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

A New Grammar Comprehensive in Every Town

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All Change Please! is perhaps best known for its satirical announcements of surreal Df-ingE policies that attempt to reveal them for the nonsense the real ones are. But this time All Change Please! has a truly serious suggestion to make.

Before it does so though it is important to be aware that Df-ingE policy is never derived from even its lack of understanding of the reality of teaching and learning going on in our schools. Much of what they do involves little more than a re-branding exercise in which the name is changed but the processes of teaching and learning remain the same. It’s all politically-motivated spin intended to reassure its loyal Daily Mail readers that the government is successfully putting the Great back into Britain so that the electorate will put the Tories back into Government when the next general election finally occurs.

But currently it seems that Mrs May or May Not is facing considerable criticism of the new school funding arrangements and of her run-it-up-the-flagpole policy of reintroducing grammar schools. So without further ado, here’s All Change Please! very helpful suggestion…

All Change Please!‘s proposal is that Mrs May or May Not should announce the introduction of special new ‘Grammar Comprehensives‘ in every town. These will be existing comprehensives or academies that agree to set up special grammar-school streams in which the academically-able will be exclusively taught. That way every child will potentially have access to Russell Group universities, and individuals can easily transfer across streams at any appropriate time. Selection for the stream will be sometime during the first term, based on teacher assessment rather than test, thus meaning that wealthy parents will not be able to play the system by paying for extra tuition. At the same time, the money saved from setting up new grammar schools can be diverted into re-balancing the school funding crisis for all.

If the idea were to be adopted it could be spun in the Daily Mail as a brilliant innovative Tory initiative that will both significantly improve social mobility and save school budgets. It really is a win-win solution!

Meanwhile, once the sign at the school gates has been suitably altered, of course schools, teachers and students will simply and quietly get on with what the majority of them have already been doing for years anyway. And all it takes is a change of name.

But perhaps All Change Please! should keep its idea to itself, lest the Df-ingE start to get a reputation for doing something sensible and thereby help the Tories get returned in the next election? So for now, perhaps better to keep the suggestion to yourself….

Image credit: DC Thompson

7-Up + 300

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“Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man”

It’s astonishing to think that back in the Autumn of 2009 – around the time that All Change Please!’s first post was published – a child starting secondary school in Year 7 will now have completed their A levels and be either commencing a degree course – or of course, more like All Change Please!, becoming another Not in Employment, Education or Training statistic.

Yes, it’s exactly seven years since All Change Please! published its very first post, and as usual it decides to nostalgically wallow in its archives from the past twelve months to visit some of its most read and best loved words of so-called wisdom.

But before it does so, there is another cause for celebration, because by delightful coincidence this is also All Change Please!’s 300th post.

This year’s Top 3 most read posts were:

1. Pass Notes: Art Attack! 

In which it is revealed that both less and fewer pupils are now taking GCSE subjects in The Arts, despite Nick Glibb claiming otherwise before being finally proved wrong by the 2016 entry figures.

2. Little Miss Morgan

In which it is suggested that Nicky Morgan didn’t really care what she was saying at the NASUWT Party Conference because she knew she’s be in a proper cabinet job by September, except that now we know it didn’t work out quite like that.

3. No Minister! No, No, No.

In which a passionate appeal is made by means of the Df-ingE consultation for it to abandon its intentions that 90% of pupils should take the EBacc to GCSE, even though the results of the consultation have never been made public.

Meanwhile All Change Please!‘s personal favourite Top 3 were:

1. Curriculum Noir 3 

In which Wilshaw asks Marlowe for help after he realises he’s made an enormous mistake backing the EBacc, despite the fact that there’s not a shred of evidence to back up the Df-ingE’s ideology.

2. What a Wonderful World

In which we learn all about the brave new world of Fantasy Politics in which politicians make up any old stuff that comes to mind – something that All Change Please! has been successfully getting away with for years.

