‘A’ is for…

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

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

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

ABC

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

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

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

Academics

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

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

Aesthetics

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

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

An Apple for Teacher

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

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

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

Art

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

Asking Questions

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

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

Assembly

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

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

Assessment

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

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

Awe and wonder

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

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

 

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

Roman Forum (Wikimedia Commons)

Saint John’s School (Flickr Commons)

Mr Glibbly Does Mastermind

Mr Glibbly seems to have been very busy recently. First there was the statement he made about Music Education, in which he revealed how little he actually knew and understood about the subject. Then there were his remarks on the need to ban mobile phones in school, in which he revealed how little he actually knew and understood about the subject. And this week he spoke forth his words of wisdom about getting more girls to study STEM subjects, which, not really surprisingly, revealed how little he actually knew and understood about STEM.

So after last week’s wasted attempt to sit Mr Glibbly down with a nice cup of tea and explain the facts of life as about mobile phones to him, this week All Change Please! thought it would challenge him to a session of Mastermind. Here’s what happened…

Your name is:

Mr Glibbly

Your occupation is:

Secretary in a State about Education

And your chosen specialist subject this week is:

STEM.

Time starts now…

1. What is STEM?

Glibbly: That’s easy – it’s the knowedge-rich study of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics subjects.

Incorrect. STEM is the practical study of the inter-relationship between Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics subjects. There’s not really any such thing as a STEM subject, just subjects that make a contribution to STEM.

2. What is STEAM?

Err. The stuff that comes out of kettles when the water gets hot?

No. The correct answer is the practical study of the inter-relationship between Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics subjects.

3. Has it ever occurred to you that including the Arts in STEM would help make it more attractive to many girls and provide a more balanced approach to future innovations in which human needs would be better matched to our technological capabilties?

Good Lord, No…

Yes, correct! It obviously hasn’t ever occurred to you.

4. What exactly are the ‘STEM skills’ to which you refer?

Learning more and more easily assessable knowledge and facts about Physics, Maths and Coding of course.

No. STEM skills are about things such as planning and organising, creative problem solving, working collaboratively in an inter-disciplinary way, and communicating information effectively.

5. Recent research published by the Df-ingE apparently shows that:

“15-year-old boys are more likely than girls to see STEM subjects as being useful when it comes to getting a job and that girls are less likely to consider a STEM subject as their favourite.”

Is it now government policy that in future boys should only be encouraged to choose useful subjects that will lead to a job, while girls should be free to choose whichever subjects they like doing best?

Well, err, no of course not.

Incorrect. Because that’s exactly what you just suggested it was.

6. You also said you were:

“funding programmes to increase the take up of maths, computing and physics”.

What are you going to do about Engineering, Technology and the other Sciences? In particular why is Design and Technology, which in many respects embodies the underlying inter-disciplinary nature of STEM, being completely ignored?

Err. Let me see. Wait, I know the answer to this one. Oh yes, that’s it: ‘We have reformed the school curriculum to make sure it meets the needs of employers.’

Are you having a laugh?

7. How do you justify calling on “teachers, parents and society in general to challenge and dispel misconceptions some girls have about Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects”, when you don’t even understand what it is yourself?

Well, as I said a moment ago – ‘We have reformed the school curriculum to make sure it meets the needs of employers.’ And what’s more I’ve started, so I’m going to finish…

No. The correct answer is that you obviously are not able to justify doing so.

8. How well do you think you have done as Secretary in a State?

Err. Pass?

Incorrect. You scored just one mark, and therefore you’ve not passed, you’ve failed.

If you’d like to be a candidate on a future edition of Mastermind… don’t become a politician.

 

PS. Mr Glibbly – perhaps some of these downloadable STEM Role Model Posters that celebrate Women Innovators as illustrated by Women Artists might help?

Mr Glibbly plays all the wrong notes in the wrong order

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Encore

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

 

Number 9

It seems like it was only this time last year when All Change Please! was celebrating its 8th birthday, but today it is 9 years old, and as traditional, this is the review of the best of last year’s posts.

First to announce the winners of the highly prestigious ‘most viewed posts’ of the last twelve months. In highly appropriate GCSE reverse order they were….

3. School Island

‘A group of children who don’t know each other are isolated in a secondary school for five years. In this unreal situation they are not allowed access to mobile phones or gain any other information about what is currently happening in the outside world.’

