Problem still unsolved

19295893399_3ee40fd48c_o.jpgProblem-solving: the process of finding solutions to difficult or complex issues

The recent news that ‘Just 3 per cent of teenagers believe problem solving skills and creativity are essential attributes to have on their CVs’ is of course no more than a reflection of the lack of emphasis and importance placed on them in our education system. And it goes a long way to explaining why so few politicians and administrators seem quite unable to develop policies and procedures that manage to improve the life of the population. Too many students undertake academic degrees, including subjects like science and engineering, having had next to no experience of the processes and approaches involved in coming up with successful new practical and appropriate ways of doing things.

Where children are exposed to problem-solving and creativity in schools, the experience is usually limited to solving closed problems, where there is a single correct right or wrong answer. Such problems are usually technical in nature, rarely focusing on solving individual or social human problems.

Even in design and technology, where a rapidly diminishing number of students are asked to solve design problems, the understanding of problem-solving skills is given disproportionate emphasis to increasingly acquiring knowledge about materials and production technologies. Few children rise to the challenge of resolving multiple conflicting requirements and coming up with truly creative solutions. And while there is good imaginative work in evidence in many departments of art, drama and music, its value and application is restricted to those lessons and defined studio spaces.

Developing students’ problem-solving and creative abilities is not achieved through a series of disparate activities experienced largely out of context. It involves an extended course of study in which increasingly complex, open-ended and challenging problems are tackled in such a way that the learner starts to identify their own strategies and preferred methodologies for tackling different sorts of problems. This includes being able to deal with problems that require:

• a mixture of creative and logical thinking

• dealing with subjective and objective criteria

• testing and evaluating possible solutions using a variety of modelling techniques

• identifying and understanding human needs and desires

• information finding

• planning over multiple time-scales, collaboration and self-management

• effective communication.

Underlying these skills at a more basic level, successful problem-solving requires a desire to improve the way things are, a sense of curiosity, the drive to explore and develop a multiplicity of possible solutions and willingness to learn from failure.

Until our children start to acquire these skills and they come to be acknowledged in schools and universities as being valuable in life and the workplace it is difficult to be optimistic about our future. We no longer require a steady flow of people to administer and oversee the far-flung corners of our long-lost Empire, but instead a stream of creative problem-solvers to construct our brave new post-Brexit world.

 

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Image credits: Flickr Sacha Chua

 

 

 

 

 

No-levels 4U

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

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

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

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

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“They think it’s all over…it is now!”

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

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

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

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

 

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

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7-Up + 300

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

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

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

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

This year’s Top 3 most read posts were:

1. Pass Notes: Art Attack! 

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

2. Little Miss Morgan

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

3. No Minister! No, No, No.

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

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

1. Curriculum Noir 3 

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

2. What a Wonderful World

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

3. Twenty Fifty One

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

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

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

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 7up image credit: Flickr/Kevin Dooley

Pass Notes: A History of Art Attacks

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L.H.O.O.Q.,  Marcel Duchamp (1919)

What? Look, someone has attacked a work of art – they’ve drawn a moustache and beard on the Mona Lisa. Quick! Call Security…

Calm down dear! It’s only a postcard. That’s one of the artist Duchamp’s found object  ‘readymades‘, created in 1919.

Oh well you would know that wouldn’t you – you took Art History at A level. So, clever clogs, what do the initials in the title stand for?

I couldn’t possibly tell you that here – this is family tea-time blog post, but you could look it up here.

As an artist I know you’re probably can’t read, but I expect you’ve heard that the History of Art A level is to be axed and become a museum exhibition piece of the future, along with Archaeology and Classical Civilisation?

Ah yes. I blame that cheeky Michael Gove chappie.

Well apparently lip-smacking, cool-talking, brexit-lying Mr Gove has denied that it was anything to do with him, and said that he’s always supported such subjects, even though as Education Secretary he did absolutely nothing to help save them. And by introducing the EBacc he has caused a reduction in the number of students taking Art&Design at GCSE.

So whose fault is it then?