3. Twenty Fifty One

In which we revisit George Orwell’s classic story 1984, and realise it’s just that we haven’t got there yet – despite the fact that we’ve since taken back control and given it all to just one person who thinks she can run the country on her own. Big Sister Is Watching You…

“Give me a blog until it is seven and I will give you the Pulitzer Prize for Journalism (or not)”

Let’s try a different kind of 7up instead…

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 7up image credit: Flickr/Kevin Dooley

Forever Changes

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Everything you always wanted to know about Curriculum Development but were afraid to ask…

If there is one current issue that would probably unite most teachers it’s that there’s too much change happening in education. There should, of course, be change in education, and it should be rapid and discontinuous, just as it is in the rest of the world: the problem is that at present it’s the wrong sort of change, and one that looks backwards to the distant past rather than forwards to the future.

Now All Change Please! has never featured a book review before, but, always keen to make changes, it is about to do so. And it just so happens that the book is about change in education, or at least about change as it used to be in the 1970s and 80s. If the government is determined to go backwards, perhaps this is where it should be looking and starting from?

All Change Please! first encountered Eileen Adams in 1980, and having kept in touch over the millennia was delighted when it was asked to write something about her work. Although her text primarily covers work Art, Design and Environmental Education the underlying theme is about how once upon a time positive change and progress was and can be achieved, and all without government interference. Here’s the review…

Change in education is notoriously difficult to achieve. The administrative structures, the numbers of teachers and managers, the range of agencies and political and economic pressures involved, not to mention the need to please Ofsted and achieve a high rank in different aspects of school league tables, means it’s usually easiest and wisest to leave things much as they are. Instead the focus is on the only thing that seems to matter these days, which is achieving the maximum number of children getting the highest possible grades in formal, and very traditional, academic public examinations that succeed only in revealing the true abilities of a minority of children.

But things were different in the 1970s and early 1980s, when teachers were encouraged to become involved in curriculum development in order to explore new and more effective ways of teaching and learning. Back then, ask almost any teacher of Art & Design or Geography what the leading curriculum development work in their subject was and they would have referred you to the Art and the Built Environment Project, run initially by the much-missed Schools Council and then by the Design Education Unit of the Royal College of Art, and powered by the inexhaustible Eileen Adams who toured the country – and indeed the world – running workshops and speaking at conferences. The premise was that architects and town-planners would work alongside teachers and children, but with the unspoken and delightfully subversive intention that it was not so much the professionals informing the educationalists, but the children informing the professionals by revealing to them the way they saw and experienced their world. The project also provided the basis for a successful model of curriculum development based on a ‘ground-up’ network that, with the advent of the ‘top-down’ National Curriculum, has yet to be explored further.

Since then Eileen Adams has worked on an extraordinary variety of major initiatives and commissions, most notably Learning Through Landscapes, which focused on the use and design of school grounds to promote learning outside the classroom, and more recently The Campaign for Drawing with its Big Draw – the month long nationwide festival, which is the world’s largest drawing festival.

Eileen’s book provides a detailed account of the wide variety of strategies she has adopted in her attempt to persuade teachers, lecturers and organisations and institutions to think and act differently, primarily through action research. At the same time the text documents the various financial and bureaucratic difficulties and frustrations she encountered. While essentially autobiographical it draws on her direct experiences of the successes and failures of initiating change in both a visionary and down-to-earth manner.

From a purely historical perspective ‘Agent of Change’ is a fascinating account of the way in which curriculum development was starting to work before the politicians decided in the late 1980s that they should be the ones who decided what should be taught in our schools. It also contradicts the current propaganda that the ideas of so-called ‘progressive’ educationalists of the time simply advocated a ‘do what you like’ approach, revealing the detailed and careful orchestration that scaffolded the learning experience.

This is a ‘must-read’ book for all those involved in art, design and environmental education, and particularly, and indeed ideally, those responsible for determining national educational policy.

There is further information about Eileen Adams: Agent of Change here, and it can be purchased here and here, and of course from all good bookshops…

Comprehexit means… Comprehexit

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“The Government is poised to give the go-ahead for closing current comprehensive schools and re-opening them as three new secondary moderns in every town – a move which, according to a fallen politician taking the Michael, will apparently ‘revolutionise’ British education by taking it back to the 1960s, and offer the majority of parents even less choice of schools for their children. In these new schools the least academically able pupils will be able to fail their EBacc GCSEs even more effectively and leave with an enhanced sense of failure and lack of self-esteem. And as few will want to teach in them there will be need to be a continual roster of zero-hours contract supply teachers to ensure no child is allowed to progress beyond their natural ability.

