (AKA Patrick Brill), film producer Uzma Hasan, George the Poet and Jon Snow how wonderful everything would be now that he had published his sparkling new Colouring-in White Paper. Of course such a debate needs a lot more more than 10 minutes and 30 seconds, but here are a few things that were and weren’t said about the future of Art & Design education…

While Uzma Hasan asked about funding and George the Poet talked about the importance of community arts, Bob and Roberta Smith entered the conversation (at around the 3 minute mark) briefly mentioning the impact of academisation before moving swiftly on to the fact that, under the extremely complicated EBacc and Progress 8 accountability measure, Arts subjects are all in what are known as Bucket 3. This gives them significantly less weighting in the final accountability calculation, thus encouraging schools to enter students for the academic subjects with the double and triple word scores of Buckets 1 and 2. All subjects are created equal, except it seems that some are considerably more equal than those involving the Arts.

Ed Vaguely countered with the usual mis-information about the genourous committement of the Government making a little bit of extra pocket money available for Music and Arts in schools, until Bob and Roberta point out that this was just for optional after-school and Saturday clubs. Given that understandably most children can’t wait to get out of school at the end of the afternoon, it’s only going to be a precious few who benefit from this provision.

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Vaguely then switched the conversation to the Government’s statement about the need for more students to take Science and Technology subjects (All Change Please! continues to wonder what these mysterious ‘Technology’ subjects actually are, and why they don’t include Design & Technology or Information & Communication Technology?), and pretended that doing more of these subjects didn’t mean doing less Arts subjects, despite the fact that for most students it does. He then made the interesting statement that: ‘Everything I talk about is the link between Science and the Arts, because you can’t have successful Science and Technology without Creativity.’ Indeed, that’s very true, and it’s just a pity Messers Morgan and Glibb had their fingers firmly stuck in their ears while he was saying it. Perhaps you need to shout more loudly Ed? And to keep on reminding them about the findings of that recent NSEAD survey?

Bob and Roberta Smith then deftly challenged with what he called the Benedict Cumberbatch syndrome in which the growing concern is that the Arts are becoming the elite preserve of the wealthier middle-classes who can afford to back their children in their studies, mainly in the independent sector. Back in the 1970s (when All Change Please! was at college) studying a practical Arts degree, funded by a Local Authority, provided an education pathway that provided many children from working-class backgrounds with a route to a successful future well-paid career that has since made a significant contribution to the economy. What was it the government were saying about the need to increase social mobility?

At this point Jon Snow joined in the attack by telling Mr Vauguely that: ‘What you say is wonderful, but the problem is you are squeezed to death by the people who surround you.’

Somehow Vaguely managed to decompress himself, draw breath, and reject the idea that Academies are abandoning the Arts, even though that’s exactly what they will need to do if they are minimise the number of students choosing Bucket 3 subjects.

Back to Bob and Roberta who reminded us that Art was about more than just producing future Artists, and used the D word to effectively remind us that without Drawing and Design, in the future the country will fail to make any products to sell to other countries.

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As Ed Vaguely became increasingly vaguer, he repeated his belief that – no, by now we had all guessed he didn’t really believe it himself – he repeated the DfE’s belief that the Arts were not about to fall off a cliff, and there’s nothing wrong with increasing the number taking Science and Technology subjects, except they are and there is.

You won’t believe what Vaguely said next. Well actually you probably will, because let’s be honest we’d all been waiting for him to say it. Yes, that’s right – he crossed his fingers behind his back and tried to get away with the: ‘There are more people taking GCSEs in Art than there were before.’ routine. Yeah – just like David Cameron has never benefited from an offshore tax haven? It’s that classic bit of Df-ingE mis-information that conveniently forgets to explain that the subject entries only increased because the numbers  of students taking equivalent BTEC courses in Art & Design have fallen drastically as they’ve switched to taking GCSEs instead. The much more honest version reads: ‘There are far less people taking examination courses in Art than there were before’.

Teaching of the Arts in schools may or may not be falling of a cliff, but there’s certainly a super-sized black hole in Bucket 3 that’s leaking Arts subjects as fast as you can say Vaisey by name, vaguely by nature.

