Tilting at Wind Turbines

Arts and Media students to keep our wind turbines turning?

You can’t be serious? For those of you assuming that the idea of Arts and Media students maintaining wind turbines is just another one of All Change Please!‘s weirder satirical fantasies, then you’d be wrong – this time it’s for real….

Last week in her Annual Report, Ofsted’s very own Amanda Spielman spoke of her concern about colleges:

“flooding a local job market with young people with say low-level arts and media qualifications when the big growth in demand is for green energy workers, will result in too many under-employed and dissatisfied young people and wind turbines left idle.”

As such she continued to reveal her considerable lack of understanding of the way things really are in schools and colleges, and at the same time managed to perpetuate and reinforce the mistaken populist opinion that all “superficially attractive” courses in Arts and Media are a waste of time. And All Change Please! can’t help wonder why those who show an aptitude for Arts and Media courses should be singled out as being particularly ideal candidates for maintaining wind turbines? Surely there must be other just as low-level, worthless courses offered in other subjects too?

At one level Ms Spielman’s suggestion that more students should perhaps be encouraged to consider becoming ‘green energy workers’ is fair enough, but just saying so isn’t going to make it happen, because things don’t work like that. And, beyond the ‘Ofsted blasts ‘low-level arts and media courses‘ sensationalist headlines (which is as far as most readers get), she does admit that “This doesn’t mean that the courses the young people are taking are completely worthless”, and that her target is “the small minority of our colleges that have under-performed or been stuck for years”. But by then, it’s too late, and the damage to public opinion has been done.

While it is true to say that many post 16 students take courses in Arts and Media, Ms Spielman’s makes no attempt to consider why, and what needs to be done to encourage them, and others, to take more ‘technical’ courses instead. It’s also a shame she does not define exactly what she means by ‘worthless’ courses, thus tarring all such courses with the same brush.

So why do so many students opt for Arts and Media courses? Is it the fault of FE colleges engaging in ‘market push’, as Ms Spielman suggests, or more a case of ‘market pull’ in which students are asking for them? When it comes to what is now quite a restricted choice in selecting which GCSE subjects to study, children who are considered to be the disaffected ‘less-academic’ are often steered towards Arts and Media subjects, mistakenly thought of as ‘being easier’ rather than that they are more appropriate to developing their potential skills and abilities. Such children are likely to be struggling with theoretical science and maths subjects (surely important for green energy workers?), and the more traditionally ‘academic’ subject teachers tend not to want them in their classes anyway as they are considered to be more likely to drag down their final departmental examination results and be more ‘challenging’ to have in the classroom.

Thus two or three years later when it comes to post-16 choices, the only non-academic subjects such students have encountered tend to be in the Arts and Media, where they have at least found some confidence and success, and quite probably achieved their highest GCSE grades. As a result, it’s hardly surprising that these are subjects they want to study at college. Unfortunately simply offering FE courses in Green Energy is unlikely to attract many takers, and it might also be anticipated that the content of such courses is likely to be educationally and technically quite narrow.

Ms Spielman admirably says that we need to “radically improve the quality of vocational and skills education in our towns“, but if she is serious about recruiting green energy, and other, workers, then she needs to be doing is to promote the introduction of more practically-orientated technical and vocational equivalent GCSE courses that have parity in the league tables and with EBacc and Progress 8 measurements. Waiting until teenagers are 16 or even older is too late. This is exactly what successive governments and university-feeder schools have completely failed to do over the past fifty years.

Part of Ms Spielman’s argument is that there is an over-supply of Arts and Media students for the employment market. As usual there’s surely a contradiction at work here? A level English students are not all expected to become award-winning novelists. Very few History students will end up working in museums. Physics students will not all end up working as theoretical Physicists. So why should it be assumed that all Arts and Media students will end up working in the Arts and Media professions? Indeed, more than any other subject, Arts and Media courses are under-pinned by the highly transferable so-called ‘soft-skills’ that employers are so keen to recruit at present. Amongst other things they require students to learn how to ask questions, find information out for themselves, work to briefs, produce specifications, develop ideas, plan their time, organise resources, collaborate, present themselves well and to be able to communicate appropriately according to purpose and audience. Not to mention the general intellectual, emotional, cultural and social development such courses provide, as discussed here.

In reality the value and ‘worth’ of these Arts and Media courses depends primarily on how well they are taught and the extent to which they develop and prepare students for professional practice and for life in general. And, like all courses, future success depends on how well students are suited to them and how hard they work at them. For the successful there are plenty of employment opportunities in the Arts and Media, and indeed anyone with good basic skills in computer-aided design (e.g., Desk-top publishing, photo manipulation, video editing, web design, game design) is much in demand.

It’s unhelpful of Ms Spielman to unnecessarily use Arts and Media courses as scapegoats. Perhaps she would be better employed sticking to inspecting what schools do, rather than giving ill-informed careers advice and fighting imaginary enemies, Don Quixote style?

 

 

 

 

Gustave Dore’s illustration of Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote attacking windmills that he believes to be ferocious giants.

 

 

‘D’ is for…

Long after the letters A, B and C, ‘All Change Please!’s Absolutely Absurd Alternative A to Z of Educashun’ turns its attention to the letter ‘D’.

For any new readers, ‘All Change Please!’s Absolutely Absurd Alternative A to Z of Educashun’ takes a mildly humorous look at the way things are in our schools and sometimes compares them to life on the parallel universe of Planet Urth.

Dancing (in the street)
There are some schools in which children are required to move from lesson to lesson in silence and to strictly keep to left or right of the corridor and stairs. But not on Planet Urth where children and teachers are expected to joyously dance down the corridors. What’s more they arrive at the next lesson too tired to misbehave.

