‘B’ is for….

Yes, it’s the second exciting volume of ‘All Change Please!’s Absolutely Absurd Alternative A to Z of Educashun’ in which it reports back on its recent visit to Planet Urth. Being a parallel universe, their world of teaching and learning bears a striking resemblance to our own: many things are exactly the same, but due to their particular fractured timeline, some things are rather different in an interesting way.

If somehow you managed to miss ‘A’ is for…, then you can  catch up here.

 

Bash Street Kids (from the 1954 Beano Report into Education)

On Planet Urth The Bash Street Kids were created in the early 1950s as a model for schools in the second half of the 20th Century. The kids were highly subversive and learnt quickly how to take charge of an oppressive situation and turn it to their own advantage, thus acquiring essential skills for the future. Unfortunately as a result of cuts to public services, today’s schools are still exactly the same as they were before. Perhaps when Smiffy, Danny and Plug grow up and all become successful politicians in charge of education, things will finally start to change. Let’s face it – they couldn’t do a worse job than the current ones.

Billy Bunter

Billy Bunter is a fictional schoolboy. According to Wikipedia he features in stories set at Greyfriars School, where he is in the Lower Fourth Form (Year 9 in New Money). Bunter’s defining characteristic is his greediness and dramatically overweight appearance. His character is, in many respects, a highly obnoxious anti-hero. As well as his gluttony, he is also obtuse, lazy, racist, inquisitive, deceitful, slothful, self-important and conceited, although he does not realise any of this. In his own mind he is an exemplary character: handsome, talented and aristocratic. All these, combined with Bunter’s cheery optimism, his comically transparent untruthfulness and inept attempts to conceal his antics from his schoolmasters and schoolfellows, combine to make a character that succeeds in being highly entertaining but which rarely attracts the reader’s lasting sympathy.

But that’s all on Planet Urth. Of course, no politician in public life on this planet whose name begins with B could possibly resemble this monstrous character in any way… or could they?

Blackboard

The blackboard was invented in the mid 19th century in America, but, quite unlike the introduction of change in schools today, many teachers refused to use them at first and demanded they be removed as it needed them to alter the way they taught: they were now required to stand at the front of the class with everyone staring up at them, which understandably they found somewhat off-putting.

On Planet Urth during the latter half for the 20th century as part of the move towards political correctness blackboards were renamed as whiteboards. Today they are known as ‘interactive’ whiteboards, although the first interactive whiteboard was invented by one of All Change Please!’s very own teachers in the 1960s (Geography, natch) who instructed his class to ‘Watch the board while I go through it‘. He was also famous for telling one boy ‘If you need to use a rubber, use the boy’s behind‘, and instructing another to ‘Go and see if you can squeeze some more milk out of the dinner ladies‘. But that’s another story…

Blended learning

Blended learning is an approach to education that combines a mixture of a variety of digital online and printed educational materials and opportunities for traditional face-to-face teaching and distance learning techniques.

These are then all crammed into an industrial-sized blender and emerge as a strange looking, tasteless, mushy dark green pulp which is then drip-fed to all students to regurgitate as and when required.

 

 

Board rubber

On Planet Urth the board rubber was invented on in the mid 1880s expressly for the purpose of throwing at children who were not paying attention in class. It was only many years later that some of the more progressive teachers realised that it provided an effective means of creating chalk-dust clouds in the classroom and they could pick on some poor unfortunate child to be ‘board monitor’ to save them the job of having to clean the board before each lesson.

Boarding School

Most children find schoolwork boring and their subsequent employment tedious. Boarding schools on Planet Urth are where wealthy parents send unwanted children to learn how to be the best at being bored. Instead of expending all that energy doing interesting stuff and exploring their world, taking responsibility for themselves and having fun, they are taught how to sit still and keep quiet, and to do exactly as they are told by highly experienced boring adults who are largely well past their best-before date.

Brexit

So far, Brexit has had very little to do with the improvement of education, which is probably why there has been very little improvement in education in recent years. Which is pretty daft, because we’re going to need some major improvements in schools to produce the young people we are going to need to get us out of the current Brexitmess we are creating for them.

Meanwhile Theresa May’s assertion that ‘Brexit means Brexit’ has caused some problems for the Awarding Bodies. For example, when students have been asked in an exam what the meaning of the word ‘Equivocation’ is, they have answered: ‘Equivocation means Equivocation’, which is factually correct and therefore has to be given full marks.

Of course some examiners have argued that Mrs May never means what she says, and thus have not given such an answer any credit. In this situation many candidates have demanded endless meaningless indicative re-marks until they finally get the result they want.

