Michaela The Unconquerable

William Ernest Henley (23 August 1849 – 11 July 1903) was an influential English poet, critic and editor of the late Victorian era in England.

Back in July, just before the very end of the Summer Term when outdoor manoeuvres (AKA school trips) are in full swing, the Twittersphere exploded over a short video showing a group of young teenagers from THAT school in North East London – the one that seems to believe ‘All You Need Is Knowledge’ – standing on an above-ground underground platform vociferously and enthusiastically chanting their school poem: W. E. Henley’s ‘Invictus’. Some of those who saw the video online apparently responded with a salvo of abusive tweets, and consequently the teacher in charge felt the need to delete the video and make her account private. But the real flack came from the assembled ranks of shell-shocked traditional teachers expressing their undying support for the teacher, that teachers should be free to celebrate the pupils’ achievements, and that performing poetry in public was a fine and worthy thing to do. Which, of course, in itself is fair enough. Up to a point.

Now, to be quite clear, this post is not intended to be written as an angry attack on Michaela students, their hard work, politeness and consideration for others, their backgrounds or their success at gaining GCSE results – but it is meant as a considered critique of the school’s narrow conservative academic curriculum and strict behaviour policy.

At the same time, All Change Please! wishes to make it quite clear that it does not in any way support abusive tweets, although surely anyone who publishes anything on the internet should perhaps not be too surprised that they become liable to receiving such responses and then find themselves having to deal with the fall-out. And if the Headmistress wants other people to ‘LEAVE MY KIDS ALONE’, as she often Tweets, she should not be exposing them on social media in the first place.

Meanwhile in the Trads’ responses on Twitter it was apparent that none of them seemed in any way interested in discussing or even thinking about why some people might not have been as impressed and delighted by the public performance as they were. They seemed unwilling to accept that others might have a different viewpoint, or that there are complex politically motivated and culturally-infused issues involved.

 

However, All Change Please! did actually manage to catch the video before it was deleted, and has to confess it did find it somewhat sinister, and has since been wondering exactly why it felt so bothered by it?

Let’s change the scene slightly. In this version a group of similar aged school-children are huddled together in a group singing a popular song. A few more are standing apart from the group chatting, not wishing to join in. They are dressed, like the majority of school children today, in slightly subverted versions of their school uniform – formal blazers and ties are not terribly fashionable at present, even in the workplace where smart casual is now more the expected order of the day. All Change Please! can’t imagine anyone being in any way particularly offended by this scene, whatever school they came from.

But the actual video showed the children in the semblance of a straight line along the platform, facing the front, all very smartly turned out in their extremely neat and tidy uniforms. Their teacher was visibly conducting them, making sure they were chanting the poem to the beat.

And then there is the poem itself: ‘Invictus’ was written by Henley in the early 1870s as he was recovering from a tubercular infection that resulted in the loss of one of his legs. As such it’s typically full of dark and disturbing Victorian style and sentimentality and in particular is about the prospect of death and having the courage to gloriously fight on regardless.

The last two lines are the most frequently quoted as they potently remind us that we need to take responsibility for making sure we make the most of things whatever the circumstances. However the rest of the poem is not generally well known. It’s along the lines of Kipling’s ‘If’ or Tennyson’s ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ – verses best suited to being learned by heart and taking a moral message from, as opposed to the study of more challenging poetry that explores more conflicting and ambiguous impressions and themes. Of course that’s not to entirely object to children studying it in the classroom and understanding it in the context of the time and religious culture it was written in – but to promote it as a celebratory ‘school poem’ with its dark, disturbing imagery of the darkness of hell and bloody bludgeonings that will be deeply embedded in their minds for the rest of their lives, seems somehow rather inappropriate.

Now perhaps All Change Please! has a rather over-active and vivid imagination, but the video clip it saw was somehow a scene from the turn of the early 20th Century, and these weren’t schoolchildren of Today, but regularly and neatly-uniformed, subservient foot soldiers lined up about to board a train for the front, keeping their spirits up under the stern leadership of their Sergeant Major, in preparation for the grim adversities that lie ahead, and the courage and fighting spirit that will be needed to conquer them. Is this the image of the future we want to project of what life is going to be like for these children in the 21st century?