Deep Learning
The term ‘Deep Learning’ means that academic theory is studied alongside the development of what, at the rate we are going, look more likely to become more practical 22nd Century skills. Unfortunately however many traditional teachers seem to think that Deep Learning just requires drilling down even further to deliver more and more knowledge in greater and greater depth.

In Victorian times, Deep Learning was what happened when young children were sent down the mines to learn how to dig for coal. In today’s only slightly more modern times children are now subjected to deep knowledge learning in every academic subject they study. This means they never get to see the clear light of day either.

On Planet Urth they initially experimented with opening up old coal mines and transforming them into underground classrooms in an attempt to promote even deeper learning, but the idea quickly fell apart at the seams.

Meanwhile Deep Learning is also a term widely used in the development of Artificial Intelligence. It is based on artificial neural networks, deep belief networks, recurrent neural networks and convolutional neural networks in which computer models learn to accurately perform classification tasks directly from images, text or sound suited for hybrid multicloud environments that demand mission-critical performance, security and governance. But that’s all just a bit too deep for All Change Please!

Deputy Dawg

 

All schools on Planet Urth have at least one Deputy Dawg as part of their Senior Management Team. Training for this role consists of watching endless re-runs of the popular 1960s TV series of the same name in which Deputy Dawg has to protect his produce from Muskie and Vince, battling with some of the peculiar locals and trying to please the Sheriff. However Deputy Dawg is on friendly terms with them most of the time, except when he has to perform his duties as a lawman and keep them from causing trouble. Deputy Dawgs patrol the school corridors muttering ‘Dagnabit’ all the time, which for some reason is thought more acceptable than ‘God Damn It’, even thought that’s what they are actually thinking.

Design Education

All Change Please! looks back, having spent its entire working life advocating Design Education. As a result all schools successfully deliver an exciting and stimulating co-coordinated programme that combines developing skills in interdisciplinary open-ended problem-solving, creativity and communication in a way that enables children to effectively understand and apply the knowledge they have gained elsewhere in the curriculum and fully prepares them for the unpredictable changes that lie ahead for them in the future. As such All Change Please! considers its life to have been both fulfilling and entirely worthwhile.

Michael Gove? Who is he? Nick Glibbly? The EBacc? Oh yes, wait, it’s all starting to come back now.

More morphine, nurse…. quickly!

Design & Technology

Someone once made the mistake of asking what ‘Design & Technology’ meant and they were told that Design & Technology meant Design & Technology, and was quite unlike Design Technology which is confusing as both words mean the same thing. And then it got shortened to DT which doesn’t mean anything to anyone in the real world, unless perhaps you have a Dorchester postcode. Of course in most schools D&T still really means woodwork, metalwork and sewing. For a while it meant cookery and nutrition as well, but it doesn’t anymore as they quit a while ago to go off and form their own group.

Dewey, Dewey and Dewey

A clever American man called Dewey was responsible for perhaps the most major change in thinking about education during the 20th century. Yes, it was Melvil Dewey who invented the Dewey Decimal System in 1876 which meant that libraries could store their books on shelves and then actually manage to find them again later. By allocating a numerical code to each subject and sub-division he led the way for the atomisation of knowledge that made it much easier to simply tick off what one knew and what one didn’t.

Melvin Dewey is often confused with another American, John Dewey (1859-1952) who in the early 20th Century came up with some crackpot theory of progressive education and was never heard of again. However, fortunately John Dewey wrote plenty of books on the subject which can be easily found using the Dewey decimal code 370.1

Another little known fact is that the middle name of Miles Davis, the famous jazz trumpeter, was Dewey. He often used to point out that the notes one didn’t play were just as important as the ones you did. Perhaps the facts we don’t teach children and that they discover for themselves are just as important as the ones we do?

Df-ingE

The Df-ingE is a ministerial government department dedicated to making a complete mess of everything to do with providing a world-class education, training and care for everyone, whatever their background. It consistently fails to ensure that everyone has the chance to reach their potential, and live a more fulfilled life. It has absolutely no idea how it will also create a more productive economy, so that our country is fit for the future.

When invited to comment, a Df-ingE spokesperson didn’t say: “When invited to comment, my prestigious academic Russell Group university degree has successfully prepared me to blindly repeat exactly the same statements over and over again in the belief that if a lie is repeated often enough people will start to believe it.”

Dictionary

At school, All Change Please! distinctly remembers being told: ‘If you don’t know how to spell a word, look it up in the dictionary’, which always struck it as being a bit daft really, because the dictionary is in alphabetical order, and if you don’t know how to spell a word in the first place, the chances are you’re not going to be able to find it.

 

Disobedience

Disobedience involves doing or not doing something that someone in authority has told you to do and is keeping a close eye on you at all times to make sure you do, or don’t. And because adults are older than children, for some reason that seems to automatically give them that authority. Now of course there are many occasions when the instructions that adults give children are sensible, appropriate and essential but it is unwise to assume that by definition all adults are sensible and always understand what is appropriate and essential.

Of course this extends into later life, by which time it becomes more acceptable, and sometimes necessary, to challenge someone’s authority and take personal responsibility for one’s behaviour, especially when there is much less risk of being observed or ‘found out’. But this isn’t something we prepare our children for, and they tend to grow up in the belief that those in authority are always correct, and they fail to sufficiently develop the skills of positive disobedience and flexible interpretations of rule-making and breaking.

