‘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 Does Mastermind

Mr Glibbly seems to have been very busy recently. First there was the statement he made about Music Education, in which he revealed how little he actually knew and understood about the subject. Then there were his remarks on the need to ban mobile phones in school, in which he revealed how little he actually knew and understood about the subject. And this week he spoke forth his words of wisdom about getting more girls to study STEM subjects, which, not really surprisingly, revealed how little he actually knew and understood about STEM.

So after last week’s wasted attempt to sit Mr Glibbly down with a nice cup of tea and explain the facts of life as about mobile phones to him, this week All Change Please! thought it would challenge him to a session of Mastermind. Here’s what happened…

Your name is:

Mr Glibbly

Your occupation is:

Secretary in a State about Education

And your chosen specialist subject this week is:

STEM.

Time starts now…

1. What is STEM?

Glibbly: That’s easy – it’s the knowedge-rich study of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics subjects.

Incorrect. STEM is the practical study of the inter-relationship between Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics subjects. There’s not really any such thing as a STEM subject, just subjects that make a contribution to STEM.

2. What is STEAM?

Err. The stuff that comes out of kettles when the water gets hot?

No. The correct answer is the practical study of the inter-relationship between Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics subjects.

3. Has it ever occurred to you that including the Arts in STEM would help make it more attractive to many girls and provide a more balanced approach to future innovations in which human needs would be better matched to our technological capabilties?

Good Lord, No…

Yes, correct! It obviously hasn’t ever occurred to you.

4. What exactly are the ‘STEM skills’ to which you refer?

Learning more and more easily assessable knowledge and facts about Physics, Maths and Coding of course.

No. STEM skills are about things such as planning and organising, creative problem solving, working collaboratively in an inter-disciplinary way, and communicating information effectively.

5. Recent research published by the Df-ingE apparently shows that:

“15-year-old boys are more likely than girls to see STEM subjects as being useful when it comes to getting a job and that girls are less likely to consider a STEM subject as their favourite.”

Is it now government policy that in future boys should only be encouraged to choose useful subjects that will lead to a job, while girls should be free to choose whichever subjects they like doing best?

Well, err, no of course not.

Incorrect. Because that’s exactly what you just suggested it was.

6. You also said you were:

“funding programmes to increase the take up of maths, computing and physics”.

What are you going to do about Engineering, Technology and the other Sciences? In particular why is Design and Technology, which in many respects embodies the underlying inter-disciplinary nature of STEM, being completely ignored?

Err. Let me see. Wait, I know the answer to this one. Oh yes, that’s it: ‘We have reformed the school curriculum to make sure it meets the needs of employers.’

Are you having a laugh?

7. How do you justify calling on “teachers, parents and society in general to challenge and dispel misconceptions some girls have about Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects”, when you don’t even understand what it is yourself?

Well, as I said a moment ago – ‘We have reformed the school curriculum to make sure it meets the needs of employers.’ And what’s more I’ve started, so I’m going to finish…

No. The correct answer is that you obviously are not able to justify doing so.

8. How well do you think you have done as Secretary in a State?

Err. Pass?

Incorrect. You scored just one mark, and therefore you’ve not passed, you’ve failed.

If you’d like to be a candidate on a future edition of Mastermind… don’t become a politician.

 

PS. Mr Glibbly – perhaps some of these downloadable STEM Role Model Posters that celebrate Women Innovators as illustrated by Women Artists might help?

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?

Stripping down STEM

All Change Please! is getting all STEAMed up about the latest government announcement…

Most of us would agree that for the U.K. to survive in an apocalyptic Hard Brexitland future we are going to need considerable expertise in technology and engineering in order to create innovative new products and services to sell to the world. That is, of course, everyone except for the D well and truly f-ing E.

STEM, as all All Change Please! readers will be familiar with, is an acronym for the study of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Meanwhile All Change Please! has also long been a supporter of the campaign for the acronym to become STEAM, with the A representing The Arts which are required to enable students to develop skills of creativity and to acquire an understanding of human psychological and emotional needs.

While the US seems to grasp the concept that STEM, or STEAM, involves the necessary study of the relationships between the component subjects involved, here in the U.K. we have consistently mis-understood it simply as the isolated study of the separate academic subjects involved. And, given that Design & Technology typically plays no part in STEM, many of us have often wondered where the missing Technology and Engineering subjects are?