The former Grammar School Df-ingE spokescomputer has issued a statement explaining that as they have no idea how to implement the new policy there will be a full pretend public consultation to advise the government, although of course any responses from so-called experts will be ignored. Naturally the questions will not ask whether they should pursue this policy, but on how best to make the educational provision worse than it already is. In line with other previous consultations, the results will not be published.”

Meanwhile a disMayed Little Miss Morgan has warned that the grammar school plans would potentially: “risk actively undermining six years of progressive education reform”. Progressive education reform? Has she now signed up to become a member of the Blob? All Change Please! always thought it was Progressive education that the Tories were trying to get rid of? Perhaps she meant to say ‘Regressive education reform’? Anyway let’s get this straight then – going further back into the pre-Comprehensive era and reconstituting Grammar Schools and Secondary Mods will be ‘revolutionary’, but will undermine the ‘progress’ of not going back quite as far into history?

But of course all this is no more than good old-fashioned political fantasy, lies and above all spin, thinly disguised as a desperate attempt to divert attention from the fact that the Tories are Sorry They Haven’t A Clue what to do about Brexitageddon, and at the same fulfilling their obligation of persuading loyal Conservative-voting Sun and Daily Mail readers to think the Party really has taken back control and that everything is going to be wonderful in the future, or more specifically in 2020, just in time for the next election. The reality of the fantasy is that as the Grammar School idea was not in the Queen’s Speech, the Lords will be able to debate and reject it. The truth of the lies is that there is no evidence to support the idea that Grammar Schools will improve either overall results or social mobility, and the momentum of the spin is yet another example of something that has been announced first and not thought about or planned until it has actually happened – all sounds familiar? All Change Please! is proud to name it Comprehexit.

Unfortunately it won’t be until the majority of Tory parents who support the idea realise that the chances are that it’s going to be their little dears who will be sitting next to the ‘riff-raff’ when they fail the 11 plus, as the vast majority do. Perhaps then, as they start paying expensive private school tuition fees, they will discover that the real issue isn’t so much about the opening of new Grammar Schools, it’s with providing an effective educational experience for all those who don’t pass the academic selection test. What’s missing from the current debate is the discussion that centres around the fact that it’s the current league table expectation for the resulting Secondary Moderns to follow the out-dated and inappropriate academic EBacc, and that socially they will, as they were in the 1960s, be widely considered as being inferior ‘second-class’ establishments for thickies who are ‘good with their hands’. First we need a major cultural shift away from the idea that a narrow theoretical academic education is always best for everyone, and that there are other approaches to teaching and learning that can be equally worthwhile.

But nonetheless, let’s see if All Change Please! can have a bit of fun with the idea, because, unlike the current government, at least it has a plan…

High standards of rigorous academic teaching and learning are for the most part achievable through a thirst for knowledge, inspired and delivered by academically-robed teachers and supported by reading theoretical texts. So really all that’s needed are a space, a teacher and a set of old-fashioned dusty text-books and access to a library. If we’re going to go back to the 1950s, let’s do it properly and get rid of the need to resource Grammar Schools with expensive and unnecessary practical laboratories, IT suites, workshops and recreational art, craft, drama and music studios. And instead of a plethora of sporting activities and associated equipment, all that’s required are some rugby posts for the autumn term, white paint to create a running track for the spring term and a bat and ball for cricket in the summer term. Oh, and no lavish and quite unnecessary re-builds or new facilities, other than perhaps a row of good old-fashioned futuristic mobile classrooms from the 1970s. And access should be restricted to probably less than the 10% of children who are really cut out to achieve the highest standards of academic excellence that will get them to Oxbridge or a Russell Group university and a lifetime of debt.