On Planet Urth there is an organisation that provides an annual award for any person or group that successfully engages in ethical, nonviolent acts of disobedience in the service of society, and in their schools children are encouraged to consider situations in which disobedience is acceptable and desirable for the common good. Actually it so happens there’s an identical award made by MIT on Planet Earth, but sadly here any positive disobedience in schools is just not up for discussion. The only place it might be found is in the Creative and Performing Arts where the weirdos, artists and misfits tend to hang out.

Dunce caps

A dunce is a person considered incapable of learning.The word is derived from the name of the 13th Century Scottish Scholastic theologian and philosopher John Duns Scotus.

In their continuing bid to improve academic standards, traditional teachers have been demanding a return to the good old days when under-performing school children were required to wear special pointed caps to denote their lack of ability. They had to sit or stand in the corner as a form of humiliating punishment for misbehaving or for failing to demonstrate that they had successfully remembered what they had been taught. Dunces are often humorously shown wearing dunce caps with a large capitalized “D” on them.

In contrast, on parallel Planet Urth, more progressive teachers believe that Duns Scotus actually recommended the wearing of conical hats to stimulate the brain – so-called ‘thinking caps’ – and this led wizards to adopt the use of pointed hats to denote how clever they were. What a Wizard idea!

 

Dunteachin

All Change Please! used to work with someone who used to remark: “I love my job. I hate my job.” By which he meant he loved working in education but hated senior management whose intent seemed to be to making his job as difficult as possible to do. But that’s all over now, as we’re both Dunteachin, enjoying our retirement and reflecting on how things were so much better in education in the pre-National Curriculum, Ofsted, League Table world of the 1980s.

Fortunately though All Change Please! has not quite Dunbloggin yet and, unless anything more interesting happens first, will be back soon to see if it can make up some unsuitable nonsense about the letter E.

In case you missed them, there’s more merriment to be found in ‘A’ is for…, ‘B’ is for… and ‘C’ is for…,

It’s for you, Mr Glibbly…

Last week one of All Change Please!‘s faithful followers commented in a Tweet to the effect that that its attempt to explain music education to Mr Glibbly was about as likely to succeed as getting Trump to understand how climate change worked. Undeterred, and doubtless with just as little success, this week All Change Please! bravely sits Mr Glibbly down in a nice comfy chair and patiently tries to explain to him the importance of mobile phones to a child’s education…

No-one would doubt the importance of teaching children how to read, write and do arithmetic, because they are necessities, and we all need to need be fluent and confident in them as a necessity to get us through life. There are of course other important areas of knowledge, understanding and skill we need to learn as well, and an increasingly important one has become our use of mobile ‘smart’ devices. It’s not enough to simply know how to switch them on and off – we need to learn when it’s appropriate to use them, and more importantly when not to use them. On-line safety and being able to identify fake news and political propaganda are also essential for children to learn.

In particular our children need to go forth into the digital world with a mindset that will enable them to comprehend the further changes to mobile communication devices that will inevitably occur during their lifetimes (which may well extend into the 22nd Century). They need to be to able to critically evaluate such developments, and most importantly to know how to use them to continue to effectively learn from them, as they will need to to long after they have left formal education. And what’s the point of learning how to code in school if you don’t have access to the devices your program will be used on? Banning mobile phones outright in schools may make a good Daily Mail headline today, but prepares our children for none of these things.

The smartphone has emerged as probably the most disruptive technology of the century. Yet, barely 10 years old, it is still in its infancy – we are going to be carrying around internet connected computers and communication devices for a lot longer yet, and they will continue to evolve to become smaller, more powerful and connected than they are now. But despite its youth the smart phone has already become integral and central to social and workplace interaction, and is used by every social level to apply for permanent and temporary jobs (not to mention UK residency), arrange childcare, organise the weekly delivery of shopping, keep up to date with the news, check transport times and conditions, watch movies, listen to and compose music, take photos, dictate memos, monitor one’s health and bank account, etc. Meanwhile in the workplace they are used to access and analyse data, organise shifts, send emails and messages and so on. Indeed last year, the United Nations Human Rights Council declared that the internet was a basic human right.

Of course the real problem isn’t mobile phones at all, it’s often the content and delivery methods currently used by teachers in the classroom that fails to engage children sufficiently to the extent that they don’t feel the need to be distracted by them, at least for purposes that are not directly related to what they are supposed to be learning.

But for now, many teachers seem quite capable of enforcing the simple rule that mobile phones should only be used in class as directed by, or with the permission of, the teacher. If a teacher isn’t capable of doing that, they shouldn’t be in the classroom in the first place.

But let’s leave the last word to Christine Swan, who recently tweeted:

Well, not quite the last word. Here’s a text All Change Please! posted back in September 2015.

All Change Please! decided to undertake some virtually unreal digging, and somehow managed to convince itself it had found the following letter in the archives of the Times newspapers.

Dateline: September 1915. The London Times Letters page.
Sir. – It has come to my attention that schools are now in the habit of providing children with these new mass-produced pencils and notepad devices which seem to becoming increasingly popular as an alternative to the tried and tested slate. I have been so informed that they often use them as a distraction to play noughts and crosses on, and to write messages to each other which often contain offensive words and rude comments about their teachers. In some of the worst and most unruly schools they have also used them to draw rude depictions of famous women on. It is my opinion that they are used far too often as a pacifier by teachers who can’t control classes. Whilst I am convinced these new pencil and paper devices are no more than a passing fad, writing on them should only be allowed with the greatest caution and only when supervised and directed by an academically well-qualified and experienced teacher. Of course it will also be essential to regularly check that pencils and associated carrying devices are of the correct length and of uniform colour, adding significantly to the teacher’s workload.