Meanwhile in other overlooked and left behind news:

A recent report by the House of Lords ‘Overlooked and Left Behind’, has concluded that: ‘Non-academic routes to employment are complex, confusing and incoherent’ and recommends that instead, the final four years of schooling should be redesigned so that more pupils can pass recognised vocational qualifications on a par with A-levels.

Somewhere hidden deep inside Sanctuary House, without bothering to actually read the report, a solitary Df-ing E spokesperson rolled a dice and as a result issued Standard Response No 4 which goes:

“We have introduced a more rigorous curriculum so every child learns the basic skills they need, such as English and maths, so they can go on to fulfill their potential whether they are going into the world of work or continuing their studies.”

Well, that’s all OK then. Problem solved. I don’t know why these Lords bother to waste their time writing these reports?

All Change Please! wonders if the Lords’ approach could perhaps pave the way for the end of all external examinations at the end of KS4, and in doing so end the whole EBacc fiasco. And of course creating new courses for non-academic routes to employment wouldn’t cost anything, because millions have already been spent on their development 10 years ago. Anyone here have a copy of  Tomlinson’s ‘New Diploma’ handy?

Screenshots courtesy of C4.

Pass Notes: Art Attack!

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What? Has someone had a Heart Attack? Quickly. Call an ambulance!

No, no, no! Though you might have one after you’ve read the latest NSEAD (National Society for Education in Art and Design) survey. You can download a pdf copy here. It’s the teaching of Art & Design in our schools that’s in critical danger and may not survive much longer.

Ah. But I keep reading that the Department for Education say that the numbers taking Art GCSE have risen by as much as 1%, so all this whining about children not being allowed to take creative subjects at GCSE is really just a lot of fuss about nothing. 

Well, for a start you shouldn’t believe DfE political propaganda statements, just as you’d be advised not to take a headline in the Daily Mail at face value. The problem is that the DfE’s figures don’t include the large numbers of students who previously took BTEC courses in Art & Design, but that now do GCSE instead. When they are added in it’s clear that the overall figure has fallen by thousands, and will continue to do so for many years to come as more and more children are forced to take all the EBacc subjects. And meanwhile entries in all other Arts-based subjects, such as Music, Drama and Dance, have fallen over the past five years.

Oh well, at least children still get plenty of time in primary school to get develop some good skills in drawing and painting.

Not according to the NSEAD survey they don’t. Apparently primary schools are substantially cutting back on Art to spend more time preparing for the National Key Stage 2 tests. And that means children are less well prepared for the standards they are expected to achieve at KS3 when they get to secondary school.

OK, but then there’s three years of regular lessons when they get to Key Stage 3 in Secondary School – a double period a week as I recall.

Ah, those were the days! The survey reveals that in many schools there is much less time allocated for Art at KS3, and in some it’s been made part of a rotational system where it’s only studied for a term each year. And many schools now start their GCSE options in Year 9, so KS3 only lasts for two years. Meanwhile new teacher recruitment is down, so there is evidence of more classes being taught by non-specialists.

I remember when I was at school art was dead good – we used to go on lots of trips to local galleries and museums, and a real-life designer came into school to make things with us. 

Hmm. You didn’t go to an independent school by any chance did you? Because if you did you’re far more likely to have been on trips and had visits from practitioners than if you went to a free-school. And yes, it’s all in the NSEAD survey.

But come on now, be honest, let’s face it, taking an Arts subject isn’t going to help you get a job, is it? I mean, all those years starving in an attic, spending all your money on expensive oil paints. Well that’s what I was told, anyway. 

If that’s what you think, you’ve been badly mis-led! Last year the Creative Industries contributed 81 billion to the economy and employed 2.8 million people. Studying Art & Design doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll end up being an ‘artist’ – there are a wide range of other opportunities to work in creative areas that need good visual problem-solving and communication skills. And that’s got to be better than doing an over-subscribed academic degree and ending up working a coffee shop.

With the introduction of the EBacc it seems like the country is in the process of throwing away its established global reputation for the excellence in its work in the Creative Industries – something that China and many other countries are now investing heavily in.

