‘C’ is for…. Continued

It’s been a long time coming, but here from All Change Please!’s Absolutely Absurd Alternative A to Z of Educashun is the rest of ‘C’ is for…

Just in case you’ve been living in an alternative reality and have missed ‘A’ is for…, ‘B’ is for… and ‘C’ is for… (Part Duh), then this is All Change Please!‘s report 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.

Comparative Pears

Comparative Judgement involves comparing series of ‘pairs’ of school work with each other and deciding which is of higher quality. When applied across a range of pieces of work and compared by a team of judges a measurement scale, from best to worst, emerges. It has been found that this process is quicker and more reliable than the traditional method in which each piece of work is assessed separately by one judge.

On Planet Urth, this process was developed centuries ago and is known as ‘Comparative Pears Assessment’ and was derived from the fruit industry where the technique was developed to produce a reliable grading scale for pears.

 

 

 

Creativity and collaboration

On our planet, most people seem to have a very limited understanding of creativity that just involves being able to reproduce pretty pictures in the style of a famous artist, play a classical musical instrument, perform in the school play or be able to think of more than one possible use for a brick. At the same time, teachers who have simply told pupils to ‘work in groups’ quickly, and not surprisingly, decide that it’s an approach that isn’t going to work.

The fact that our current cohort of predominantly privately-educated, academic Russell Group University alumni politicians seem quite incapable of any creative collaborative problem-solving is a powerful indictment of what’s missing in our current education system: these days, knowledge on its own isn’t power.

On Planet Urth everybody understands that creativity and collaboration involve a great deal more. There learning about creativity is seen as acquiring a state of mind that is curious, persistently looking for and open to new ideas, searching for different ways of doing things, taking risks and transforming and combining things in original ways. Teachers have also realised that team work doesn’t just happen, and that learners need to be systematically taught how to analyse and improve the performance of their team. As such both creativity and collaboration are highly valued, planned across the curriculum and each year group, properly monitored and rigorously assessed – and not by writing an essay in the school hall.

Cognitive Load Theory

On Planet Urth ‘Cognitive Truck Overload Theory’ sensibly states that there’s only so much stuff you can pile on to a lorry before it won’t be able to move very far. Thus it becomes necessary to reduce the load – but how do you decide what to take off and what to leave on? The obvious answer for the supplier to simply take all the lightest items off and just deliver all the heaviest components, without realising that whoever is due to receive them needs them all to be able to assemble the product they are manufacturing. Thus a much better approach might be to take some of the lightest items off and some of the heaviest ones as well to achieve a balanced delivery.

Unfortunately in education on our Planet Earth the knowledge merchants don’t see it quite like that, because they are convinced that removing absolutely any of their facts and figures is out of the question. “We can’t do everything” they cry, so off come all what they consider to be the heavier creative problem-solving skills, critical analysis and collaborative work that they believe only adults should be allowed to manage, and on instead goes even more knowledge, all neatly and conveniently packaged into self-contained regular-sized and easily measurable subject boxes. Apparently in extreme cases it can even include removing things like classroom displays, experimental modelling activities, discussion – anything that gets in the way of those pure, unadulterated quickly-testable nuggets of knowledge, delivered from the front of the class.

In real life we face a constant process of deciding how to allocate our time between absorbing, responding to and exploring new material and deciding how and when to best apply it. Loading and off-loading what we are trying to remember according to its importance at a given moment is in itself a high-level skill children need to be learning and developing as they grow up, rather than just having it decided for them by so-called grown-ups.

Commuter Studies

Commuting was first introduced into schools during the 1980s. Commuters in schools are often to be found crowded together in special rooms that contain workstations, and discussing the timetable and which platforms to use. They are staffed by special teachers known as servers, presumably because they spend their time serving tea and coffee to everyone.

The lights in these commuter rooms are always flickering as they are constantly being turned off and on again.

Cross-curricular

Cross-curricular work happens in schools where teachers use an interdisciplinary approach to learning that involves exploring the connections that exist naturally between subjects, just as it does in the real world children will encounter when they leave school. However, as it involves taking considerable risks and teachers need to step outside their specialisms, many of them get very agitated and upset when trying cross-curricular approaches.

Hence their belief that the opposite to a cross curricular approach is a happy curricular approach.