There is no research evidence to support ideas that using pencils and paper aids a child’s education, and the cost to taxpayers of replacing these throw-away items on a regular basis is horrific. There are those who say children should be given pencils and paper because they enjoy learning with them, but the reality is that they just enjoy using pencils and paper. Parents who allow their children to stay up late writing and drawing with the result that they arrive at school tired should have scholarship money withdrawn.

The traditional slate is of the ideal size, proportion, weight and appearance to work with, and it is my sincere hope that one day schools will sensibly return to some sort of similar device that can be used with or without one of these new ‘pencils’.

Meanwhile I am also of the firm belief that there is absolutely no need for children to have access to encyclopedias from which they are likely to learn about things we do not necessarily want them to. Teachers must cease telling children to refer to them to complete their homework, which is like guiding them to a library without a librarian. Teachers also have a duty to point out the frequent mistakes that occur in them.

Yours, &c.,
No Change Please!

Did you get all that Mr Glibbly? No, thought not…

Mr Glibbly’s Square World

Mr Glibbly just keeps on trying to force a square peg into a round hole…

New information has recently emerged that helps confirm that Mr Glibbly comes from a strange, square-shaped planet called Glibblyworld.

One day, just before Christmas, Mr Glibbly was giving evidence to a Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee. They asked him very difficult questions about the falling numbers of students taking an Arts GCSE and there being not enough Arts teachers in schools. But Mr Glibbly had cleverly anticipated this question and had thought up a very good answer. So he replied in his usual glibb manner by saying that of course he wanted the number of Arts GCSE entries to go up. And then, getting straight to the point, he helpfully explained what the problem was, or rather wasn’t:

‘We want more young people to be taking music to GCSE and to A Level and the way to do that is to improve the curriculum in music and the arts leading up to GCSE so they are well equipped and motivated to take those subjects.’

On Glibblyworld it seems that the fall of entries for GCSE courses in the Arts isn’t anything to with the compulsory EBacc subjects leaving hardly any other GCSE course options left for children to choose. Because apparently the thing is, well you see, as everyone knows, the Arts are just not subjects pupils enjoy doing, as obviously their content just doesn’t appeal to them enough. Doubtless all this would change if the Arts became more academic and involved more writing and less practical work, which would be restricted to more regular and easily assessable geometric drawing, square dancing and learning long straight lines for the Shakespearean school play. After all, argued Mr Glibbly, children are only really interested in sitting still in silence and absorbing copious amounts of knowledge because they intuitively know they won’t be able to express themselves or be creative in any way until they have got as far as finishing their degree.

It sounded so obvious when he had thought about it, and Mr Glibbly was surprised no one else had realised it before.

All this serves to confirm what has long been suspected: that Mr Glibbly comes from a different planet from the rest of us – one where there are no curves, just right angles. On the Square World of Planet Glibbly everything and everyone are square, which makes them rather boring. ‘Squares’ are law-abiding and predictable people who find dealing with change difficult. They are often regarded as dull, rigidly conventional, and out of touch with current trends. Yes, that sounds quite a lot like Mr Glibbly, doesn’t it?

Back in the early 1960s, a time which Squaries often dream of returning to, it wasn’t at all cool to be square. There was even a TV comedy series called ‘It’s A Square World’, presented by Michael Bentine who was once a member of the Goons. As well as fake news reports from the eight corners of the world, the programme’s speciality was models that came to life. Famous routines included a flea circus, an expedition which discovers the source of the Thames is a dripping tap which was then turned of causing the river to dry up, sending the BBC Television Centre into orbit with Patrick Moore, and the reconstruction of the sinking of the Woolwich Ferry, even though it had never really sunk.

 

If Mr Glibbly watched the programme as a boy, he probably didn’t enjoy it very much as it rather challenged the establishment he was so fond of, and anyway it was all just a bit too silly for his liking. He was always far happier sitting quietly in a nice safe corner trying to solve his Rubics Cube puzzle, that is when he wasn’t playing Square Leg on the cricket field.

Poor Mr Glibbly. He’s still trying to force the square shape through the round hole. Perhaps we need to help return him to Planet Glibbly? As quickly as we possibly can.

 

Top image credit

Playing The GCSE Numbers Racket

The numbers racket is a form of illegal gambling or lottery played mostly in poor and working class neighbourhoods. The punter attempts to pick three digits to match those that will be randomly drawn the following day from sources such as horse races, the stock market, or perhaps even… the new GCSE numbered grading system that now goes from 9 to 1 instead of 1 to 9?

Senior citizen Joe Blogs today celebrated his grandson’s success with his GCSE grades. “He achieved eight grade 1’s!” he boasted to disbelieving friends at the local pub.

“We never expected him to do that well, especially as his teachers kept saying how unsatisfactory his work was, and that he wouldn’t get his E back. Mind you I wasn’t surprised they had confiscated it – I kept telling him not to take drugs into school – but I expect his teachers needed it themselves.”

When I took my exams back in the 1960s I only managed a couple of grade 3’s and a bunch of 5’s. I expect next he’ll be applying to Oxbridge, wherever that is – I’ve never been able to find it on any map. I can’t see him joining this Russell Pop Group thing though because he’s got no musical ability whatsoever.

Apparently he also won’t now need to bother with these daft new Tea-levels. I mean, I know we’re a nation of tea drinkers, but I can’t see why we need a qualification in it. Instead I’ve been told he’ll become a ‘neat’ – whatever that means – but we’ve always insisted he must be smart and tidy at all times, so I would have thought he would be one already.