2. Glibbly’s All Fool’s Gold Signature Collection

‘Meanwhile Glibbly’s glistening All Gold EBacc curriculum collection needs some urgent re-branding. Perhaps re-naming it rather more accurately as Glibbly’s All Fool’s Gold Assortment – known for its superficial resemblance to qualifications that are actually worthwhile – would be a good start?’

And the winner is…..

Wait for it….

1. Art Failure at the MichaelGova School

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

Then, as usual, in no particular order, here’s All Change Please!’s selection of its own three favourite posts:

Playing the GCSE Numbers racket

‘We never expected him to do that well, especially as his teachers kept saying how unsatisfactory his work was, and that he wouldn’t get his E back. Mind you I wasn’t surprised they had confiscated it – I kept telling him not to take drugs into school – but I expect his teachers needed it themselves.”

Tonight at Morning Break

“Independent schools announce they will now only accept children who are eligible for free school meals
School children will hold Ofsted inspectors to account
Children will meet teachers and parents on cold winter evenings to discuss their progress as adults
And a portrait of Michael Gove will be hung upside down in the entrance to every school…”

Is Nick Glibbly Having A Laugh?

‘This Christmas Nick Glibbly is appearing in Pantomime at the Df-ingE, where he will play the comedy role of Michael Gove. He has also been nominated for a Derrière Comedy Award at next year’s Edinburgh Festival in the ‘Least Likely Politician To Succeed In A New Career As A Comedian’ category.’

 

Meanwhile, in a far distant galaxy sometime in the not-so-near future that has nothing whatsoever to do with formal education, All Change Please! has recently found itself writing some very different sorts of posts, contributing to a blog site analysing the Beatles’ ‘White’ album, prior to the 50th anniversary of its release in November 1968. If you weren’t there then, or were and don’t remember it, there was definitely something in the air – a real sense of hope that things were starting to change. It was a time of revolution and riot, well at least it was if you were a University student – the rest of the country read about it in their newspapers or watched it in the comfort of their homes on their black and white TVs.

Today the Beatles’ double album is still a remarkable achievement, showcasing the band at the height of its musical creativity, experimenting with the new technology to discover new ways of creating music that matched their subversive multi-layered lyrics. The extraordinary ‘Revolution 9’, which featured a repeated voice saying ‘Number 9’, was strongly influenced by modern classical composer Karlheinz Stockhausen. It was an eight minute collage of sound recordings that today would not stand a snowball’s chance in hell of being included on the latest album of a best-selling, chart-topping globally successful group. As such it is almost certainly the best-selling piece of ‘avant-garde’ music of all time, even if most people tended to skip it after the first listen!

Meanwhile, 50 years later, All Change Please! is still waiting for Revolution Number 1 to start happening in the current education system. It guesses it will just probably have to wait another year…

Image credit: Ian Melbourne93

School Island

All Change Please! has somehow recently managed to obtain a recording of one of Alan Partridge’s audio memos – intended for his assistant Lynn to type up – which he regularly used to record ideas for possible new TV shows to pitch. Here’s the transcript:

“Another TV idea: ‘School Island’. A group of children who don’t know each other are isolated in a secondary school for five years. In this unreal situation they are not allowed access to mobile phones or gain any other information about what is currently happening in the outside world.

As they compete to see who can gain the highest grades and most qualifications they are required to undertake a series of ridiculous meaningless and often humiliating challenges, such as seeing who can sit still and stay awake the longest, remember and then write down the most facts, wear exactly the correct school uniform, etc. These will be determined and set by the programme directors – to be known as senior management teams and politicians.

The children will be continually monitored by the hosts – let’s call them teachers – and TV cameras who will watch their every movement, manipulating the participants to cause maximum distress and mental illness to help increase viewing figures. The audience will vote to decide which children should be excluded for bad behaviour.

The winning children will be offered lucrative deals (at their own expense) to attend Russell Group Universities.

Lynn – please check if anything similar has already been done before.”

And finally, do make sure you watch this clip that provides worrying evidence of the devastating impact of the knowledge rich curriculum on the limited working memory.

Mr Glibbly’s Extremely Tall Tales

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, Mr Glibbly decided to ask some people what it was that made a really excellent teacher. Of course he already knew the answer because he was jolly clever – he’d been to school once himself and it had all worked out very well for him. However he thought that if there was an official ‘consultation’, all the teachers might feel as if they were in control, even though they weren’t in the slightest.