Constantinople

“Constantinople is a very long word. Can you spell it?”
This sums up the level of popular grammar schoolboy humour in the 1960s – the unfortunate victim proceeds to spell ‘C – o – n.., before being informed with mock astonishment that he doesn’t know how to spell the word ‘it’. What a laugh! Even more extraordinary is that at the time Constantinople was still thought of as being the capital of Turkey, even though it had officially become Istanbul in 1923, so the joke probably dates back to to an even earlier time. So much for the non-existent coverage of current affairs at the time. Generally speaking, if it happened after 1900, it wasn’t on the curriculum.

Cursive writing

A lot of people are concerned that children are no longer being taught cursive writing. However, on Planet Urth more progressive teachers are now discouraging children from learning how to write curses as it is generally considered to be anti-social, there’s quite enough of it on TV already, and anyway these days it’s difficult to find regular employment as a witch.

Along with learning how to write spells (known as ‘Spelling’), it’s seen as yet another example of children being taught things that are out-of-date ‘just in case’ they ever need them at some point in the future.

 

 

So that’s it for the letter C, but watch out there’s a letter D on its way soon…

 

Photo credits:  Carol Mitchell/Flickr , Pixabay.

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

 

 

‘C’ is for…

Next up in ‘All Change Please!’s Absolutely Absurd Alternative A to Z of Educashun’ is the letter ‘C’. For some curious reason schools are full of things that begin with the letter ‘C’. Here are just a few – with more to come later.

If you somehow managed to miss them, here are links to ‘A’ is for… and ‘B’ is for…

Careers

On Planet Urth Careers Education is taken very seriously in schools, and children are positively encouraged to consider a wide range of possibilities, including working in Business, the Arts and the IT industry. For many, technical and vocational courses in Further Education are seen as being more appropriate and interesting than academic University courses, which can always be taken up at a later date as part of a well-established programme of life-long learning. There are well-established links with local, regional, national and international employers.

Back here on Earth, the only thing that seems to matter in schools is for students to get into a prestigious Russell Group University, and anyway, why does a car need ears anyway?

Carry On Teacher

One of the annoying little problems in education these days is the fact that no-one wants to be a teacher anymore, and those that already are tend to leave and starting writing regular blog posts that are highly critical of government policies and politicians. On Planet Urth the Df-ingE has therefore commissioned a new film intended to promote the profession. It’s called ‘Carry on Teacher’, and is set during a school inspection in 1958. If that doesn’t bring them back, what will?

Classrooms

The first schools on Planet Urth were built on three floors, and the rooms were allocated to children based on their social class, hence the name ‘class-rooms’. The rooms in the dark and damp basements were for lower class children, while the ground floor class-rooms were for children whose middle class parents could just about afford to pay the fees if they scrimped and saved. The uppermost floor class-rooms, which were airy and bright, were for the extremely wealthy upper classes who didn’t have to worry about money at all. They often featured ivory towers from which the gleaming spires of Oxford could be clearly seen from the windows.

Some of these schools had separate buildings to one side known as ‘workshops’. Badly-behaved, less academic children would be sent to these rooms to work at making useful items that were then sold on at a profit to the school, hence their name ‘work-shops’.

Chemistry

Chemistry teachers frequently claim theirs is the best subject on the curriculum because of all the unpleasant smells and explosions that occur in various experiments, as they believe that this is something that all children enjoy. This is strange because in later life we go to a lot of trouble to avoid unpleasant smells, or being anywhere near anything that is likely to explode. It’s also a puzzle as to why they’re called ‘experiments’ as the teacher knows exactly what the results are going to be, unless of course the lab technician has put the wrong chemicals out.

Chemistry teaches us that if we look at the things around us through powerful microscopes we are able to see that the world is made up out of a series of tiny colourful billiard balls, all connected together with plastic drinking straws.

More inquisitive students have questioned the point of having a periodic table without periodic chairs to go around it.

Children

It’s often forgotten, especially by politicians, that children play an important part in education – indeed without them there would not be any schools in the first place. Despite this most conferences, seminars and discussions about education take place without any children in the building.

Teachers seem to hold one of two distinct views about children. The first is that they are empty vessels to be unquestioningly filled up with knowledge by vastly superior adults, and the second is that they actually have their own thoughts about what and how they need to learn, and it can be well worthwhile entering into some form of dialogue with them. In the real world the supplier of any product or service who does not in some way consult and try to understand the needs and wants of their potential users is destined to be a failure.

