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

 

 

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?

 

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)

 

The Blunders of our Government

SirHmontage.jpg

Cleverly disguised as a fly on the wall, last July All Change Please! was able to listen in to a conversation between Sir Humphrey Appleby and the Minister in a State about Education.

 

Ah Sir Humphrey, what can I do for you?

Well Minister, you remember that consultation we did on the EBacc, asking people for suggestions as to how we should best implement it?

Yes, yes, the one I told you to hide the results of somewhere that no-one would ever find them?

Well it’s just that an awful lot of people responded and have been asking when the report is going to be made available, and I’m rather afraid an over-enthusiastic unpaid intern has managed to find and publish it.

Oh well, it can’t be helped I suppose? Can it? Did anyone make any helpful suggestions as to how to make the EBacc work successfully?

Not exactly Minister, no. It rather seems as if most of the responses were more in the form of a suggestion that perhaps the EBacc wasn’t actually a very good idea and would be impossible to implement anyway.

Well that just goes to show how ungrateful the teaching profession is, doesn’t it? We spend our long expenses lunches dreaming up vote-winning policies, and all they do is complain.

Have you read this new book ‘The Wonders of our Government’ Humphrey? It explains that “British politicians meet, discuss, debate, manoeuvre, read submissions, read the newspapers, make speeches, answer questions, visit their constituencies, chair meetings and frequently give interviews.” I mean, what more do people expect us to do?

Err, I think you’ll find the book is actually called The Blunders of our Government‘ Minister, and the suggestion is that politicians don’t “deliberate and take the time to weigh the claims against the evidence, to ask for more information, to reach out and consult other parties who knew more or would also be affected by the action that might be taken. The consequence could be off-the-cuff decisions, made in isolation, in a hurry.”

Well of course I couldn’t be expected know anything about that, could I?

No Minister! It’s just that I think they may have a point… Our hastily implemented EBacc policy has meant that the latest GCSE results show for a fact that the number of secondary school students taking art and design qualifications in the UK has fallen to the lowest level this century.

How many times must I tell you Sir Humphrey, there’s no such thing as facts, just cleverly selected statistics. So for example we simply state that there is no evidence of entries in arts subjects declining as a direct result of the introduction of the EBacc, and that the proportion of state school pupils taking at least one arts subject increased from 45.8% to 48% between 2011 and 2016. There, that sounds rather strong and stable doesn’t it?

Yes, but there’s also the matter of the rise in the number of students failing the EBacc subjects they’ve been forced to take, when they might have taken other subjects they could have passed. I suppose we could use the diversionary response approach and get Nick Glibbly to state: “These reforms represent another step in our drive to raise standards, so that pupils have the knowledge and skills they need to compete in a global workplace.”

By George Osborne, I think you’ve got it!

One final thing Sir Humphrey, I would suggest a further delay in publication of the EBacc report. They’ve waited this long so I’m sure they can wait a bit longer. Make it towards the end of July, just as Parliament breaks up for recess and all the pesky teachers go off for the summer to their villas in the South of France – then it will all be old news by the time they come back in late September and everyone will be more interested who is going to replace the MayBot before the Party Conference, and what will happen in the subsequent cabinet reshuffle…

Indeed yes, Minister….!

Of course, it’s just possible that some of these annoying education blogs will wait until the Autumn term is just underway before writing about it, but we’ll just have to hope that all those ungrateful teachers won’t have time to read them as they will be too busy having to explain the new grading system to parents and coming up with good excuses as to why most of their students failed our new more rigorous A levels and GCSEs…

Ah, yes Minister, that reminds me. Well, it’s just that you perhaps ought to know that in the end the new exams were so difficult that actually no-one managed to get a pass grade, so we, err.., err..,

Well, out with it..

…we had to move the grade thresholds.

You did what? Why did no one tell me?

Well, err., I think it probably happened last month while you were away in your villa in the South of France, Minister.

But my policy was that by making the examinations more difficult, children and teachers would work harder and standards would rise. This makes just a complete nonsense of my reforms.

Yes indeed, minister.  Oh, and could I just warn you that your consultative-sounding ‘Putting our policies before the people‘ slogan could be taken more than one way?

 

7-Up + 300

hqdefault.jpg

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

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

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

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

This year’s Top 3 most read posts were:

1. Pass Notes: Art Attack! 

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

2. Little Miss Morgan

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

3. No Minister! No, No, No.

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

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

1. Curriculum Noir 3 

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

2. What a Wonderful World

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

3. Twenty Fifty One

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

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

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

7 Up_2239200286_o.jpg

 7up image credit: Flickr/Kevin Dooley

Fool’s Gold

7834790174_a5f0dbdea2_o.jpg

“In a further bid to learn from the Olympics, the Df-ingE recently announced that in future educational institutions would be awarded Gold, Silver and Bronze medals…”

Now you could be forgiven for assuming that this was the start of yet another All Change Please! post making pertinent analogies between the way success at the Olympic Games and the Education Games are rewarded, – but on this occasion you’d be utterly wrong. Because this time it’s for real…

Yes it seems that someone in the Df-ingE has been secretly reading All Change Please! on an iPad hidden in between the pages of The Beano, but hasn’t yet realised that linking the Olympics and Learning is not an entirely serious suggestion.