So those teachers who had any time, i.e. mostly those who had retired early, submitted some very wise words, drawing on their many years of real experience in the classroom.

For example:

‘Teaching is a craft profession. Teachers need to; understand their subject, manage their learning environment, enable self-determined learning and broker their learners interests with educational accreditation. Teaching Excellence, or the social responsibility of educators, consists of mastering their profession in order to enable learners to learn.’

‘Teachers need to create flexible scaffolding that supports children as they explore their own learning. They need to respect and seek to build on children’s own intelligence, creativity and aspirations, but at the same time be inspirational and drive motivation through a mixture of positive criticism and encouragement.’

‘Excellent teaching is “watchful neglect”. It’s about kindling fires of interest and fanning flames of participation (observing at a distance with suitable accelerants and extinguishers). Excellent teachers help learners discover for themselves what they are good at and use the confidence this builds to confront weaknesses and new opportunities.’

‘Excellent teachers teach ironically: well-informed and passionate about their specialism, they nevertheless put teaching the individual student above teaching their subject; they structure and lead learning, whilst celebrating the autonomy of their students from the start. This comes to some teachers naturally; some have to work hard to achieve it.’

Unfortunately, these were not at all the sort of answers Mr Glibbly was looking for, so he didn’t give them any marks and decided to write his own description of the most important things a teacher needed to know in order to become excellent. Can you guess what he wrote? It’s not difficult…! It went:

Where to stand, so as to see all the pupils;
How to use and vary tone of voice throughout the lesson;
Who to question, what to ask, and how to ask it;
How to sequence examples and explanations;
How to use humour;
Where to sit particular pupils;
How to build on prior knowledge; and
How to build a class culture over the course of an academic year.

If only teaching and learning was that simple!

Poor Mr Glibbly. He didn’t realise he was making a complete fool of himself by revealing how long it must have been since he had been in a classroom trying to teach a Shakespeare play to 32 disaffected 15 year-olds, if indeed he ever had? He just doesn’t understand that there was no such thing as good and bad teaching methods – just good or bad teachers.

Of course it’s different for Mr Glibbly, because there are good and bad policies and good and bad politicians. And we all know which category he and his policies fall into, don’t we?

Silly Mr Glibbly. We’d really like to help him become an excellent politician, so here’s our list of what we think he needs to do:

Tune In;
Turn On;
Resign Now.

 

With thanks to Fred, Alan and Tony for their wise words, and Other T for his type.

Glibbly’s All Fool’s Gold Signature Collection

The other day Mr Glibbly was in fine form, cleverly avoiding questions about teachers’ pay and announcing what a wonderful thing the new GCSE’s ‘designed with employers in mind’ were (providing that is that they can understand the new numbering system):

“These more rigorous, gold-standard GCSEs are helping to nurture the next generation of scientists, linguists and historians. Whatever pupils want to do with their lives, these qualifications will prepare them for future success and help deliver the skills Britain needs to be fit for the future.”

All of which is indeed wonderful, assuming of course you are a student who wants to become a scientist, linguist or historian when you grow up, which quite a few don’t.

At the same time someone you’ve never heard of from the CBI, endorsed ‘today’s important focus on knowledge’, before helpfully adding ‘this partnership must also ensure we are prioritising teaching that encourages critical thinking, creativity, and teamwork’ – doubtless without realising that all of these things are completely ignored in Glibbly’s glistening All-Gold signature selection box of limited edition, academic-only GCSE subjects guaranteed to be completely free from Arts, and containing no soft-centred skills whatsoever.

Meanwhile All Change Please! can’t help but notice that many of today’s job specifications seem to require a rather different background skill-set to those acquired through a ‘knowledge-rich’ formative experience in our schools and leading universities.

For example, in one such recent and genuine job specification, for a one-year, fixed term contract, part-time position, paying around a pro-rata average London wage, only one of the desirable (as opposed to essential) criteria was knowledge-based, and that was a knowledge of HTML.