Well at least now we know. According to yesterday’s D no f-ing clue whatsoever about Education announcement:


So if there is no Technology or Engineering in STEM, that leaves us with just Science and Mathematics. Thus, to ensure the government cannot be accused of misleading the country, can we now look forward to the STEM initiative being more accurately renamed as S&M?

All Change Please! can’t wait for the newspaper headlines:

 

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…

 

 

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…

Art Failure at the MichaelGova School

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All Change Please! was interested to see that The Michaela ‘KNOWLEDGE IS POWER’ Community School was recently advertising for a new post in its Art Department: http://mcsbrent.co.uk/art-teacher-vacancy

Apparently:

“At KS3, pupils are taught the traditional techniques of drawing and painting and Art history. Lessons are ‘teacher-led’ as we believe it is the only way pupils can learn the appropriate skills to an expert level. Teachers show pupils exactly how to use each media in-depth step-by-step using the visualizer. There is no ‘guess work’ at Michaela. Pupils get to practice using the same media over and over again until the technique is mastered and perfected.”

“If you love art and know how to teach drawing, come and visit us at Michaela.  If you are in two minds, it is worth seeing what can be achieved in art when using our teaching methods.”

And it also states:

“We don’t offer lessons in ICT, DT..”

A full account of the Michaela guide to Mastery in Art and Music education can be found here.

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:

“At The MichaelGova ‘ABSOLUTE POWER CORRUPTS’ Community School, Art is about painting nice pictures over and over again until they look just like the work of great artists. We know everything about Art, but we don’t know what we like. An unkind visitor once upset some of our children by telling them that Art was about creating challenging new disruptive ideas, taking risks and being spontaneous and expressing oneself. He then spouted some mumbo-jumbo, snake-oil, neuromyth-nonsense that Art involved exploration, improvisation and messy experimentation in situations where there are no correct answers and that guessing and being intuitive were important in the real world. We asked him to leave the building immediately and never darken our doors again.

Pupils who in any way question what or how they are told to draw or paint are immediately isolated from other children and sent for a series of lunchtime re-progamming sessions in the Visualiser.

Meanwhile we take pride in refusing to teach our pupils anything about technology or problem-solving, knowing that they will be completely unprepared for life in the real, modern world. But as they will all become Oxbridge graduates unsuitable for any type of employment except for being a politician or a teacher in schools like ours, that won’t matter at all.

If you are in two minds about MichaelGova, please don’t apply. We only employ single-minded teachers.”

 

Let’s ask the Magic 8 Ball

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Yes, as unbelievable as Brexit sounds, today, the 28th October 2017, is All Change Please!s Magical Eighth birthday. And that means it’s time for All Change Please!’s surprisingly regular annual Review of the Year post…

To begin with, regular readers might have noticed that All Change Please! has been a lot less prolific than in previous years: instead of an average of posting once a fortnight, it’s been more like once a month. Except for February, April and May when seemingly absolutely nothing happened to inspire All Change Please! to take pen to paper, or rather finger to keyboard. However the world of education seemed to come back to life a bit more during September and October…

So what were All Change Please!‘s greatest number of hits of 2016-17?

1. The Blunders of Government

Way out ahead in the prestigious Number One ‘Top of the Posts’ spot was the runaway ‘The Blunders of Government’ which featured a dialogue between Sir Humphrey Appleby and a compendium of Education Secretaries from the past 7 years.

2. Theresa in Wonderland

Some way behind was All Change Please!’s Christmas special which identified the close connection between Mrs May and Alice, with Nigel Farage in the role of the Cheshire Cat, and The Queen of Hearts (deftly played by Angela Merkel) boasting that sometimes she believed as many as six impossible things before Brexit.

3. Problem still unsolved….

In which it was revealed that students place little value on creativity and problem-solving, largely because the schools they go to don’t either.

 

But as always, what appeals most to the bloglovin’ public rarely reflects All Change Please!’s own favourites of the year which included:

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

Cool. No problem. Read again?

5. Pass Notes: What is GCSE Irritative Design.

Your cut-out and weep guide to D&T…

 

Meanwhile, All Change Please! got to wondering about who invented the Magic 8 Ball and when, and how it worked – and not for the first time managed to find everything it wanted to know on Wikipedia.