English universities to be ranked gold, silver and bronze

All Change Please! had to check the calendar just to check it wasn’t April Fools’ Day as it read the DfE’s latest Billy Whizz-bang proposal to award gold, silver and bronze medals to universities.

Presumably Gold medals will be mainly awarded to a select few Russell Group Universities that can manage to do lots of theoretical research and occasionally also provide a few tedious academic lectures. The rest that offer ‘high levels of stretch’ will get Silver medals, except of course for the former Polytechnics (that still tend to concentrate more on practical, useful things and services that people actually need) who will get consolation ‘must try harder’ Bronze medals. And after the Gold Medalists have paraded through the streets of their home cities in an open-top bus and had a high-speed train named after them, they will then be allowed to increase their fees accordingly.

And how long will it be before a similar system is applied to schools? Presumably there will be Gold Medal Schools (aka Grammars), Silver Schools (Comprehensives), Bronze Schools (Technical Highs) and Secondary Moderns (Failed to qualify)?

 

So, while – according to the Sunday Times – “May fires Brexit starting gun“, this is another leading education story that seems to set to run and run with Team Df-ingE clearly on track for another record-breaking disqualification in the credibility event.

Comprehexit means… Comprehexit

1s-3923085522_82456135aa_b.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

26582352100_f63b5dafda_z.jpg

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

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

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

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

Image credits: Flickr/ Denna Jones and Bettie Xo

 

Well, that’s another nice mess you’ve gotten us into…

2s-Laurel_&_Hardy_in_Flying_Deuces_1_edited.jpgBoJo and Govey in a reflective mood after the referendum result is announced, wondering what on earth they are going to do next

On Friday, All Change Please! caught a snatch of a street conversation that summed up well what had happened. It went:

“It’s the rich who are panicking this morning. As for you and me the pound in our pocket is worth just the same…”

Up to now All Change Please! has avoided commenting on the EU vote. After all it’s been politely asking for change for the past six years – but now it’s got it, just like the leaves on the line, it’s the wrong sort of change. However the one clear thing is that there are going to be plenty of unexpected twists and turns in the situation over what is surely going to be a long ‘summer of discontent’.

Change brings opportunities as well as threats. And right now there’s an opportunity for well-informed, visionary and administratively capable leaders to create an exciting new prosperous country. Unfortunately the threat is that all we seem to have available for the job are Johnson, Gove and Farage…

Beyond this useful list of 18 people to blame, not to mention the Daily Mail and The Sun, All Change Please! can’t help but see it partly as a condemnation of an education system that over the past 30 years that has failed to equip too many of our population with sufficient understanding of the way the political and economic structure of the UK and the world works, and how leaving the EU is more likely to erode living standards than enhance them. At the same time it has also failed to deliver the levels of creative and collaborative practical and technical skills that right now would be useful in building a new economy. And last, but by no means least, too many people have been unable to critically distinguish the facts from the fiction of media speculation and political propaganda. And with the threat of a Johnson-Gove axis, our Brave New World is going to see even more emphasis on an elitist academic education that will serve to simply alienate the majority of our young people even further.

As always though, All Change Please! tries to find some humour in the situation, as it realises that at least now we’ll all have something to blame when things go wrong…

     Rising prices?

     Higher unemployment?

     Failing businesses?

     Falling Pound?

     Smaller pensions?

     Increased crime rate?

     Recession?

     Austerity?

     Education cuts?

     Train late?

     Slow internet speeds?

     Nuisance phone calls?

     Rubbish weather?

     Beer does not taste as good as it used to?

     Nothing worth watching on TV?

     England knocked out of European Cup?

   Just Blame Brexit!

 

And to help, here’s a series of special All Change Please! handy cut out and keep lapel badges…

Screenshot 2016-06-25 10.57.05.jpg

Quite Interesting: the original title for this post was ‘That’s another fine mess you’ve gotten us into‘, but apparently, according to Wikipedia, this is a common misquote. The actual Laurel and Hardy catchphrase is a ‘nice’ mess, with the corruption derived from the title of one of their films: ‘A Fine Mess‘. However the origin of the phrase ‘Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into!‘ is actually attributed to WS Gilbert in The Mikado in 1885. Not a lot of people know that.