Bullying Policy

Thankfully these days all schools on Planet Urth have carefully worded Bullying Policies. These lay out the correct procedures for teachers to follow when bullying children, including how to most effectively demean them in front of their friends, the frequency of telling them how worthless they are and when to threaten them with perpetual detention if they do not do exactly as they are told. There are special sections on picking on and shouting aggressively at children in the face for relatively minor incidents using a policy somewhat strangely called ‘flattening the grass’, apparently intended to get rid of bad behaviour and ‘create a level playing field’.

Such so-called teachers would surely be better employed flattening some real grass outside on the school playing field, ideally in the pouring rain.

 

So that’s it for ‘B’ – watch out for ‘C is for...’ coming your way soon.

 

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 plays all the wrong notes in the wrong order

The use of the word ‘Bollocks’ on the cover of the Sex Pistol’s 1978 infamous album is generally thought to be a negative reference to the so-called ‘progressive’ music of the time…

Overture
Mr Glibbly, the Df-ingE’s current Secretary in a State about the school curriculum, recently woke up one morning feeling kind of blue. He had been told that the Fabian Society Report criticising the lack of provision for Arts education in UK schools was about to be published. To help stave off his rather crotchety, downbeat feeling he opened a pack of quavers – his all-bar-none favourite breakfast – and to try and cheer himself up he turned on Classic FM. And that gave him an idea. On the very same day as the report came out he would triumphantly pitch his grand-piano sized plan to improve music education! News about all those special model ‘music by numbers’ lesson plans and music hubs would sound truly uplifting and strike a chord with everyone, and they would clap and cheer at the end and as a measure of its brilliance shout for an encore, quite deafening out anything the Fabian report might have to say. Mr Glibbly never misses a beat does he?

Next Mr Glibbly invited lots of important sounding professional musicians to work together to come up with exactly what should be taught in schools in order to do it ‘Mr Glibbly’s Way’. Sadly of course he accidentally on purpose forgot to include more than a couple of actual real teachers on the steering panel. If he had, perhaps they might have told him that there was a lot more to music in schools than learning how to read music and how to re-create and appreciate great pieces of classical music written by dead white men from the Western world.

The sound of music goes well beyond what appears to be Mr Glibbly’s understanding and knowledge of 17th and 18th century forms of music, let alone modern music education. Like most politicians, he quite wrongly assumed that what had been good for him would be good for everyone in the country.

First movement
Here’s a mix-tape mash-up of some of the things he said:

“My own love of music began in primary school almost by stealth. As we all filed into assembly there’d be a piece of classical music playing in the background: Benjamin Britten’s The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra; Saint Saëns’s Carnival of the Animals; Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf.”

“Singing in the St Edmund’s Parish Church Choir in Roundhay, Leeds, gave me a lasting love for choral music. The delight I still feel today when I listen to ‘Zadok the Priest’ or Allegri’s ‘Miserere’ can be traced back to my schooldays.”

“We want to make sure their lessons are of the very highest quality and pupils leave school having experienced an excellent music education so those who wish to do so can take up opportunities to pursue musical careers.”

“This new model curriculum and the new money for our successful music hubs will make sure the next generation of Adeles, Nigel Kennedys and Alex Turners have all the support they need in school.”

“As well as ensuring all pupils can benefit from knowledge rich and diverse lessons, it is hoped that the curriculum will make it for easier for teachers to plan lessons and help to reduce workload.”

But music education is about so much more than knowledge of the classical repertoire and being able to sight-read music. It’s just a pity Mr Glibbly doesn’t believe you can learn anything useful from Wikipedia, because if he did he might have discovered that:

“Music is an art form and cultural activity whose medium is sound organized in time. General definitions of music include common elements such as pitch (which governs melody and harmony), rhythm (and its associated concepts tempo, meter, and articulation), dynamics (loudness and softness), and the sonic qualities of timbre and texture (which are sometimes termed the “colour” of a musical sound). Different styles or types of music may emphasize, de-emphasize or omit some of these elements.”

Music and Meaning
Music is a reflection and statement of contemporary cultural values, not just those of the past. Meanwhile it’s important for children to learn that music has different meanings to different people in different situations, and that playing and listening preferences often serve to reinforce social status and belief systems while at the same time representing a rejection of alternative points of view. Which is of course exactly what Mr Glibbly is trying to do at a time when, according to recent research, more than two-thirds of young people are already active musicians, singing, playing an instrument or making music on a computer – mainly outside school, and therefore his control.