It’s all thanks to that nice Mr Gove and that Glibbering idiot assistant of his. Without them I’m sure my grandson would have failed all his GCSEs. It’s just a shame he didn’t get to take any practical arts or technical subjects though. At least they might have helped him get a job.”

Meanwhile Emily Posh’s grandmother was in tears:

“We paid all that money to send her to an exclusive private school, and all she got was a string of 9’s. What use is that? In my day, with results like those we’d be lucky to end up as a washroom assistant cleaning toilets.”

However Joe Blog’s grandson and Emily Posh join an increasing list of youngsters now successfully applying to join companies where the human resource managers don’t yet understand how the new GCSE grading system works. Fred Post of ACP Recruitment Ltd commented:

“It’s all a bit confusing, but to be honest we’re not particularly bothered what grades applicants get at GCSE – I mean the last thing we want is someone with academic qualifications coming in and lecturing us on the theory of business management. Not spilling my tea as they bring it to my desk is probably the most important thing I look for in a school-leaver. So, as you can imagine, these new Tea-level qualifications are going to be really helpful.”

A spokesperson for Ofqual stated that changing the GCSE letter grades for numbers in the reverse order “confusing be not would”, and that the easy way to understand them was “734829 549 3355”.

Joe Blog’s grandson’s school was contacted for comment but it was explained that the Multi Academy Trust’s Senior Management Team were currently unavailable as they were all on holiday high as kites on the school’s luxury yacht in the Med.

Now that’s what All Change Please! calls successfully running the numbers racket…

The Game of Life Skills

Do you have what it takes to win The Game of Life? Choose the life you want! Go to college, have kids, or see what happens when unexpected twists change the game. At the end of the game everyone pays their debts and adds up their wealth. The game of life is a classic game of chance.’

Or is it?

But first, All Change Please! asks the question of the moment: “What is a ‘fad’?” A ‘fad’ it seems is ‘an intense and widely shared enthusiasm for something, especially one that is short-lived; a craze’. However in education the term has a special usage, where it tends to mean: ‘A new idea, delivered by inadequately trained teachers, misunderstood and misapplied by SMTs and then rejected as not working and a waste of time as it does not show an immediate improvement in academic GCSE grades and League Table positions.’ It is a word extensively used by traditional teachers whom, it seems, live in perpetual fear of a fad actually becoming successful with the result that they might have to change the tired and detested methods and content they have been using for the past 150 or so years.

One of the so-called fads that seems to upset traditionalists the most is known as ‘Life Skills’. Essentially the argument goes: ‘There are so many life-skills they can’t possibly all be taught and learnt at school, so we should completely ignore them and just concentrate on teaching nice reliable, easily testable knowledge instead.’ And as the comments to this post reveal:

“How to prepare them for life outside school? Not with life skills as mentioned. Make sure they can read really well and have committed to their very being as much as possible of that knowledge society deems useful and important e.g. Shakespeare, a factual grounding in history of their own country and some history of other places, a wide range of reading of classic texts, knowledge of mythology, legends of their own and other countries (notably ancient Greece), knowledge of the religion that has formed their society and how the politics of their society works. Scientific knowledge (not just how to do an experiment and write it up). Understand maths and be able to do some of it. Sorry if it all sounds a bit ‘dead, white males’ but if you want your students to get anywhere and be able to critique any of that knowledge then they have to have that knowledge.”

Well, yes to the ‘reading well’ and ‘be able to do some’ maths, but as to the rest… All Change Please! is sure it will all be very handy for unemployed graduates to discuss with each other as they serve flat, white coffees on zero hour contracts at Starbucks (or similar such outlets).

Of course not all educational fads / new initiatives are necessarily a good thing, and some are inappropriately promoted by Tech companies. However others do have valid pedagogic credentials and deserve to be seriously considered and implemented properly before being dismissed.

One of All Change Please!s favourite so-called fads / new initiatives was the now much-maligned and now safely archived Personal Learning and Thinking Skills Framework (PLTS), developed by the much-missed QCA around a decade ago. The original list of PL&T Skills involved developing the ability for everyone to become:

* independent enquirers
* creative thinkers
* reflective learners
* team workers
* self-managers
* effective participants

It may not be the definitive, all-inclusive list, but at least it’s a start.

Meanwhile let’s put this another way round and imagine it as a Daily May Tabloid News Scandal Story:

And just for once this would not be false news fantasy journalism, because the reality is that at present our children receive no co-ordinated or increasingly assessed education in these skills in our schools whatsoever.

These skills are probably best not acquired through separate ‘Life Skills’ lessons – although that would at least be a start – instead they need to become embedded in the teaching of all school subjects. Not an easy task, admittedly, but something needs to happen if we are to avoid becoming a ‘Knowledge Rich / Skills Poor’ nation of academics who know everything but can do nothing.

But wait… the other day there was a surprising item of encouraging news reported in, of all the places, the Mail Online: ‘Britain doesn’t need to be nation of Oxbridge graduates, says social mobility expert’.

It seems that no lesser person than Dame Martina Milburn – Chief Executive of The Prince’s Trust, and, with Secretary in A State About Education Damian Hindsight’s personal support, recently appointed as the Chair of the Social Mobility Commission – actually understands something about education, which is surprising given that once while still a child she attended school herself.

‘I think there are a lot of kids at the moment being forced down an academic route that doesn’t suit them and actually doesn’t play to their strengths. ‘I actually don’t think, as a country – and this is my very personal opinion – [that] we kind of need everyone to have a degree from Oxford. I don’t get it. ‘If I’m using a carpenter to build me a new cupboard, I want someone who loves wood and loves what they do and can do it. I don’t really care whether they’ve got a degree or not.