“The Magic 8-Ball is a toy used for fortune-telling or seeking advice, developed in the 1950s and manufactured by Mattel. It is often used in fiction, often for humor related to its giving accurate, inaccurate, or otherwise statistically improbable answers.

An 8-ball was used as a fortune-telling device in the 1940 Three Stooges short, You Nazty Spy!, and called a “magic ball”. While Magic 8-Ball did not exist in its current form until 1950, the functional component was invented by Albert C. Carter, inspired by a spirit writing device used by his mother, Mary, a Cincinnati clairvoyant.

The Magic 8-Ball is a hollow plastic sphere resembling an oversized, black-and-white 8-ball. Inside a cylindrical reservoir contains a white, plastic, icosahedron floating in alcohol dyed dark blue. Each of the die’s 20 faces has an affirmative, negative, or non-committal statement printed in raised letters. These messages are read through a window on the ball’s bottom.

To use the ball, it must be held with the window initially facing down. After “asking the ball” a yes-no question, the user then turns the ball so that the window faces up, setting in motion the liquid and die inside. When the die floats to the top and one face presses against the window, the raised letters displace the blue liquid to reveal the message as white letters on a blue background.

The 20 answers inside a standard Magic 8-Ball are:

It is certain

It is decidedly so

Without a doubt

Yes definitely

You may rely on it

As I see it, yes

Most likely

Outlook good

Yes

Signs point to yes

Reply hazy try again

Ask again later

Better not tell you now

Cannot predict now

Concentrate and ask again

Don’t count on it

My reply is no

My sources say no

Outlook not so good

Very doubtful

All of which leads All Change Please! to the inevitable conclusion that it’s Mrs May’s Magic 8 Ball which undoubtedly forms the basis of current government policy-making and Brexit negotiations…

If you have been…  keep watching this space!

 

 

Image credit:  Flickr/David Bergin

Problem still unsolved

19295893399_3ee40fd48c_o.jpgProblem-solving: the process of finding solutions to difficult or complex issues

The recent news that ‘Just 3 per cent of teenagers believe problem solving skills and creativity are essential attributes to have on their CVs’ is of course no more than a reflection of the lack of emphasis and importance placed on them in our education system. And it goes a long way to explaining why so few politicians and administrators seem quite unable to develop policies and procedures that manage to improve the life of the population. Too many students undertake academic degrees, including subjects like science and engineering, having had next to no experience of the processes and approaches involved in coming up with successful new practical and appropriate ways of doing things.

Where children are exposed to problem-solving and creativity in schools, the experience is usually limited to solving closed problems, where there is a single correct right or wrong answer. Such problems are usually technical in nature, rarely focusing on solving individual or social human problems.

Even in design and technology, where a rapidly diminishing number of students are asked to solve design problems, the understanding of problem-solving skills is given disproportionate emphasis to increasingly acquiring knowledge about materials and production technologies. Few children rise to the challenge of resolving multiple conflicting requirements and coming up with truly creative solutions. And while there is good imaginative work in evidence in many departments of art, drama and music, its value and application is restricted to those lessons and defined studio spaces.

Developing students’ problem-solving and creative abilities is not achieved through a series of disparate activities experienced largely out of context. It involves an extended course of study in which increasingly complex, open-ended and challenging problems are tackled in such a way that the learner starts to identify their own strategies and preferred methodologies for tackling different sorts of problems. This includes being able to deal with problems that require:

• a mixture of creative and logical thinking

• dealing with subjective and objective criteria

• testing and evaluating possible solutions using a variety of modelling techniques

• identifying and understanding human needs and desires

• information finding

• planning over multiple time-scales, collaboration and self-management

• effective communication.

Underlying these skills at a more basic level, successful problem-solving requires a desire to improve the way things are, a sense of curiosity, the drive to explore and develop a multiplicity of possible solutions and willingness to learn from failure.

Until our children start to acquire these skills and they come to be acknowledged in schools and universities as being valuable in life and the workplace it is difficult to be optimistic about our future. We no longer require a steady flow of people to administer and oversee the far-flung corners of our long-lost Empire, but instead a stream of creative problem-solvers to construct our brave new post-Brexit world.

 

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Image credits: Flickr Sacha Chua

 

 

 

 

 

Open-ended Complex Policy Solving

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“Mr Glibbly: Please just get rid of this stupid, unworkable EBacc policy – we don’t want anything in exchange for it”

You may, or may well have not, noticed that All Change Please! has been strangely quiet recently. That’s mainly because there has been Very Little Change Please! about in terms of education over the past few months, and also, as several commentators have noticed, the world of politics is now far more self-satirical than your actual satire can ever be.