Most writers are blaming AQA – the last Awarding Body offering the subject – who have claimed that, unlike other leading brands of History, accurate and reliable marking of such a wide-ranging subject is impossible. And anyway they can’t recruit enough examiners with appropriate teaching experience. Or to put it another way, there are not enough entries to make it commercially viable and increase their overall market share.

Just a minute, you’re making it sound like examining is a business. I thought it was something run by the universities, and that their role was to support and promote the accreditation of the widest possible range of academic courses?

That’s what it used to be like in the good old days, but not any more I’m afraid. And anyway, it’s not strictly speaking entirely the exam board’s fault.

Proceed, I prithee. I’m listening…

Well the real question is, why has demand for these subjects fallen so low?

Forsooth!  I trust the answer will be shortly be forthcoming, my Lord.

Give me chance, and drop the fake historical Ye Olde-English One Foot in the Past act will you?  Back in the 1970s and 80s schools with expanding sixth forms were able to run courses such as The History of Art with relatively small numbers of students, but now, unless a certain number opt to take an A level subject to make it ‘viable’ in terms of the cost of employing a member of staff, the course just doesn’t run and then isn’t offered in subsequent years.

And with regards to the History of Art there’s another factor that most writers have failed to mention, and that is that GCSE and A level courses in Art&Design already contain a significant coverage of study of the historic and contemporary artists and art movements. So most students who have opted for an Art&Design A level are encouraged to choose other more ‘facilitating’ subjects that don’t contain the word Art in their title in order to increase their chances of getting into a good university. And of course at the same time improving the school’s qualifying position in the Df-ingE Champions League Table.

But what about the Sixth-formers who know they want to become artists or designers, and don’t want to go to an academic university?

Sorry, I don’t quite understand the question. What do you mean ‘don’t want to go to an academic university’? What other purpose is there for going to school?

Well, it’s just that if you know you want to be an artist or designer it’s actually quite difficult choosing A level subjects that you might be interested in doing, and taking an A level in History of Art as well would help prepare you for the history and cultural study elements of your college courses, as well as looking good on your applications and in interviews as you discuss the influences that have informed your portfolio of work.

As an Oxbridge PPE scholar I have absolutely no idea what you are going on about. Surely if you want to be an artist or designer you need a string of A* grades, just as you do in any other subjects?

Not really. There’s a lot more to Art & Design than just being able to write essays. Actually many colleges of art are cautious about applicants with high examination grades as they tend not to be very creative, self-motivated, risk-taking students.

Well, if you say so. You’re not one of these Bremoaners are you by any chance? Whatever next?

Just one other thing. While dropping Art History as an academic A level subject is bad enough, I can’t help wondering why it is getting so much media coverage when there are a lot more serious concerns about the curriculum. How often do we see concerned articles reporting the emerging crisis in the lack of our children’s experience in the skills they will need to survive in a highly automated post-Brexit economy where things like experience of open-ended project-based problem-solving, collaboration, business and marketing will be urgently needed?

Hmm.  Have you seen the latest Tate Britain exhibition? It’s awfully good, the paintings are so realistic – artists had real skills in those days. And I’m glad to say there’s none of this 20th Century Modern Abstract Art nonsense on show.

Do say:  Wait, I hear there’s a possibility a different exam board might start to offer A level Art History again.

Don’t say:  I wonder if it will be a readymade specification?

Talking ’bout Generation Z

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All Change Please! recently came across a number of articles that served to remind it exactly how out of date our schools and the current curriculum is.

First there was this ill-considered reporting of a finding that students do less well in academic examinations if they have used computers while studying. Duh! When will it be finally realised that perhaps it’s the curriculum and the methods of assessment that need to change?

Today’s young people – born and growing up in this Century and known as Generation Z – are just not the same as we were when we were young. They have a substantially different mindset that sees the world in ways we often find it hard to imagine and engage with. This article gives a least some interesting insights, as does this report.

