Michaela The Unconquerable

William Ernest Henley (23 August 1849 – 11 July 1903) was an influential English poet, critic and editor of the late Victorian era in England.

Back in July, just before the very end of the Summer Term when outdoor manoeuvres (AKA school trips) are in full swing, the Twittersphere exploded over a short video showing a group of young teenagers from THAT school in North East London – the one that seems to believe ‘All You Need Is Knowledge’ – standing on an above-ground underground platform vociferously and enthusiastically chanting their school poem: W. E. Henley’s ‘Invictus’. Some of those who saw the video online apparently responded with a salvo of abusive tweets, and consequently the teacher in charge felt the need to delete the video and make her account private. But the real flack came from the assembled ranks of shell-shocked traditional teachers expressing their undying support for the teacher, that teachers should be free to celebrate the pupils’ achievements, and that performing poetry in public was a fine and worthy thing to do. Which, of course, in itself is fair enough. Up to a point.

Now, to be quite clear, this post is not intended to be written as an angry attack on Michaela students, their hard work, politeness and consideration for others, their backgrounds or their success at gaining GCSE results – but it is meant as a considered critique of the school’s narrow conservative academic curriculum and strict behaviour policy.

At the same time, All Change Please! wishes to make it quite clear that it does not in any way support abusive tweets, although surely anyone who publishes anything on the internet should perhaps not be too surprised that they become liable to receiving such responses and then find themselves having to deal with the fall-out. And if the Headmistress wants other people to ‘LEAVE MY KIDS ALONE’, as she often Tweets, she should not be exposing them on social media in the first place.

Meanwhile in the Trads’ responses on Twitter it was apparent that none of them seemed in any way interested in discussing or even thinking about why some people might not have been as impressed and delighted by the public performance as they were. They seemed unwilling to accept that others might have a different viewpoint, or that there are complex politically motivated and culturally-infused issues involved.

 

However, All Change Please! did actually manage to catch the video before it was deleted, and has to confess it did find it somewhat sinister, and has since been wondering exactly why it felt so bothered by it?

Let’s change the scene slightly. In this version a group of similar aged school-children are huddled together in a group singing a popular song. A few more are standing apart from the group chatting, not wishing to join in. They are dressed, like the majority of school children today, in slightly subverted versions of their school uniform – formal blazers and ties are not terribly fashionable at present, even in the workplace where smart casual is now more the expected order of the day. All Change Please! can’t imagine anyone being in any way particularly offended by this scene, whatever school they came from.

But the actual video showed the children in the semblance of a straight line along the platform, facing the front, all very smartly turned out in their extremely neat and tidy uniforms. Their teacher was visibly conducting them, making sure they were chanting the poem to the beat.

And then there is the poem itself: ‘Invictus’ was written by Henley in the early 1870s as he was recovering from a tubercular infection that resulted in the loss of one of his legs. As such it’s typically full of dark and disturbing Victorian style and sentimentality and in particular is about the prospect of death and having the courage to gloriously fight on regardless.

The last two lines are the most frequently quoted as they potently remind us that we need to take responsibility for making sure we make the most of things whatever the circumstances. However the rest of the poem is not generally well known. It’s along the lines of Kipling’s ‘If’ or Tennyson’s ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ – verses best suited to being learned by heart and taking a moral message from, as opposed to the study of more challenging poetry that explores more conflicting and ambiguous impressions and themes. Of course that’s not to entirely object to children studying it in the classroom and understanding it in the context of the time and religious culture it was written in – but to promote it as a celebratory ‘school poem’ with its dark, disturbing imagery of the darkness of hell and bloody bludgeonings that will be deeply embedded in their minds for the rest of their lives, seems somehow rather inappropriate.

Now perhaps All Change Please! has a rather over-active and vivid imagination, but the video clip it saw was somehow a scene from the turn of the early 20th Century, and these weren’t schoolchildren of Today, but regularly and neatly-uniformed, subservient foot soldiers lined up about to board a train for the front, keeping their spirits up under the stern leadership of their Sergeant Major, in preparation for the grim adversities that lie ahead, and the courage and fighting spirit that will be needed to conquer them. Is this the image of the future we want to project of what life is going to be like for these children in the 21st century?