Music and Motivation
Mr Glibbly seems to want everybody to be able to read music, play a ‘proper’ musical instrument and become a member of an orchestra: but just because people can read the Daily Mail out loud, it doesn’t mean that they are all going to want to become creative writers. To appeal to and motivate the majority of young people, modern music education needs to be relevant to music they are listening to, otherwise they are likely to switch off faster than they can say ‘Alexa, play something different’.

Music and The Arts
Meanwhile perhaps if Mr Glibbly had taken his fingers out of his ears and opened his eyes for long enough to hear and see what was been happening during the 20th Century he might have noticed that in an increasing number of works, music has moved away from being a single discipline: dance, drama, design, fashion, performance art, film and television are now created with close reference to each other. Mr Glibbly doesn’t seem to have got as far as Modernism yet, let alone Post-modernism.

Music and Technology
And something else that seems to be missing in the space between Mr Glibbly’s ears is the fact that a good understanding of and a capability and confidence in the use of digital technologies in one’s area of expertise is now essential, as it is in just about everything these days, and particularly in music where it has been particularly disruptive during the past 20 or so years. It is not acceptable for traditional educators to avoid their obligations and responsibility and, as they often do, use the excuse that children know more about the new technology than they do, so they will leave it to them to teach themselves.

Yet learning about music technology is not mentioned anywhere in Glibbly’s model world. Indeed he reveals his own lack of understanding of contemporary music technology when he writes:

“Forget Spotify: I want every child to leave primary school able to read music.”

Doesn’t he know that there is plenty of classical music on Spotify, and that the service enables users to explore and access a wider range of music than ever before in order to discover what they do and don’t like? And anyway why should listening to Spotify prevent any child from learning to read music?

Of course, at the same time new technology enables the creation of music without the need to be able to read formal notation in a way that is far more likely to encourage children to want to learn more about the academic theory of classical music. The opportunities for children to develop their creativity, confidence and self-esteem through experimentation, composing, performing and recording their own music, rather than failing to match the standards of professional classical musicians, have never been greater.

Coda
And last, but by no means least, is the purpose really to create a new generation of ‘Adeles, Nigel Kennedys and Alex Turners’? These people will emerge whether or not they learn to read music in school: music education needs to meet everyone’s needs.

The Sex Pistols sang ‘Don’t know what I want but I know how to get it’:  Mr Glibbly clearly does know what he wants, but fortunately it seems he doesn’t know how to get it: his new model scheme, unlike the music national curriculum, will not be compulsory. And, if every child is to learn how to read music – not just those attending the special music hubs – then there’s the little matter of finding the money to pay for all those music teachers

Whatever, one thing is clear – Mr Glibbly’s plan is certainly not the Very Model Of A Modern Music Curriculum…

“Music is your own experience, your thoughts, your wisdom. If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn.” (Charlie Parker)

“If this word ‘music’ is sacred and reserved for eighteenth and nineteenth century instruments, we can substitute a more meaningful term: organization of sound.” (John Cage)

Encore

Eric Morecambe with Andre Preview ‘playing all the right notes but not necessarily in the right order’.

 

Getting IT Wrong

All Change Please! recently came across a fascinating post about an article written by one Samuel Moffat some 50 years ago – in 1968 – that anticipated the future use of computers in education.

At one level, it is extraordinary to see what the author got right:

  • children sitting at a PC with a keyboard and screen, wearing headphones
  • on-screen questions, assessed and scored by the computer
  • one or more IT suites in every school, including primary schools
  • individualised learning, with support for pupils who need more help
    children can work at their own speed
  • a global network of computers (though seemingly limited to the US) facilitating remote access to teachers
  • the prediction that computers will soon play a significant and universal a role in schools as books do today.

And amusing to see what he got wrong:

  • the computing machines mechanically load and control external film and slide projectors, tape recorders and record players
  • a boy being allowed to work all day on a science project.

The predictions are remarkable for the time, given that there were no calculators, photocopiers or video recorders in schools in 1968!

But at another level, it means that we’ve had at least 50 years to work out, agree and implement the most effective ways of using computers in school – something that so far we have pretty much failed to do. Although a few schools have effectively adopted the concept of ‘computer-aided learning’, there are still far too many where the approach is to ask for PCs to be removed from classrooms and the use of mobile phones to be banned.

As with most aspects of our working and domestic hours, IT has proved to be much more than being ‘just another tool’ as it was frequently described in the 1990s. That was a bit like saying that the introduction of the combustion engine driven car of the early 20th century provided ‘just another way to get from A to B’. Or that on-line shopping would never take off, and that people would continue to buy physical music CDs forever… And at the same time, IT was widely seen as a cost-saving method of automisation, rather than something that would begin to fundamentally change the way we live our lives.