Briefly, and generally speaking, today’s teenagers are:

  • True digital natives, unencumbered by memories of the 20th Century
  • Highly proactive and entrepreneurial
  • Have a sense of unsettlement and insecurity in terms of the future.
  • Globally and environmentally aware
  • Communicating and sharing information in a highly visual way
  • Highly IT literate and able to adapt and personalise products
  • Seeing school as an important social gathering
  • Often experiencing inappropriate and unsuccessful use of new technologies in the classroom
  • Using digital devices to facilitate and control their growing independence.

But what about the children who for one reason or another are not able, or do not wish to access the online world and become self-starting entrepreneurs?  MrArtist, our Generation Baby Boomer guest blogger, observed:

“Interesting the big point seems to be how the walk home with friends has become the social place for face to face interaction. In a no-man’s land, where teachers have been released from their poor attempts at learning how to teach with technology, and pre when parents start attempting to have their own ineffectual influence on the student’s time and on-line activities.

In this digital and ‘social’ world, I wonder and worry about the poor unfortunate lonely kid. You know, the one that doesn’t have friends, or has weird parents and consequently becomes either bullied or an outcast (or maybe that was me/you?!). I’m sure it still happens. I can remember some of them; the teacher’s pet girl who was an unfortunate shade of ginger, freckles and teeth. The odd-looking vicar’s son who walked the perimeter of the playground, alone, clutching a book looking down as he paced, like a priest until break was at last over. The boy that always smelled of urine and would have had friends if anyone could have got close enough. And then there was that poor RE teacher who just didn’t stand a chance from day one.

My thought is, apart from that unfortunate kid (or teacher) maybe not being allowed a phone, what friends would they have to be with on Faceboot, Twatter or What’sAppDoc?

I can only think the loneliness of the long distance sufferer is only amplified by modern technology and social connectivity? But then again, maybe there’s a Faceboot group for that? A special place for Nerds, Dweebs and Loners? Isn’t the internet wonderful? A place for anyone and everyone. Anything goes these days, even socks with sandals and cardigans is cool these days (except my kids tell me “cool” is not cool to say these days!). In any case, no one needs to be an outcast any more… assuming they’re allowed a phone and access to the internet, any website is free for them to revengefully troll away to their heart’s content within any freely available comments section!”


So how are we taking Generation Z’s learning and social needs and wants into account in our efforts to prepare them for their futures?  Kenneth Baker’s latest report has the answer – we’re completely failing to prepare students for the digital revolution of course:

“The government’s White Paper has a firm commitment for students to focus on seven academic subjects at GCSE – English language, English literature, maths, two sciences, a modern or ancient language, geography or history, plus probably a third science. This is word-for-word the curriculum laid down by the Education Act of 1904, though it added three subjects – drawing, cooking for girls, and carpentry or metalwork for boys.”

Baker identifies the key skills and attributes for work-ready students:

  • Good reasoning skills
  • The ability to examine and solve problems.
  • Experience of working in teams.
  • An ability to make data-based decisions – they are “data savvy”.
  • Social skills – particularly the confidence to talk to and work with adults from outside school.
  • The skills of critical-thinking, active listening, presentation and persuasion.
  • Practical skills: the ability to make and do things for real.
  • Basic business knowledge.

None of which are even dreamt of in Nick Glibb’s philosophy.

And Baker goes on to provide an eight-point plan for the Digital Revolution:

  1. Primary schools should bring in outside experts to teach coding.
  2. All primaries should have 3D printers and design software.
  3. Secondary schools should be able to teach computer science, design and technology or another technical/practical subject in place of a foreign language GCSE.
  4. The computer science GCSE should be taken by at least half of all 16-year-olds.
  5. Young Apprenticeships should be reintroduced at 14, blending a core academic curriculum with hands-on learning.
  6. All students should learn how businesses work, with schools linked to local employers.
  7. Schools should be encouraged to develop a technical stream from 14 to 18 for some students, covering enterprise, health, design and hands-on skills.
  8. Universities should provide part-time courses for apprentices to get Foundation and Honours degrees.

It’s just a shame Mr Baker did not have the same insights when he drafted the subjects of the National Curriculum nearly 30 years ago – if he had, we really would have a world-beating education system by now.