Colourised photo of soldiers leaving Letchworth, 1914

While it’s not a scene that deserves social media abuse, it is one that deserves discussion as to whether it is an appropriate approach to education in this day and age, and to the imposition of supposedly ‘lost’ British values from Victorian times, that many would prefer to see remain lost. Do we really want to recreate and reinforce 150 year old Victorian values and behaviours in our children? Surely our children need to learn from the past to understand the present and prepare for the future – not to just blindly repeat it, line by line.

The worry is that Michaela’s children – and indeed all those from the growing number of similar schools that aim to follow their lead – will not be well prepared to deal with the values, behaviours and ambiguities of the real, complex, inconsistent, unstructured modern technological world that they will discover when they find themselves on their own, far outside the comfort zone of their safe, friendly and nostalgic school environment. Perhaps it might help if the school included some technology-related subjects in its curriculum (children do not study IT/Computing, or D&T) and aimed to teach their pupils when and how to use smart phones and iPads for appropriate and effective learning and communication, instead of just banning them outright?

Clearly there are a number of politicians, teachers and parents determined to live in the past and ignore the fact that we now live in a global, technological age. While there is choice in the system for those teachers, parents and children who do or do not wish to belong to such a school, then perhaps it doesn’t matter. That is as long as there is still such a choice in the system…

Meanwhile, the members of the Michaela Community Free School Fan-base seem to believe that their successful GCSE results are a worthy vindication of Michael Gove’s policies that will provide more than enough ammunition to silence the guns of their more ‘progressive’ critics: they are likely to be disappointed. Indeed just the other day this highly apposite cartoon appeared as a comment on the Df-ingE’s widespread use of the Michaela school’s GCSE results to promote its highly controversial Free School Movement:

Unsurprisingly it drew a ballistic response from Michaela’s Headmistress who continues to see any criticism as an attack on ‘her’ children rather than the values and methodologies of the institution itself and of the Df-ingE – and to fail to accept that there’s more than one way to change the world for the better.

 

‘If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow’
John Dewey, 1915

 

 

With thanks to Stan Dunn for his cartoon, currently appearing on Twitter, and AJ.

Image of WE Henley: Wikipedia

Image of soldiers at Letchworth: DanHillHistory on Twitter

 

 

‘A’ is for…

The universe an absurdly weird place. And, when you start to think about it, one of the weirdest things in our universe are the schools where we prepare our children for their adult lives. And now they are about to get a whole lot more absurd as All Change Please! slips down a handy quantum-encrusted wormhole to discover an alternative, sometimes more enlightened but often just as weird parallel universe called Planet Urth.

This is the first in a series of posts entitled ‘All Change Please!’s Absolutely Absurd Alternative A to Z of Educashun’ in which it reports back on its recent visit to Planet Urth. Being a parallel universe, their world of teaching and learning bears a striking resemblance to our own: many things are exactly the same, but due to their particular fractured timeline, some things are rather different in an interesting way.

Be warned: you may never think of Education in the same way again….

ABC

On Planet Urth learning the ABC is one of the basic 2×4 red and white LEGO building bricks of education. In earlier times only the very wealthy who went to private schools could afford to learn the alphabet. It was eventually the introduction of mass-produced, widely available and affordable Alphabetti Spaghetti there in the 1930s that revolutionised teaching methods, although it was rejected by many teachers who preferred standing at the front of the class endlessly shouting it out while the children made notes.

Some children still find the order of the ABC difficult to learn and often ask their teacher why the letters are in that particular order. They mainly do this because they know the teacher doesn’t know the answer, which is that no-one really knows. The latest theory is that the letters were drawn at random in that order one day during an extended episode of Countdown.

The secret to the success of the alphabet is that because the letters are in a particular order it makes them easier to be taught to much larger classes through chanting. This avoids children claiming they knew all the letters but were just reciting them in the wrong order.

Academics

Academics cleverly called themselves a name beginning with an A in order to emphasise their importance by appearing early in the dictionary. An earlier suggestion on Planet Urth was that they should be called Aardvarks was narrowly rejected, which, when you think about it, was a bit of a shame.