I would like to really look at vocational education. That, for me, is a huge key to making a real difference in social mobility.’

All Change Please! saysGo for it Dame Martina!

Perhaps ‘Education’s Coming Home…’?

The only remaining problem now is who’s going to tell Govey and Glibbly?

 

Much Ado About D&T

We may be living in more modern times, but at present all is not well in the world of Design & Technology – it seems there is a spanner in the coursework….

Teachers are working through the new GCSEs in D&T and the ‘contexts’ for the so-called non examination coursework have just been announced by the Awarding Bodies. This part of the course is worth 50% of the final marks. Students are expected to make a study of the given broadly-defined, usually somewhat middle-class context  – eg ‘Going to the Seaside’ (Perhaps a title such as ‘Going to the Food Bank’ might be more familiar to some children and promote more designing for need than designing for consumerism?), and in doing so identify a suitable opportunity for design that they then proceed to resolve between now and the end of next March. Previously a number of more specific design tasks had been supplied by the Awarding Body, from which teachers often selected the one they considered most appropriate for their own students and their own expertise.

The other major change in the new exam specifications has been the welcome shift from the provision of material-specific courses (e.g., Textiles, Electronics) to a multi-material approach in which students are able to select the most appropriate to realise their designs.

So what’s the problem then?

Well in many schools there isn’t one, and everything is going according to plan. However, rather like the recent introduction of the new Northern rail timetables, a lot of the drivers, or rather teachers, have not been sufficiently trained to run the new courses. And at the same time the arrangements for the way in which teachers operate during the nearly year-long coursework Is the same as the way in which much shorter projects in more academic subjects are expected to be run.

As far as the student’s identification of a suitable problem is concerned, this is a process that they need to be well prepared for during the early stages of the course. While they might spot a suitable opportunity for design, what they are more likely to lack is the knowledge and awareness of their own capability needed to solve it within the time available. If they choose something too simple, too complicated and/or involves skills they do not have, and/or resources that are not easily available to them, then they are unlikely to achieve good marks on the subsequent aspects of their work throughout the rest of the course. Previously, choosing their own extended project was an expectation of A level students, supported by the advice of their teacher drawing on their previous experience in guiding others through similar tasks and their personal knowledge of the student’s capabilities.

Unfortunately some teachers are only just discovering that their students are relatively unprepared for this exercise, and have only experienced working on short-term projects with a prescribed and limited range of materials and components. There are also reports that in some schools, SMT’s have instructed D&T teachers to set a single identical task for all their students, even though they will lose marks as a result.

But it is the delivery of the coursework project that appears to be causing the most concern at this particular moment. The official rules indicate that from now until the end of the course next March, teachers are not allowed to teach, at least in terms of offering any specific personal guidance to candidates on their on-going work. Any such advice must be recorded on their work, and must be taken into account in the final assessment. While this might be appropriate for a much shorter project that carries less overall marks, it is absurd for an eleven-month project. It also puts teachers in a difficult position in deciding whether to offer and record advice, or indeed to invent ways of offering guidance non-specifically, and/or indeed not recording it.

At the same time, of course, there is nothing to stop candidates discussing their work with each other, or with other adults – just not their own teacher. And, while in school children may only work on their projects under strict supervision, they are then allowed to take them home to continue to develop their paper-work freely – although again there does appear to be some confusion over this.

There have also been suggestions that teachers are not allowed to share or discuss their pupils’ work or progress, or to share any ideas with each other. Thus while teachers may not produce or guide students towards specific resources to help guide them, there is nothing to stop non-teachers providing such resources for the students to discover for themselves as part of their investigation. And it hasn’t helped that the Awarding Bodies have each published slightly different rules, although teachers are encouraged to contact them for clarification.

To put it another way, students are being denied some 40 hours of teaching over the year, a substantial proportion of the whole two year course. Coursework should be a learning opportunity and experience – not just an extended assessment session.

So why isn’t everyone complaining about all this? Because at the same time teachers are being warned that if they do so it might be officially decided that the coursework project will be cancelled, which has already been the case with Information Technology. This would turn the assessment of an essentially practical subject into just another final written theoretical examination.

In many respects the new D&T GCSE is a great improvement on the previous one, but the problem of reliably assessing project work remains. It’s too late to resolve the situation regarding candidates entering the examination next summer, but clearly the situation regarding the coursework project needs urgent review.

D&T is currently the only established subject that teaches children creative open-ended problem-solving skills, and as such makes a major contribution to STEM. It is exactly these skills that are needed to help reinvigorate our ability to produce innovative manufactured products and systems that we can sell to the rest of the world. Yet entries to the examination of this once popular and thriving subject are currently in serious decline and an increasing number of schools are not even offering it at all to GCSE or A level. In some schools students are instead being entered for graphic or 3D options in GCSE in Art & Design, or for purely vocational courses.

As with all the new ‘more rigorous’ GCSEs, academically able D&T students will thrive, while the rest become even more alienated from an educational system that has little to offer them. That’s living in modern times for you…

 

 

Glibbly’s All Fool’s Gold Signature Collection

The other day Mr Glibbly was in fine form, cleverly avoiding questions about teachers’ pay and announcing what a wonderful thing the new GCSE’s ‘designed with employers in mind’ were (providing that is that they can understand the new numbering system):

“These more rigorous, gold-standard GCSEs are helping to nurture the next generation of scientists, linguists and historians. Whatever pupils want to do with their lives, these qualifications will prepare them for future success and help deliver the skills Britain needs to be fit for the future.”