Glibbipedia Hacked!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image © Tristram Shepard

Lord only knows?

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There was extensive gnashing of teeth when the menacing Lord Gnasher recently spoke in the House of Lords.

The Most Excellent Earl of Clancarty had secured a short debate in the House of Lords to ask what effect the EBacc requirements will have on ensuring that children receive a balanced and rounded education in schools. In his opening speech he said:

“Children will not necessarily be excited by everything. Real social justice is to treat children as individuals who are open to a variety of possibilities. The narrow and, crucially, uniformly set EBacc curriculum…leave very little room, if any, for art, music and drama, or other subjects, including technological courses.

The EBacc is a flawed measure. It should either be radically reformed, or dropped entirely.

In this sense, an EBacc without the arts should be unthinkable; a core curriculum without the arts will not raise standards but lower them. Students being able to make connections between disparate subjects is not only part of the learning process; it will be that innovation that fires the future… Finally, a rounded education treats the main areas of education as being of equal value.”

Other excellent contributions to the debate included:

Baroness Morris of Yardley (Lab): There is nothing to stop schools doing art, drama and all those things… However, the reality is that schools are not doing so and are losing the facilities needed. The teachers are not being recruited. The time is not being made available.

Baroness Pinnock (LD): The business leader said that what business wanted was soft skills in young people entering the world of work. He defined these as the ability to communicate, to collaborate, to co-operate in a team, to be critical and to work on projects—none of which he felt would be developed in young people through the EBacc diet.

Altogether, we are proposing a narrow diet for our young people when they face the world of work which is opening up. I beg the Minister to reconsider what he is offering.

Lord Freyberg (CB): our creative industries account for one in 12 jobs and have been the fastest growing sector in the UK economy, increasing by 15.8% since 2011 to 1.8 million jobs and contributing some £84 billion to the UK economy. …our country is already crying out for a combination of creative—in particular, design—and technical skills.

…a recent report, commissioned by the Creative Industries Federation, highlighted that countries such as China, South Korea and Brazil have learned from our success and are investing heavily in their creative education because they, too, can see the economic value of culture.

Lord Aberdare (CB): I am also struck by the lack of focus on digital skills in the EBacc proposals. The report published last February by the Digital Skills Committee, on which I served, argues that digital literacy should be taught as a core subject alongside numeracy and literacy and be embedded across all subjects and throughout the curriculum, but it seems to appear in the EBacc only in the guise of computing as an optional science subject.

Lord Watson of Invergowrie (Lab): Only 39% of students took the EBacc in the past academic year. Yet already there has been a significant effect on other subjects since 2010—most notably, on what I argue is the key subject of design and technology, for which there has been a 29% drop in take-up. The curriculum should not be driven by the needs of the minority who are going to the most selective universities.

And then it was the turn of the The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State from the Df-ingE to respond:

Lord Nash (Milton Abbey Independent Boarding school and Oxford, Corpus Christi, studying Law, Con.). Yes, that’s the same Lord Nash who in April 3013 was co-chairman of the governors who appointed an unqualified teacher as headmistress at the new Pimlico primary school ahead of its opening in September. Further criticism followed when she resigned after four weeks in the job…:

“I welcome the chance to explain our thinking behind the EBacc and to share what we are doing to ensure that all pupils, regardless of their background, have the right to a balanced and rounded education that opens doors to their future, prepares them for realising their potential in adult life, whatever their ambitions may be, and…responds fully to a child’s natural curiosity, which is so important.”

It’s just a pity Lord Gnasher didn’t instead welcome the chance to listen, consider and respond to the  thinking behind the specific challenges of the EBacc raised by the natural curiosity of the rest of the Lords, which were so important. And there’s a big difference between children ‘having the right to’ and ‘being forced to’ take the ivory tower academic EBacc subjects.

We must realise the appallingly low base that we started from in 2010. In 2010, many pupils, often those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, were being denied a basic education in the core academic subjects.