“You will be responsible for:

  • Further developing and leading our communications strategy in line with the organisation’s strategic aims, identifying audiences, messages, channels and methods of evaluation.
  • Planning and delivering effective and timely communications activity based on this strategy, building and maintaining a consistent brand.
  • Writing creative communications materials and content including: brochures and leaflets; blogs; learning materials; communications with key supporters, e.g. e-newsletters; innovative/creative materials e.g. animations/videos; media/press releases.
  • Designing and developing engaging online content that can be re-purposed across multiple channels.
  • Working with multiple stakeholders/partners to coordinate communications activities
  • Leading on media relations, proactively identifying news stories and ensuring that a consistent message is delivered.
  • Collaborating with and managing input from design and other agencies
  • Planning and implementing appropriate methods for evaluation of the communications strategy, and monitor and analyse the results.
  • Briefing or commissioning volunteers, freelancers and contractors when needed.
  • Managing part of the communications budget (and delivering value for money).

You should have experience in the following:

Essential

  • Proven ability to conceive, implement and evaluate successful and cost-effective communication strategies and activities (including an understanding of how to identify audiences, create appropriately differentiated content and use relevant channels).
  • Track record of writing and editing, preferably different types of writing for different publications and platforms (e.g. web, social media, e-newsletters, learning materials).
  • Ability to communicate clearly and effectively with a wide range of stakeholders, in person, online and in print.
  • Experience of assimilating complex information quickly, identifying the pertinent points and making them accessible for a wide range of audiences.
  • Well-developed interpersonal, advocacy and diplomacy skills.
    Experience of pitching stories to the media and responding to media enquiries.
  • Experience of commissioning freelancers (e.g. designers, web developers)/external agencies to carry out specific projects as part of a wider communications strategy, and managing those relationships.
  • Experience of managing social media accounts (twitter, facebook etc) and commissioning video.
  • Experience of sourcing images and print buying.
  • Capacity to work independently, problem-solve, handle multiple projects, and exercise good judgment in an organised and professional manner.
  • Experience in communications to support resource development/fundraising.

Desirable

  • Background in or demonstrable understanding of and passion for our mission.
  • Experience of managing/coordinating communications across partnerships
  • Experience of budget management.
  • Experience of Google Analytics
  • Knowledge of HTML (for when the CMS doesn’t quite do what you intend)
  • Experience of brand management
  • Understanding of web legislation and best practice.

Blimey! So where’s the bit about knowing everything there is to know about science, languages and history and being able to write essays? Surely at least part of the school curriculum urgently needs to start to prepare our children to become fluent in the workplace of the present, let alone the future?

Meanwhile Glibbly’s glistening All Gold EBacc curriculum collection needs some urgent re-branding. Perhaps re-naming it rather more accurately as Glibbly’s All Fool’s Gold Assortment – known for its superficial resemblance to qualifications that are actually worthwhile  – would be a good start?

 

Image credit: It’s not Terry’s, it’s Tristram’s…

Let’s ask the Magic 8 Ball

9775164755_65c81a60c2_z.jpg

Yes, as unbelievable as Brexit sounds, today, the 28th October 2017, is All Change Please!s Magical Eighth birthday. And that means it’s time for All Change Please!’s surprisingly regular annual Review of the Year post…

To begin with, regular readers might have noticed that All Change Please! has been a lot less prolific than in previous years: instead of an average of posting once a fortnight, it’s been more like once a month. Except for February, April and May when seemingly absolutely nothing happened to inspire All Change Please! to take pen to paper, or rather finger to keyboard. However the world of education seemed to come back to life a bit more during September and October…

So what were All Change Please!‘s greatest number of hits of 2016-17?

1. The Blunders of Government

Way out ahead in the prestigious Number One ‘Top of the Posts’ spot was the runaway ‘The Blunders of Government’ which featured a dialogue between Sir Humphrey Appleby and a compendium of Education Secretaries from the past 7 years.

2. Theresa in Wonderland

Some way behind was All Change Please!’s Christmas special which identified the close connection between Mrs May and Alice, with Nigel Farage in the role of the Cheshire Cat, and The Queen of Hearts (deftly played by Angela Merkel) boasting that sometimes she believed as many as six impossible things before Brexit.

3. Problem still unsolved….

In which it was revealed that students place little value on creativity and problem-solving, largely because the schools they go to don’t either.

 

But as always, what appeals most to the bloglovin’ public rarely reflects All Change Please!’s own favourites of the year which included:

4. Fun-filled gender-fluid self curated personas at the Df-ingE 

Cool. No problem. Read again?

