Number 9

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

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

3. School Island

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

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

‘Meanwhile Glibbly’s glistening All Gold EBacc curriculum collection needs some urgent re-branding. Perhaps re-naming it rather more accurately as Glibbly’s All Fool’s Gold Assortment – known for its superficial resemblance to qualifications that are actually worthwhile – would be a good start?’

And the winner is…..

Wait for it….

1. Art Failure at the MichaelGova School

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

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

Playing the GCSE Numbers racket

‘We never expected him to do that well, especially as his teachers kept saying how unsatisfactory his work was, and that he wouldn’t get his E back. Mind you I wasn’t surprised they had confiscated it – I kept telling him not to take drugs into school – but I expect his teachers needed it themselves.”

Tonight at Morning Break

“Independent schools announce they will now only accept children who are eligible for free school meals
School children will hold Ofsted inspectors to account
Children will meet teachers and parents on cold winter evenings to discuss their progress as adults
And a portrait of Michael Gove will be hung upside down in the entrance to every school…”

Is Nick Glibbly Having A Laugh?

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

 

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

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

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

Image credit: Ian Melbourne93

Getting IT Wrong

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

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

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

And amusing to see what he got wrong:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

The Game of Life Skills

Do you have what it takes to win The Game of Life? Choose the life you want! Go to college, have kids, or see what happens when unexpected twists change the game. At the end of the game everyone pays their debts and adds up their wealth. The game of life is a classic game of chance.’

Or is it?

But first, All Change Please! asks the question of the moment: “What is a ‘fad’?” A ‘fad’ it seems is ‘an intense and widely shared enthusiasm for something, especially one that is short-lived; a craze’. However in education the term has a special usage, where it tends to mean: ‘A new idea, delivered by inadequately trained teachers, misunderstood and misapplied by SMTs and then rejected as not working and a waste of time as it does not show an immediate improvement in academic GCSE grades and League Table positions.’ It is a word extensively used by traditional teachers whom, it seems, live in perpetual fear of a fad actually becoming successful with the result that they might have to change the tired and detested methods and content they have been using for the past 150 or so years.

One of the so-called fads that seems to upset traditionalists the most is known as ‘Life Skills’. Essentially the argument goes: ‘There are so many life-skills they can’t possibly all be taught and learnt at school, so we should completely ignore them and just concentrate on teaching nice reliable, easily testable knowledge instead.’ And as the comments to this post reveal:

“How to prepare them for life outside school? Not with life skills as mentioned. Make sure they can read really well and have committed to their very being as much as possible of that knowledge society deems useful and important e.g. Shakespeare, a factual grounding in history of their own country and some history of other places, a wide range of reading of classic texts, knowledge of mythology, legends of their own and other countries (notably ancient Greece), knowledge of the religion that has formed their society and how the politics of their society works. Scientific knowledge (not just how to do an experiment and write it up). Understand maths and be able to do some of it. Sorry if it all sounds a bit ‘dead, white males’ but if you want your students to get anywhere and be able to critique any of that knowledge then they have to have that knowledge.”

Well, yes to the ‘reading well’ and ‘be able to do some’ maths, but as to the rest… All Change Please! is sure it will all be very handy for unemployed graduates to discuss with each other as they serve flat, white coffees on zero hour contracts at Starbucks (or similar such outlets).

Of course not all educational fads / new initiatives are necessarily a good thing, and some are inappropriately promoted by Tech companies. However others do have valid pedagogic credentials and deserve to be seriously considered and implemented properly before being dismissed.

One of All Change Please!s favourite so-called fads / new initiatives was the now much-maligned and now safely archived Personal Learning and Thinking Skills Framework (PLTS), developed by the much-missed QCA around a decade ago. The original list of PL&T Skills involved developing the ability for everyone to become:

* independent enquirers
* creative thinkers
* reflective learners
* team workers
* self-managers
* effective participants

It may not be the definitive, all-inclusive list, but at least it’s a start.

Meanwhile let’s put this another way round and imagine it as a Daily May Tabloid News Scandal Story:

And just for once this would not be false news fantasy journalism, because the reality is that at present our children receive no co-ordinated or increasingly assessed education in these skills in our schools whatsoever.

These skills are probably best not acquired through separate ‘Life Skills’ lessons – although that would at least be a start – instead they need to become embedded in the teaching of all school subjects. Not an easy task, admittedly, but something needs to happen if we are to avoid becoming a ‘Knowledge Rich / Skills Poor’ nation of academics who know everything but can do nothing.