Unfortunately, in many schools, the old-fashioned penny still hasn’t dropped. Most teachers still see Information Technology (IT) as ‘just another tool’, and continue to misuse it to attempt to deliver an automated, out-dated curriculum in an out-dated way. Like it not, IT will at some point significantly disrupt the processes of teaching and learning. And the problem is that while many educationalists continue to pretend it will one-day just go away, they are failing to define and demand what is an appropriate new pedagogy. As a result, big business and politics are rapidly moving in to make those decisions for them, and instead of computers being used to effectively support the ways we teach and learn, it is increasingly taking over and replacing our input into the process, if for no other reason that computers are cheaper to run than teachers are to employ.

IT still provides an extraordinary opportunity to discover new and better ways of learners acquiring knowledge, behaviours, skills, values, and making informed decisions about conflicting options. In the palm of our hand we now have the extraordinary potential to access in-depth information and ideas from around the world, to be able to collectively communicate with each other, and to manipulate vast amounts of complex data. Yet our current education system continues to prioritise essay-writing and answering Multiple Choice Questions – sitting isolated in the school hall – as its only method of assessing  achievement and capability.

At the same time, fifty years on, we have still to determine the way in which our children should be most effectively taught about IT and how to use it for themselves. The current, entirely unacceptable, excuse for not doing so appears to be along the lines of not seeing the need to bother because ‘the children understand more about it than we do’. To be fair, there is also a shortage of suitable teachers, and especially those with up-to-date experience of coding. But not everyone will need to be able to write complex computer programs in the future, just as not everyone needs to be able to design and construct an internal combustion engine to be able to drive their car.

However, children do need to learn to become capable and confident users of IT, to know about the way it impacts their lives, and how and when to use it, and perhaps more importantly, when not to use it. Unless we start to address the core issues in our schools we are likely to end up with a future society where individuals might potentially suffer from poorer cognitive function, reduced capacity for deep thought and contemplation, reduced ability to concentrate, increasing levels of pathological narcissistic behaviour, lower levels of empathy, an increase in depression and loneliness, and a whole host of physical problems stemming from the constant release of cortisone from the stress response together with an addiction to dopamine. Banning the use of mobile phones in schools will do nothing to help prevent this.

The world has moved on since 1968. Sadly education in England hasn’t.

Knowing exactly what it would say, All Change Please! didn’t bother to invite comment from the Df-ingE, and as a result, their spokesperson didn’t write…

‘As politicians and civil servants with no experience of the real world, we know all there is to know about education and the processes of teaching and learning and therefore do not intend to waste any time listening to anyone else. Our well established and highly successful educational policy involves continually repeating: ‘Thanks to our reforms, the evidence proves that we are providing the first-class world-beating education system demanded by employers and universities’ – a statement that readers of the Daily Mail appear to actually believe.’

Jumping On The Bannedwagon

That’s the ‘I don’t understand it, so let’s ban it…’ bannedwagon

Right now, everyone accessing the news on their mobile phones is reading how various countries around the world, including of course the UK, are considering banning children from having mobile phones while in school. As usual with the way the media – and even the Guardian – represents the situation it’s easy to imagine that every classroom and lesson in the country is being continually disrupted by the use of mobile phones: this may indeed be the case in a few schools, but it’s certainly not for the vast majority of children who will become the losers if denied access to the digital world to support their learning in a positive way. Meanwhile, as might be expected, traditional, authoritarian teachers who need to feel in control of everything have been excitedly supporting the ban, while others have been giving a far more thoughtful and realistic perspective on the situation.

For some reason All Change Please! always feels uneasy when it’s announced that someone wants to ban something. There are some occasions when it might be desirable and sensible, but it’s usually a simplistic, seemingly easy ‘quick-fix’ solution to a far more complex problem that needs to be properly understood and resolved sensibly and sensitively. Banning something rarely makes the problem go away, and often builds up resentment. Indeed All Change Please! has never forgiven the politicians and the establishment for banning Pirate Radio back in 1967.

With a little help from the media, it’s easy to imagine the scene – a teacher is facing a class of 12-year olds struggling to teach the finer points of writing an essay about the characters in a Shakespearian play while having to deal with children using social media and taking and sharing pornographic photos at the same time. But perhaps they wouldn’t be doing so in the first place if the curriculum and method of delivery was more appropriate to their more immediate needs, interests and aspirations? Meanwhile if a teacher is not able to control the proper use of mobiles in the classroom, then maybe they shouldn’t be there in the first place?