For some inexplicable reason, everyone thinks they want to be an academic when they grow up, with little or no practical ability in the real world, other than to end up teaching the next generation of academics. A bit like the ‘product life cycle’, this is known as the ‘academic life-cycle’, which probably explains why so many academics ride around on bicycles.

Aesthetics

One of the weirdest ideas on Planet Urth is that some children are given a colourful cocktail of pleasurable aesthetic experiences so they won’t be conscious during an unpleasant practical procedure. General aesthetics are sometimes administered to help difficult students get through complex sessions so that they fall into an alternative state of consciousness and don’t disturb other learners. In shorter lessons a milder, more musical local aesthetic will often be sufficient.

Some schools run academic courses in the theory of aesthetics, but students in these classes tend to fall asleep very quickly of their own accord.

An Apple for Teacher

Some people, and especially those that are Daily Wail readers on Planet Urth, believe that the idea of giving your teacher an apple as a present originated when an apple dropped on the young Sir Issac Newton’s head and he took it into his teacher to explain what this thing called gravity was that he’d just invented. Today, in the more enlightened 21st Century, teachers often tell children that the fruit is not the sort of apple that is appropriate anymore and that they should be giving them an Apple iPhone instead. It is not known how successful this approach has been.

Out there on the internet there are, however, other much less believable theories as to the derivation of the idea: for example, the apple represents the ‘fruit of knowledge’ – the forbidden fruit unwittingly plucked by Eve and for which God put her in perpetual Detention.

Or perhaps it originated in the 19th Century American mid-west where families whose children attended schools were often responsible for housing and feeding their teachers, and who supplied them with apples as a token of appreciation? The Df-ingE has denied it has been considering a similar arrangement for funding education in post-Brexit Britain, but a spokesperson did remark that it seemed like ‘an interesting idea worth looking into’.

Art

Another of the more startlingly different ideas on Planet Urth is that having attended Art School is a pre-requisite for becoming a politician, so they really do have a real understanding of creativity and problem-solving and that Art involves a lot more than colouring things in, learning the names of famous artists and being able to produce skillful reproductions of well known paintings and then writing an essay about them. There everyone understands that Art isn’t just for thick kids who are good with their hands and who might benefit from a more relaxing therapeutic re-creational subject, instead of dragging down the results of a much more important academic subject.

Asking Questions

People on Planet Urth place much more importance on developing curiosity and enquiring mind. As a result schools place a great deal of emphasis on teaching children how to ask interesting questions that are often difficult to answer. In fact they all take a GCSE in which instead of writing answers to questions set by examiners, they have to write the questions themselves. They then need to outline how they would set about finding the answers, e.g., who would they ask and what sources they might refer to. Top marks are awarded for questions that are deemed to be of great significance and importance, and to which it is unlikely will ever be fully answered.

Meanwhile on Planet Earth the inhabitants are of course quick to point out that you can’t make any money just asking interesting questions all the time. Except you can if you become a member of the Quora Partner Program. The more people who view your question thread, the more you earn…

Assembly

In Roman times citizens used to gather round in the forum to listen to the great and the good make speeches. Today, while the rest of us receive the wisdom of our leaders though TV, Facebook and Twitter, sadly schools on both planets still attempt to keep the old ways alive by making children assemble in silence in regimented rows in the school hall once a day to hear the deputy head make a speech that no-one bothers to listen to because they know there isn’t going to be a test on it afterwards.

A funny thing happened on All Change Please!‘s way to a school assembly once, but that’s another story.

Assessment

Many people in education say that assessment is ‘the tail that wags the dog’. This might make sense if you attend the Barbara Woodhouse Academy for Young Puppies, but for everyone else it’s a load of bollocks. Dogs wag their tails when they are pleased or excited, not when they are sitting their GCSEs.

On Planet Urth dogs are only assessed when they are ready, and on what new tricks they have actually learned, rather than what academic knowledge some barking-mad, sly-dog politician thinks they should have learned.