But wait… the other day there was a surprising item of encouraging news reported in, of all the places, the Mail Online: ‘Britain doesn’t need to be nation of Oxbridge graduates, says social mobility expert’.

It seems that no lesser person than Dame Martina Milburn – Chief Executive of The Prince’s Trust, and, with Secretary in A State About Education Damian Hindsight’s personal support, recently appointed as the Chair of the Social Mobility Commission – actually understands something about education, which is surprising given that once while still a child she attended school herself.

‘I think there are a lot of kids at the moment being forced down an academic route that doesn’t suit them and actually doesn’t play to their strengths. ‘I actually don’t think, as a country – and this is my very personal opinion – [that] we kind of need everyone to have a degree from Oxford. I don’t get it. ‘If I’m using a carpenter to build me a new cupboard, I want someone who loves wood and loves what they do and can do it. I don’t really care whether they’ve got a degree or not.

I would like to really look at vocational education. That, for me, is a huge key to making a real difference in social mobility.’

All Change Please! saysGo for it Dame Martina!

Perhaps ‘Education’s Coming Home…’?

The only remaining problem now is who’s going to tell Govey and Glibbly?

 

Mr Glibbly’s Extremely Tall Tales

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, Mr Glibbly decided to ask some people what it was that made a really excellent teacher. Of course he already knew the answer because he was jolly clever – he’d been to school once himself and it had all worked out very well for him. However he thought that if there was an official ‘consultation’, all the teachers might feel as if they were in control, even though they weren’t in the slightest.

So those teachers who had any time, i.e. mostly those who had retired early, submitted some very wise words, drawing on their many years of real experience in the classroom.

For example:

‘Teaching is a craft profession. Teachers need to; understand their subject, manage their learning environment, enable self-determined learning and broker their learners interests with educational accreditation. Teaching Excellence, or the social responsibility of educators, consists of mastering their profession in order to enable learners to learn.’

‘Teachers need to create flexible scaffolding that supports children as they explore their own learning. They need to respect and seek to build on children’s own intelligence, creativity and aspirations, but at the same time be inspirational and drive motivation through a mixture of positive criticism and encouragement.’

‘Excellent teaching is “watchful neglect”. It’s about kindling fires of interest and fanning flames of participation (observing at a distance with suitable accelerants and extinguishers). Excellent teachers help learners discover for themselves what they are good at and use the confidence this builds to confront weaknesses and new opportunities.’

‘Excellent teachers teach ironically: well-informed and passionate about their specialism, they nevertheless put teaching the individual student above teaching their subject; they structure and lead learning, whilst celebrating the autonomy of their students from the start. This comes to some teachers naturally; some have to work hard to achieve it.’

Unfortunately, these were not at all the sort of answers Mr Glibbly was looking for, so he didn’t give them any marks and decided to write his own description of the most important things a teacher needed to know in order to become excellent. Can you guess what he wrote? It’s not difficult…! It went:

Where to stand, so as to see all the pupils;
How to use and vary tone of voice throughout the lesson;
Who to question, what to ask, and how to ask it;
How to sequence examples and explanations;
How to use humour;
Where to sit particular pupils;
How to build on prior knowledge; and
How to build a class culture over the course of an academic year.

If only teaching and learning was that simple!

Poor Mr Glibbly. He didn’t realise he was making a complete fool of himself by revealing how long it must have been since he had been in a classroom trying to teach a Shakespeare play to 32 disaffected 15 year-olds, if indeed he ever had? He just doesn’t understand that there was no such thing as good and bad teaching methods – just good or bad teachers.

Of course it’s different for Mr Glibbly, because there are good and bad policies and good and bad politicians. And we all know which category he and his policies fall into, don’t we?

Silly Mr Glibbly. We’d really like to help him become an excellent politician, so here’s our list of what we think he needs to do:

Tune In;
Turn On;
Resign Now.

 

With thanks to Fred, Alan and Tony for their wise words, and Other T for his type.

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…

Miss Piggy Gets The Chop

Miss Piggy, AKA Justine Greening

So. Farewell then Ms Piggy, former Secretary in a State about Education. It would seem that you had just begun to recognise what the real problems in education were and to sensibly listen to and discuss them with representatives of real teachers in real schools, teacher unions and subject associations.

But unfortunately that did not fit well with Tory Party policy – which is to aggressively promote reactionary propaganda that makes it sound as if they have completely expunged all this loony left-wing child-centred progressive nonsense and triumphantly replace it with good old-fashioned academic teacher-led, knowledge-recall grammar school-for-all poor and deserving children whether they want it or not. Strangely, at the same time, it seems they have completely forgotten to recall the fact that they have failed to recruit enough teachers willing to stand in front of a class and dutifully follow the scripted instructions on the provided lesson plans.