Meanwhile the money saved should be spent on newly re-branded specialist 21st Century Secondary Postmoderns that emphasise a preparation for the future in which creativity, collaboration and practical problem-solving are explored through a multi-disciplinary exposure to the Arts and Technology alongside an introduction to the reality of the world of business, commerce and the social sciences, and assessed through sustained coursework and vocationally-orientated qualifications that virtually guarantee a job. And inside them, teaching staff who have had some real experience of life beyond the confines of a Russell Group University. Somehow they need to become the sort of school that you really want your children to attend.

All Change Please! has a dream, and in that dream a primary school headteacher is telling the distraught parents of a ten-year old that sadly there are no places left in the local 21st Century Postmoderns, and that as their child only appears to be good at passing outdated and discredited intelligence tests and memorising factual knowledge, they will be best placed at the Grammar school where conformity, unquestioning obedience and a rigid adherence to a really proper 1950s and 60s school uniform with caps, straw boaters for the summer term and compulsory leather elbow patches is required.

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And talking of school uniforms, the other trending education story is of the head teacher of a school in East Kent where children are being denied their education and instead allowed to roam the streets instead, all because of minor uniform infringements, such as wearing black suede shoes. All of which prompted Tony of somewhere not actually that far from Tunbridge Wells to comment:

“Children should be involved in the decisions to adopt a uniform (of course we all need to learn to dress the same and follow dress codes when appropriate) but surely understanding what drives this and why is far more important than mindlessly following the rules or aggressively breaking them.

Arguing that uniform is the only way to control children in a difficult school is so so sad. It reflects the forced sausage factory, industrialised “must be done to kids” goose-step vision of Tory indoctrination of the masses. Kids should be looking forward to going to school, they should feel part of the school community and active participants in developing the culture of the school. They should own the way the community learns about appropriate dress, from Year 7s through teaching assistants, technicians and even the head teacher…”

The problem with imposing overly-strict discipline in such schools is that most aspects of real-life notions of right and wrong, fairness and consistency and unconditional respect for authority that are valued so highly just don’t exist anymore. There are no clear rules, certainties and universally shared values, and children need to start to learn as soon as possible how to operate effectively within a complex world of crazy inconsistencies, ambiguities and contradictions largely determined and dictated by the media and political fantasies, lies and spin.

Image credits: Flickr/ Denna Jones and Bettie Xo

 

Emergency-Classroom 10

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All Change Please! recently found itself spending some time in the A&E department of a major regional hospital. The scene was chaotic – ambulances queuing up outside and a constant stream of patients being wheeled in on trolleys and parked two abreast in corridors as the hours ticked slowly and painfully by until their condition could be diagnosed and a place found for them on the wards. The clue is in the name: Emergency, but unless you had a life threatening condition it was more a department of Accident & Waiting. The nurses and carers were attentive, patient and dedicated, though how they can work in such a stressful environment shift after shift is a mystery. And, it being early in the morning, there weren’t even any drunks to deal with.

The scene will of course be a familiar one to anybody who has visited an A&E department, as this confirms:  Portsmouth ambulances late to two life-threatening incidents, says report.  While this one is even more shocking.

All Change Please! has to admit that whatever the current crisis is in schools in terms of forthcoming teacher-shortages, stressful SATS and the inappropriate EBacc, it pales into insignificance when compared with the current battlefield conditions in our NHS A&E departments. Just as it’s easy to blame the teachers, so it’s easy to blame the medical staff, but the real problem is essentially severe overcrowding and under-staffing – two immediate and very practical administrative and financial problems that someone somewhere should be sorting out as a major priority. As a civilised, wealthy country our citizens we shouldn’t be experiencing something no better than a Third World A&E service. Especially as by 2030, demand for A&E services is expected to rise by 57%.

Why do we allow this to happen in our most important public service? Provided we have food, warmth and shelter, our next priority is our health, followed by our security and education for our children. So why do we prioritise our desire for over-sized cars, luxury kitchen extensions and long-haul holiday travel at the expense of the dwindling provision for healthcare, the police force and schools? It just doesn’t make any sense. Why do we allow our elderly and long-term sick to suffer the way we do – especially as there’s a good chance that one day we will end up just like them? We witness the sad demise of our own parents and elderly relatives, and just accept there will be nothing better for ourselves.