Awe and wonder

At the turn of the 21st century, Ofsted expected schools to demonstrate that pupils were experiencing ‘awe and wonder’ during their lessons, or as one nameless maverick inspector on Planet Urth once wrote on his Evidence Form: ‘There was plenty of ore in the metalwork lessons, but the children’s attention soon began to wander…’

Tune in again soon for the next exciting installment of All Change Please!‘s Alternative A to Z of Education, which not unsurprisingly features the letter B

 

Image credits:  Image credits: Pixabay (all), except School Assembly:

Roman Forum (Wikimedia Commons)

Saint John’s School (Flickr Commons)

Mr Glibbly plays all the wrong notes in the wrong order

The use of the word ‘Bollocks’ on the cover of the Sex Pistol’s 1978 infamous album is generally thought to be a negative reference to the so-called ‘progressive’ music of the time…

Overture
Mr Glibbly, the Df-ingE’s current Secretary in a State about the school curriculum, recently woke up one morning feeling kind of blue. He had been told that the Fabian Society Report criticising the lack of provision for Arts education in UK schools was about to be published. To help stave off his rather crotchety, downbeat feeling he opened a pack of quavers – his all-bar-none favourite breakfast – and to try and cheer himself up he turned on Classic FM. And that gave him an idea. On the very same day as the report came out he would triumphantly pitch his grand-piano sized plan to improve music education! News about all those special model ‘music by numbers’ lesson plans and music hubs would sound truly uplifting and strike a chord with everyone, and they would clap and cheer at the end and as a measure of its brilliance shout for an encore, quite deafening out anything the Fabian report might have to say. Mr Glibbly never misses a beat does he?

Next Mr Glibbly invited lots of important sounding professional musicians to work together to come up with exactly what should be taught in schools in order to do it ‘Mr Glibbly’s Way’. Sadly of course he accidentally on purpose forgot to include more than a couple of actual real teachers on the steering panel. If he had, perhaps they might have told him that there was a lot more to music in schools than learning how to read music and how to re-create and appreciate great pieces of classical music written by dead white men from the Western world.

The sound of music goes well beyond what appears to be Mr Glibbly’s understanding and knowledge of 17th and 18th century forms of music, let alone modern music education. Like most politicians, he quite wrongly assumed that what had been good for him would be good for everyone in the country.

First movement
Here’s a mix-tape mash-up of some of the things he said:

“My own love of music began in primary school almost by stealth. As we all filed into assembly there’d be a piece of classical music playing in the background: Benjamin Britten’s The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra; Saint Saëns’s Carnival of the Animals; Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf.”

“Singing in the St Edmund’s Parish Church Choir in Roundhay, Leeds, gave me a lasting love for choral music. The delight I still feel today when I listen to ‘Zadok the Priest’ or Allegri’s ‘Miserere’ can be traced back to my schooldays.”

“We want to make sure their lessons are of the very highest quality and pupils leave school having experienced an excellent music education so those who wish to do so can take up opportunities to pursue musical careers.”

“This new model curriculum and the new money for our successful music hubs will make sure the next generation of Adeles, Nigel Kennedys and Alex Turners have all the support they need in school.”

“As well as ensuring all pupils can benefit from knowledge rich and diverse lessons, it is hoped that the curriculum will make it for easier for teachers to plan lessons and help to reduce workload.”

But music education is about so much more than knowledge of the classical repertoire and being able to sight-read music. It’s just a pity Mr Glibbly doesn’t believe you can learn anything useful from Wikipedia, because if he did he might have discovered that:

“Music is an art form and cultural activity whose medium is sound organized in time. General definitions of music include common elements such as pitch (which governs melody and harmony), rhythm (and its associated concepts tempo, meter, and articulation), dynamics (loudness and softness), and the sonic qualities of timbre and texture (which are sometimes termed the “colour” of a musical sound). Different styles or types of music may emphasize, de-emphasize or omit some of these elements.”

Music and Meaning
Music is a reflection and statement of contemporary cultural values, not just those of the past. Meanwhile it’s important for children to learn that music has different meanings to different people in different situations, and that playing and listening preferences often serve to reinforce social status and belief systems while at the same time representing a rejection of alternative points of view. Which is of course exactly what Mr Glibbly is trying to do at a time when, according to recent research, more than two-thirds of young people are already active musicians, singing, playing an instrument or making music on a computer – mainly outside school, and therefore his control.

