Pass Notes: A History of Art Attacks

5435689277_d46f7b676b_o.jpg

L.H.O.O.Q.,  Marcel Duchamp (1919)

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

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

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

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

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

Ah yes. I blame that cheeky Michael Gove chappie.

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

So whose fault is it then?

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

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

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

Proceed, I prithee. I’m listening…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Team Df-ingE are Going for Gold

2362833_low

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.”

 1s-1127660217_7dbdb1eadb_b.jpg

“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

New A level D&T: Dull & Tedious?

Screenshot 2015-08-18 19.15.35There are a lot more things in A level Design and Technology than are dreamt of in the current DfE proposals

Just when you were sharpening your pencils ready for the start of the new term and feeling pleased with yourself for getting your DfE GCSE D&T Holiday Homework (see Fixated by Design) out of the way at the start of the holidays instead of leaving it until it’s too late like everyone else, along comes another assignment…  This time it’s the draft specification for AS and A level Design & Technology, published in late July and which needs to be responded to by the 24th September – holiday dates doubtless chosen by the DfE and Ofqual to be as inconspicuous as possible in the hope that no-one will actually notice them. You can download the documents on content here and assessment here.

But after the encouraging noises of the proposed GCSE D&T spec., these documents, to put it bluntly, are far from being at the cutting edge and are utterly unimaginative and unenlightened. They read more like a narrow description of 3D design and technology as it was in the latter half of the 20th Century, still rooted in the demands of 1960s industrial, mass-production engineering and management methodologies. For example, references to Critical Path Analysis (1950s), Six Sigma and Scrum (1980s), which are about making large product volumes efficiently according to plan, are now widely disregarded as they conflict with the current movement towards agile processes that focus on an ability to change to meet rapidly evolving needs and demands.

Further thought also needs to be given to the specialist areas of knowledge. Today, the disciplines of product design, engineering and textiles are increasingly intertwined, not separated out. And why is it fashion design and development, and don’t they have to meet needs and wants in the same way that product designers do? And anyway the content is not about fashion, it’s about textiles. Who writes this nonsense?

Meanwhile there’s only brief passing reference to iterative design, marketing, sustainability, smart materials and 3D printing – aspects that should now be taking centre stage – along with the critical need for designers to have a rigorous grasp of the psychology of visual and tactile aesthetics and user experience interfaces that drive customer purchase and satisfaction. Another major, almost unbelievable omission, is an emphasis on the importance of developing a designer’s ability to communicate effectively with a variety of clients, users, manufacturers, public bodies, manufacturers, venture capitalists, etc., using a wide range of traditional and digital technologies, appropriate to their intended audience. It’s one thing to come up with a creative, innovative idea, and quite another to persuade others of its potential.

And nowhere is there a mention of the early 21st century methodologies behind Design Thinking, User-centered design, Service design, Architectural and Communication design, Branding and marketing in the social media age, participation and collaboration, cross-disciplinary digital making, the possibilities and impact of the ‘internet of things’, interaction design, and the necessity for understanding potential sources of funding, or indeed the ways in which the very notion – let alone employment opportunities – of the professional designer will change substantially over the next ten or so years. And what about some coverage of the history of design & technology and material culture as a source of understanding and inspiration? Or a knowledge of contemporary designers and design practices? As such – and surely the most important comment to make in any response – the proposed specification fails to provide a suitable progression from the proposed GCSE D&T and towards meeting the emerging requirements of working in the design and creative industries.

We need Designers and Technologists to initiate future change, not to have an academic knowledge of the manufacturing processes of the past. Somehow the Df-ingE have managed to take the most amazing, exciting and compelling subject on the curriculum and rendered it a grey, flabby and lifeless list of random bits of content with all the good bits squeezed out. Do they honestly think that Vivienne Westwood, or Johnny Ive or Zahid Habib would have blossomed after being subjected to all this dreariness at the age of 17? If All Change Please! were a bright young teacher or prospective A level student today it would never ever want to teach or study or go anywhere near this course. If this specification remains as far behind the curve as it is, it will never catch up.

