Mr Glibbly uses the ‘S’ word

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

No, Stop Messing About!

 

 

As readers of a certain advanced age will know, Kenneth Williams was a cast member of the popular 1950s radio programme Hancock’s Half Hour.  And that his catch-phrase was ‘No, Stop Messing About’.  Fast forward some 55 years and the cast members of Matthew Hancock’s Half Hour seem intent on doing what they know how to do best: messing about with education.

Further to the examples they recently gave of their plans for new world-class 19th century vocational education, the DfE has since come up with another to add to woodwork, dressmaking and how to wire up a light bulb.

“In the past, too often they would learn some abstract theory at school. They might describe an engine, for example, rather than actually strip down and rebuild a motorbike. They would then struggle to find work, or an employer willing to give them the training they should have already received”.

Ah yes, good old motor-cycle maintenance. Yes, a lot of employers are currently looking for school-leavers able to plug one end of a computer cable into a motorbike so that the completely closed system can be automatically repaired and fine-tuned. Still All Change Please! supposes such a course might come in useful when they need to ‘get on their bikes’, Norman Tebbit style, to go to look for work in some other country.

Meanwhile, somehow the DfE have been messing about so effectively that they have somehow managed to completely miss this report from from the New Economics Foundation Innovation Institute, which clearly sets out the issues for STEM-related learning.

“The skills crisis is a well-aired issue, but forecasting the skills requirements tends to be based on immediate local or short-term priorities. There is no coherent vision and no national strategy.

The problem has been exacerbated by the rapid technological change that is sweeping through the workplace: 3D printing, robotics, nanotechnology, cloud computing, mobile technology and the internet are causing major disruption in many sectors. New roles are proliferating, while traditional skills are falling out of fashion.

Why, for example, are so many colleges focusing on carpentry and bricklaying and ignoring building information modelling software, which will become compulsory on all government construction projects from 2016?

We should also move away from outdated assessment and qualification models. These create artificial learning levels that can hold back a student’s natural pace of enquiry and development. Learning should be student-led, with the tutor acting as coach and facilitator. It should be grounded in real-life scenarios and placed into context.”

The full report can be downloaded here

And if it had recently heard from its collective brain instead of thinking about nothing else but the possibility of an extended playtime, the DfE would have surely studied this Infographic, provided of course that they had not got it messed up and completely obliterated by sawdust and engine oil.  It presents what it claims will be the 10 most important work skills in 2020. Driven by our increasing longevity, the rise of smart machines and programmable systems, a new media ecology, superstructured organisations and the diversity and adaptability of a globally connected, the skills our current generation of schoolchildren will require include: Sense making, Social Intelligence, Novel and Adaptive Thinking, Cross Cultural Competency, Computational Thinking, New Media Literacy, Transdisciplinarity, a Design Mindset, Cognitive Load Management and Virtual Collaboration. And All Change Please! would like to add its own ‘Quality Long-term Health Care’ for those of us who are actually old enough to remember Hancock’s Half Hour.

Of course no-one knows exactly what the skills of the future will be, but that’s the point – what we need to do is to ensure today’s students know how to acquire new knowledge and be able to learn new skills as they emerge during their lifetime.

In this age and culture of technology, surely what we urgently need is a technology-led rather than academic-led curriculum? Now that really would, as Kenneth Williams might have described it, be ‘Fantabulosa’.

But until that happy event, please DfE, just STOP MESSING ABOUT

And finally, if you haven’t already, do scroll back up to the top and watch at least the first couple of minutes of the video to listen to Kenneth Williams trying to pick up a female-impersonating Hancock…

Thinking the Unthinkable

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On All Change Please!’s list of set texts this week was an article by Lucy Mangan in The Guardian, reminding us that the real point of studying English Literature at school was to develop a love of reading. And for the majority of children that’s unlikely to involve umpteen Shakespeare plays and 19th Century British novels. She even dares to suggest that perhaps there should not be any examinations in the subject. Quite unthinkable, of course…!  Lucy Mangan: Don’t stop with Steinbeck – let’s can all of Eng Lit

But what’s emerging in the new GCSEs is an increasing emphasis on academic subject content – even in the more practical subjects – as a preparation for study at university, with the doubtless result that an equally increasing number of children will, after 11 long years of formal education, be quite incorrectly tagged as being failures in life. And then there are the new A levels to consider. Their narrow, academic-led requirements are entirely inappropriate for most 16-18 year olds. With Gove’s new specifications sounding more and more like old-fashioned A and O levels it seems increasingly likely that BTECs will become the new second-class equivalents of the old CSE, so there’s some major long-term re-thinking that needs to go on here too if we are going to create a credible more technical or vocationally-orientated alternative that will have the necessary status in life and future employment.

Somehow we seem to have lost touch with the underlying essentials of learning. Also on All Change Please!‘s reading list was this worthy article in which the basis for GCSE assessment in Design & Technology is earnestly discussed:  Devising a learning journey for D&T

While it provides an enlightened exploration of the way in which potential 3D product designers of the future need to be educated, it fails to account for the fact that the vast majority of children who sit the examination are unlikely to end up working in this particular and highly specialised field.

The inherent value in D&T lies in the way in which it can help children learn how to develop the creative and analytic ability to propose worthwhile solutions to complex, open-ended problems, and to successfully communicate those ideas to others. At the heart of this is the highly transferable concept of modelling – representing ideas in different formats, materials and at different scales that make it easier, quicker and cheaper to explore and try ideas out. It also helps provide a rationale for a critical appraisal of the technological products, places and communications children will go on to encounter throughout life as consumers, citizens or specifiers.

The processes and products of professional design merely serve as a contextual reference point: D&T in schools shouldn’t be about overtly preparing children to become 3D professional product designers, which is what only a very small minority might become. Yet at GCSE the D&T debate seems to be centred around the assessment of a high level of knowledge of the application of mechanical and electronic control systems, the properties and working characteristics of a specified rage of materials, and associated tools and manufacturing processes, all based on an out-dated 1960s version of industrial design with a bit of added CAD-CAM. And it’s the same with the other GCSE subjects: they are far too specialised and wrapped up in their own inefficient, discrete, non-transferable academic bodies of knowledge.

Meanwhile All Change Please! recently heard of a school where a KS3 group were successfully undertaking extended cross-curricular project work. When challenged as to how this would meet the requirements of the various subject-based Programmes of Study, the response was that they were ignoring them and relying on their ability to demonstrate that they were effectively delivering the Importance Statements that come at the very start of each National Curriculum subject specification. In the rush to cross the t’s and dot the i’s of the PoS, the Importance Statements provide the rationale for what should really be happening in schools, yet in practice they are usually ignored and rendered impotent rather than important. Again, surely it’s time to start thinking different?

Finally, another article on All Change Please!‘s entirely global 21st century reading list, again from The Guardian, somewhat shatters the notion that undertaking an academic degree at a leading university will in itself provide a passport to a lifetime of well-paid work:  The ten skills students really need when they graduate

According to the author, there are some other things graduates looking for employment will need to be able to demonstrate as well their academic ability, such as a good business sense, a global mindset, a sound digital footprint, office etiquette, computer literacy, teamwork and people skills. Instead of more and more specialist academic subject knowledge, we should surely be paying more attention to these requirements in our school curriculum?

If we are going to develop a curriculum and delivery system fit for the 21st Century, then perhaps it’s time we started to think the unthinkable?

 

Image credit: Flickr gforsythe