Colourised photo of soldiers leaving Letchworth, 1914

While it’s not a scene that deserves social media abuse, it is one that deserves discussion as to whether it is an appropriate approach to education in this day and age, and to the imposition of supposedly ‘lost’ British values from Victorian times, that many would prefer to see remain lost. Do we really want to recreate and reinforce 150 year old Victorian values and behaviours in our children? Surely our children need to learn from the past to understand the present and prepare for the future – not to just blindly repeat it, line by line.

The worry is that Michaela’s children – and indeed all those from the growing number of similar schools that aim to follow their lead – will not be well prepared to deal with the values, behaviours and ambiguities of the real, complex, inconsistent, unstructured modern technological world that they will discover when they find themselves on their own, far outside the comfort zone of their safe, friendly and nostalgic school environment. Perhaps it might help if the school included some technology-related subjects in its curriculum (children do not study IT/Computing, or D&T) and aimed to teach their pupils when and how to use smart phones and iPads for appropriate and effective learning and communication, instead of just banning them outright?

Clearly there are a number of politicians, teachers and parents determined to live in the past and ignore the fact that we now live in a global, technological age. While there is choice in the system for those teachers, parents and children who do or do not wish to belong to such a school, then perhaps it doesn’t matter. That is as long as there is still such a choice in the system…

Meanwhile, the members of the Michaela Community Free School Fan-base seem to believe that their successful GCSE results are a worthy vindication of Michael Gove’s policies that will provide more than enough ammunition to silence the guns of their more ‘progressive’ critics: they are likely to be disappointed. Indeed just the other day this highly apposite cartoon appeared as a comment on the Df-ingE’s widespread use of the Michaela school’s GCSE results to promote its highly controversial Free School Movement:

Unsurprisingly it drew a ballistic response from Michaela’s Headmistress who continues to see any criticism as an attack on ‘her’ children rather than the values and methodologies of the institution itself and of the Df-ingE – and to fail to accept that there’s more than one way to change the world for the better.

 

‘If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow’
John Dewey, 1915

 

 

With thanks to Stan Dunn for his cartoon, currently appearing on Twitter, and AJ.

Image of WE Henley: Wikipedia

Image of soldiers at Letchworth: DanHillHistory on Twitter

 

 

‘A’ is for…

The universe an absurdly weird place. And, when you start to think about it, one of the weirdest things in our universe are the schools where we prepare our children for their adult lives. And now they are about to get a whole lot more absurd as All Change Please! slips down a handy quantum-encrusted wormhole to discover an alternative, sometimes more enlightened but often just as weird parallel universe called Planet Urth.

This is the first in a series of posts entitled ‘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.

Be warned: you may never think of Education in the same way again….

ABC

On Planet Urth learning the ABC is one of the basic 2×4 red and white LEGO building bricks of education. In earlier times only the very wealthy who went to private schools could afford to learn the alphabet. It was eventually the introduction of mass-produced, widely available and affordable Alphabetti Spaghetti there in the 1930s that revolutionised teaching methods, although it was rejected by many teachers who preferred standing at the front of the class endlessly shouting it out while the children made notes.

Some children still find the order of the ABC difficult to learn and often ask their teacher why the letters are in that particular order. They mainly do this because they know the teacher doesn’t know the answer, which is that no-one really knows. The latest theory is that the letters were drawn at random in that order one day during an extended episode of Countdown.

The secret to the success of the alphabet is that because the letters are in a particular order it makes them easier to be taught to much larger classes through chanting. This avoids children claiming they knew all the letters but were just reciting them in the wrong order.

Academics

Academics cleverly called themselves a name beginning with an A in order to emphasise their importance by appearing early in the dictionary. An earlier suggestion on Planet Urth was that they should be called Aardvarks was narrowly rejected, which, when you think about it, was a bit of a shame.

For some inexplicable reason, everyone thinks they want to be an academic when they grow up, with little or no practical ability in the real world, other than to end up teaching the next generation of academics. A bit like the ‘product life cycle’, this is known as the ‘academic life-cycle’, which probably explains why so many academics ride around on bicycles.