Music and Motivation
Mr Glibbly seems to want everybody to be able to read music, play a ‘proper’ musical instrument and become a member of an orchestra: but just because people can read the Daily Mail out loud, it doesn’t mean that they are all going to want to become creative writers. To appeal to and motivate the majority of young people, modern music education needs to be relevant to music they are listening to, otherwise they are likely to switch off faster than they can say ‘Alexa, play something different’.

Music and The Arts
Meanwhile perhaps if Mr Glibbly had taken his fingers out of his ears and opened his eyes for long enough to hear and see what was been happening during the 20th Century he might have noticed that in an increasing number of works, music has moved away from being a single discipline: dance, drama, design, fashion, performance art, film and television are now created with close reference to each other. Mr Glibbly doesn’t seem to have got as far as Modernism yet, let alone Post-modernism.

Music and Technology
And something else that seems to be missing in the space between Mr Glibbly’s ears is the fact that a good understanding of and a capability and confidence in the use of digital technologies in one’s area of expertise is now essential, as it is in just about everything these days, and particularly in music where it has been particularly disruptive during the past 20 or so years. It is not acceptable for traditional educators to avoid their obligations and responsibility and, as they often do, use the excuse that children know more about the new technology than they do, so they will leave it to them to teach themselves.

Yet learning about music technology is not mentioned anywhere in Glibbly’s model world. Indeed he reveals his own lack of understanding of contemporary music technology when he writes:

“Forget Spotify: I want every child to leave primary school able to read music.”

Doesn’t he know that there is plenty of classical music on Spotify, and that the service enables users to explore and access a wider range of music than ever before in order to discover what they do and don’t like? And anyway why should listening to Spotify prevent any child from learning to read music?

Of course, at the same time new technology enables the creation of music without the need to be able to read formal notation in a way that is far more likely to encourage children to want to learn more about the academic theory of classical music. The opportunities for children to develop their creativity, confidence and self-esteem through experimentation, composing, performing and recording their own music, rather than failing to match the standards of professional classical musicians, have never been greater.

Coda
And last, but by no means least, is the purpose really to create a new generation of ‘Adeles, Nigel Kennedys and Alex Turners’? These people will emerge whether or not they learn to read music in school: music education needs to meet everyone’s needs.

The Sex Pistols sang ‘Don’t know what I want but I know how to get it’:  Mr Glibbly clearly does know what he wants, but fortunately it seems he doesn’t know how to get it: his new model scheme, unlike the music national curriculum, will not be compulsory. And, if every child is to learn how to read music – not just those attending the special music hubs – then there’s the little matter of finding the money to pay for all those music teachers

Whatever, one thing is clear – Mr Glibbly’s plan is certainly not the Very Model Of A Modern Music Curriculum…

“Music is your own experience, your thoughts, your wisdom. If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn.” (Charlie Parker)

“If this word ‘music’ is sacred and reserved for eighteenth and nineteenth century instruments, we can substitute a more meaningful term: organization of sound.” (John Cage)

Encore

Eric Morecambe with Andre Preview ‘playing all the right notes but not necessarily in the right order’.

 

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

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.

Jumping On The Bannedwagon

That’s the ‘I don’t understand it, so let’s ban it…’ bannedwagon

Right now, everyone accessing the news on their mobile phones is reading how various countries around the world, including of course the UK, are considering banning children from having mobile phones while in school. As usual with the way the media – and even the Guardian – represents the situation it’s easy to imagine that every classroom and lesson in the country is being continually disrupted by the use of mobile phones: this may indeed be the case in a few schools, but it’s certainly not for the vast majority of children who will become the losers if denied access to the digital world to support their learning in a positive way. Meanwhile, as might be expected, traditional, authoritarian teachers who need to feel in control of everything have been excitedly supporting the ban, while others have been giving a far more thoughtful and realistic perspective on the situation.

For some reason All Change Please! always feels uneasy when it’s announced that someone wants to ban something. There are some occasions when it might be desirable and sensible, but it’s usually a simplistic, seemingly easy ‘quick-fix’ solution to a far more complex problem that needs to be properly understood and resolved sensibly and sensitively. Banning something rarely makes the problem go away, and often builds up resentment. Indeed All Change Please! has never forgiven the politicians and the establishment for banning Pirate Radio back in 1967.