And full marks to Ms Piggy for actually quitting the government in response…

 

Of course the most important thing now is not so much exactly who is Damian Hinds, Ms Piggy’s replacement as Secretary in a State about Education, but what satirical name can All Change Please! manage to come up with for him? Until that issue is satisfactorily resolved we will just need to be content with the knowledge that he achieved a First Class Degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oxford, so obviously knows a lot about technical and vocational education, although to be fair, according to his website he spent 18 years working in the pub, brewing and hotel industries. Hmmm.

Even better, according to Wikipedia, is that education is at least among Parliament’s list of his political interests.

So that’s a good start then.

 

Image credit: Wikimedia

 

Tonight At Morning Break

 

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

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

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

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

Tonight at morning break

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

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

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

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

 

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

Welcome to the Hotel Russell Group

Hotel_Russell_on_Russell_Square,_London_-_April_2007.jpg

You can check out any time you like
But you can never leave!

All Change Please! has often wondered why the Russell Group of Universities is so-called? Formed in 1994, a nod to Bertrand Russell perhaps seemed more likely than a reference to Ken Russell, Russell Crowe or Russell Brand.

But the reality is that the name indirectly originates from Russell Square in central London, which, when it was created in 1804, was named after the family name of the Earl of Bedford. And then in 1898 ‘the latest of the sumptuous Hotel Palaces of Modern London‘, a large and palatial grand hotel was constructed on one side of the square, and named ‘The Hotel Russell’.

Now it so happens that in the early 1990s, All Change Please! itself used to make regular visits to the Hotel Russell. Passing by its impressive grand staircase one came to the public lounge which was well known as the favoured meeting place for publishers and academics from London University. At the same time, its position, right by Russell Square tube station and a short walk from Kings Cross, St Pancras and Euston, made it ideal for those travelling from other parts of the country. Although the refreshments were a little more expensive than those in McDonald’s (remember this was long before the advent of today’s coffee house chains), it was still much cheaper than hiring a meeting room, and the staff were happy to let you stay all day in exchange for some dainty lunchtime sandwiches or a memorable classic British afternoon tea. In winter there was a real roaring fire and for an hour or two it was possible to imagine oneself back in the elegance of the Edwardian era. That was until the management cottoned on, and eventually started asking silly prices for its refreshments that only over-rich and over-here Americans and Arabs would dream of paying.

Meanwhile, before you all rush there to check it out, be warned that it’s no longer there as it was – it has recently been completely refurbished and imaginatively renamed as The Principal London and redecorated in a post-modern mish-mash of historical styles, or ‘returned to its former glory’ as the hotel website likes to describe it.

And so it was that back in 1994 a group of 17 university academics and vice-principals from a long-lost era duly met up to enjoy a really nice cup of tea at The Russell Hotel and decided to create a super-group of universities, and, in the same way certain celebrities do, they named it after its place of conception. Perhaps surprisingly the Russell Group’s objectives were not to work together to impose an academic stranglehold the primary and secondary education system of every school in the country, but to:

  • lead the research efforts of the United Kingdom;
  • maximise the income of its member institutions;
  • attract the best staff and students to its member institutions;
  • create a regulatory environment in which it can achieve these objectives by reducing government interference; and
  • identify ways to co-operate to exploit the universities’ collaborative advantage.

But of course, like all good academics, they entirely failed to grasp and anticipate the potential practical implications of what they set out to do.

So, perhaps the time has come for the Russell Group to do what all good groups do which is to split up and then re-form and re-launch themselves under a new name. Perhaps they could once more take their name from the new owners of the refurbished Russell Hotel and call themselves ‘The Vice-Principal Group of Universities’?

1s-1280px-Russell_Hotel_Foyer_(953709385)-copy.jpg

There are more photos here: https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/LocationPhotoDirectLink-g186338-d193051-i88395875-The_Principal_London-London_England.html

Top image credit: Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0

Lower image credit: Jack1956

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

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

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

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

Nick Glibb: “Can I just point out…

JG: “No, you can’t Nick

NG: “It’s just that…

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

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

Ensemble:Yes, very strong.”

Ens: “I’m totally good with that.”

Ens: “Way cool. That’s mental.”

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

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

JG: “Says who?

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

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

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

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

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

Ens: “Ah yes, no, good. Very good.”

Ens: “I so love it”

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

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

Ens: “Brilliant. No brainer…

Ens: “This is all going terribly well.”

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

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

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

NG: “Generation what?

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

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

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

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

JG: “So that’s all good then…

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

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