5. Pass Notes: What is GCSE Irritative Design.

Your cut-out and weep guide to D&T…

 

Meanwhile, All Change Please! got to wondering about who invented the Magic 8 Ball and when, and how it worked – and not for the first time managed to find everything it wanted to know on Wikipedia.

“The Magic 8-Ball is a toy used for fortune-telling or seeking advice, developed in the 1950s and manufactured by Mattel. It is often used in fiction, often for humor related to its giving accurate, inaccurate, or otherwise statistically improbable answers.

An 8-ball was used as a fortune-telling device in the 1940 Three Stooges short, You Nazty Spy!, and called a “magic ball”. While Magic 8-Ball did not exist in its current form until 1950, the functional component was invented by Albert C. Carter, inspired by a spirit writing device used by his mother, Mary, a Cincinnati clairvoyant.

The Magic 8-Ball is a hollow plastic sphere resembling an oversized, black-and-white 8-ball. Inside a cylindrical reservoir contains a white, plastic, icosahedron floating in alcohol dyed dark blue. Each of the die’s 20 faces has an affirmative, negative, or non-committal statement printed in raised letters. These messages are read through a window on the ball’s bottom.

To use the ball, it must be held with the window initially facing down. After “asking the ball” a yes-no question, the user then turns the ball so that the window faces up, setting in motion the liquid and die inside. When the die floats to the top and one face presses against the window, the raised letters displace the blue liquid to reveal the message as white letters on a blue background.

The 20 answers inside a standard Magic 8-Ball are:

It is certain

It is decidedly so

Without a doubt

Yes definitely

You may rely on it

As I see it, yes

Most likely

Outlook good

Yes

Signs point to yes

Reply hazy try again

Ask again later

Better not tell you now

Cannot predict now

Concentrate and ask again

Don’t count on it

My reply is no

My sources say no

Outlook not so good

Very doubtful

All of which leads All Change Please! to the inevitable conclusion that it’s Mrs May’s Magic 8 Ball which undoubtedly forms the basis of current government policy-making and Brexit negotiations…

If you have been…  keep watching this space!

 

 

Image credit:  Flickr/David Bergin

Open-ended Complex Policy Solving

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“Mr Glibbly: Please just get rid of this stupid, unworkable EBacc policy – we don’t want anything in exchange for it”

You may, or may well have not, noticed that All Change Please! has been strangely quiet recently. That’s mainly because there has been Very Little Change Please! about in terms of education over the past few months, and also, as several commentators have noticed, the world of politics is now far more self-satirical than your actual satire can ever be.

Anyway, All Change Please! has recently been thinking about all these proposed Governmental Policies that have recently issued forth and then been sent back in again because they weren’t working or indeed wanted, and started wondering who actually writes them and whether they have the faintest idea what they are actually proposing?

In most organisations, institutions and businesses, everything starts and ends with policy. A policy is a positive principle to guide decisions and achieve required outcomes. Policies tend to be determined by those ‘at the top’, to be put into practice by Senior Managers and passed down through middle managers to the worker-ants below. Policy determines what should and shouldn’t be done, what is and isn’t acceptable, and most importantly, if funding will be provided for it. If something contradicts policy, it just can’t be done – it’s as simple as that. Policy says No! This often makes innovation within management structures difficult, because any significant change is likely to involve reviewing and rewriting policy.

Good policy statements are crucial to success, and it would therefore seem to make sense to invest time, resources and expertise into ensuring they are going to be effective, appropriate, and above all, deliverable. Yet in practice, that’s rarely what happens. Most policy statements, while perhaps laudable in their intent, are prepared with little reference to the practicalities of their implementation or the effect they might have. They are often written by academics, administrators and civil servants with little experience of reality or how to actually set about successfully solving complex, open-ended problems. Too many high-flying academic students leave school and Russell Group Universities for senior positions in management or politics with next-to-no understanding or experience of real-world problem-solving and communication.

Indeed the policy-writing process seems to be: identify the problem, consider options, make decisions, publish and implement. This bears a certain resemblance to what is known more widely as the problem-solving process – but with one major difference, in that there is no attempt to model, test, evaluate and iterate possible solutions before and while they are being implemented. Further difficulties often occur when a policy is then briefed and specified because those charged with doing so are insufficiently trained or experienced in defining and effectively communicating the parameters of what can and can’t be done to achieve the desired outcome.