All of which is indeed wonderful, assuming of course you are a student who wants to become a scientist, linguist or historian when you grow up, which quite a few don’t.

At the same time someone you’ve never heard of from the CBI, endorsed ‘today’s important focus on knowledge’, before helpfully adding ‘this partnership must also ensure we are prioritising teaching that encourages critical thinking, creativity, and teamwork’ – doubtless without realising that all of these things are completely ignored in Glibbly’s glistening All-Gold signature selection box of limited edition, academic-only GCSE subjects guaranteed to be completely free from Arts, and containing no soft-centred skills whatsoever.

Meanwhile All Change Please! can’t help but notice that many of today’s job specifications seem to require a rather different background skill-set to those acquired through a ‘knowledge-rich’ formative experience in our schools and leading universities.

For example, in one such recent and genuine job specification, for a one-year, fixed term contract, part-time position, paying around a pro-rata average London wage, only one of the desirable (as opposed to essential) criteria was knowledge-based, and that was a knowledge of HTML.

“You will be responsible for:

  • Further developing and leading our communications strategy in line with the organisation’s strategic aims, identifying audiences, messages, channels and methods of evaluation.
  • Planning and delivering effective and timely communications activity based on this strategy, building and maintaining a consistent brand.
  • Writing creative communications materials and content including: brochures and leaflets; blogs; learning materials; communications with key supporters, e.g. e-newsletters; innovative/creative materials e.g. animations/videos; media/press releases.
  • Designing and developing engaging online content that can be re-purposed across multiple channels.
  • Working with multiple stakeholders/partners to coordinate communications activities
  • Leading on media relations, proactively identifying news stories and ensuring that a consistent message is delivered.
  • Collaborating with and managing input from design and other agencies
  • Planning and implementing appropriate methods for evaluation of the communications strategy, and monitor and analyse the results.
  • Briefing or commissioning volunteers, freelancers and contractors when needed.
  • Managing part of the communications budget (and delivering value for money).

You should have experience in the following:

Essential

  • Proven ability to conceive, implement and evaluate successful and cost-effective communication strategies and activities (including an understanding of how to identify audiences, create appropriately differentiated content and use relevant channels).
  • Track record of writing and editing, preferably different types of writing for different publications and platforms (e.g. web, social media, e-newsletters, learning materials).
  • Ability to communicate clearly and effectively with a wide range of stakeholders, in person, online and in print.
  • Experience of assimilating complex information quickly, identifying the pertinent points and making them accessible for a wide range of audiences.
  • Well-developed interpersonal, advocacy and diplomacy skills.
    Experience of pitching stories to the media and responding to media enquiries.
  • Experience of commissioning freelancers (e.g. designers, web developers)/external agencies to carry out specific projects as part of a wider communications strategy, and managing those relationships.
  • Experience of managing social media accounts (twitter, facebook etc) and commissioning video.
  • Experience of sourcing images and print buying.
  • Capacity to work independently, problem-solve, handle multiple projects, and exercise good judgment in an organised and professional manner.
  • Experience in communications to support resource development/fundraising.

Desirable

  • Background in or demonstrable understanding of and passion for our mission.
  • Experience of managing/coordinating communications across partnerships
  • Experience of budget management.
  • Experience of Google Analytics
  • Knowledge of HTML (for when the CMS doesn’t quite do what you intend)
  • Experience of brand management
  • Understanding of web legislation and best practice.

Blimey! So where’s the bit about knowing everything there is to know about science, languages and history and being able to write essays? Surely at least part of the school curriculum urgently needs to start to prepare our children to become fluent in the workplace of the present, let alone the future?

Meanwhile Glibbly’s glistening All Gold EBacc curriculum collection needs some urgent re-branding. Perhaps re-naming it rather more accurately as Glibbly’s All Fool’s Gold Assortment – known for its superficial resemblance to qualifications that are actually worthwhile  – would be a good start?

 

Image credit: It’s not Terry’s, it’s Tristram’s…

The long, sad story of Jannet and Jo Blogs

Once upon a time in a parallel universe, similar to our own but not quite the same, young Jannet and Jo Blogs worked in a widget factory, making widgets, as everyone was obliged to for a period of at least 13 years. The factory made seven different types of widget, and employees were expected to move around, so they didn’t spend all day making the same widget. The problem was, Jannet and Jo were not very good at making any of the widgets. Theirs always came out being too big or small or just not quite the right shape, the parts didn’t connect together properly and they spent far too long working on each one.

Every day it was the same. They tried their best, but each of the manufacturing supervisors of the seven different widgets just sighed and pointed out to them in detail the various ways in which the work they had done was unsatisfactory, by exactly how much, and the extent to which they had missed their production targets yet again, and were letting the reputation of the factory down.

This went on for six long years. It didn’t make it any easier that each year the factory demanded that the widgets they made became more and more complicated, which meant that they got further and further behind. Eventually the factory manager informed them that they had come to the end of their contracts and that he had arranged for them to be transferred to a different factory, and shook their hands and wished them every success for the future.

Jannet and Jo looked forward to being able to make a fresh start in a new factory, but they were disappointed to discover that there they was still being asked to make exactly the same seven widgets, which had now become even more difficult to master. And so, for another five years, their supervisors spent their days informing them how sub-standard their work was and how important and absolutely essential it was for them to improve in order to meet their targets, even though the work was quite beyond them. Meanwhile the other more productive workers often made fun of them as they were so useless.

At the end of the five years many of their much more successful fellow workers had their contracts renewed for another two years, but Jannet and Jo were re-located to yet another place of work where they were expected to spend a lot of their time trying to remake all the faulty widgets they had previously created, but no matter how hard they worked, they still just couldn’t get them right.