With a little help from the media, it’s easy to imagine the scene – a teacher is facing a class of 12-year olds struggling to teach the finer points of writing an essay about the characters in a Shakespearian play while having to deal with children using social media and taking and sharing pornographic photos at the same time. But perhaps they wouldn’t be doing so in the first place if the curriculum and method of delivery was more appropriate to their more immediate needs, interests and aspirations? Meanwhile if a teacher is not able to control the proper use of mobiles in the classroom, then maybe they shouldn’t be there in the first place?

And of course banning mobiles in schools isn’t going to instantly put a stop to cyber-bullying – it will just happen on the bus on the way home from school instead.

At this point, All Change Please! need do little more than refer the reader to two authors whose wise words appeared as if by magic on its mobile phone as it was drafting this post.

The first is a Tweet by Neil Gilbride:


And the second is a recent post on the excellent Mike Cameron’s Blog where he begins by pointing out the difficult logistics of actually enforcing a ban on bringing mobiles to school, and the alternative time-consuming task of counting them in at the start of each day and counting them out at the end while ensuring each child ends up with their own phone. He then goes on to remind us that when they first came out, calculators were hastily banned from school, but now they are seen as being essential. Somehow we’ve managed to teach children how to use them properly.

Some years ago, All Change Please! was involved in ‘e-scape’ – a University research project into ways of recording and assessing problem-solving coursework. The successful solution involved students using mobile devices to take photos of their on-going ideas as they developed, and recording revealing audio and video accounts of their own progress and intentions. The data files were invisibly uploaded into ‘the cloud’ and automatically organised and presented on a larger desktop screen which could be accessed anywhere, anytime. More recently All Change Please! has been working on an on-line ‘chat-bot’ style mobile-phone tutoring support system in which students are asked relevant questions about their projects that stimulate their own thinking. But not of course in schools where there is an outright ban on having a mobile phone.

In terms of a change in the way we live our lives the mobile smart phone represents a major shift and is making a potential impact as, if not even more, significant as the widespread introduction of the motor car over a hundred years ago. We need to be preparing children for their mobile digital futures, not by banning and ignoring it, but by ensuring they understand and can evaluate and control the content on offer. The reason they want to use their phones uncritically and all the time is that so far we have failed to do so.

And things are being made worse as a result of the move to an academic and high-level programming-based Computer Science GCSE instead of the more widely-based ICT, denying the majority of children (and girls in particular) access to a educational experience that they urgently need. Or as the ever-tenacious Tony from somewhere near Tenterden recently wrote:

“When it was first mandated in the curriculum, ICT was described as a ‘capability’ and was included as a component of design and technology. The over-riding purpose was to harness technological knowledge and skills to make meaningful change. It was about ‘agency’ in the modern world. Helping young people to understand how they could be in control and providing them with mediated, real world project experiences to explore this.

The critical aspect of all of this was ‘value’, why are you doing this, what is the purpose and most importantly consequences of the change you are exploring? The Establishment have no understanding, skill or experience of this themselves. Their refusal to imagine education beyond drill and kill fact-recall is why they allowed the computer science brigade to high-jack the area and take us back 40 years to testosterone-driven coded pointlessness. Makes me weep…

The real problem is that state schools are in meltdown, school senior managers are a disgrace, teachers are little more than worksheet delivery agents rather than learning choreographers, and everyone at the DF-ingE needs to be transferred permanently to Love Island.”

Meanwhile as well as making a proper investment in the classroom workforce, a great deal more time, effort and money needs to be put into the design of digital content that genuinely enhances the education process. The latest games and commercial digital products are highly sophisticated in the way they engage, stimulate and reward the user, but these techniques have yet to be properly applied to the pedagogy of curriculum-based teaching and learning.

Meanwhile a recent survey from @TeacherTapp has suggested that around a quarter of schools already spend time collecting in mobile phones each day, and in more than two-thirds of schools children do not have access to mobiles during the school day, even under the guidance of a teacher. Use of phones are allowed at break and lunchtimes and/or under teacher direction in only around quarter of schools. If the survey is correct, it seems like the media-storm is a bit late, as most schools have banned mobiles already.

Some children may well be misusing mobile phones in their lives, but banning them from our schools is not going to make them go away: as educationalists we need to help them learn how to use them sensibly and appropriately.