And why were some 80% of the extraordinary nursing and care staff at the hospital from Europe and Asia? Without them the health system would collapse completely. Because of our ‘every child must become an Oxbridge academic‘ approach to education the UK is unable to recruit, train and retain enough staff from its own population, while at the same time failing to equip them with the necessary caring and empathetic skills, and in the ability to communicate and work in teams.

At least there’s nothing yet in schools that is the equivalent of a typical A&E department. But wait, perhaps there should be? Little Jenny only scored 2 out of 10 in her recent spelling test. Send her immediately to stand in a long queue outside Emergency Classroom 10 where her memorisation skill deficiency can be assessed by a specialist and she can be intravenously drip-fed the appropriate programme of academic study. Soon she’ll be able to spell disestablishmentarianism correctly, even though she’ll have no idea what it means and will never use the word once in her life.

Meanwhile there’s been a nasty Maths SATS pile-up and Slightly Bigger Johnny has just failed to avoid falling over and hitting his head on the expected floor standard. Sound the siren, put on the blue flashing lights, plug him into the maths rate monitor and get his mind tightly bandaged up to protect him from the real world so he can concentrate more effectively on becoming far more numerate than he will ever need to be. Unfortunately it sounds like just the sort of thing some daft future secretary of state for education might just come up with.

What’s needed is an online petition to make it a requirement for all MPs to have to spend a day once a year working in a school referral unit, an evening helping the police deal with the disorderly, and a night in A&E…

For anyone too young to remember, Emergency-Ward 10 was one of British television’s first major soap operas, shown between 1957 and 1967 on ITV

Image credit: Flickr/Greg Glarke

More Glibbledygook: The Impotence of Curriculum

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All Change Please! recently discovered that there was a new intern working at the Df-ingE who was asked to produce the first draft of the speech that Nick Glibb gave last week to Association of School and College Leaders. After many hours re-assembling thousands of shredded strips of paper it has been able to restore sections of the original draft along with Nick Gibb’s comments and amendments…

The Impotence of Curriculum

Would you believe it – there’s an ‘r’ and an ‘a’ in Importance. This just proves my point that more spelling tests are needed in schools. Of course I suppose it might be some sort of joke about my lack of power and the fact that, despite what some people seem to think, everything I do or say has to stand up for approval by a woman? No, surely not. And let’s be clear – there’s nothing dysfunctional about my curriculum. So let’s make it:

“The Importance of Curriculum”

Right, that feels much more satisfying. OK, let’s read the first paragraph.

Thank you for inviting me to join the ASCL curriculum summit today. Developing a well-thought-through, challenging school curriculum is central to the running of any school, and this is a topic I am always keen to impose my narrow, ill-informed views on.

No – that needs to read:

“Developing a well-thought-through, challenging school curriculum is central to the running of any school, and this is a topic I am always keen to discuss.”

We all want our children to grow up to be happy, independent, economicaly literate, employable, caring and confident citizens.

Oh no we don’t! We want them to be as obedient, pliable and silent to make it as easy as possible to keep them in order and make as much money out of them as possible when they become adults. But perhaps best not to include that.

So why does our curriculum quite unnecessarily prepare, examine and fail them as if they were all going to become university professors and masters of a wide range of academic subjects that do not exist in the real world?

You cannot be serious! Delete and change to:

“There was a widespread feeling that qualifications, in particular GCSEs, did not represent the mastery of a sufficiently challenging body of subject knowledge.”

Since 2010, pupils’ future life chances have been sacrificed for an illusion of DfE success, which served short-term political expediency.

Err, just a slight alteration here:

“Before 2010, pupils’ future life chances were being sacrificed for an illusion of success, which served short-term political expediency.”

Of course, planning for these new examinations is placing a significant workload on teachers for the next 2 years. This will be made even more demanding because instead of engaging and inspiring children with the subject they love – the subject that they went into teaching to communicate – it will mean a lot more teaching to the test of irrelevant factual knowledge to completely disinterested children who will see the content as completely meaningless to their lives.

Ah, well, with a little bit of editing…

“Of course, planning for these new examinations is placing a significant workload on teachers for the next 2 years. But as workload burdens go, I hope that secondary school teachers will see this as a chance to re-engage with the subject they love, the subject that they went into teaching to communicate.”