When they weren’t at their factory Jannet and Jo spent as much time as they could following their passion for medieval history. They loved reading and researching and cataloging artefacts from the past, and worked together as volunteer managers of the local Archaeological Trust where they successfully organised displays and outings. But of course all this had been frowned upon by their boss at work, because it didn’t help them in any way to make better widgets, which apparently was all that really mattered in life.

After a total of thirteen long, miserable years of failed widget-making, Jannet and Jo felt they had had enough and decided they never wanted to see another widget again. Lifelong widget-making was definitely not for them. They had became very depressed and just lounged about all day, unable to get another job because, quite wrongly, they thought that widget making was all they knew anything about, and that wasn’t very much. If you couldn’t make widgets, what could you do to get on in the world?

 

Of course Jannet and Jo’s sad story would never have happened in our universe, would it?

But here though, just as sadly, too many Janet and Johns go through much the same experience as Jannet and Jo during their thirteen long years in school, except their widgets are academic national curriculum subjects. Their struggle is with having to memorise excessive amounts of what they see as irrelevant subject knowledge and then being required to regurgitate it again in purely written form, isolated in the examination hall. But despite this their work is tested every day and their faults are identified and commented on by their teachers and ambitious new targets set that they have little chance of meeting. It’s not long before a sense of profound failure sets in, they start to lack confidence, and develop low self-esteem. At the end of eleven years of schooling, something like around half of all children who take the seven EBacc examinations will fail to achieve the expected five good pass ‘floor standard’ grades. And they will then have to stay on at school or go to college for another two years to try again, before many give up completely on education as being something that’s just not for them.

The shame is that if these children also had the opportunity to properly study a wider range of less-academic subjects while at school – such as the creative arts and applied technical and practical problem-solving that helped them develop the life-skills they need – they might just have discovered that they had many other different talents and abilities that they could have developed and excelled at. Of course at the same time these less-academic subjects also need to start to be seen by society – and importantly by politicians and the media – as being just as worthwhile educational experiences as learning everything there is to know about the theory of widget-making.

Meanwhile All Change Please! can’t help wondering if the politicians and media in Jannet and Jo’s parallel universe are any better than they are here on this Earth? By the sound of it, probably not…

Mr Glibbly uses the ‘S’ word

This is another All Change Please! story about the entirely fictional Mr Glibbly. The previous one can be found here.

As you know, Glibblys are well-known for the often thoughtless and superficial things they say in a smooth and slippery sort of way.

It was one of those delightful crisp, sunny winter mornings, but Mr Glibbly was not feeling very happy. He had not had a good week.

To begin with, the latest school league tables and lack of progress 8 statistics had been released. They showed that the number of under-performing schools had risen. That wasn’t good news, was it? The problem was that on no account could he admit that the reason for this was he had forced children to take EBacc subjects that were not at all appropriate for them.

Mr Glibbly had to think hard. Very hard. Then suddenly he had an idea! Instead he would announce in his usual glibbly sort of way how important and good it was that the number of children studying the important academic EBacc subjects had risen! Of course he didn’t mention that as a result more children had failed their exams. Sneaky Mr Glibbly…

Oh well – it could have been worse – at least he didn’t blame the teachers.

However it was what happened next that really upset Mr Glibbly.

“Soft skills are very important”, announced Mr Hindsight, very succinctly, and with great hindsight. Mr Damian Hindsight was the new Secretary in a State about Education, and therefore Mr Glibbly’s new boss. Apparently Mr Hindsight once went to a Grammar school himself and therefore knew everything there was to know about teaching and learning and running successful schools.

Poor Mr Glibbly. He nearly choked on his cornflakes when he read it in the morning paper over breakfast. ‘Holy Sk***!’ he cried out in horror.

Mr Glibbly was no softy. He didn’t approve of letting children learn any skills, and least of all easy-peasy soft skills. ‘Skills’ was not a word he felt at all comfortable using. He’d ban it altogether if he could.

Thanks to a book about some small-scale, unreliable educational research he’d once read, he knew without doubt that first children needed to master the learning of all the knowledge that exists in the entire world. Off by heart. And how to write long essays about it in the school hall on a long, hot summer’s day.

This made Mr Glibbly have to think hard yet again. Very, very hard this time.

After a while he came up with an idea, and he decided to hastily re-write part of the speech he was due to give the next day.

“…the best way to acquire skills is through gaining knowledge”, announced Mr Glibbly, rather glibbly. As was his way.

He wasn’t quite sure what this meant or how this actually worked, but it made him feel a lot better. And it made it sound like these sort of superior knowledge-related skills were completely different from those so-called ‘soft-skills’ or ’21st century skills’ that he so detested, probably because he didn’t have any himself.

Mr Glibbly breathed a great sigh of relief. “Phew! I’ve got away with it!” he thought to himself as he walked home that night. It was a long way, and he wished he had learned how to ride a bike as a youngster. Unfortunately though he could never quite manage to bring to mind all the theoretical physics and correct formulae involved, and so he had just kept falling over.

But then the very next day the excellent Laura McInerney, who is someone who really does know something about teaching and learning and running schools, published a ‘must read’ article that revealed and made considerable fun of exactly what he had done. What a silly Mr Glibbly she had made him look!

And now everyone is hoping that perhaps before too long, Mr Glibbly will be using his own knowledge-based skills to find himself a new job. And preferably one that has nothing at all to do with education.

It seems perhaps there might just be some benefit of Mr Hindsight? We shall see, won’t we?