This is just political rhetoric. The phrase ‘appallingly low base’ is meaningless point-scoring over the previous Labour party administration, and is a gross mis-representation. Meanwhile All Change Please! has yet to see the objective evidence of actual ‘denial’ of a basic education in core subjects (i.e. where a child capable of achieving a good pass in an academic subject has been forced to take a different, less-academic subject instead).

You need to give pupils from a disadvantaged background the core suite of cultural knowledge they need to compete with pupils from a more advantaged background. This has been acknowledged across the board.

This has also been challenged across the board, and most would agree that high levels of problem-solving creative and technical skills are what are now required to be competitive. Cultural knowledge on its own is not enough. It’s worrying that future engineers can arrive at top Russell Group universities with a string of A grade GCEs but no previous experience of problem-solving.

..on average, pupils in state-funded schools enter nine GCSEs and equivalent qualifications, rising to more than 10 for more able pupils.

Everyone else agrees the average is 8 GCSEs. Only the Df-ingE claims it is 9. And that means half the children do less, and they are the ones who will particularly suffer as a result of being denied access to a wider range of subjects. It’s the academically-less able who will be the losers, not the more able.

I certainly do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, that we should abolish accountability measures—all the international evidence is that autonomy and accountability is the right balance.

Lord Young of Norwood Green: I did not say that we should abolish them but that I was in favour of them.

Lord Young is quite correct – indeed he didn’t say that. It was the Earl of Clancarty who said he wanted to abolish them, citing Germany as having a highly successful education system that does not have them. Perhaps in future Lord Gnasher should pay closer attention to what’s actually being said, and by whom?

And where exactly is this autonomy of which you speak? Such as in 90% of children must be entered for exactly the same subjects, for example?

A head teacher said: ‘The EBacc is not appropriate to the modern world. It is not appropriate to modern learning.’ Oh dear. It sounds like the sort of person who would say that you don’t need knowledge because you can look it up on the internet.

Now this isn’t clever political debating, it’s just cheap Daily Mail spin. “You don’t need knowledge because you can look it up on the internet” said no head teacher, ever. As All Change Please! keeps pointing out, we have yet to work out what knowledge we now need to have stored in our long-term memories, but it’s certainly not the unnecessary excesses demanded by the EBacc.

“Modern cognitive and neuroscience makes clear that you need knowledge to develop skills”. 

And you also need skills to develop and understand knowledge. But Lord Gnasher probably doesn’t have any practical skills, so he wouldn’t know that.

I know that the noble Lord, Lord Watson, wants evidence. He mentioned ED Hirsch; if he would care to look at the effect of the Core Knowledge curriculum on the “Massachusetts miracle” in schools there, he would see what an effect such a curriculum can have, particularly on disadvantaged pupils.

Yes, and he would also see the problems that the fact and recall-driven, one-size fits all ‘pub-quiz’ curriculum is causing due to its inflexibility and lack of relevance to most teenagers. And its rigid structure and right or wrong approach that is doing little to prepare today’s children for the reality of the very messy world they will quickly discover when they leave school. Meanwhile the ‘Massachusettes Education Miracle’ to give it its correct title (the Massachusettes Miracle is something quite different), has been dis-credited with suggestions it had been adopted primarily to attract extra funding, and it is one of 15 US states now holding back on further implementation based on the emerging evidence that over four to five years, test scores are declining and students are unprepared for college-level work. Strange that Lord Gnasher didn’t mention that, isn’t it?

I am quite sure we can have 90% of pupils taking EBacc; I have absolutely no doubt.

Indeed, there may be no doubt we can, but that doesn’t mean we should, does it? Taking is not the same as doing well in. So it’s not surprising that he didn’t mention that the majority will achieve very low GCSEs grades, mainly because there is going to be a massive shortage of suitably experienced and qualified EBacc subject teachers. Not to mention the fact the Earl of Clancarty mentioned, that according to the ASCL 87% of secondary school leaders are unhappy with the EBacc proposals. But Lord Gnasher probably had his fingers in his ears at that point. And his eyes wide shut.