Aesthetics

One of the weirdest ideas on Planet Urth is that some children are given a colourful cocktail of pleasurable aesthetic experiences so they won’t be conscious during an unpleasant practical procedure. General aesthetics are sometimes administered to help difficult students get through complex sessions so that they fall into an alternative state of consciousness and don’t disturb other learners. In shorter lessons a milder, more musical local aesthetic will often be sufficient.

Some schools run academic courses in the theory of aesthetics, but students in these classes tend to fall asleep very quickly of their own accord.

An Apple for Teacher

Some people, and especially those that are Daily Wail readers on Planet Urth, believe that the idea of giving your teacher an apple as a present originated when an apple dropped on the young Sir Issac Newton’s head and he took it into his teacher to explain what this thing called gravity was that he’d just invented. Today, in the more enlightened 21st Century, teachers often tell children that the fruit is not the sort of apple that is appropriate anymore and that they should be giving them an Apple iPhone instead. It is not known how successful this approach has been.

Out there on the internet there are, however, other much less believable theories as to the derivation of the idea: for example, the apple represents the ‘fruit of knowledge’ – the forbidden fruit unwittingly plucked by Eve and for which God put her in perpetual Detention.

Or perhaps it originated in the 19th Century American mid-west where families whose children attended schools were often responsible for housing and feeding their teachers, and who supplied them with apples as a token of appreciation? The Df-ingE has denied it has been considering a similar arrangement for funding education in post-Brexit Britain, but a spokesperson did remark that it seemed like ‘an interesting idea worth looking into’.

Art

Another of the more startlingly different ideas on Planet Urth is that having attended Art School is a pre-requisite for becoming a politician, so they really do have a real understanding of creativity and problem-solving and that Art involves a lot more than colouring things in, learning the names of famous artists and being able to produce skillful reproductions of well known paintings and then writing an essay about them. There everyone understands that Art isn’t just for thick kids who are good with their hands and who might benefit from a more relaxing therapeutic re-creational subject, instead of dragging down the results of a much more important academic subject.

Asking Questions

People on Planet Urth place much more importance on developing curiosity and enquiring mind. As a result schools place a great deal of emphasis on teaching children how to ask interesting questions that are often difficult to answer. In fact they all take a GCSE in which instead of writing answers to questions set by examiners, they have to write the questions themselves. They then need to outline how they would set about finding the answers, e.g., who would they ask and what sources they might refer to. Top marks are awarded for questions that are deemed to be of great significance and importance, and to which it is unlikely will ever be fully answered.

Meanwhile on Planet Earth the inhabitants are of course quick to point out that you can’t make any money just asking interesting questions all the time. Except you can if you become a member of the Quora Partner Program. The more people who view your question thread, the more you earn…

Assembly

In Roman times citizens used to gather round in the forum to listen to the great and the good make speeches. Today, while the rest of us receive the wisdom of our leaders though TV, Facebook and Twitter, sadly schools on both planets still attempt to keep the old ways alive by making children assemble in silence in regimented rows in the school hall once a day to hear the deputy head make a speech that no-one bothers to listen to because they know there isn’t going to be a test on it afterwards.

A funny thing happened on All Change Please!‘s way to a school assembly once, but that’s another story.

Assessment

Many people in education say that assessment is ‘the tail that wags the dog’. This might make sense if you attend the Barbara Woodhouse Academy for Young Puppies, but for everyone else it’s a load of bollocks. Dogs wag their tails when they are pleased or excited, not when they are sitting their GCSEs.

On Planet Urth dogs are only assessed when they are ready, and on what new tricks they have actually learned, rather than what academic knowledge some barking-mad, sly-dog politician thinks they should have learned.

