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

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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’?

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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.

Who’s minding the train?

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One of the oldest riddles All Change Please! can remember from its dim and distant childhood was: ‘What’s the difference between a train driver and a teacher?’ The answer of course is that one minds the train and the other trains the mind.

The idea of a teacher ‘training the mind’ always quite appealed to All Change Please! in that it suggested something more than just the endless diet of recall and repeat in the essays that blighted its childhood. But of course the word ‘training’ also carries with it a negative connotation of the acquisition of just a single specific skill that can be repeated without much further thought or consideration.

So All Change Please! was intrigued the other day to hear someone proclaim that they had just been on a one-day ‘Train the Trainer’ course and were a now a fully certified ‘Trained Trainer’. Following an exhaustive search, the first Google link it found revealed that the somewhat unsurprising information that the idea is that staff are trained how to train other members of staff. This is achieved through following a pre-structured and scripted session that anyone can deliver, supported by an endless procession of badly-designed PowerPointless Slides. Such courses are all the rage in industry, mainly because they save loadsamoney.

However, it seems that now some schools are controversially getting in the act and expecting teachers to deliver pre-written lesson plans and scripts. Your roving reporter felt it needed to investigate further and made an appointment the very next day to meet with no lesser person that Sir Trevor Traynor, CEO of the highly successful Bash Street Academy Chain.

On being shown into the CEO’s office, All Change Please! was slightly surprised to find Sir Trevor not actually there, and rather more surprised when a pre-recorded voice asked it to sit in his very expensive rather comfy-looking leather swivel chair. To its even greater surprise it found there were six other reporters all sitting facing the desk, on which there was an A4 file on with the words READ ME printed in large type on the cover.

Always willing to do exactly what it was told, inside the file All Change Please! found a paper booklet, and duly followed the instruction to read its contents out loud to everyone else in the room:

Session 1

Read the following text out loud to everyone else (10 mins) and then ask them to complete the MCQ test at the end.

“Good morning/afternoon/evening everyone.

The Bash Street Academy Trust has recently announced that, based on proven industrial application, it is implementing a new training scheme in which trained teachers will be replaced by trained trainers fully capable of training other trainers. A trained trainer is essentially someone able to read a pre-prepared text out loud and telling learners to take a test at the end.

The course materials have been prepared by an expert teacher. Well, by myself actually. And as I attended school while I was growing up, you can rest assured I know what I’m talking about. Of course I’m terribly busy so most of it was really written for me by my secretary, but I’m sure she probably went to school at some point.

It all makes great sense for a trained teacher to become a trained trainer who can train other trainers to train trainers and then become trained trainers who can train our children. Ideally we will aim to recruit teachers who can demonstrate their potential in a number of diverse skills such as being able to read out loud in a nice, clear voice, tell the time and occasionally turn the page when instructed to do so. It’s so easy that a child could do it. In fact that’s an interesting idea that we’re currently working on to reduce the wages bill even further. Meanwhile existing teachers will be invited to re-apply to re-train as trained trainers, providing they pay the training fees and agree to a National Wage zero-hours contract. Of course all this greatly increases my salary, so everyone’s a winner – well, I am anyway and that’s all that really matters.

Now, having listened to the above,  evaluate your potential success as a trained trainer, by answering the following questions.

1. When you have completed this training session, which of the following will you become (tick all that apply):

  • A train driver
  • A pair of trendy trainers
  • A Tory minister
  • Tony the Tiger
  • A trained trainer
  • A Jean Genie

2. Which one of the following statements best describes Trevor Traynor, the CEO of Bash Street Academy Chain?

  • A figment of All Change Please!’s weird imagination
  • A public servant working hard to deliver high standards of education and childcare for the local community
  • Someone laughing all the way to the bank?

Now assess your own performance using the following levels:

Alpha:  Standard Pass

B:  Good Pass

1:  Distinction

Congratulations! You have passed Session One and are now a fully trained trainer, capable of teaching anyone anything anywhere. Except my children of course, who each have a private tutor.”

 

All of which left All Change Please! rather wondering:

  • How many trained trainers does it take to change a lightbulb?
  • How much does a trained train driver earn these days?
  • How much worse can things get in the future for the teaching profession?

All these answers and more will be answered in the next exciting All Change Please! post. Be sure to reserve your copy today!

 

Image credit: Flickr/Angie Muldowney

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

No-levels 4U

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‘Now That’s What I Call Learning’ Vol 1954

All Change Please! has recently learnt that following on from the introduction of new Tech-levels, the Df-ingE have just announced an award for those who students do not manage to achieve A-levels or T-levels. They will be taken by around 50% of teenagers and be known as No-levels – also referred to as FA-levels. There will be a special FA* award to recognise the achievements of those who have been unable to produce any evidence at all of having learned anything from their complete failure – an essential skill deficiency required by many British companies.

Employers have welcomed the new No-level qualification, saying that it will make it easier for them to identify potential staff who will work for next to nothing on zero hours contracts for job opportunities that will become increasingly difficult to fill post-Brexit.

To help explain the new No-levels to the target group of learners – who obviously will have difficulty reading – the Df-ingE has delved deep into its archive and re-published a helpful, slightly updated, mobile-phone friendly information graphic from the mid 1950s…

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“They think it’s all over…it is now!”

Meanwhile in another leaked social-exclusion-busting policy intended to help the Tory party better connect with its grass roots, it is believed that the Df-ingE are proposing to introduce a new approach to School League Tables. At the end of every school year, or season, the bottom performing 10% of ‘Premier League’ Grammar Schools will be relegated to become ‘Championship’ Technical schools, from where the top 10% will be promoted. And similarly the bottom 10% from the Technical Schools will be demoted to be ‘League One’ Secondary Moderns to be replaced by the most successful from the lower league.

To make the Government’s education policy even more popular, schools will participate in televised ‘Top Of The Form’ type play-offs for promotion. There will be a special knock-out examination for schools with the highest number of FA* level students, to be called the FA* Cup.

To increase funding, the various leagues will be sponsored by successful Multi-Academy Trusts. Headteachers will be renamed Managers – and doubtless be sacked at frequent intervals – and Ofsted Inspectors will in future be (politely) known as Referees.

A spokesperson for the Association of School Managers said: “It’s a completely absurd idea – it shows just how little the Df-ingE understand about teaching and learning. Next they will be suggesting something completely ridiculous such as lowering the entry pass marks for pupils of Grammar School …”  Oh! Wait a minute.

 

Image credits: From Odhams Children’s Encyclopedia, first published in 1954  – the internet equivalent of the day (minus the pornography)

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