Well Lord Gnasher, thanks for the insights into your firm, unwavering grasp of the situation. It’s good to know that there’s an unqualified teacher making an important contribution to the work of the Df-ingE, and we can only hope that you’ll be resigning soon, just like that headmistress from Pimlico did.

And finally, in true tabloid style, All Change Please! says…

It’s not the subject you study that’s important, what matters is how good your teacher is. It’s better to be taught an arts or technical subject well, than to be taught an academic subject poorly.

Image credit: Flickr/Paul Downey / D.C. Thomson&Co Ltd.

Curriculum Noir III: Lt Wilshaw Sees The Light

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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.

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

 

The Really Big Issues

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First a reminder that the House of Commons Select Committee on Education Consultation on the Purpose of Education closes on the 24th January. Well it’s great that they’ve finally admitted they have had absolutely no idea what they’ve been messing with for the past 30 or so years, but All Change Please! can’t help but think that education policy in future will be justified by the statement that the government is following the direction established by the full public consultation which has proved they were doing the right thing all along and intend to continue in the same way. ‘We’ve been listening‘ they’ll say, ‘It’s just that you didn’t say what we wanted you to so we completely ignored it‘ they won’t add.

Meanwhile All Change Please!’s completely robust, accurate and reliable poll made of straw is predicting that the responses will fall into one of two camps. The first – the type that will be ignored – runs something like this:

“Everyone is good at something. The purpose of education is to help children find out what they are good at and use the confidence and self-worth they derive from this to confront their weaknesses. Education nourishes the broad natural and individual cognitive, emotional, moral and spiritual development of children and young adults in ways which ultimately gives them a sense of fulfillment and a desire to go on learning, both within work environments and in their personal lives. In doing so they will survive more easily and comfortably and pass on such nourishment to their own children and to society, thus helping ensure the successful continuation of the community, the nation, and ultimately the species.”

And the second – which is what are expected to say:

“The purpose of education is to create a pliant, well-disciplined, hard-working and employable population that doesn’t ask questions and will be led by a small highly-capable elite who will run the country specifically in order to increase their own wealth. However, in the interests of social mobility this involves giving everyone the opportunity to join the elite, whether they want to or not, providing of course they prove themselves to be sufficiently academically able and attend a Russell Group University.”

This will in turn lead to the inevitable conclusion that in order to improve the quality of education good old-fashioned traditional knowledge-based teaching is best, even more testing is needed, and the EBacc is the best thing to come along since the invention of homogenous, completely tasteless sliced-white bread.

All of which is however pretty much beside the point, because there are some much bigger, important and far more disruptive mind-bending educational issues on the horizon that are what we really should be spending our time, effort and money on if we don’t want the country to go the way of dinosaurs, horse-drawn carts and Woolworths – which is the general direction we are currently heading. And they don’t centre around obsessively arguing about whether one style of teaching is better than another, which subjects should or should not be included in the curriculum, how to make it easier to memorise unnecessary information and how many times children need to be tested on their tables.

Indeed All Change Please! isn’t called All Change Please! because it wants Just A Little Bit of Change Now and Again Please! It’s because all things need to change. What we really should be discussing is our ideas about how all schools are going to need to change and evolve rapidly evolve in the very near future, and at the same time how to ensure the quality of the almost inevitable growth on online learning and assessment that will lead the change. To get an idea of the scale of the implications for the world of education, just ask someone in the music, publishing and retail industries if the way things work now are the same as they were in the year 2000, and how much time they spend debating whether or not we should be going back to using traditional methods of selling the same products and services from the 1950s. While everyone else prepares for the Fourth Industrial Revolution – that’s the one after the IT age – education is still way back in the second one.