And finally, while D&T A level might be the next step on the pathway for a small number of future professional designers and engineers, All Change Please! can’t help wondering if it currently offers enough as a component of the more general education of all those students who take the exam but decide to go off in other directions?

Is the A83 the way to go?

5165001788_f08c471377_o-copy

No, not that A83..

Most of the proposed new specification for D&T could easily have been written forty years ago. Which, by an amazing co-incidence, is exactly around the time in the 1970s and 80s when we already had a highly regarded, forward-looking world-class D&T A level examination. It was offered by the Oxford Board of Local Examinations (long ago absorbed into OCR), and widely recognised as a demanding, rigorous and exciting course.  Sadly it’s unlikely that anyone currently working at the DfE will be aware it ever existed.

You can download a .pdf copy of the Oxford A83 / 9883 examination syllabus here and as far as All Change Please! can tell, this is the first time it has ever been made available on this new-fangled interweb thingy which as we all know will probably never catch on…

The first thing you’ll notice is how short it was, as most exam syllabi were in those days when less was clearly more. But it’s all there, because a lot more was left up to the school to build into their courses. Then there’s the wonderfully open ‘definition’ of a designer  – ‘anyone who consciously seeks to determine some part of man’s environment in a way most suitable to man’s purpose‘ – provided of course one now substitutes the word ‘human-being’ for ‘man’ – and of the broad intention that the syllabus is concerned with the ‘physical, rational and emotional nature of man, as well as with the shaping of materials and the production of well-designed goods within the total environment‘.

And then the breadth of the examined content – no long tick-box lists of detailed requirements or endorsement sections, and in essence covering much the same – needs and wants, ergonomics and anthropometrics, design methodologies, production methods and the properties and characteristics of a range of materials. A particular feature of the written paper was the requirement to include extensive specific references to existing and contemporary products and designers.

Not to mention the entirely open-ended coursework requirements, which, although not detailed in the main syllabus document, required a major project and a number of supporting short coursework activities which included a dissertation in which candidates were required to analyse their growth of understanding and application of design and designing with reference to their practical work. And the assessment for coursework – completed by the teacher and externally moderated – was holistic in approach, not involving the awarding of a series of micro-marks, but involving placing a tick on a line against half-a dozen descriptive criteria.

The range and quality of work produced by candidates was often extraordinary, and certainly equivalent to the first year of a degree course. Many students were readily accepted onto University courses in schools of 2D and 3D design, architecture and engineering, and indeed, having kept in contact with them, some of All Change Please!’s own have since gone on to become highly successful professionals, now often running their own UK design companies. Perhaps one day we’ll finally get back to something as good?

But of course, the Oxford syllabus must be placed in context. In those days there were only something like 300 to 600 candidates, and it was only offered where there was a good teacher who knew what they were doing, i.e., able to develop their own course based more on a philosophy than a tick-box checklist. And today, sadly, there are probably not enough teachers with the necessary confidence and experience to do that.

Mind you, with D&T candidate and teacher numbers dropping the way they currently are, maybe it won’t be long before they fall to the levels of the 1980s again..?

In the meanwhile, it’s absolutely essential that you tell the DfE and Ofqual exactly what you think of the current proposals.

With thanks to Tony and Jane.

Image credits: Top, Dan Pledger, Head of Design, Simon Langton Boys’ School Canterbury.

Middle:  Flickr: Stephen Mackenzie

 

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…

Going For Old?