And of course banning mobiles in schools isn’t going to instantly put a stop to cyber-bullying – it will just happen on the bus on the way home from school instead.

At this point, All Change Please! need do little more than refer the reader to two authors whose wise words appeared as if by magic on its mobile phone as it was drafting this post.

The first is a Tweet by Neil Gilbride:


And the second is a recent post on the excellent Mike Cameron’s Blog where he begins by pointing out the difficult logistics of actually enforcing a ban on bringing mobiles to school, and the alternative time-consuming task of counting them in at the start of each day and counting them out at the end while ensuring each child ends up with their own phone. He then goes on to remind us that when they first came out, calculators were hastily banned from school, but now they are seen as being essential. Somehow we’ve managed to teach children how to use them properly.

Some years ago, All Change Please! was involved in ‘e-scape’ – a University research project into ways of recording and assessing problem-solving coursework. The successful solution involved students using mobile devices to take photos of their on-going ideas as they developed, and recording revealing audio and video accounts of their own progress and intentions. The data files were invisibly uploaded into ‘the cloud’ and automatically organised and presented on a larger desktop screen which could be accessed anywhere, anytime. More recently All Change Please! has been working on an on-line ‘chat-bot’ style mobile-phone tutoring support system in which students are asked relevant questions about their projects that stimulate their own thinking. But not of course in schools where there is an outright ban on having a mobile phone.

In terms of a change in the way we live our lives the mobile smart phone represents a major shift and is making a potential impact as, if not even more, significant as the widespread introduction of the motor car over a hundred years ago. We need to be preparing children for their mobile digital futures, not by banning and ignoring it, but by ensuring they understand and can evaluate and control the content on offer. The reason they want to use their phones uncritically and all the time is that so far we have failed to do so.

And things are being made worse as a result of the move to an academic and high-level programming-based Computer Science GCSE instead of the more widely-based ICT, denying the majority of children (and girls in particular) access to a educational experience that they urgently need. Or as the ever-tenacious Tony from somewhere near Tenterden recently wrote:

“When it was first mandated in the curriculum, ICT was described as a ‘capability’ and was included as a component of design and technology. The over-riding purpose was to harness technological knowledge and skills to make meaningful change. It was about ‘agency’ in the modern world. Helping young people to understand how they could be in control and providing them with mediated, real world project experiences to explore this.

The critical aspect of all of this was ‘value’, why are you doing this, what is the purpose and most importantly consequences of the change you are exploring? The Establishment have no understanding, skill or experience of this themselves. Their refusal to imagine education beyond drill and kill fact-recall is why they allowed the computer science brigade to high-jack the area and take us back 40 years to testosterone-driven coded pointlessness. Makes me weep…

The real problem is that state schools are in meltdown, school senior managers are a disgrace, teachers are little more than worksheet delivery agents rather than learning choreographers, and everyone at the DF-ingE needs to be transferred permanently to Love Island.”

Meanwhile as well as making a proper investment in the classroom workforce, a great deal more time, effort and money needs to be put into the design of digital content that genuinely enhances the education process. The latest games and commercial digital products are highly sophisticated in the way they engage, stimulate and reward the user, but these techniques have yet to be properly applied to the pedagogy of curriculum-based teaching and learning.

Meanwhile a recent survey from @TeacherTapp has suggested that around a quarter of schools already spend time collecting in mobile phones each day, and in more than two-thirds of schools children do not have access to mobiles during the school day, even under the guidance of a teacher. Use of phones are allowed at break and lunchtimes and/or under teacher direction in only around quarter of schools. If the survey is correct, it seems like the media-storm is a bit late, as most schools have banned mobiles already.

Some children may well be misusing mobile phones in their lives, but banning them from our schools is not going to make them go away: as educationalists we need to help them learn how to use them sensibly and appropriately.

So All Change Please! says… Let’s ban schools instead

 

And finally…
Always one to support a knowledge-rich blog post and having not been taught it at school, All Change Please! was curious to discover the origin of the phrase ‘Jumping on the bandwagon’, and reaching for its mobile phone it was rapidly able to discover that the original bandwagons were a popular and attention-grabbing part of circus parades in the US in the mid-1800s. Towards the end of the century politicians saw their potential and began using them for launching political campaigns, where they were joined by supporters who wished to be associated with them. And they often warned their audience against jumping on the opponent’s bandwagon in haste.