Well I have to admit, taking Art GCSE raised my confidence and self-esteem and had a knock-on effect in improving my results in other subjects, and I feel I have had a much broader and richer education that many of my peers did. It gave me an opportunity to think and work in a completely different way, and I’ve been able to apply that to many of the things I do today. It certainly changed my life! Everyone should take Art at school!

Yes, many teachers would agree with you about that. It’s just a shame that in years to come it looks like most children won’t have the opportunity to have same experience you did.

You’re making it all sound rather depressing.

That’s because it is extremely depressing.

So what’s to be done? How can the patient be saved?

There’s one simple remedy – the DfE could back down on the use of using numbers of EBacc subject entries as a measure of school performance in league tables. Another treatment that’s not been tried before would be for headteachers to get together and refuse to administer the DfE’s medicine and just ignore it.

Meanwhile we also need the wider world outside the teaching profession to know that our children are being increasingly denied access to the world of the Creative Arts. Then they need to take action, such as writing to their MP – so please share this post with all your relatives, friends and neighbours (by email/twitter/facebook, etc), particularly if they happen work in the Creative Industries – their support is very important.

So why’s this happening? I thought Nicky Morgan was supposed to be teacher’s friend?

Generally speaking she is. It’s Nick Gibb who is causing the problem, as he’s in charge of curriculum surgery. He’s the one spreading all this EBaccteria nonsense and children will end up having to take subjects they don’t want to do, and being taught by teachers who are inexperienced and not properly qualified. If he’s not careful, Gibb will be the next DfE politician to be branded as being toxic and dumped in the waste disposal bin, as Michael Gove was.

Do say: Apparently Nick Gibb’s background was as a chartered accountant.

Don’t ask: Was painting by numbers Gibb’s favourite activity in Art lessons at school?

Lord only knows?

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There was extensive gnashing of teeth when the menacing Lord Gnasher recently spoke in the House of Lords.

The Most Excellent Earl of Clancarty had secured a short debate in the House of Lords to ask what effect the EBacc requirements will have on ensuring that children receive a balanced and rounded education in schools. In his opening speech he said:

“Children will not necessarily be excited by everything. Real social justice is to treat children as individuals who are open to a variety of possibilities. The narrow and, crucially, uniformly set EBacc curriculum…leave very little room, if any, for art, music and drama, or other subjects, including technological courses.

The EBacc is a flawed measure. It should either be radically reformed, or dropped entirely.

In this sense, an EBacc without the arts should be unthinkable; a core curriculum without the arts will not raise standards but lower them. Students being able to make connections between disparate subjects is not only part of the learning process; it will be that innovation that fires the future… Finally, a rounded education treats the main areas of education as being of equal value.”

Other excellent contributions to the debate included:

Baroness Morris of Yardley (Lab): There is nothing to stop schools doing art, drama and all those things… However, the reality is that schools are not doing so and are losing the facilities needed. The teachers are not being recruited. The time is not being made available.

Baroness Pinnock (LD): The business leader said that what business wanted was soft skills in young people entering the world of work. He defined these as the ability to communicate, to collaborate, to co-operate in a team, to be critical and to work on projects—none of which he felt would be developed in young people through the EBacc diet.

Altogether, we are proposing a narrow diet for our young people when they face the world of work which is opening up. I beg the Minister to reconsider what he is offering.

Lord Freyberg (CB): our creative industries account for one in 12 jobs and have been the fastest growing sector in the UK economy, increasing by 15.8% since 2011 to 1.8 million jobs and contributing some £84 billion to the UK economy. …our country is already crying out for a combination of creative—in particular, design—and technical skills.

…a recent report, commissioned by the Creative Industries Federation, highlighted that countries such as China, South Korea and Brazil have learned from our success and are investing heavily in their creative education because they, too, can see the economic value of culture.

Lord Aberdare (CB): I am also struck by the lack of focus on digital skills in the EBacc proposals. The report published last February by the Digital Skills Committee, on which I served, argues that digital literacy should be taught as a core subject alongside numeracy and literacy and be embedded across all subjects and throughout the curriculum, but it seems to appear in the EBacc only in the guise of computing as an optional science subject.