Pikemen engage musketeers during a re-enactment of the Siege of

Academics engage Vocationalists during a re-enactment of the English Civil War

A few days ago someone drew to my attention to a link to my post ‘Your Country Needs You‘ (published in October) that had been included on ‘Scenes From The Battleground‘s recent blog post. In return I am pleased to reciprocate a link, and hope he will get as many extra views of his site as All Change Please! has since enjoyed as a result.

http://teachingbattleground.wordpress.com/2013/01/03/attitudes-which-cause-dumbing-down/

In this post I want to discuss some of the arguments that Scenes From The Battleground and other academics often present to justify their approach to teaching and learning, i.e.:

•  since the introduction of the GCSE, all teaching and learning has been made less challenging, or ‘dumbed down’
•  an academic approach to teaching and learning is the only one that can provide a worthwhile education, is appropriate for everyone, and if they are all taught in academic way exam results will automatically improve
•  it is better to have had an academic education and fail, than to have any other sort of education
•  teachers advise working class children not to apply for university
•  employers are only interested in graduates with good academic degrees

It remains of great concern that some academics, rather like the managing directors of companies such as Comet, Jessops and HMV, fail to acknowledge that the world is changing almost beyond recognition, and that the old ways are no longer necessarily the best ways. We can no longer afford for our children to experience a re-enactment of an education system no longer fit for purpose.

Dumbing down

Scenes From The Battleground seems convinced that education has been ‘dumbed down’, and he attempts to provide evidence that supports his fears, compounded by the fact that, as he admits, the posts he has linked to have been written by intelligent and experienced educationalists.

The thing is, you don’t exactly need to be a rocket surgeon or a brain scientist to work out that if the numbers of students going to university since the 1970s are going to rise from around 10% to 50%, then either standards of teaching and learning are going to have to rise unbelievably, or the entry examinations are going to need to be made  easier to pass. Of course academic education has been ‘dumbed down’. So in that respect All Change Please! finds itself in complete agreement with Scenes From The Battleground, Mr Gove and others like them, in that standards of academic education in schools have fallen over the years, and that they justifiably do need to be raised.

The only way is academic

However, that’s about as far as our agreement goes. What Scenes From The Battleground really means is that there has been a lowering of academic expectations.  I would argue that at the same time there has been a raising of expectation and standards of technical and vocational ‘practical’ standards that are far more appropriate for the majority of students. There is also the frequent use by academics of the word ‘rigour’. Why do academics, politicians and journalists only associate ‘rigour’ with academic study? Rigour is something that can be and is applied to any area of study, be it in the Creative Arts, Business Studies, Physical Education, and so on.

Returning briefly to my ‘Going for Gold‘ Olympic medal analogy post, it’s like insisting that all athletes only prepare themselves for the rigour of the 100 metres. As a result, many swimmers, pole vaulters, marathon runners, etc., would never discover that their particular aptitude lay in a completely different discipline. (And I am equally concerned by the further comparison that only those athletes deemed likely to win a medal at the next Olympics will be given funding). The EBacc, as presently conceived, might well succeed in raising academic standards for a small minority, but at the same time will produce a much higher number of failures and disaffected teenagers.

Indeed the way Scenes From The Battleground sees the situation exemplifies exactly where much of the problem lies. While a few academics seem to have managed to join up the dots and grasp the bigger picture, for many a narrow academic education tends to produce people who only see the world from their own point-of-view. It worked for them, so it must be good for everyone, and all that needs to happen is for everyone to receive an academic education, and everything will be wonderful.

It is better to have tried and failed than never to have had an academic education

http://teachingbattleground.wordpress.com/2013/01/05/yes-those-were-definitely-examples-of-dumbing-down/
Having seemingly reassured himself that he is correct, in an up-date post Scenes From The Battleground states a commonly-held view amongst many academics:

‘It is better to make everyone try to get into a good university, and have a lot fail, than to write off so many of the able-but-poor like we do now. University should be a goal for all because a good education should be a goal for all and even in failing to achieve that goal, one may be given the means to achieve many other goals instead.’

Now this is a very contentious statement, and one I suspect few outside academia would agree with. First it has no regard for the future of the majority of students who would indeed fail to get to university, beyond the unsupported suggestion that as a result somehow they would be able to achieve ‘many other goals instead’. And it also quite wrongly equates university with being the only possible source of a worthwhile education.