The photo above shows a typical circus bandwagon in use in the 2009 Great Circus parade in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Image credit: Wikimedia commons)

 

Tonight At Morning Break

 

Each Christmas All Change Please! attempts to write a post under the influence of a well-known literary work, such as last year’s Theresa in Wonderland, and before that George Osborne’s Twenty Fifty One, and of course not forgetting The Gove of Christmas Present.

This year’s inspiration is Tonight at Noon, written by the Liverpool poet Adrian Henri, and published in the 1967 ‘The Mersey Sound’ Penguin Modern Poets series. The title is itself taken from a 1964 album and track by Charles Mingus.

The basis of Henri’s poem is that each line presents a contradiction through a reversal of the truth, eg… “Elephants will tell each other human jokes” and, rather topically, “Politicians are elected to insane asylums”. But the final lines reveal his real intention – to express his hope that an equally unlikely event will occur: “You will tell me that you love me”. The full poem can be read here.

And now, All Change Please! is proud to present its own updated educational version…

Tonight at morning break

Tonight at morning break
Teachers will award politicians a 3% pay-cut
Tonight at morning break
Independent schools announce they will now only accept children who are eligible for free school meals
School children will hold Ofsted inspectors to account
Free schools will be charged under the Trades Descriptions act for not allowing children to be free to choose what and when they want to learn
Children will meet teachers and parents on cold winter evenings to discuss their progress as adults
And a portrait of Michael Gove will be hung upside down in the entrance to every school

Tonight at morning break
Children will shout at teachers to ‘sit down and be quiet!’ so that they can concentrate on learning from their smart phones and tablets
Teachers will stop marking exercise books with different coloured biros and start painting pictures in them instead
Every student in the country will achieve above-average GCSE results
Children will stop having to write in art, and start dancing their answers to maths problems
Students will learn that there is more to life than facts
And politicians will accept that educational research evidence is highly unreliable

Flipped lessons are taking place as children start teaching their teachers
Children are uniformly forced to wear their own choice of clothing to school
Teachers are teaching children instead of subjects
Students who fail all their GCSEs are found to be more employable than academics
School lunches are ranked against other countries according to their PIZZA scores
STEM is turning into STEAM
Russell Group universities are only accepting students named Russell
Nick Gibb is announcing his intention to resign as Secretary of State in order to join the BeeGees

              and
You will tell me that you love this post and share it widely on social media over Christmas
Tonight at morning break.

 

With thanks to the late Adrian Henri, and Alan and Duncan for a little help!

Fun-filled gender-fluid self-curated personas at the Df-ingE

In yet another of those remarkable coincidences that somehow seem to define All Change Please!’s very existence, at the same time as the BBC is broadcasting a new series of W1A, All Change Please! has received a transcript of a recent Team Df-ingE! meeting.

Justine Greening invited Siobhan Sharpe of ‘Perfect Curve’ – now incorporated into a Dutch conglomeration known as ‘Fun Media’ – back in to talk to the team. New and regular readers might like to remind themselves of what happened last time this happened

Justine Greening (AKA Mss Piggy): “Well hello everyone and thanks for attending this meeting in the new Nicky Morgove Office Suite. In our last ‘Going Backwards to Move Forwards’ session you’ll remember that we discussed the idea of using teachers as Trained Trainers in our schools, reading from pre-written scripts, and all agreed it would save a great deal of money, even if it was a bit daft. Today we’re fortunate to welcome back Siobhan Sharpe who is going to present Fun Media’s visionary Futurability review of the future of our schools.”

Nick Glibb: “Can I just point out…

JG: “No, you can’t Nick

NG: “It’s just that…

JG: “Look I know you’re male and all the problems that involves, but how many more times do I have to remind you that I’m in charge here? Over to you Siobhan – I have to say your name is a lot easier to pronounce than it is to remember how its spelt, isn’t it?

Siobhan Sharpe: “Thanks Justine. Long live the Sisterhood! Hi everyone! So like the big news is that teachers are so over. Nobody wants teachers anymore.”

Ensemble:Yes, very strong.”

Ens: “I’m totally good with that.”

Ens: “Way cool. That’s mental.”

JG: “I’m sorry you’ll need to run that over me again.

SS:  “Ten years. That’s all teachers have got. Then they’ll be gone. Extinct. Fossilised. Like, ancient relics of a bygone age. Do-dos. Get over it and move on.”

JG: “Says who?