Lord Watson of Invergowrie (Lab): Only 39% of students took the EBacc in the past academic year. Yet already there has been a significant effect on other subjects since 2010—most notably, on what I argue is the key subject of design and technology, for which there has been a 29% drop in take-up. The curriculum should not be driven by the needs of the minority who are going to the most selective universities.

And then it was the turn of the The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State from the Df-ingE to respond:

Lord Nash (Milton Abbey Independent Boarding school and Oxford, Corpus Christi, studying Law, Con.). Yes, that’s the same Lord Nash who in April 3013 was co-chairman of the governors who appointed an unqualified teacher as headmistress at the new Pimlico primary school ahead of its opening in September. Further criticism followed when she resigned after four weeks in the job…:

“I welcome the chance to explain our thinking behind the EBacc and to share what we are doing to ensure that all pupils, regardless of their background, have the right to a balanced and rounded education that opens doors to their future, prepares them for realising their potential in adult life, whatever their ambitions may be, and…responds fully to a child’s natural curiosity, which is so important.”

It’s just a pity Lord Gnasher didn’t instead welcome the chance to listen, consider and respond to the  thinking behind the specific challenges of the EBacc raised by the natural curiosity of the rest of the Lords, which were so important. And there’s a big difference between children ‘having the right to’ and ‘being forced to’ take the ivory tower academic EBacc subjects.

We must realise the appallingly low base that we started from in 2010. In 2010, many pupils, often those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, were being denied a basic education in the core academic subjects.

This is just political rhetoric. The phrase ‘appallingly low base’ is meaningless point-scoring over the previous Labour party administration, and is a gross mis-representation. Meanwhile All Change Please! has yet to see the objective evidence of actual ‘denial’ of a basic education in core subjects (i.e. where a child capable of achieving a good pass in an academic subject has been forced to take a different, less-academic subject instead).

You need to give pupils from a disadvantaged background the core suite of cultural knowledge they need to compete with pupils from a more advantaged background. This has been acknowledged across the board.

This has also been challenged across the board, and most would agree that high levels of problem-solving creative and technical skills are what are now required to be competitive. Cultural knowledge on its own is not enough. It’s worrying that future engineers can arrive at top Russell Group universities with a string of A grade GCEs but no previous experience of problem-solving.

..on average, pupils in state-funded schools enter nine GCSEs and equivalent qualifications, rising to more than 10 for more able pupils.

Everyone else agrees the average is 8 GCSEs. Only the Df-ingE claims it is 9. And that means half the children do less, and they are the ones who will particularly suffer as a result of being denied access to a wider range of subjects. It’s the academically-less able who will be the losers, not the more able.

I certainly do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, that we should abolish accountability measures—all the international evidence is that autonomy and accountability is the right balance.

Lord Young of Norwood Green: I did not say that we should abolish them but that I was in favour of them.

Lord Young is quite correct – indeed he didn’t say that. It was the Earl of Clancarty who said he wanted to abolish them, citing Germany as having a highly successful education system that does not have them. Perhaps in future Lord Gnasher should pay closer attention to what’s actually being said, and by whom?

And where exactly is this autonomy of which you speak? Such as in 90% of children must be entered for exactly the same subjects, for example?

A head teacher said: ‘The EBacc is not appropriate to the modern world. It is not appropriate to modern learning.’ Oh dear. It sounds like the sort of person who would say that you don’t need knowledge because you can look it up on the internet.

Now this isn’t clever political debating, it’s just cheap Daily Mail spin. “You don’t need knowledge because you can look it up on the internet” said no head teacher, ever. As All Change Please! keeps pointing out, we have yet to work out what knowledge we now need to have stored in our long-term memories, but it’s certainly not the unnecessary excesses demanded by the EBacc.

“Modern cognitive and neuroscience makes clear that you need knowledge to develop skills”. 

And you also need skills to develop and understand knowledge. But Lord Gnasher probably doesn’t have any practical skills, so he wouldn’t know that.

I know that the noble Lord, Lord Watson, wants evidence. He mentioned ED Hirsch; if he would care to look at the effect of the Core Knowledge curriculum on the “Massachusetts miracle” in schools there, he would see what an effect such a curriculum can have, particularly on disadvantaged pupils.