Awe and wonder

At the turn of the 21st century, Ofsted expected schools to demonstrate that pupils were experiencing ‘awe and wonder’ during their lessons, or as one nameless maverick inspector on Planet Urth once wrote on his Evidence Form: ‘There was plenty of ore in the metalwork lessons, but the children’s attention soon began to wander…’

Tune in again soon for the next exciting installment of All Change Please!‘s Alternative A to Z of Education, which not unsurprisingly features the letter B

 

Image credits:  Image credits: Pixabay (all), except School Assembly:

Roman Forum (Wikimedia Commons)

Saint John’s School (Flickr Commons)

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

Number 9

It seems like it was only this time last year when All Change Please! was celebrating its 8th birthday, but today it is 9 years old, and as traditional, this is the review of the best of last year’s posts.

First to announce the winners of the highly prestigious ‘most viewed posts’ of the last twelve months. In highly appropriate GCSE reverse order they were….

3. School Island

‘A group of children who don’t know each other are isolated in a secondary school for five years. In this unreal situation they are not allowed access to mobile phones or gain any other information about what is currently happening in the outside world.’

2. Glibbly’s All Fool’s Gold Signature Collection

‘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?’

And the winner is…..

Wait for it….

1. Art Failure at the MichaelGova School

‘But by yet another All Change Please! (Patent Applied For) Amazing Coincidence it seems that the nearby, and entirely fictitious, MichaelGova Community School is also recruiting further teaching staff for its Art Department. Somehow All Change Please! has exclusively managed to obtain a draft of the forthcoming press advertisement’

Then, as usual, in no particular order, here’s All Change Please!’s selection of its own three favourite posts:

Playing the GCSE Numbers racket

‘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.”

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
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…”

Is Nick Glibbly Having A Laugh?

‘This Christmas Nick Glibbly is appearing in Pantomime at the Df-ingE, where he will play the comedy role of Michael Gove. He has also been nominated for a Derrière Comedy Award at next year’s Edinburgh Festival in the ‘Least Likely Politician To Succeed In A New Career As A Comedian’ category.’

 

Meanwhile, in a far distant galaxy sometime in the not-so-near future that has nothing whatsoever to do with formal education, All Change Please! has recently found itself writing some very different sorts of posts, contributing to a blog site analysing the Beatles’ ‘White’ album, prior to the 50th anniversary of its release in November 1968. If you weren’t there then, or were and don’t remember it, there was definitely something in the air – a real sense of hope that things were starting to change. It was a time of revolution and riot, well at least it was if you were a University student – the rest of the country read about it in their newspapers or watched it in the comfort of their homes on their black and white TVs.

Today the Beatles’ double album is still a remarkable achievement, showcasing the band at the height of its musical creativity, experimenting with the new technology to discover new ways of creating music that matched their subversive multi-layered lyrics. The extraordinary ‘Revolution 9’, which featured a repeated voice saying ‘Number 9’, was strongly influenced by modern classical composer Karlheinz Stockhausen. It was an eight minute collage of sound recordings that today would not stand a snowball’s chance in hell of being included on the latest album of a best-selling, chart-topping globally successful group. As such it is almost certainly the best-selling piece of ‘avant-garde’ music of all time, even if most people tended to skip it after the first listen!

Meanwhile, 50 years later, All Change Please! is still waiting for Revolution Number 1 to start happening in the current education system. It guesses it will just probably have to wait another year…

Image credit: Ian Melbourne93

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…

School Island

All Change Please! has somehow recently managed to obtain a recording of one of Alan Partridge’s audio memos – intended for his assistant Lynn to type up – which he regularly used to record ideas for possible new TV shows to pitch. Here’s the transcript:

“Another TV idea: ‘School Island’. A group of children who don’t know each other are isolated in a secondary school for five years. In this unreal situation they are not allowed access to mobile phones or gain any other information about what is currently happening in the outside world.

As they compete to see who can gain the highest grades and most qualifications they are required to undertake a series of ridiculous meaningless and often humiliating challenges, such as seeing who can sit still and stay awake the longest, remember and then write down the most facts, wear exactly the correct school uniform, etc. These will be determined and set by the programme directors – to be known as senior management teams and politicians.

The children will be continually monitored by the hosts – let’s call them teachers – and TV cameras who will watch their every movement, manipulating the participants to cause maximum distress and mental illness to help increase viewing figures. The audience will vote to decide which children should be excluded for bad behaviour.