Image credit: Wikipedia

Hey! Tories! Leave Them Schools Alone!

1s-5646903573_f2fe54a853_b.jpg

Another Brick in the Academy Wall

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

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

The correct version should have read:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image credit: Flickr/Srivathsan Raghavan

Curriculum Noir III: Lt Wilshaw Sees The Light

5518107199_b8148c1a7b_b

Previously, in Curriculum Noir I and Curriculum Noir II, Philip Marlowe was hired to discover who was stealing the Arts, and then by Lieutenant Wilshaw to track down the missing Big Mickey Gove. However, things have been quieter since, now that justice was being done to Big Mickey Gove and Little Missy Morgan had taken over and was ruthlessly running the Mob with her henchmen. She was on a mission to take control of the whole curriculum, and no-one was going to get in her way. Marlowe takes up the story:

So there I was the other night, sitting quietly in the dimly-lit coffee shop across the road from my office and slowly sipping on my double-strength flat white, when suddenly a shadow fell across its velvety-smooth microfoam surface.

“Ah, found you at last Marlowe.” a familiar voice growled as Lieutenant Wilshaw of the Ofsted Flying Squad sat down opposite me. I couldn’t help notice that for once he was looking scared.

“I need your help.” he whispered, nervously looking around in case anyone was sitting at the back of the cafe with an observation form in their hands.

“Sure.” I said, surprised at the unusual request.

“Well, it’s just that… if I can explain… how can I put this… I know you won’t believe me, but things have changed, and… it may seem strange that I’m saying this, but I’ve recently come to the conclusion that this whole EBacc thing is a one really big dumb-blonde of an idea. This ‘one size fits all’ system is complete nonsense, isn’t it? And then there’s this insane PISA fixation over some narrow-minded tests that don’t reveal anything worth knowing about the quality of education being delivered in our schools.”

“I mean, just think of all these poor kids who are going to fail all their GCSE EBacc exams and end up on the street, with no qualification, nowhere to go and nothing to do. It’s too awful to contemplate. Something’s got to be done to stop the Mob carrying on with its evil plans. Up to now I’ve just been playing along so they’ll leave me alone, but enough’s enough and I just had to speak out about the lack of vocational education and qualifications currently on offer- I expect you’ve read about it in the papers.

“Well, it sure has taken you long enough.” I said. “It’s just a shame you didn’t see the light a bit sooner and not let things get this far in the first place – I mean any teacher could have told you what it was like in reality, years ago. And you’ve know it all along too. But anyway, what I can do for you?”

“You’ve got to hide me, Marlowe. They’re after me. Gentleman Nick ‘The Knife’ Glibb is going to catch up with me pretty soon and he’s going to want to take his revenge. And Ofqual and the Awarding Bodies are hot on my tail after I suggested that the exams shouldn’t be moved to accommodate Ramadan, and then it turned out they hadn’t been anyway.”

I gave him my best ‘I told you so’ look and tried to calm him down. “I really wouldn’t worry. Just go home and forget about it. I expect you’ll be spending more time with your family soon anyway. How’s your garden growing? All this talk about the academic and the vocational having equal status – it’s never going to happen, and the Mob know it. It’s not about children or teaching and learning anymore, it’s all about propaganda and politics. The purpose of education is simply to keep The Party in power for ever and ever.”

“Gee, Marlowe, you really think so?”

“I know so… Just as sure as night follows day and Period 2 follows Period 1.”

I showed him the morning paper and pointed to the official DfE response:

A Department for Education spokesman said: “We know that young people benefit from studying a strong academic core of subjects up until the age of 16 which they can complement with additional arts subjects or vocational qualifications.

“Our reforms are leaving pupils better prepared for further study and more ready for the world of work…”

“But this is ludicrous – it’s just an outrageous premium pack of porky pies.” snarled Wilshire. “Exactly how do they know all young people benefit from studying so many academic subjects? And if they are already doing the seven EBacc subjects, that only leaves them with one option for the ‘additional arts subjects or vocational qualifications’. And then there are all these companies saying they no longer require a degree, and complaining that the teenagers and graduates they employ come to them have no idea what business is like – so they’re certainly not ‘more ready for the world of work.’ I suppose next they’ll be claiming there is no teacher shortage, and that there’s never been a better time to become a teacher…”

With a sad, dejected look on his face Lieutenant Wilshaw wearily made for the door and stumbled out into the blackness. I ordered another double flat white and a dark chocolate croissant and decided there really was no point in responding to the EBacc Consultation, because it only played straight into their hands, and whatever I said wouldn’t be considered anyway. As everyone knows, there are no marks if you don’t answer the question that’s been set.

That’s the way things work now.

2493011968_aafb6a0967_b

Image credits: Flickr/ Barkbud (top), nyyankee (bottom)