Let’s ask the Magic 8 Ball

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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.

Meanwhile many thanks to Tom Sherrington for publishing his suggested new level descriptors on Twitter.

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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

A New Grammar Comprehensive in Every Town

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All Change Please! is perhaps best known for its satirical announcements of surreal Df-ingE policies that attempt to reveal them for the nonsense the real ones are. But this time All Change Please! has a truly serious suggestion to make.

Before it does so though it is important to be aware that Df-ingE policy is never derived from even its lack of understanding of the reality of teaching and learning going on in our schools. Much of what they do involves little more than a re-branding exercise in which the name is changed but the processes of teaching and learning remain the same. It’s all politically-motivated spin intended to reassure its loyal Daily Mail readers that the government is successfully putting the Great back into Britain so that the electorate will put the Tories back into Government when the next general election finally occurs.

But currently it seems that Mrs May or May Not is facing considerable criticism of the new school funding arrangements and of her run-it-up-the-flagpole policy of reintroducing grammar schools. So without further ado, here’s All Change Please! very helpful suggestion…

All Change Please!‘s proposal is that Mrs May or May Not should announce the introduction of special new ‘Grammar Comprehensives‘ in every town. These will be existing comprehensives or academies that agree to set up special grammar-school streams in which the academically-able will be exclusively taught. That way every child will potentially have access to Russell Group universities, and individuals can easily transfer across streams at any appropriate time. Selection for the stream will be sometime during the first term, based on teacher assessment rather than test, thus meaning that wealthy parents will not be able to play the system by paying for extra tuition. At the same time, the money saved from setting up new grammar schools can be diverted into re-balancing the school funding crisis for all.

If the idea were to be adopted it could be spun in the Daily Mail as a brilliant innovative Tory initiative that will both significantly improve social mobility and save school budgets. It really is a win-win solution!

Meanwhile, once the sign at the school gates has been suitably altered, of course schools, teachers and students will simply and quietly get on with what the majority of them have already been doing for years anyway. And all it takes is a change of name.

But perhaps All Change Please! should keep its idea to itself, lest the Df-ingE start to get a reputation for doing something sensible and thereby help the Tories get returned in the next election? So for now, perhaps better to keep the suggestion to yourself….

Image credit: DC Thompson

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

Fool’s Gold

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

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

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

English universities to be ranked gold, silver and bronze

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

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

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

 

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

All that glisters…

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After many years of hard slog, a group of students celebrate winning A level Gold, before coming down with a bump when they discover how much taking a degree is going to cost and deciding not to bother.

As the UK basks in its outstanding performance in the GCSE and A level Examination Games, in which 27 of its heroic students won top academic Gold medals and are given a golden bus-top parade through the golden streets of London, politicians have been quick to point out that all we need to do is show the same approach to Brexit and everything will be wonderful again, just as it wasn’t in the 1950s.

As a result, the Df-ingE are planning to introduce a new socially inclusive policy initiative in which a small number of young students with exactly the right academic capabilities will be painstakingly selected, and millions of pounds – cleverly extracted from the poor through lottery funding – will be allocated to their education to ensure that they achieve full marks in each of the subjects they take at GCSE and A level, before proceeding to a top private school and Oxbridge and receiving an OBE or Knighthood. As a result we will gain a handful of highly educated individuals who might just possibly be clever enough to sort the whole EuroMess out for us, while the rest of the population make do with a quick jog round the block before breakfast in a half-hearted attempt to pass a few GCSEs.

Meanwhile the running, jumping and standing-still Olympic Games Committee were recently sitting down discussing the problem that some countries were gaming the system to improve their medal table position by focusing on easier-to-win Bronze medals. They are therefore introducing a new method called Progress 8 and Attainment 8 in which athletes will be awarded medals on the progress they have made in 8 events since the last Olympic Games, four years previously. The various events will be placed in a number of so-called buckets, with the main Running events bucket worth double, the Jumping bucket, and the three best standards achieved in the Standing-still bucket. The results will be converted to points and then for some reason divided by ten, and that average is an athlete’s final Attainment 8 score. Officials will run regular tests to ensure there are no holes in any of the buckets, especially the Russian’s.

A competitor’s Progress 8 score is derived by comparing their forecast Attainment 8 score – based on the results achieved by athletes with the same prior attainment at the previous Olympics – to their Attainment 8 score. Countries will be expected to achieve the minimum running track standard of -0.5 which indicates the athlete’s average achievement is a half a medal below the average of other countries with the same expected progress. Confused? You will be…

A spokesrunner for the Olympic Committee explained: “Apparently this will make it a lot easier to identity which countries are performing well at the Games, although it might be a little while before the general public manages to understand how the new system works. To be honest I’m not quite sure I grasp it myself.  Oh, and we’re now calling them baskets instead of buckets, because that sounds more friendly and makes you think of summer picnics, doesn’t it? Meanwhile I can also announce that in a further bid to increase standards, it has also been decided in future the 100, 200 and 400 meters will be extended to a more rigorous 110, 220 and 440 metres.