On the topic of performance measures, there have been concerns amongst ASCL members about our aspiration that, in time, 90% of pupils will be entered for the EBacc. The key concern appears to be the challenge of teaching all academic subjects to all pupils, in terms of both recruitment of teachers and achieving success for lower attaining pupils, and in the significant reduction of access to courses in the Arts and other non-academic subjects.

A bit of damage limitation is obviously required here so let’s just tweak that slightly to read:

“On the topic of performance measures, there have been concerns amongst ASCL members about our aspiration that, in time, 90% of pupils will be entered for the EBacc. The key concern appears to be the challenge of teaching modern foreign languages to a much larger proportion of pupils, in terms of both recruitment of teachers and achieving success for lower attaining pupils.”

A well-rounded, broad education is the entitlement of every child, irrespective of birth or background. It will enable them to discover their individual interests and abilities and nourish the desire to continue learning throughout their lives.

You might think that. I couldn’t possibly say so. Change to: 

“An academic education is the entitlement of every child, irrespective of birth or background.”

In today’s highly competitive global employment market it is increasingly essential that our children learn the skills of the workplace that will last them a lifetime – such as collaboration, communication and problem-solving – as early as possible. It is the luxury of living in today’s world that there is no rush to start developing the ability to come up with pretentious academic twaddle such as ‘the great conversations of humankind’ and  ‘intellectual hinterland’.

No, it’s the other way round, stupid! 

“It is the luxury of living in today’s world that there is no rush to start studying for the workplace. 

All pupils can be afforded the time and opportunity to be initiated into the great conversations of humankind, and develop an intellectual hinterland which will last them a lifetime.”

The Social Market Foundation have recently published a report establishing that:

“We find stark inequalities in access to the highest quality teachers resulting in poorer pupils being taught by poorer quality teachers. This provides an explanation as to why educational inequality in England persists.”

This will of course come as no surprise to teachers, who, had we listened to them in the first place, would have provided the basis for a series of policy initiatives that might actually have made a real difference to under-performing children instead of all the EBacc, Academy and KS2 English SAT nonsense we have wasted tax-payers’ money on.

Look, let’s be honest – you’re not really cut out for this sort of work, are you? Change to:

“The structural reforms undertaken by this government have created extraordinary school success stories, which force all of us to revise our expectations about what children, particularly those from deprived backgrounds, can achieve.”

Sadly All Change Please! believes the intern is no longer with the Df-ingE.

Happily All Change Please! was meanwhile amused to learn that Glibb got one of the English Test questions incorrect:

“The BBC’s Martha Kearney asked him whether the word “after” in the sentence “I went to the cinema after I’d eaten my dinner” served as a subordinating conjunction or a preposition. Gibb incorrectly identified it as a preposition.”

Poor Mr Glibby – he obviously feels inadequate because he wasn’t forced to learn unnecessary rules of grammar at school. He went on to explain:

“This isn’t about me. This is about ensuring that future generations of children – unlike me incidentally, who was not taught grammar at primary school – we need to make sure that future generations are taught grammar properly…so that when they are asked to write at secondary school, when they go to university and are asked to write an essay, it isn’t a struggle to construct a properly grafted and grammatically correct sentence.”

There’s nothing wrong with children learning the basics of grammar and being tested on it – it’s the ridiculous extreme of the current tests that’s the problem, and the sense of failure it gives them. And all because the DfE loves PISA…

And finally, the other day Little Miss Morgove had another of those difficult speeches to make at the NAHT conference, in which she successfully convinced everyone of the full extent of her considerable ignorance about the reality of schools, teaching and learning, and which prompted the following meme to circulate worldy widely on the interwebly.

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Top image credit: Flickr/thedailyenglishshow

Hey! Tories! Leave Them Schools Alone!

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Another Brick in the Academy Wall

The main news in the world of education at present is of course Mr Cameron’s announcement that all schools are to be Academised and sold to private companies with offshore tax accounts. However there was a slight misprint in several daily newspapers. Instead of:

The prime minister said his “vision for our schooling system” was to place education into the hands of headteachers and teachers rather than “bureaucrats”.