Class Wars

Scenes From The Battleground also poses the question: “What would pushy middle-class parents make of this (non-academic activity)?” and suggests that they would perceive evidence of dumbing-down. If they were hoping their children were bound for a Russell Group university, then of course I would agree. But if a parent’s main concern is that their off-spring should find a worthwhile and well-paid job in the emerging economy – and that will in the future give them a good chance of enabling them to be happy and to live independently – then an increasing number are starting to realise that there is more relevant and up-to-date learning going on in some other more practical and less theoretical disciplines. And anyway, All Change Please!, like the majority of teachers, did not go into education specifically to meet the demands of the pushy middle-class parent, but the needs of all children, whatever their background.

‘Teachers cannot afford to be emphasising to kids that university is one goal among others, because the effect won’t be to deter the posh-but-thick; it will be to deter the working class’.

Scenes From The Battleground then goes on to discuss the much-used argument that social class remains the key factor in going to university (which indeed it may well be), and that teachers deter the working class from going there. I simply do not believe that the majority of teachers do this, at least not if the student shows the required level of potential academic ability and has the desire to do so. What they do do however, is to suggest that perhaps some students who are quite unlikely to achieve the necessary academic standards should consider alternative educational pathways that are more likely to enable them to succeed and obtain employment through more practically-related knowledge and experience.

Employability

Finally, and how many times does it need repeating, top company chief executives keep stating that what they need now is not graduates stuck in the old Industrial Age ways of memorising and recalling a prescribed, often out-of-date, body of knowledge, but life-long learners, creative risk-takers and collaborative problem-solvers willing and able to work flexibly to respond to ever-changing and entirely unpredictable markets that embrace instability. According to this article, today’s young people will find themselves living and working in the ‘Age of Chaos’, and will need to have a ‘Generation Flux’ mindset. I can only advise academics to stay in their ivory towers and lock the door firmly behind them!

http://designtaxi.com/news/355262/Are-You-Prepared-For-The-Workplace-Of-The-Future/

So why is it that at the same time though employers quite rightly complain that many school-leavers often lack, or are far from fluent in, basic numeracy and literacy skills? Perhaps this is because what they are being taught in schools is often too theoretical, and not grounded in the context of everyday, real-world problems?

Education needs to be appropriate for everyone, not just the academically-able.

Image credit: Anguskirk  http://www.flickr.com/photos/anguskirk/4944028963

All Sign Please!

Creativity, Creativity, Creativity…

Please sign the petition to save the future of creativity in schools

“The campaign to reform the EBacc
http://www.baccforthefuture.com/index.html

The English Baccalaureate (EBacc) threatens the very future of creative subjects – like Music, Art, Design & Technology, Drama and Dance.

By missing them off its list of core areas children must study, the Government is undermining their place at the heart of learning.

Your voice is vital to help change this
.

Without them, our children will be denied the balanced education they need to grow and thrive. Without them, the skills that drive our creative economy will be lost.”

Image credit:  shadfan66   http://www.flickr.com/photos/shadfan66/3727160589

Horses for Courses

One of the main purposes of the original A level examination was to identify the relatively small (around 5%) of the population who were suited to studying for an academic degree at university. Back in the 1950s and 60’s one was expected to absorb a general understanding of one’s subject and to be prepared to answer almost any question on any aspect of the syllabus. Although the total number of marks available per question was given, there was no further indication of the more detailed mark-scheme.

These days, in order to achieve higher numbers of students gaining ‘good’ grades, examination questions have tended to become more predictable, and teaching more narrowly focused on those specific topics that are always asked about, and on examination technique.

So today’s news item about an ‘unfair’ exam paper makes interesting reading, in that pupils have complained that it did not include:

“a significant amount of the current specification and gave questions which were not akin to the specimen papers provided, and other questions of such an obscure nature, that it was extremely difficult to decipher what was necessary to gain the marks.”

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/8480563.stm
Was this a deliberate attempt to set a more rigourous paper that would more readily identify the strongest academic students, or a mistake of some sort by the exam board? Will the final grades be ‘fudged’ in some way to match current pass rates? Should these students be taking some other more appropriate form of examination?