Here’s an insider account account of the policy writing process: The Mysteries of Government Policy. To summarise the author’s account of the way it works:

1. Ignore all past documents on the subject to give yourself a fresh perspective.

2. To upset stakeholders, send the draft out for comment but delay consultation until after the draft has been finalised and too late to change.

3. To ensure it is already out-dated, delay publication by taking as long as possible to respond to comments to the consultation in full.

4. Maximise publicity for the policy release, but try to ensure no-one knows it was written by you.

5. Sit back and watch as people discover that the policy is almost impossible to implement and creates more problems than before it was decided that a new policy was needed.

Meanwhile back in school, let’s take the familiar example of a Behaviour Policy. Often carefully and clearly worded by the SMT it’s published in the handbook and staff and students are expected to abide by it. Except of course in many cases they don’t. That’s because in the reality of the classroom, corridor and playground it’s not as simple as that. To be successful, a good policy needs to be supported on a daily basis by SMT who will need to spend time evaluating how well it is working and what the problems are, and then developing and continually evolving the policy as circumstances change. There also needs to be opportunity for staff and student participation in the process. It may well be that both staff and students need assistance or training in understanding how to apply the policy and how it only works if everyone follows it. If only creating Government Policy worked this way…

Similarly, a manufacturing company would never proceed to invest in the production of a million or so newly designed widgets unless it was absolutely sure they worked properly, that there was a popular market for them, that they could be effectively distributed, and made and sold profitably. And future models would be continually updated to increase sales or encourage repeat purchases. But for some reason this rational approach just doesn’t seem to apply to Government Policy-making.

And here’s OFSTED’s Amanda Spielman announcing that perhaps their policies over the past 25 years have not been successful as they should have been, and in future a bit more participation with teachers and researchers might just be a good idea.  But as Michelle Hanson points out, the damage has already been well and truly done.

Until a way is found to improve the way the Df-ingE formulates future government policy through stakeholder participation, extensive trials, rigorous evaluation and a commitment to support long-term support and review, desirable change in what goes on in our schools is unlikely to happen. And in the meanwhile it seems crazy that at present there is no structured or coordinated programme of teaching and learning problem-identification and problem-solving for all children in our schools. A little bit of creativity wouldn’t go amiss either. But of course that can’t happen until it becomes policy…

 

Image credit: Flickr/Policy Exchange

Test Your Academic Strength!

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‘Strong’ it seems, is the new ‘good’.

The Df-ingE’s latest whizz-bang ‘let’s see if we can get away with just changing the name’ idea is to differentiate between ‘standard’ and ‘strong’ GCSE ‘passes’ at levels 4 and 5. All Change Please! would like to propose that this is taken further by installing a suitably diagnostic ‘Test Your Academic Level Strengthometer’ in every school, similar to the one above.

The reality is that the main impact of this new scale will be to provide greater differentiation amongst the most academically-able students, enabling Russell Group Universities to select the very, very, very best instead of just the ordinary best. But of course at this level the reliability of the assessment of potential based on a two-hour final written paper subjectively marked by a single examiner is extremely low. It’s a bit like choosing a car solely on the basis that it can accelerate from 0 to 60 in 5.8 seconds over a different make that takes 5.9 seconds, and on the understanding that it’s not actually possible to calculate such a measurement accurately due to such a wide range of variables.

In fact assessment of academic potential at this level is so unreliable that instead of a ‘Test Your Academic Level Strengthometer’ machine, a fruit machine would probably be a better bet, so let’s install some of those in schools instead of the current complex, expensive and unreliable examination system. Students could just pull a handle and get an immediate result – three 9s and you’re in to Oxbridge. Three raspberries and you’re on income support for the rest of your life…

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Meanwhile All Change Please! continues to find it distressing that, beyond the 25% of the population who will go through life have being stamped as ‘standard’, almost no-one seems to be concerned about the roughly 32% of students who will emerge from 11 years of attending school with absolutely nothing…not even a ‘No-levels‘ qualification.

At least there’s someone out there who has written about the issue: Is everyone OK with the fact that our school system forces 30% of children to fail their GCSEs?

And of course there’s also comparative judgement

Image credits:  Top  Flickr/jimjarmo   Middle  Wikimedia Antoine Taveneaux