Anyway, All Change Please! has recently been thinking about all these proposed Governmental Policies that have recently issued forth and then been sent back in again because they weren’t working or indeed wanted, and started wondering who actually writes them and whether they have the faintest idea what they are actually proposing?

In most organisations, institutions and businesses, everything starts and ends with policy. A policy is a positive principle to guide decisions and achieve required outcomes. Policies tend to be determined by those ‘at the top’, to be put into practice by Senior Managers and passed down through middle managers to the worker-ants below. Policy determines what should and shouldn’t be done, what is and isn’t acceptable, and most importantly, if funding will be provided for it. If something contradicts policy, it just can’t be done – it’s as simple as that. Policy says No! This often makes innovation within management structures difficult, because any significant change is likely to involve reviewing and rewriting policy.

Good policy statements are crucial to success, and it would therefore seem to make sense to invest time, resources and expertise into ensuring they are going to be effective, appropriate, and above all, deliverable. Yet in practice, that’s rarely what happens. Most policy statements, while perhaps laudable in their intent, are prepared with little reference to the practicalities of their implementation or the effect they might have. They are often written by academics, administrators and civil servants with little experience of reality or how to actually set about successfully solving complex, open-ended problems. Too many high-flying academic students leave school and Russell Group Universities for senior positions in management or politics with next-to-no understanding or experience of real-world problem-solving and communication.

Indeed the policy-writing process seems to be: identify the problem, consider options, make decisions, publish and implement. This bears a certain resemblance to what is known more widely as the problem-solving process – but with one major difference, in that there is no attempt to model, test, evaluate and iterate possible solutions before and while they are being implemented. Further difficulties often occur when a policy is then briefed and specified because those charged with doing so are insufficiently trained or experienced in defining and effectively communicating the parameters of what can and can’t be done to achieve the desired outcome.

Here’s an insider account account of the policy writing process: The Mysteries of Government Policy. To summarise the author’s account of the way it works:

1. Ignore all past documents on the subject to give yourself a fresh perspective.

2. To upset stakeholders, send the draft out for comment but delay consultation until after the draft has been finalised and too late to change.

3. To ensure it is already out-dated, delay publication by taking as long as possible to respond to comments to the consultation in full.

4. Maximise publicity for the policy release, but try to ensure no-one knows it was written by you.

5. Sit back and watch as people discover that the policy is almost impossible to implement and creates more problems than before it was decided that a new policy was needed.

Meanwhile back in school, let’s take the familiar example of a Behaviour Policy. Often carefully and clearly worded by the SMT it’s published in the handbook and staff and students are expected to abide by it. Except of course in many cases they don’t. That’s because in the reality of the classroom, corridor and playground it’s not as simple as that. To be successful, a good policy needs to be supported on a daily basis by SMT who will need to spend time evaluating how well it is working and what the problems are, and then developing and continually evolving the policy as circumstances change. There also needs to be opportunity for staff and student participation in the process. It may well be that both staff and students need assistance or training in understanding how to apply the policy and how it only works if everyone follows it. If only creating Government Policy worked this way…

Similarly, a manufacturing company would never proceed to invest in the production of a million or so newly designed widgets unless it was absolutely sure they worked properly, that there was a popular market for them, that they could be effectively distributed, and made and sold profitably. And future models would be continually updated to increase sales or encourage repeat purchases. But for some reason this rational approach just doesn’t seem to apply to Government Policy-making.

And here’s OFSTED’s Amanda Spielman announcing that perhaps their policies over the past 25 years have not been successful as they should have been, and in future a bit more participation with teachers and researchers might just be a good idea.  But as Michelle Hanson points out, the damage has already been well and truly done.

Until a way is found to improve the way the Df-ingE formulates future government policy through stakeholder participation, extensive trials, rigorous evaluation and a commitment to support long-term support and review, desirable change in what goes on in our schools is unlikely to happen. And in the meanwhile it seems crazy that at present there is no structured or coordinated programme of teaching and learning problem-identification and problem-solving for all children in our schools. A little bit of creativity wouldn’t go amiss either. But of course that can’t happen until it becomes policy…

 

Image credit: Flickr/Policy Exchange