Whatever, what we really need are a range of high-status examinations that are suitable for academics and for the majority who think and learn differently.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, ‘horses for courses’ is:

“a mostly British expression urging someone to stick to the thing he knows best. The phrase dates back to 1898, and comes from the horse racing world, where it is widely assumed that some horses race better on certain courses than on others.” (From “Encylopedia of Word and Phrase Origins” by Robert Hendrickson)

Everybody Out! Industrial Relations Breakdown

A couple of recent articles have led me to reflect on the on and off-going relationship between education and industry and commerce.

There are still those in education – usually the most traditional academics – who see education has having nothing to do with the world of work at all. And there are many in industry and commerce who still see schooling as providing little more than a literate, numerate, punctual and essentially passive workforce. Fortunately over the past decades there have been an increasing number in both camps that have been willing to explore a middle ground, but at the end of the day there is still a long way to go before we arrive at a successful balance between the two extremes and start to offer an educational experience that offers an appropriate preparation for life and work in the 21st Century as opposed to the 19th.

I came into education in the late 1970s having trained in Industrial Design, and with the conviction that there was a need to move away from traditional academic approaches towards the development of a new set of skills and approaches to knowledge that would not only serve the economy but make students more critically and socially aware, better able to creatively solve everyday problems and to be able to think and act for themselves.

As a result, over the past thirty years there have been a number of occasions when I have approached industry and commerce for assistance with case-study materials, photographic resources or support for workshops and other live projects. In that time, with a few notable exceptions, things have not changed a great deal. Usually there have been one of two responses. The first is a simple ‘We’d like to help but we don’t have the time’, and the second a much more positive, but ultimately more frustrating, ‘We are really keen to support education, just let us know what we can do’, but despite the good intentions, the latter offer often fails to come to fruition as it later emerges, they don’t have the time to make any more than a rather superficial contribution: ‘We do have a business to run, you know’. It seems that industry and commerce has always been ready to criticise, but generally unwilling to actually do anything.

So just what is it that industry wants? There seems to be two answers to this. First, a literate, numerate, punctual and essentially passive workforce. Secondly, and increasingly over the past 30 years, young people who are flexible, technically skilled, interdisciplinary creative problem-solvers with excellent communication and teamwork skills. What’s going wrong is that industry still believes that GCSEs, A levels and academic-based diplomas and degrees will provide what it wants. In reality the current curriculum and qualifications tend to develop exactly the opposite – a rigid, subject-based experience in which original thought and action and any hint of collaborative work (or ‘cheating’ as it’s often thought of as) are positively discouraged.

In this recent article the director-general of the CBI is highly critical of the ‘wasteful’ spending on education which he claims has failed to produce improvements in socially and culturally deprived areas of the country. Or rather, as he goes on to explain, to provide a workforce that can read, write and turn up on time. But predictably he seems is to identify raising the number of students gaining five good ‘academic’ GCSEs as the solution to the problem.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2009/dec/31/school-system-shameful-cbi-boss

Meanwhile the discussion is more fully aired here:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2010/jan/01/manchester-academy-success

Beyond the account of the Manchester Academy, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders attacks the CBI for simply ‘standing on the sidelines and criticising’. Alan Smithers attacks the government for providing the wrong sort of qualifications, and Mike Tomlinson challenges the appropriateness of the curriculum.

So there’s still a long way to go. Perhaps we need the services of an arbitration tribunal?

Secondary Modern Conservatism: O-No!

Multiple Choice Question:

The Conservatives are planning some major reforms if they win the next election. Only one of the following is a serious proposal, but which is it?

a) Women will have their right to vote removed.
b) The NHS will be completely disbanded, and all healthcare will need to be paid for.
c) Steam trains will be brought back and hundreds of rural stations and lines reopened.
d) Sunday trading will be banned, and all shops will be closed to encourage more people to go to church.
e) O-levels will be reintroduced in schools.

Guessed which one it is yet? To check your answer, click here.