Thus the first Really Big Issue, which the Df-ingE seems intent on denying and publishing misleading figures about, is the consequences of the forthcoming teacher shortage, due at least in part to their highly successful ‘Let’s Blame the Teacher’ campaign they have been running (together with the recently launched parallel ‘Let’s Also Blame the Parents’ campaign). That’s because there’s an easy solution to the shortage that the Df-ingE have doubtless had in mind all along, following the worrying lead of Brazil and Australia, which is to simply plug children into ‘Sit down, switch on and shut up’ computer-based teaching systems for several hours each day. This has the extra advantage of giving the large corporate preferred suppliers massive contracts to make loads of money while spending as little as possible on the actual teaching and learning content, which will be created by programmers rather than educationalists. The companies that create these teaching systems don’t really care what the purpose of education is – beyond making them a healthy profit – let alone how to achieve it, and so just churn out an endless stream of personalised big data generated knowledge-recall multiple choice questions and test scores. This isn’t education. It’s factory farming.

And the other Really Big Issue is the ingrained belief that we still live in a world of the individual expert who knows a lot about very little, and that by the time a child leaves school and university they have been told and remembered everything there is to know. We appear to be obsessed with the ability to remember things at the expense of problem-solving and management skills. Just saying “Because we don’t know exactly what knowledge will be needed in the future we will go on teaching them the same old stuff in the same old way” and implementing the EBacc isn’t an acceptable answer. And it’s starting to look like the only way to achieve this is going to be for headteachers to unilaterally agree not to play the numbers game anymore.

Meanwhile what we do know is that our children will need to be creative and collaborative team workers and communicators, have excellent personnel management and communication skills and be able and willing to learn new knowledge and skills throughout their lives on an almost daily basis – all with no teacher there to inform and test them. More than ever before they will need to identify and maximise their particular individual capabilities and passions and be able to apply them alongside a sound, fundamental grasp of digital technologies, business, economics and psychology. And if we are to remain competitive as a nation and as a culture, these aren’t things that can be just bolted-on in the occasional off-timetable after-school club, but need to underpin the whole curriculum experience from Year 1 to Year 13 and on into further and life-long education. Make no mistake – if we don’t, then China will – or rather, already is.

It will also become increasingly important that today’s children realise that learning is not just something boring and tedious that happens under duress at school sitting at a computer answering endless multiple choice questions, but is something that is pleasurable, enriching and fulfilling and happens throughout life, and through the whole community. Importantly, as adults, they will then need to pass on the same positive values and aspirations to their own children.

The purpose of education is to prepare our children for the future. Not the past. 

Or perhaps it’s just really as All Change Please!’s Smith and Jones previously observed:

Jones: But I always thought the purpose of education was to learn useful things, get some qualifications and then a job serving coffee somewhere?

With thanks to Tony’s Mum and Alan.

Image credit: Flickr ozz13x

Big Issue Seller

Up, up and away…?

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If 1967 was the Summer of Love, then 1976 was the Summer of Hot. Forty years ago, the 1976 UK summer produced the warmest and longest-lasting average temperatures since records began: the sky was always blue and the sun shone brightly for months on end, resulting in drought conditions that prompted the provocative slogan ‘Save Water, Bath With A Friend‘. There’s never been a summer quite like it since.

1976 was also the same year Concorde took to the skies with supersonic speed, the space shuttle Enterprise was unveiled in California and the new Intercity 125 trains took to the tracks. James Hunt won the World Motor Racing Championship, and Jobs and Wozniak founded Apple, though no-one paid much attention at the time. The futuristic Pompidou Centre was nearing completion in Paris. Star Wars was coming. James Callaghan became Prime Minister. Brotherhood of Man won the Eurovision Song Contest while Jonny Rotten quietly muttered a rude word on live TV. Things were definitely on the up. And OFSTED was just a twinkle in some aspiring Tory politician’s eye. Yes, those were the days. We thought they’d never end.

And it just so happens that it was in September 1976 when a young, keen and eager All Change Please! spent a week observing in a typical comprehensive school as part of its far from left-wing Marxist PGCE course. Initially it was surprised that what was going on hadn’t changed much since it had been at school itself, as much as five years before. It noted down in its special file that while there were still some disaffected students being pushed through inappropriate O level subjects that ended with written examinations in the school gym, there were some promising and enterprising Mode 3 CSE courses that had been set up by some of the teachers, often responding to local needs. There was a growing awareness that traditional teaching wasn’t working well enough for all, and project-based learning and problem-solving were the new kids on the block that seemed to hold much promise for the future. The one obvious thing really holding a few of the children behind was a problem with basic literacy and numeracy, but surely that would get sorted out soon enough and things could really start to move ahead at supersonic speed?