Yes, and he would also see the problems that the fact and recall-driven, one-size fits all ‘pub-quiz’ curriculum is causing due to its inflexibility and lack of relevance to most teenagers. And its rigid structure and right or wrong approach that is doing little to prepare today’s children for the reality of the very messy world they will quickly discover when they leave school. Meanwhile the ‘Massachusettes Education Miracle’ to give it its correct title (the Massachusettes Miracle is something quite different), has been dis-credited with suggestions it had been adopted primarily to attract extra funding, and it is one of 15 US states now holding back on further implementation based on the emerging evidence that over four to five years, test scores are declining and students are unprepared for college-level work. Strange that Lord Gnasher didn’t mention that, isn’t it?

I am quite sure we can have 90% of pupils taking EBacc; I have absolutely no doubt.

Indeed, there may be no doubt we can, but that doesn’t mean we should, does it? Taking is not the same as doing well in. So it’s not surprising that he didn’t mention that the majority will achieve very low GCSEs grades, mainly because there is going to be a massive shortage of suitably experienced and qualified EBacc subject teachers. Not to mention the fact the Earl of Clancarty mentioned, that according to the ASCL 87% of secondary school leaders are unhappy with the EBacc proposals. But Lord Gnasher probably had his fingers in his ears at that point. And his eyes wide shut.

Well Lord Gnasher, thanks for the insights into your firm, unwavering grasp of the situation. It’s good to know that there’s an unqualified teacher making an important contribution to the work of the Df-ingE, and we can only hope that you’ll be resigning soon, just like that headmistress from Pimlico did.

And finally, in true tabloid style, All Change Please! says…

It’s not the subject you study that’s important, what matters is how good your teacher is. It’s better to be taught an arts or technical subject well, than to be taught an academic subject poorly.

Image credit: Flickr/Paul Downey / D.C. Thomson&Co Ltd.

Twenty Fifty One

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‘Tis the season to be merry, but that’s not so easy given all the current financial cuts to public services and the DfE’s educational policies. Accordingly this year’s All Change Please! Longread Festive Post is an extract from Chancellor George ‘Ozzy’ Oswell’s little known dystopian novel Twenty Fifty One, which he wrote some 36 years ago in 2015 as an exploration of the impact of what he anticipated would be a never-ending period of austerity, hate and terror. In this fragment, recently recovered from a partly vapourised copy found near a memory hole, we learn about the work of MiniFed – the Ministry of Education – and its continuing attempts to obliterate the idea of progressive education from history.

Some have suggested that there might have been a deliberate connection with George Orwell’s classic novel Nineteen Eighty Four, by co-incidence also written 36 years earlier in 1948. In case there are those (like All Change Please!) who have not re-read 1984 since they were at school, here’s a very brief re-cap…

The plot of 1984 involves Winston Smith, who while carefully maintaining a facade as a loyal outer party member, suspects that his true allegiance lies with the discredited Brotherhood who used to meet at the Chestnut Tree Cafe. O’Brien, an Inner Party member, lends him a copy of the supposedly destroyed writings of the Brotherhood, but he is secretly a member of the Thought Police. Eventually Winston is sent for treatment in a correction centre, where he learns to fully appreciate the care of Big Brother.

Along the way we learn that:

  • Room 101 is a torture chamber in which prisoners are made to confront their worst fears.
  • The telescreen is a two-way TV screen in every room that includes a surveillance camera that watches what everyone is doing, hence the phrase ‘Big Brother Is Watching You’.
  • The speakwrite is an automatic dictation device.
  • There is a state of permanent war with Eurasia.
  • The Party has three main slogans, which exemplify the idea of Doublethink:  WAR IS PEACE,  FREEDOM IS SLAVERY,  IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH
  • The developing minimalistic language Newspeak uses contracted forms of old english intended to remove all shades of meaning to make thinking more automatic and controllable.

Essentially, Winston lives in a world of perpetual war, omnipresent government surveillance and public manipulation of information, overseen by a small, privileged elite that persecutes individualism and independent thinking as thought crime. 1984 is not just a commentary on the emerging communist states, but of any totalitaritarian system in which a single party has excessive, unchallenged power.