The correct version should have read:

The prime minister said his “vision for our politically-directed centres of obedience” was to place education into the hands of over-paid CEOs of profitable Multi Academy Trusts, rather than “bureaucrats”.

Of course what the PM also failed to mention was that in order to run the schools, the MAT’s will be re-employing the same bureaucrats that will lose their jobs in the Local Authority. No Change Please! there then. Nor did he mention that in future the 3R’s will stand for ‘Reading, Writing and Raking it in’.

A recent petition to scrap the academies plan has already achieved over the necessary 100,000 signatures, but it’s still worth adding your name if you have not done so already.

If somehow you’ve not yet managed to find the time to download, read and fully digest the new Off-White Paper, there’s a ‘great’ post about it here by the great Professor Michael Bassey, which includes a great link to the great document.

Meanwhile the most extraordinary event of the week must be this piece in The Daily Mail which just for once gets it right when it informs its readers that the:

‘UK has the fifth highest level of skills mismatch out of countries studied’, and that ‘Thousands of graduates and other well-educated people are stuck in jobs for which they are over-qualified, official statistics have revealed.’

Though of course The Mail can’t help but blame Labour’s 1999 pledge:

‘to send half of all school-leavers to university, which critics at the time said was a mistake.’

while failing to add that it was a policy that the Tories have only sought to make worse through the EBacc, which aims to send 90% of all school-leavers to university and increase the skills mis-match even further. Well if we can’t do well in PISA tests, then at least this is one test we’re going to come top of?

But the All Change Please! award for the most AARRRGGGHHHH! inducing speech of the month goes to Lieutenant Wilshaw who made the following contribution to the drive to recruit more teachers: ‘We need battlers, we need bruisers, we need battle-axes who are going to fight the good fight..in our classrooms’, which duly led our special shouty education correspondent who can always be trusted to tell it like it is, to observe:

If you are having to force kids into Orwelesque compliance to make them behave there is indeed something really rotten going on. The message you are sending to children is:

• we don’t trust you to dress yourself, so we make you all wear identical prison uniforms,

• we don’t trust you to express yourself, so shut up and sit very still or we’ll drug you with ritalin or kick you out permanently,

• we don’t trust you to move round the school, so walk in goose step with hands tied behind your back,

• we don’t trust you to use your time outside school productively, so you must do masses of pointless homework and stay in school for an hour longer every day,

• we don’t trust your teachers either so Big Brother Gibb will decide exactly what you need to learn and how they should teach you,

• and we definitely don’t trust your locally-elected representatives so we will steal all the state schools and give them over to our unelected friends to sell off the playing fields.

Well Mr F-ing Ofsted. Do you know what? I don’t trust you as far as I could throw a piece of chalk at you to shut you up….

Image credit: Flickr/Srivathsan Raghavan

Glibbipedia Hacked!

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In which Mr Glibbly searches for the internet but fails to find it.

This is the story of Mr Glibbly. As you are probably already aware, Glibblys are well-known for the often thoughtless and superficial things they say in a smooth and slippery sort of way.

Mr Glibbly is a politician, which is an ideal profession for a Glibbly. Mr Glibbly is a very important man, because he decides what millions of our children will have to learn in our schools for many years to come. The country can’t afford for Mr Glibbly to get it wrong. But the problem is, although Mr Glibbly knows a great deal about a lot of things, he doesn’t know anything at all about teaching and learning or how to use the internet. And that’s quite a problem.

A little while ago, Mr Glibbly was due to give a speech. It was going to be a very important speech, and he thought he would show how clever he was to everyone who was listening. So Mr Glibbly decided to explain why you couldn’t learn anything from the internet. Here’s what he said, in his usual Glibbly sort of way:

“Say, for example, you are reading an article about nuclear energy, and come across an unfamiliar term: radiation. So you Google it. But the first paragraph on the Wikipedia article mentions another unfamiliar term: particles. So you look it up, but the definition for ‘particles’ uses another unfamiliar term: ‘subatomic’. The definition of which in turn contains the unfamiliar terms ‘electrons’, ‘photons’ and ‘neutrons’, and so on and so forth in an infinite series of google searches which take the reader further and further away from the original term ‘radiation’.“

Silly Mr Glibbly. He didn’t realise that what he said would reveal his entire lack of understanding about how to search the internet and how good teachers teach. Would you believe it – Mr Glibbly thinks that a good education for the 21st century is exactly the same as the one they had back in the 19th Century?