Unbelievable… You couldn’t make it up – or could you?

Image credit: Flickr/Vlad

Why Are We Waiting…?

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Back in late 2015 / early 2016 – long before the term Brexit had been conceived – we all worked hard to submit two important homework tasks that we had been set by the DfingE. The first was write an essay on ‘The Purpose Of Education’, and the second was to provide helpful suggestions as to how the target of 90% of children taking the EBacc could be achieved – although many students mis-interpreted the question as being ‘Explain why making 90% of children take the EBacc is a really really bad idea‘. All Change Please! duly provided the following responses:

No Minister, No, No, No

The Really Big Issues

Any Answers?

So where are the results of our labours? When are we going to be told how we did? Did we pass or fail? Who came top? Do we have to do corrections? Will we have to stay in after school and do the tasks again?

If Ofsted visited a school and found unmarked homework from six months ago it would be far from impressed. So DfingE, just for once, do what teachers do and give up your evenings and weekends, stop watching the Olympics and catch up on your marking. We’d like some feedback please…

Or perhaps you have discovered some things you don’t want us to know?

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And finally, on the subject of Maggie May’s pledge to bring back Secondary Modern Schools, a deranged Number 10 spokesman is reported to have said: “The prime minister has been clear that we need to build a country that works for everyone, not just the privileged few.

As a result we are therefore opening up new grammar schools for the privileged few.” he mysteriously didn’t add…

Image credits: Flickr/ Steven Worster (top) , Kristine Lewis  (lower)

Team Df-ingE are Going for Gold

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In a few days time our TV screens will be saturated with coverage of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, and All Change Please! can’t help but be reminded of its very first post, published on the 28th October 2009 – so long ago that Labour were still in power. Sadly little has changed since then, except that ‘Gold’ has now been re-cast as ‘EBacc’. Here’s an extract:

The Olympic Games Committee made a surprise announcement today in which it stated that in future Gold medals will only be awarded to the winners of the 100 metres, which it considers to be the only true test of an athlete. Winners of other track events that involve at least some competitive speed running will only be awarded Silver medals, while other, so called ‘soft sports’ such as pole-vaulting or horse-riding will only gain winners Bronze medals. Team games, in which it is impossible to identify a single winner, and sports that can be played professionally, such as football and boxing, will still be offered as recreational fringe events, but no medals will be awarded. A spokesperson said ‘It’s essential not to further devalue the gold standard, and we hope that this action will encourage more athletes to train for and compete in the 100 metres’.

Crazy, and of course quite untrue. Except that in the UK that’s exactly how we view the current education system – we prepare everyone for success in one event that only a small proportion of entrants are capable of succeeding in. What makes it worse is that the one event is, by definition, ‘academic’ – theoretical rather than practical. An academic is ‘a person who works as a researcher (and usually teacher) at a university, college, or similar institution in post-secondary (tertiary) education’. Why is it that we all want our children to be brilliant academics, but are quick in a discussion to dismiss an idea as being ‘academic’, i.e. of theoretical rather than any practical relevance? As a result we have a nation full of trained 100 metre runners, the vast majority of whom have no chance of ever achieving Gold, and frequently see themselves, and are also seen by potential employers, as failures and as such un-equipped  for any other event, such as work in the outside work. And how much longer will the essay and the multiple choice question remain the main format for assessment, given that few jobs involve a great deal of essay writing or answering mcqs.

If the UK is to remain, or even become, in any way competitive in the global market place, it’s much too late therefore for a slow, evolutionary incremental shift in public opinion and institutional structures, curriculum and teaching method. We need to think the unthinkable. Nothing less than a short, sharp revolution in needed.

Since then, Nick Glibb’s Team Df-ingE’s EBacc has if anything made the situation even worse, as the latest announcement by the Olympic Games Committee reveals:

“In the latest attempt to further increase standards at the Olympic Games, and to provide greater opportunities for less wealthy athletes to win gold medals, we are announcing that in future 90% of athletes will be expected to enter for a broad and balanced range of seven gold medal competitive speed running events. Participants wishing to enter for further non-running based ‘soft’ bronze competitions and recreational team sports may do so if they wish, providing they still have enough time and energy left.”

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“Just think, if we’d been allowed to enter for the Shot Put instead of the 400 meters we might have won a medal!”

Lower image credit: Flickr/TiareScott