But now, here’s the recovered extract from Oswell’s 2051:

Wisdom Smith paused, sitting back from his desk piled high with ink pencil-splattered exercise books and well-worn, brown paper covered, traditionally printed textbooks. Often he wondered why he bothered – just 2% of the children in his class would obtain the necessary grades to get in to a RussUni and become top ranking inner-party members, and only 13% would end up doing well enough in their EBacc exams to become middle party members like himself. The rest would have to make do with the worthless, low-status Pass-Level EBaccs (commonly known as PLEBs). Of course the officially- announced MiniFed figures stated that 90% of children were awarded the full High-level EBacc, and that each year the percentage rose as a result of an increase in Party control, but he knew that just couldn’t be true. In reality all MiniFed were doing was ensuring that the majority of the population remained uneducated, and that power would remain in the hands of the academic elite.

Wisdom decided he’d done enough marking for one evening. Somewhere in the back of his mind he still felt it hadn’t always been like this – once he had found teaching rewarding. Furthermore he had this notion that once long ago in the dark ages there used to be devices with the letters of the alphabet laid out in neat rows that you tapped on and the words somehow appeared on a screen in front of you and could be easily sent to someone else. He’d spent hours in the school library trying to find a reference to such magic, but without success and he had presumed it must just have been something he dreamt, along with the images of countless Unteachers, long since vaporised out of the profession. But if he squeezed his mind hard enough he thought he could vaguely remember some miraculous devices called – what were they? – smart-phones and iPads – long ago denounced as the disruptive work of The Blob and written out of history. Now there was just the Siri Speakwrite machine. 

And then surely around this time of winter there had been a festive holiday called Christmas which he dimly recalled as having been a jolly celebration but was now universally called Black Friday, followed immediately after by Cyber Monday when the tradition was that everyone went madly shopping and spent all their savings on worthless junk, though no-one seemed to know quite why or how it had started.

Suddenly the telescreen blared out, reminding everyone it was nearly time for the daily Two Minute Hate. As usual it began with a short video sequence from one of The Party’s most reviled conspirators and leader of the Robinsonhood who had once published a wicked, blasphemous book called Creative Schools: Revolutionizing Education from the Ground Up’, all copies of which had long since been vaporised. Just in case anyone was watching him, Wisdom dutifully shouted out the required number of Hates.

After the Two Minute Hate there was news item announcing the wonderful news that provision of ArtsEd in schools was to be doubled from one whole school former assembly time a week, to two (even though Wisdom knew that not so long ago it had been three sessions a week). This was followed by news about the great success of the latest bombing raids in Middle Eastonia. Finally, to calm the cheering masses down, a short nostalgic documentary followed, celebrating the very first Michaela School – now of course there were thousands of them spread all over the country.

Wisdom reflected again how the identical neat blue uniforms had obviously been the inspiration for the regulation blue overalls all party members now wore. And for perhaps the first time, Wisdom noticed the phrase KNOWLEDGE IS POWER on their school sign, which had become the first of the MiniFed’s own slogans, followed by BEHAVIOUR IS STRICT and EVERYTHING IS ACADEMIC.

As he gazed at the enormous poster on the classroom wall reminding everyone of the slogans, some alternative versions began to occur to him. He wondered if he dared write them down in his secret diary in case Big Ofsted was watching, as another large poster on the wall continually reminded him it was. The last thing he wanted was a visit from the Thought Police. Sometimes he wondered if Big Ofsted did actually exist, or if it was just another propaganda invention created by MiniFed and just there to perpetuate the culture of fear, obedience and hate. 

Nervously, as a spy-drone hovered near the window, he wrote down his alternative versions:

ACTION IS POWER

LEARNING IS MESSY

EVERYTHING IS AWESOME

As well as teaching, Wisdom worked part-time re-writing education history, closely following the instructions he was given from above. It was indeed he who had drafted the now universally accepted text blaming the Robinsonhood for the disastrous and rapid decline in standards that children were exposed to in the late 20th and early 21st century as the result of widespread progressive education, and that as a result Robinsonism must be completely and finally eliminated. Indeed the history books and journals now recorded the successful rise and victory of Govism which was gratefully welcomed by the entire teaching profession who had been clamouring for such reforms for decades. Of course, few people realised that Gove himself had never actually existed, having been a clever invention of the MiniFed propaganda department. 