So All Change Please! says… Let’s ban schools instead

 

And finally…
Always one to support a knowledge-rich blog post and having not been taught it at school, All Change Please! was curious to discover the origin of the phrase ‘Jumping on the bandwagon’, and reaching for its mobile phone it was rapidly able to discover that the original bandwagons were a popular and attention-grabbing part of circus parades in the US in the mid-1800s. Towards the end of the century politicians saw their potential and began using them for launching political campaigns, where they were joined by supporters who wished to be associated with them. And they often warned their audience against jumping on the opponent’s bandwagon in haste.

The photo above shows a typical circus bandwagon in use in the 2009 Great Circus parade in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Image credit: Wikimedia commons)

 

Mr Glibbly uses the ‘S’ word

This is another All Change Please! story about the entirely fictional Mr Glibbly. The previous one can be found here.

As you know, Glibblys are well-known for the often thoughtless and superficial things they say in a smooth and slippery sort of way.

It was one of those delightful crisp, sunny winter mornings, but Mr Glibbly was not feeling very happy. He had not had a good week.

To begin with, the latest school league tables and lack of progress 8 statistics had been released. They showed that the number of under-performing schools had risen. That wasn’t good news, was it? The problem was that on no account could he admit that the reason for this was he had forced children to take EBacc subjects that were not at all appropriate for them.

Mr Glibbly had to think hard. Very hard. Then suddenly he had an idea! Instead he would announce in his usual glibbly sort of way how important and good it was that the number of children studying the important academic EBacc subjects had risen! Of course he didn’t mention that as a result more children had failed their exams. Sneaky Mr Glibbly…

Oh well – it could have been worse – at least he didn’t blame the teachers.

However it was what happened next that really upset Mr Glibbly.

“Soft skills are very important”, announced Mr Hindsight, very succinctly, and with great hindsight. Mr Damian Hindsight was the new Secretary in a State about Education, and therefore Mr Glibbly’s new boss. Apparently Mr Hindsight once went to a Grammar school himself and therefore knew everything there was to know about teaching and learning and running successful schools.

Poor Mr Glibbly. He nearly choked on his cornflakes when he read it in the morning paper over breakfast. ‘Holy Sk***!’ he cried out in horror.

Mr Glibbly was no softy. He didn’t approve of letting children learn any skills, and least of all easy-peasy soft skills. ‘Skills’ was not a word he felt at all comfortable using. He’d ban it altogether if he could.

Thanks to a book about some small-scale, unreliable educational research he’d once read, he knew without doubt that first children needed to master the learning of all the knowledge that exists in the entire world. Off by heart. And how to write long essays about it in the school hall on a long, hot summer’s day.

This made Mr Glibbly have to think hard yet again. Very, very hard this time.

After a while he came up with an idea, and he decided to hastily re-write part of the speech he was due to give the next day.

“…the best way to acquire skills is through gaining knowledge”, announced Mr Glibbly, rather glibbly. As was his way.

He wasn’t quite sure what this meant or how this actually worked, but it made him feel a lot better. And it made it sound like these sort of superior knowledge-related skills were completely different from those so-called ‘soft-skills’ or ’21st century skills’ that he so detested, probably because he didn’t have any himself.

Mr Glibbly breathed a great sigh of relief. “Phew! I’ve got away with it!” he thought to himself as he walked home that night. It was a long way, and he wished he had learned how to ride a bike as a youngster. Unfortunately though he could never quite manage to bring to mind all the theoretical physics and correct formulae involved, and so he had just kept falling over.

But then the very next day the excellent Laura McInerney, who is someone who really does know something about teaching and learning and running schools, published a ‘must read’ article that revealed and made considerable fun of exactly what he had done. What a silly Mr Glibbly she had made him look!

And now everyone is hoping that perhaps before too long, Mr Glibbly will be using his own knowledge-based skills to find himself a new job. And preferably one that has nothing at all to do with education.

It seems perhaps there might just be some benefit of Mr Hindsight? We shall see, won’t we?

 

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!

Art Failure at the MichaelGova School

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

Apparently:

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

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

And it also states:

“We don’t offer lessons in ICT, DT..”

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

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

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

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

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

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