The winning children will be offered lucrative deals (at their own expense) to attend Russell Group Universities.

Lynn – please check if anything similar has already been done before.”

And finally, do make sure you watch this clip that provides worrying evidence of the devastating impact of the knowledge rich curriculum on the limited working memory.

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…

Past Notes: The Artful Dodger

Minister In A State About School Standards Nick Glibb removes his fancy dress outfit to reveal his true identity as the Artful Dodger

 

So it’s 3 cheers for Nick Glibb then!

For Who?

For Glibb?

I somehow very much doubt it, but do go on…  Wait, AA Milne and Winnie the Pooh isn’t the intended cultural literary reference for this post. Oh well, I suppose I might as well feed you the next line …

Why, what did he do?

I thought you knew? He’s just announced loadsa money to help ensure the future of our creative industries…

Yes that’s apparently correct, and I suppose we should be very grateful that in the future there will now still be a plentiful supply of talented young artists, actors, musicians and dancers able to draw audiences to fill our expensive gallery exhibitions and theatre and opera seats that only he and other well-to-do Tory Party members can afford. So that’s the Tories for you – working for everyone to be able to continue to attend performances at the Donmar Theatre, the Barbican and the Chichester Festival…

I can tell you are going to need a lot of convincing, so could you just clarify the problem?

Well, it’s just that the money the Government is providing is going to go to promoting specialist ‘out-of’ or ‘after’ school opportunities for a minority of wannabe children to become talented performers. And in most cases this means the children of informed, well-to-do families where the parents probably already have some sort of background in the Arts and they have encouraged their off-spring to paint and sing and dance from an early age. As a result many less advantaged children are being denied the chance to discover in school that they might have a hidden talent.

Ah – I suspect there’s going to be some sort of Oliver Twist to this Dickens of a story then?

Indeed yes! The twist is that when he – or at least the Df-ingE – writes in a self-congratulatory manner ‘almost half of all pupils chose to take one arts GCSE last year…’, what perhaps should have been more honestly stated was ‘it’s an absolute disgrace that less than a half of all pupils chose to take a single arts GCSE last year and that figure is projected to fall further in the future...’

The facts that Nick Glibbly artfully dodges, or perhaps just chooses to ignore, include the benefit for all children in studying Arts subjects is to learn about the important things such as creativity, design, problem-solving, team-work and independent learning that are now essential work-place skills for everyone. And as well as taking such courses for their intrinsic value, the self-confidence generated by taking Arts subjects often also helps students improve in their academic subjects as well.

But what really gives the game away as to the extent of his ignorance of the content of the curriculum is in the limitation of his reference to music complementing maths, drama complementing English and the study of art complementing history: the Arts contribute far more than that, to all subjects.

So what could Glibbly have done instead?

If Glibbly really wanted to entitle, encourage and enable children from all backgrounds to benefit from studying the Arts the best thing he could have done would have been to remove the ridiculous Progress 8 accountability measure which uses the all-far-too-important League tables to penalise schools that allow students to take non-academic GCSEs. And what’s more, it wouldn’t cost the tax-payer a penny!

At the same time he could also aim to do something about the dwindling and now somewhat derisory amount of time that all Primary and Secondary schools devote to Arts subjects up to the age of 14.

Ah, I’m beginning to see what you mean. So really it’s essentially just a bit more political spin to help make us believe that the elitist Tory Party is Working for Everyone, when clearly it’s mainly working for itself…?

 

Meanwhile, thanks to a colourful black and white promotional video posted on Twitter by the Df-ingE, All Change Please! has uncovered extraordinary evidence that Nick Glibb is actually living in a 1940s time-warp, and is currently being played by Will Hay…

That’s Will Hay on the left, and Nick Glibb on the right. Or is it the other way round?

Do say:  That Glibbly bloke needs a good kick up the Arts

Don’t say: Thanks to that wonderful Mr Glibbly we will continue to be able to enjoy going to Glyndebourne for many years to come….

 

Image credits – Top: Wikimedia / Bottom: Df-ingE, and thanks to Susan Coles for spotting the likeness!

 

 

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…