Fast forward, or so it seemed, to the late 1970s and All Change Please!’s first teaching post and the first computers were arriving in schools – Commodore PETs and RM 380Zs, and the slightly geekier kids and their teachers were getting excited. There was talk about the day not so far away when it would be possible to read a book on a computer screen, create electronic artwork and perform complex calculations in the blink of an eye. And what was it going to be like when you could link these computers into a network? And just think of the potential these machines might have for helping children learn. The future was surely just around the corner…

At the time it’s probably a good job that no-one told All Change Please! that it was never going to happen, or it might just have given up and gone home. It never guessed that by the time it retired there would still be children who found reading, writing and arithmetic difficult, that there would still be a knowledge-based curriculum with problem-solving, child-centred, project-based learning being viewed with great suspicion and distrust, and that most computer-aided learning programs would be largely a waste of time, simply replicating tired and detested traditional approaches to teaching and being given the silly name of MOOCs. And worst of all that the curriculum and examinations would be dictated not be educationalists any more, but by The Party.

Sadly, as time wore on the optimistic Summer of ’76 dissipated and by late ’78 had somehow transformed into the Winter of Discontent and the subsequent inauguration of Thatcherism and the riots and inner-city ghost towns of the early 1980s, leading inevitably to the situation and circumstances we find ourselves in today. Even Concorde eventually ran out of steam.

The Information Age that was so clearly on the horizon in the 1970s is only just now getting under way. It’s finally beginning to disrupt the way we think, act and live our lives, and to fundamentally start to change the way we do things, and to have a much greater impact than the industrial revolution ever had on the agricultural age. It’s something our education system could and should have been preparing for since the late 1970s, but it hasn’t. Instead our top-down administrative-led organisations and political systems stuck their heads in the ground in the belief that IT and globalisation wouldn’t actually change anything in the future – or perhaps with the fear that it might. After all IT was believed to be ‘just another tool’ that helped automate existing processes, but wouldn’t actually change them. As a result things are now evolving so quickly that our 20th Century systems and infrastructure just can’t cope with them. And Education seems intent on refusing to accept that the world is not the same as it once was, and continues to fail to develop its thinking about what needs to be learnt when, how and by whom. The time for debate about whether teaching should be traditional or progressive has long since passed. What really needs discussing is how our schools are going to completely re-invent themselves to meet the very different needs of future generations.

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Meanwhile, gazing through doubtless rose-tinted sunglasses, back in daily life in the summer of 1976 shops were shut on Sundays which gave everyone a welcome day of rest and family life. Working hours were more reasonable and there were no such things as performance targets. Houses didn’t cost the earth, especially for first-time buyers, enabling those in their early 20s to become home-owners. Public transport was cheap and plentiful, even if like now, it didn’t always run on time. There was less to choose from in the shops, but goods were made in Britain, and there were no complex calculations needed every year to work out which were the best and cheapest energy, tele-communications and insurance providers. And most of all and there wasn’t the pervasive atmosphere of fear, hate and conspicuous greed being thickly spread by politicians and the media. But neither were there flat-screen, multi-channel colour TVs, digital cameras, instant access to the world via mobile smart phones and tablets, online shopping or other ‘modern conveniences’ that somehow for some reason we can’t seem to live without today. 

So was daily life better in 1976 than it is today? It’s impossible to say – some things have got better, and some things have got worse, and it very much depends on one’s particular individual circumstances at the time. It’s just that we did things differently then.

In Education however, it seems that most things have not only stayed the same but have got worse. And that goes for everybody, no matter what their circumstances.

So All Change Please! is just going to go to the beach instead, and stick its head in the sand…

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Image credits: Flickr Commons/ Roger W, Derek Gavey, LetsGoOut