SS: “Well, duh, Sir Antony Seldon for a start. Like the former head of Eton. You know – where the posh boys and future PMs go. He’s just written a book about it: The Fourth Education Revolution: how Artificial Intelligence is Changing the Face of Learning, and that’s what he predicts. No more teachers. Just computers. And kids sitting at rows of PC screens doing easy assessable multiple-choice questions. This is the 21st Century – the Information Age, in case you hadn’t noticed: Pearsonalised Learning, Artificial Inattention. Machine Leering. Fragmented Reality.”

JG: “But computers are nowhere near clever enough yet to be as good as a real teacher. I mean it’s not like we’re exactly talking HAL and ‘2001′ yet are we? This Artificial Intelligence stuff isn’t really as bright as it’s made out to be is it – at least not if the ‘Recommended for you’ emails I keep getting are anything to go by? It’s not exactly on the same level as a conscious, sentient being yet. Mind you, I suppose that goes for some of our current teachers too. 

Anyway there’s a lot more to learning than just answering questions that test your knowledge, which you know can be a bit de-motivating if you’re not very good at remembering things.  Surely learning is about providing young people with the capabilities to develop their dreams and aspirations, and exploring and experimenting with others to make them happen? The problem is that these current computer systems decide what children need to know and are designed to adapt them to fit a simplistic, elitist, academic view of the world as a random predetermined set of right answers. 

And let’s face it we’ve heard all this before – educationalists have been going on about it since the 1980s – but the problem is that the content is all written by New Media company programmers who don’t know the first thing about pedagogy. Anyone remember ‘Success Maker’? That wasn’t exactly much of a success was it?”

SS:  “Yeah. Right. You still don’t get it do you? Let me spell it out for you as easily as I can. Six words. Watch my lips: Teachers Expensive. Computers Cheap. Profits Greater. There, is that simple enough for you? Deal with it. Wake up and smell the Pumpkin Spice Latte for heaven’s sake.”

Ens: “Ah yes, no, good. Very good.”

Ens: “I so love it”

JG: “OK. So what else is there to look forward to in the future?

SS: “Well there’s all these stressful tests and solitary confinement examinations we keep making children take. I mean there are some serious mental health, mindlessness, human-rights issues here that need addressing. And everyone’s had enough of experts, and particularly educational experts, so anyway, no problem, because exams are finished too. We’ve done a re-branding exercise and have come up with a completely new concept in which the kids set and assess their own exams – it’s called ‘GCSE Me!‘. And of course as children learn most from each other, they will create and share their own user-generated on-line content resources too, which let’s face it, couldn’t be much worse than the current textbooks they currently get.

Ens: “Brilliant. No brainer…

Ens: “This is all going terribly well.”

JG: “I rather think Michael Gove would be turning in his grave if he were here now, although of course unfortunately he’s not actually in one yet.”

NG: “What I want to know is are the strict school uniform policies here to stay?

SS: “Hello? Have you heard from your brain lately? Or are you from a different planet or a Whovian time-warp or something? The school uniformity of the future is one that is always changing, different, divergent, inconsistent and varied. Our market research shows that Generation Z...”

NG: “Generation what?

SS: “Generation Z – children who are roughly between 12 and 19 – you know, duh, the ones currently in our secondary schools and colleges of FE that it’s your job to reach out to and engage. Gen Zs, as we call them – are a sophisticated self-confident creative force. Unlike their teachers and examiners they’ve moved on from the last century having been weaned on the internet, mobile phones and social media. They’re entrepreneurs and influencers, creating their own culture. They’re into dubbing soundscapes and performing word poetry and communicating using gifs and emojis. They’re defining themselves as their own brands. They see themselves as a gender-fluid generation in which there are no rules, no uniform, just their own self-curated persona.”

Ens: “Yeah, no worries, yeah, cool. Say again?

JG: “But hold on, you can’t exactly just go out and buy an affordable gender-fluid curated persona at Asda, can you? Anyway, let me get this straight. What you’re saying is that instead of rigidly imposing our own out-dated interests, aspirations and values on today’s children, what we should actually be doing is taking into account the way they see the world, and change our schools, the curriculum and the way we deliver it accordingly?

NG: “Well, I’ll tell you one thing for sure about the future. That’s never going to happen.

JG: “So that’s all good then…

Narrator: “And so we leave the Df-ingE in deep, earnest, concerned discussion, digging themselves further and further into a hole of their own making about the future issues that will one day face a completely different future team of ministers and parliamentary secretaries, long after they hope they have all personally in person moved on to better jobs in journalism and the City.

One thing looks certain though. Siobhan Sharpe’s future vision for fun-filled, gender-fluid, self-curated personas for our schools of the future doesn’t look like it’s going to be much fun trying to implement.

Who’s minding the train?