On Planet Urth, things are much less binary. Teachers and politicians listen to children and respond to their learning needs by building a flexible framework for them to move more freely through. This combines a rich mixture of teacher-led knowledge input and exploratory learning.

Clever clogs

No-one likes an irritating, know-it-all clever-clogs, so it’s a bit odd that that’s exactly what the government seems to want everybody to be. Mind you most politicians often like to pretend they are clever-clogs, which probably explains why they generally don’t have many friends.

Back in around the 18th Century the first ‘clever-clogs’ were actually called ‘clever-boots’. They were always at logger-heads with rival gangs of ‘bossy-boots’ and used to go to Margate on Bank holidays for a good kick-about. However, back in those days most forms of footware were highly alliterate so they decided to change their name to ‘clever-clogs’.

Of course some clogs are cleverer than others, and manage to decorate themselves with intricate designs so that everyone knows they’ve been to a really good university. Less clever clogs end up working much harder having to actually make stuff and so wear plainer, more functional clogs.

A new generation of wi-fi, internet-enabled ‘Clever Clogs 2.0’ are expected to launch soon, and will be called ‘Smart Shoes’. They will doubtless be immediately banned in schools.

Constructivism

On Planet Urth schools and politicians understand and apply the Constructivist approach in which children learn best when they are allowed to construct a personal understanding based on experiencing things and reflecting on those experiences.

Meanwhile here on our most wonderful Planet Earth, schools and politicians understand and apply the term Constructivism as children learning through constructing wooden boxes in their D&T lessons, which, because it doesn’t teach them any academic facts, is seen as being a complete waste of time, not to mention wood.

 

Continued (To be…)

Tune in again soon to learn all about some more things beginning with the letter ‘C‘, such as: Creativity and Collaboration, Cognitive Lorry Overload Theory, Commuter Studies, Constantinople, Cross-curricular and Cursive Writing.

‘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 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’.

 

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

Is Nick Glibbly Having A Laugh?

Following recent reports in the TES, Nick Glibbly appears to be preparing for a new role as a stand-up comedian for Comic Relief.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, please give a warm round of applause for a former politician and newcomer to the Comedy Club – I give you Knickers Glibbly

Polite applause, and a titter or two at Glibbly’s Red Nose

“I say, I say, I say… Did you hear the one about PISA? Yes missus, that’s the Programme for International Student Assessment. I don’t believe it – they are trying to politically influence the international rankings! Of course, here in England we would never dream of letting politics determine our educational policies, would we?!”

Mild laughter as the audience absorb the irony

A funny thing happened on my way here this evening. As usual I was licking the boots of Andreas Schleicher – the head of the The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that runs the PISA tests, and whom Michael Gove once described as ‘the most important man in English education‘ – wrong again Michael, you know that’s really me, don’t you? – when all of a sudden he tells me about his latest plans for the tests.

Now in the past, the PISA tests were just about regurgitating facts and figures. Therefore in order to improve our world rankings we changed the entire curriculum to ensure our children would receive teacher and knowledge-led instruction and thus achieve better marks and climb higher up the league table, because after all that’s what educational achievement is all about, isn’t it? Boom! Boom!

Some polite applause

But now it seems PISA are introducing a more progressive approach to education, called ‘the 21st-century incompetence-based curriculum’, and so they are introducing new tests in things like creativity and collaborative problem-solving, which of course we’ve been completely ignoring in our schools! And so, ladies and gentleman, here comes the punch-line – yes that’s right – we’ll be back down the bottom of the league table again! What a joke!”

Laughing out loud and occasional whooping – or is it weeping?

“Of course, because I don’t understand anything about these 21st century incompetencies, what I’ve not realised is that the OECD doesn’t either and their tests are extremely limited and ineffective, so it’s really not going to make much difference at all!”

Increasing laughter and applause as the audience begin to realise the true extent of the incompetence of the 21st Century Df-ingE

“What’s really strange though is that when I challenge the the OECD about it, it seems I’m the only one who disagrees, so obviously that means I must be right!” Am I bovvered? In future that stupid boy Andreas Schleicher can lick his own boots!

Hysterical laughter brings the house down.

“My name’s Nick Glibbly. And I’m the Most Important Man in Education! Thanks for learning, and it’s Good Night from me!”

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.

You couldn’t make it up, could you?

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.