Wisdom left the building to attend his compulsory weekly Hour of Code session. Everyone was required to spend this time in the attempt to try and learn trying to learn how to code in two different out-dated programming languages. There seemed no sensible reason for this as the vast majority did not possess the necessary aptitude, and there was hardly anyone able to teach it. However it had become an established tradition introduced in the Govian era even though no-one knew why or saw any purpose in it.

The MiniFed were of course experts in Doublethink propaganda. They continually repeated completely misleading statements that simply reversed the truth, such as:

  • Thanks to the education reforms of the past 5 years, significant progress has been made in raising standards in England’s schools.
  • Poor quality qualifications have been removed from performance tables so pupils are leaving school with those most valued by employers and universities
  • New, gold-standard GCSEs and A Levels will equip young people with the knowledge and skills to succeed in the modern world
  • The introduction of the EBacc has had no effect on Arts education
  • There is no recruitment crisis
  • There has never been a better time to be a teacher

Over the years Wisdom had come to understand that there was no point sitting around waiting for the Robinsonhood to rise up again – the Party was just too strong and clever to ever allow that to happen. The only thing he could do was to quietly break the rules as often as possible when no-one was looking. He now realised that while the Nationally-imposed Party Curriculum defined what must be taught and tested, it did not include a list of things that must not be taught and need not be tested.

Unfortunately the fragment of recovered text ends here, but there a few people still alive who remember reading Oswell’s novel, and have provided the following account of how it ended:

O’Glibbly was a smooth-talking member of the Inner Party who Wisdom believed was, like himself, an undercover member of the Robinsonhood. One day Wisdom foolishly decided to show him his forbidden diary with his alternative slogans, but O’Glibbly then revealed himself as a secret agent of the Thought Police. As a result Wisdom ended up in the OFSTED Re-education Centre Classroom 101, where he was forced to confront his greatest fears – supervising hours and hours of cover lessons with no work set, week-long mindless exam supervision sessions, writing endless lesson plans that would never be used, and compiling copious irrelevant data about his pupils. After being suitably brainwashed he was allowed to return to a compliant existence in the spreading Michaela Chestnut Tree Academy, for which he is now grateful.

So how well did Orwell and Oswell’s novels foresee the world as it is today, in 2051? As inventions and innovations of the 20th century showed, it’s relatively easy to predict the future – it’s working out the timescales involved that’s difficult. Although the projected dates of both Orwell and Oswell’s novel titles were intended to be notional rather than precise, it’s interesting to consider that while Orwell’s future took some 70 years to materialise, Oswell’s had become a reality by 2020.

In many ways their predictions were worryingly accurate, but there were several things Oswell missed, or perhaps chose to miss. First that it was not so much Big Ofsted that would be watching, but Big Data that came to define the learning experiences of most children, with each telescreen question delivered by the Pearsonalised Quick Smart Total Teach And Test system (known as TOTAT), finely adjusted to match the global levels of knowledge recall expected of a child born on that particular date.

And secondly that Ofsted had of course realised that informing teachers that they were being watched made them too careful about giving away any secret association with the Robinsonhood. Instead they decided to permit teachers to have access to networked computers (though smart phones and tablets are still considered to be far too disruptive for children to use), and promoted the Doublethink message that teachers would no longer be observed in the classroom – while in reality, every email they sent or received, every internet search they made and every blog post they read was closely and secretly monitored. As a result, many more teachers suddenly and inexplicably ‘left’ the profession, mysteriously to never be seen or heard of again, leading to the severe teacher shortages that dominated the latter half of the second decade of the century.

Which means of course that if you’ve read this far, you can probably expect a visit from the Thought Police in the very near future….

Until then, Merrymas and Hapyear one and all!

Image credit: Flickr: Tim Rich  / Shepard Fairey / Tristram Shepard