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One of the oldest riddles All Change Please! can remember from its dim and distant childhood was: ‘What’s the difference between a train driver and a teacher?’ The answer of course is that one minds the train and the other trains the mind.

The idea of a teacher ‘training the mind’ always quite appealed to All Change Please! in that it suggested something more than just the endless diet of recall and repeat in the essays that blighted its childhood. But of course the word ‘training’ also carries with it a negative connotation of the acquisition of just a single specific skill that can be repeated without much further thought or consideration.

So All Change Please! was intrigued the other day to hear someone proclaim that they had just been on a one-day ‘Train the Trainer’ course and were a now a fully certified ‘Trained Trainer’. Following an exhaustive search, the first Google link it found revealed that the somewhat unsurprising information that the idea is that staff are trained how to train other members of staff. This is achieved through following a pre-structured and scripted session that anyone can deliver, supported by an endless procession of badly-designed PowerPointless Slides. Such courses are all the rage in industry, mainly because they save loadsamoney.

However, it seems that now some schools are controversially getting in the act and expecting teachers to deliver pre-written lesson plans and scripts. Your roving reporter felt it needed to investigate further and made an appointment the very next day to meet with no lesser person that Sir Trevor Traynor, CEO of the highly successful Bash Street Academy Chain.

On being shown into the CEO’s office, All Change Please! was slightly surprised to find Sir Trevor not actually there, and rather more surprised when a pre-recorded voice asked it to sit in his very expensive rather comfy-looking leather swivel chair. To its even greater surprise it found there were six other reporters all sitting facing the desk, on which there was an A4 file on with the words READ ME printed in large type on the cover.

Always willing to do exactly what it was told, inside the file All Change Please! found a paper booklet, and duly followed the instruction to read its contents out loud to everyone else in the room:

Session 1

Read the following text out loud to everyone else (10 mins) and then ask them to complete the MCQ test at the end.

“Good morning/afternoon/evening everyone.

The Bash Street Academy Trust has recently announced that, based on proven industrial application, it is implementing a new training scheme in which trained teachers will be replaced by trained trainers fully capable of training other trainers. A trained trainer is essentially someone able to read a pre-prepared text out loud and telling learners to take a test at the end.

The course materials have been prepared by an expert teacher. Well, by myself actually. And as I attended school while I was growing up, you can rest assured I know what I’m talking about. Of course I’m terribly busy so most of it was really written for me by my secretary, but I’m sure she probably went to school at some point.

It all makes great sense for a trained teacher to become a trained trainer who can train other trainers to train trainers and then become trained trainers who can train our children. Ideally we will aim to recruit teachers who can demonstrate their potential in a number of diverse skills such as being able to read out loud in a nice, clear voice, tell the time and occasionally turn the page when instructed to do so. It’s so easy that a child could do it. In fact that’s an interesting idea that we’re currently working on to reduce the wages bill even further. Meanwhile existing teachers will be invited to re-apply to re-train as trained trainers, providing they pay the training fees and agree to a National Wage zero-hours contract. Of course all this greatly increases my salary, so everyone’s a winner – well, I am anyway and that’s all that really matters.

Now, having listened to the above,  evaluate your potential success as a trained trainer, by answering the following questions.

1. When you have completed this training session, which of the following will you become (tick all that apply):

  • A train driver
  • A pair of trendy trainers
  • A Tory minister
  • Tony the Tiger
  • A trained trainer
  • A Jean Genie

2. Which one of the following statements best describes Trevor Traynor, the CEO of Bash Street Academy Chain?

  • A figment of All Change Please!’s weird imagination
  • A public servant working hard to deliver high standards of education and childcare for the local community
  • Someone laughing all the way to the bank?

Now assess your own performance using the following levels:

Alpha:  Standard Pass

B:  Good Pass

1:  Distinction

Congratulations! You have passed Session One and are now a fully trained trainer, capable of teaching anyone anything anywhere. Except my children of course, who each have a private tutor.”

 

All of which left All Change Please! rather wondering:

  • How many trained trainers does it take to change a lightbulb?
  • How much does a trained train driver earn these days?
  • How much worse can things get in the future for the teaching profession?

All these answers and more will be answered in the next exciting All Change Please! post. Be sure to reserve your copy today!

 

Image credit: Flickr/Angie Muldowney

Prison Break Time

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image credit: The US Youth Justice Coalition

Little Miss Morgan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our reforms: Academisation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Representatives of the profession

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

Did I just hear someone laugh? Who was that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And politicians are the best profession to mess it up.

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

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

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

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

Thank you.

And goodnight.

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