Now, as everyone (except it seems Mr Glibbly) knows, if you ‘Google’ something, you don’t just only click on the link to Wikipedia. It can be a useful starting point, but you are almost certainly going to need to check out some of the other links. If you search for ‘Radiation’, all you have to do is look a little way down towards the bottom of the first page of results and there is a link to a site called ‘Radiation for Kids‘.

And there, had Mr Glibbly had any digital skills and understanding at all, he would have found the following ever-so simple explanation that even All Change Please! can understand:

‘Radiation. All objects radiate energy and heat, even your own body. However, the radiation coming from hotter objects is more intense than that coming from cooler objects. Radiation leaves an object in the form of waves. The hotter an object, the shorter the wavelength of this radiation.’

And there are plenty of other similar sites that perfectly adequately explain all the other terms Mr Glibbly referenced, and each without the need to search for the meaning of other words.

Now sadly it is true to say that in some schools children are not properly taught the skills of using search engines, appropriate search terms or to be able to critically assess the value of the information they find. That’s a pity, because that’s one of the really basic skills everyone needs in the 21st Century. But fortunately there are plenty of other capable and confident children who know how to find pretty much anything they want to learn about on the internet. Quite unlike Mr Glibbly.

But meanwhile let’s re-write what Mr Glibbly said and substitute the word ‘encyclopedia’ (you remember – those big books we used to use when we were at school) for ‘Wikipedia’…

“Say, for example, you are reading an article about nuclear energy, and come across an unfamiliar term: radiation. So you look it up in an encyclopedia. But the first paragraph mentions another unfamiliar term: particles. So you look it up, but the definition for ‘particles’ uses another unfamiliar term: ‘subatomic’. The definition of which in turn contains the unfamiliar terms ‘electrons’, ‘photons’ and ‘neutrons’, and so on and so forth in an infinite series of encyclopedia articles which take the reader further and further away from the original term ‘radiation’. “

So it seems the problem Mr Glibbly described is not specific to the internet, but to the transmission of knowledge in general. But of course what Mr Glibbly doesn’t understand is that teaching involves rather more than just standing at the front of rows of obedient children reeling out lots of old-fashioned facts for them to memorise. Indeed, let’s re-write his paragraph yet again…

“Say, for example, your teacher is telling you about nuclear energy, and uses an unfamiliar term: radiation. As you, unlike many others in your class, are not afraid to look stupid by admitting you don’t know what radiation is, so you put your hand up and ask. The teacher explains what it is, but in doing so uses another unfamiliar term: ‘particles’, so up goes your hand again, and so on with all the other terms until the teacher can’t stand it any more and just tells you to be quiet and in future pay more attention to what he’s saying.”

In each example – the internet, the encylopedia, the teacher – it’s exactly the same problem. It’s not the technology or having the knowledge that makes the difference, it’s how well the writer or presenter can explain the specialist terms in ways that can easily be understood by the non-specialist. Mr Glibbly can’t be so clever if he hasn’t realised that yet, can he?

Meanwhile Mr Df-ingE continues to try to attract high-flying academic graduates into the classroom at the expense of people who actually know how to effectively communicate the underlying concepts of their subject and to engage children in the classroom. Perhaps what Mr Glibbly should be doing is to try and somehow help break the cycle of large numbers of children pursuing academic subjects through to university only to discover that the only job they can get is teaching children academic subjects through to university only to discover, and so on… If there was less emphasis on theoretical academic subjects for all it might help a bit with the teacher recruitment crisis too.

Meanwhile it might be a good idea for Mr Glibbly to discover how to use a search engine to learn a thing or two about what education is really all about. And to listen more attentively to what the teaching profession is telling him.

Many people say that Mr Glibbly isn’t really the most suitable person to be in charge of determining the school curriculum. What do you think?

Image © Tristram Shepard